CRM MVPs Speak: Looking Ahead to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016

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by Dann Anthony Maurno, Assistant Editor

A lucky few have seen Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016, which is now in preview, hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. Customers are eager to know, what kind of training will it require? Can they leapfrog earlier versions and go right to CRM 2016? Are Dynamics consultants prepared to help them integrate Office productivity tools? What does Dynamics CRM Online do that CRM on-premise does not (and vice versa)?

A star panel of Dynamics CRM MVPs answered those questions and more in a webcast with MSDynamicsWorld last week. You can view the full recording here. And we’ll highlight some of their responses below (edited lightly for clarity), asked both by the moderator and by audience members. Joining us were:

  • Chris Cognetta, Director of the center of excellence and client field engineering team at Tribridge Consulting;
  • Donna Edwards, a senior architect with Hitachi Solutions America;
  • Alex Fagundes, CIO of PowerObjects;
  • Jukka Niiranen, a consultant at Digital Illustrated in Finland;
  • Gretchen Opferkew, director of education with PowerObjects.

What are the big gains in functionality in CRM 2016, and which will be different in CRM Online versus on-premise?

CC: There are components that will be online only. Eventually they’ll catch up, but as Microsoft is leading with CRM Online, that’s the roadmap objective, that’s where you’ll see new features first.

AF: It’s also the first time [we’re] seeing a main feature, a main component being avail in only CRM Online. I’m specifically speaking about offline capabilities in the mobile clients. I hope the feature does become avail for on premise, but that something nobody has mentioned yet.

What are some practical or common mobile offline scenarios?

AF: There are folks doing site visits, and I can  think of a number of different uses in field service. If you are a nurse visiting a patient, or if you’re doing some retail layups and visiting a store site where you might walk in and having Internet access, [CRM Online users] have that ability to specify sync rules where I want my top ten clients available offline. The new mobile client appears to be able to do that out-of-the box using point-and-click.

On-premise customers are getting both Spring 2015 features [of CRM Online] and all the features of the CRM 2016 release; are there things you’re doing to prepare on-premise customers about upgrading to 2016?

DE:  I have CRM 2015 clients on-premise who I’m trying to encourage to move CRM Online. It’s just so much easier to manage the entire deployment process and keep up with changes and have access to all of the latest, greatest features from Microsoft. The online experience has improved significantly. Microsoft has made a great investment in it, so with the combination of things like Azure, having that Azure connection with CRM, Office 365 Groups and all of the other integrations that seem so much easier to manage in an online environment, that’s my initial proposal for them; let’s see if CRM Online fits your organization.

If they absolutely are going to remain on-premise, then I encourage them to set up a completely separate environment from their existing deploy/test/QA environment they’re using for CRM 2015; set up a brand new environment for testing all of those things that are going to be available to them in 2016.

Is the on-premise to online upgrade or migration fairly common?

DE: I’m personally seeing a lot of that. I’m seeing a lot of people move from on-premise to Online or a hosted environment in the cloud scenario.

JN: More and more people from on-prem environments are going to go to cloud, but [the question is] when and how are they going to get there in the most optimal way.

Is benchmarking a common step in making the decision to migrate to CRM Online?

CC: It is but there are a lot of components in talking to the CRM Online environment. You have the network connectivity between the [your local network and Microsoft data centers]; I’ve [heard] customers complain about internal Internet [being] slow, and yet they go home and CRM Online is blazing. So there are a lot of factors involved before you look at the overall performance.

Then there are differences in scalability, how much your team has; for instance, CRM Online can scale on the fly , you add multiple licenses and you get capacity, where internally you have to add servers.

AF:  I think for the first time just about everything we can do on-premise we can do online, so long as we’re [using] the SDK.

DE: There are things that are amazingly easy online. And one of the great things about it too is that people that are in the online environment get those features first and don’t have to go through all the process of setting up environments and testing it out in a server situation. Microsoft has done a great job in getting CRM Online into an enterprise-ready scenario. Then when you add Azure to that and having the ability to connect integrated services through Azure to other backend systems, it’s pretty powerful and it’s going to get better.

As productivity tools like Office 365 Groups, Delve, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint become integral to the CRM Online value proposition, do CRMconsultants need to be consultants on those tools as well?

JN: Definitely. If you look at the skill set required to be a CRM consultant a few years ago, nowadays if you go into a new client and they start deploying CRM Online, the discussion goes into these productivity features and soon you’ll find yourself in the Office 365 portal. And for some of the services [including Power BI and Groups], they will roll out new features almost every week or two weeks. It increases the pressure to keep up not just to keep up with CRM release but also Office productivity apps in the Microsoft cloud.

CC: It’s just a broad spectrum that really allows us to build a solution you can’t get on any other platform anywhere else in the world. I and my peers are certainly loving [this] time [for] Dynamics, it’s a great time to be here.

DE: When I offer CRM Online to a client, I’m not only offering CRM Online, I’m also offering full marketing integration, social media, Parature, and all of the other solutions, Office 365 through Yammer and other enterprise collaborative tools – Power BI to me is just an amazing analytics tool. So we’re no longer just going in just offering Dynamics CRM…we are truly offering full enterprise tools for clients that we haven’t had the opportunity to do in the past. And it’s here today.

Are the new features perhaps overpowering the knowledge of consultants?

CC: I think if you look at what’s on par between Salesforce, NetSuite and Dynamics CRM, you’ll see the [Microsoft] toolsets are going to become more flexible to do what you need to do for your business, right out of the box. That doesn’t mean developers and functional consultants are going away, and people who customize the system are going away; it just means that the things we had to build outside the box are inside of it, and a lot faster to market, while other [developers] can focus on bigger fish to fry like custom integrations to their own billing platforms or to their own software.

Is CRM on Azure something you are seeing customers consider as an alternative?

CC: It has become another deployment option, so we have CRM Online which we call “public cloud,” CRM on-remise and CRM private cloud, and then Azure which can fall into the private cloud model.

AF: There are a couple of caveats, one being that unlike CRM Online where they do the patching the scaling etc., running CRM on Azure you own the VM, you’ve got to monitor the CPUs and if you need more horsepower you’ve got to scale up, apply the update rollups, etc., just like on prem.

CC: [And] people are not aware of what it costs for premium storage and disk space and the processor. It’s not going to run on one CPU, guys; you’re going to have to bump off into those higher ranges…but Microsoft is a cloud-based company, with a cloud-first, mobile-first strategy, and I only see that getting better.

Are any of the Microsoft Dynamics Lifecycle Services (LCS) tools in play yet for CRM?  

DE: That toolset is in preview right now. It’s being tested and beta’d. But [Dynamics] AX is live, so you can get a flavor of what it’s going to be. It’s going to be an amazing way to deploy CRM in the cloud, with just a couple of clicks and point your cursor and grab the features that you want.

I’m convinced you’re going to see more point, click, deploy, not only with CRM Online but with specialized solutions, industry-specific solutions. So you’re a banking organization that wants to point, click, deploy a financial services solution, you’re going to be able to do it.

Is there anything about CRM 2016 which disappoints you?

GO: Some of the features that were released even in CRM 2013 like the social pane, still are not incredibly configurable, and so of course being CRM people, everything that Microsoft gives us, we want to say let’s configure it now.

DE: Usually there’s some other solution that will fill the gap; agreed, you have to go through the SDK and the API to configure it, to work with the social profiles in CRM themselves. But then you’ve got the whole social engagement application that you can just turn on and integrate. So it just seems like even if there is a disappointment, there’s [always] some other way to leverage a similar feature and get what you need, and it’s just around the corner [for Dynamics CRM], it’s coming.

JN: We’re still so much better off than back in 2011 days and all the customizability you can do there, just the point and click; it’s hard to be disappointed with the rollout of features.

How easy is it to upgrade from CRM 2011 to 2016?

DE: It is much easier than it has been in the past [but] you’re going to want to go to from 2011 to 2013, to 2015, 2016. [But] we’ve all done these upgrades in a matter of days; we’re not talking weeks, here.

CC:  The challenging upgrades from 3.0 and 4.0 to 2013, those days are way behind us; and hats off to [Microsoft’s CRM development] team for things they built into the platform to support that as well as allowing the SDK to be backwards compatible.

AF: The only caveat is [that] 4.0 code will not run in 2013 forward. So if your CRM 2011 [system] is all native 2011, it’s going to be a very smooth upgrade. But if it’s loaded with 4.0 stuff, there are going to be some updates, some rewrites.

CC: The one [piece of] advice I like to give everybody about upgrades is the overall feature set and getting rid of the JavaScript, using the out-of-the-box features to do that kind of stuff; use the business rules. Those are all ways to provide that total cost of ownership, reduce it and make upgrading easier in the future.

How are you helping customers adapt to continuous rollouts?

DE: One of the things we’re leveraging is the multi-instance. It’s really easy to fire up a sandbox [and] walk users through what the new features are going to be like, especially if you engage in the preview programs.

JN: Nowadays [there is an] update policy by Microsoft where you can skip every other version of CRM Online, so update every major version and not any minor versions. So if you have complex integrations or deep customization in the UI, then Online will provide you plenty of time to keep your integrations and custom applications updated. So [customers] have the flexibility to choose at what pace they want to upgrade. Of course it’s different on-premise, it’s a continuous development of features and testing rather than a once every three year big-bang project.

About Dann Anthony Maurno

Dann Anthony Maurno is a seasoned business journalist who began his career as International Marketing Manager with Lilly Software, then moved on as a freelancer to write for such prestigious clients as CFO Magazine; Compliance Week;Manufacturing Business Technology; Decision Resources, Inc.; The Economist Intelligence Unit; and corporate clients such as Iron Mountain, Microsoft and SAP. He is the co-author of Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Supports Lean Initiatives(CRC/Productivity Press, 2010).

Dann can be reached at [email protected].