The beta version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 released earlier this month has created quite a stir among beta testers and market-watchers, as it contains a number of big improvements. Those features include a next-generation native Microsoft Outlook client, Microsoft Office contextual CRM Ribbon for Office navigation and user experience, role-tailored design, and user personalization.
The new software, designed for both cloud-based and on-premises deployments, is Microsoft's latest attempt to gain ground on CRM (customer relationship management) market leaders Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) and SAP (NYSE: SAP).
Here's a list of the top 10 features of the beta release, which can be found at www.crm2011beta.com.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Features
1. New Business Intelligence Functionality
The new real-time dashboards in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 deliver advanced business intelligence functionality that is simple to use.
Users can quickly configure multiple dashboards to monitor business performance, for example. The dashboards can be set up for individual or shared use, and can include inline charts with drill-down intelligence to visually navigate data, identify trends and uncover new insights.
2. Tight Integration with Microsoft Office
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 introduces a new Office 2010 contextual ribbon for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Microsoft Dynamics CRM browser clients. The ribbon delivers a consistent, familiar navigation and user experience.
The new release enables CRM information to take full advantage of native Outlook functionality, including previews and conditional formatting. Users can highlight and flag CRM records, just like they can with an Outlook email.
The reading pane gives users an instant view of a record without having to open a new screen.
3. Advanced User Personalization
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 lets users configure their workplaces to meet their specific roles and information needs. Personalizing a workspace allows users to set the default pane and tab that display when they open Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.
Users also have control over what links appear in the workplace view, how many records appear in lists, how numbers and dates display, and the language they want to use. Finally, users can combine these personalized features with the new dashboard feature to create a personalized dashboard for their default view.
4. Integration with SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics NAV
The beta demonstrates Microsoft's desire to provide out-of-the-box integration with two key Microsoft products: SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 integrates with SharePoint Server's document management through contextual document repositories.
CRM 2011 will also integrate with Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 R2, due for release in the next few months. Together, the two products will boost productivity by enhancing interaction between front and back office applications.
5. Role-based Forms and Views
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 displays forms and views based on user roles. This role-tailored design ensures that users have fast access to the relevant information they need. Role-based forms and views also prevent users from seeing data that they are not authorized to view.
6. Better Configuration Capabilities
Microsoft has incorporated numerous small but significant features into Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 that make it easier for businesses to configure solutions, either for themselves or third-parties.
Key features are: custom activities and communications; field-level security; data auditing; tailored form experience; and an improved knowledge base.
7. Customizing and Sharing
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 introduces what the vendor calls 'solutions,' which are ways to save customizations and share them with others. Users can create a solution or import a solution created by a developer outside the organization.
A managed solution can only be edited by a specific user. An unmanaged one can be edited by any user with an appropriate role. A solution can have version numbering, relationships with entities and other components, and security features based on user roles.
8. Interactive Process Dialogs
Dialogs help companies to collect and process information using step-by-step scripts. At the most basic level, companies can use dialogs to guide customer interactions and internal processes. At another level, dialogs can be used to increase performance and versatility by incorporating workflow logic. This logic invokes automated tasks using the responses a customer or user makes during a dialog script.
9. Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace
Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace is an online solutions catalog that helps developers accelerate and extend their Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online implementations. The marketplace is fully integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011.
Customers will be able to access Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace from within Microsoft Dynamics CRM to search and download applications and connect with Microsoft partners. For more information, visit http://crm.dynamics.com/DynamicsMarketplace/landing.aspx.
10. Cloud Development and Deployment
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 allows developers to take advantage of Windows Azure to develop and deploy custom code for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online using tools such as Visual Studio. Developers can use Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 to incorporate Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Communication Foundation, and .NET Language Integrated Query (LINQ) into their cloud solutions.