Microsoft Dynamics CRM Team Extends Roadmap to 2014 with Focus on Window 8, User Engagement

What does it take to entice a user to embrace CRM, to willfully feed it the sales, service, or marketing data that the organization demands?  The Microsoft Dynamics CRM product team's view, according to their pitch to users at CRMUG Summit this week, is to deliver a more responsive and streamlined user experiences. And coupled with enticing the user, they take the position that what's best for customer outcome may often be to give them software that tells them how they should do their job.

If WPC 2012 marked a new beginning for the Microsoft Dynamics CRM product management and marketing teams, then the reset has now cranked into gear as the Polaris release approaches inside of 2012 and three more releases - Orion, Leo, and Vega, await into 2014. And in a new development this week, the MarketingPilot acquisition adds another dimension to future of the product.

Beyond the Polaris release in 2012 and Orion in the second quarter of 2013, a Dynamics CRM management panel featuring Dennis Michalis, Bill Patterson, Craig Dewar, and Eric Boocock, shared two subsequent release names - Leo and Vega.  These releases will take the product into 2014 on an approximately twice yearly release cadence, first in Polaris with cross browser capabilities and a new "Flow" user experience, and then by adding a new HTML5-driven Windows 8 interface for Orion and beyond. The overarching theme of upcoming releases: "helping organizations attract, win, and retain customers through compelling apps, modern user experiences, and an open extensible platform."

"I genuinely care whether you are getting the value you expected out of Dynamics CRM," Michalis, the Dynamics CRM general manager, told the assembled audience at the closing session of CRMUG Summit, as he also acknowledged that his team is moving the product into new territory. "Sometimes you have to take calculated risks - to think about where you are going to go to do something no one else has done.  For Dynamics CRM we aspire to do something differently and the message that I have for you today is different from what I could have shared with you a year ago. It's built in part on what Microsoft as a company is doing, it's built in part from a technology perspective and what we want to achieve ... next."

The MarketingPilot acquisition

Michalis also touched on the new and "very quietly announced" MarketingPilot acquisition.  Describing the product as a "diamond in the rough," he described the integrated marketing environment that it offers and the opportunity for entre into the office of the CMO who is looking for strategic assistance. 

"MarketingPilot is focused on the customer perspective - figure out how you are going to attack.  Think about the market you are going to address, what techniques are necessary, and then go into planning, devise your resource strategy, how you are going to manage your digital assets, what workflow and collaboration pieces are necessary to tie it together, and then execute.  And that execute piece is a very important differentiator for us - multichannel.  Others would have you think there is only one channel--social--when it is really only about ten percent of what a marketing organization does today." As a closed loop, iterative process, the marketer can then assess the investments and iterate on more planning. 

"This is a very important step for us.  It doesn't dim the lights at all for sales or customer care, clearly we've got experiences coming from those groups, but this is an area where we want to get very very aggressive."

The new release cadence

The previously delayed semi-annual release cadence will begin again with Polaris later in 2012.  Polaris will be released only to Dynamics CRM Online, with Dynamics CRM On-Premise receiving only yearly release, starting with Orion and then, presumably, Vega in 2014. Polaris will include the new Flow user experience, cross-browser, Office 2013 compatibility, integration to Microsoft products including Skype, Yammer, and Bing Maps, as well as new pre-defined sales and service processes enabled in the Flow interface. 

The cross browser capabilities of Polaris will also be made available to on-premise Dynamics CRM customers through Update Rollup 12, planned for near the end of 2012, the panel told users.  But the Flow user interface will not be available to on-premise users until the Orion release in the spring of 2013.

A new look at the Flow experience

Senior technical product manager Eric Boocock took the audience first through a demonstration of the Flow user experience that CRM Online customers can expect with the Polaris release.

"Imagine, if you will, that we were all excited to use CRM.  That's a big step for a business application," Boocock began.  He then stepped through two of the pre-built Flow scenarios that will come with Polaris - one for sales, the other for customer service.

Building on what was demonstrated as far back as WPC 2012, the sales scenario focused on how the software interface could play an active role in guiding a sales rep through the lead qualification process through a combination of prescribed stages, but also with more subtle user interface changes meant to inform the user with relevant data. As the sales rep typed in the lead's name, existing names were suggested and once the name was populated, other areas of the lead screen auto-populated with the relevant data about the person, the company, geographic data from Bing Maps, Skype or Lync dialing links, and related social data through activity feeds that begin changing on the fly. 

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Polaris
Managing a sales lead in the Polaris Flow user experience

The interface also keeps the lead qualification phases front and center, making it easy to see the current stage and adjusting the layout based on the stage. 

In the services example, a similar type of on-the-fly user interface update takes place. As the service agent identifies the caller, the rest of the screen auto-updates with customer data, past customer service interactions, and suggested fixes for the problem the caller describes, all without clicking away from the interface.

"This is not a re-skinning of CRM," Michalis assured the audience.  "This is not ginning up a new user interface.  This is pulling some information to the foreground, pushing other information to the background, and this is just the beginning."

Orion

While Polaris is about delivering cross browser access to the conventional Dynamics CRM browser interface as well as the Flow interface paradigm for CRM Online, the panel demonstrated that Orion will include a separate effort to get more value into the sales experience from a Windows 8 tablet device.

Boocock took the demo reigns again to showed off yet another new user experience that brings CRM to the sales professional from a Windows 8 live tile. 

Even more so than the Flow interface, the Orion Windows 8 tablet interface is simplified into discrete columns of information, intended to make it "brick-to-the-head simple," as Boocock put it to get a clear view of a lead and act on it.  Indeed, it is a clean, uncluttered interface with touch actions like sliding horizontally to expose more columns as it aims to surface a broad range of CRM data, activity feeds, related documents (like a quoting spreadsheet that appears dynamically when a product is selected in a new opportunity), and more at exactly the time that a user needs them. 

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Orion Pipeline
Sales Dashboard in Orion's Windows 8 sales tool

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Orion Opportunity Drill down into a sales opportunity - Orion on Windows 8

The demo also touched on some of the capabilities the Orion release may be bringing in terms of more complex, team-based selling assisted by big data or additional computing.  Selecting sales team members will be improved through both a friendlier interface drag and drop approach, but also through what Microsoft expects will be intelligent recommendations based on  past opportunities, expertise, and other factors.  Microsoft did not offer a specific schedule for some of these more advanced capabilities.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Orion Sales Team

The user story from Microsoft is focused around engagement and enthusiasm, making it a solution that sales reps will want to use.  "I am on this app, this is fun, I'm getting what I need," Boocock proclaimed as he played the sales rep role.

Rounding out the demo, Boocock created a new tile for the opportunity he was managing, placing it prominently on his Windows 8 home page where ongoing details and updates cycled through and he now had direct access to re-visit it .

About Jason Gumpert

As the editor of MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason oversees all editorial content on the site and at our events, as well as providing site management and strategy. He can be reached at jgumpert@msdynamicsworld.com.

Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. Jason has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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