If Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 was good, the channel partners we spoke to rate Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, both the online and on-premise versions, as better — much better. It's a significant release for customers and a more versatile business application platform for the developers that serve them.
"Dynamics CRM 4.0 was great, but the 2011 release from Microsoft goes to a whole new level — solving more business challenges for customers," says Tom Amerongen, CRM practice leader at Ideaca, a Canadian Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with four offices and more than 170 information technology professionals.
Channel partners agree that two of the most strategic features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 are its availability outside of North America (it's available in 40 markets and 41 languages, to be exact) and the feature and function parity between the cloud-based and on-premise versions of the product.
"Microsoft gives users three choices for deployment: online, on-premise or a combination of both," says Amerongen, adding that multiple deployment options just aren't available with other leading CRM solutions, positioning Microsoft far ahead of its competitors.
"Customers don't get penalized for going in any direction," he said.
The global release of the cloud version of Dynamics 2011 has already piqued the interest of one non-profit customer that works with Altus Dynamics, a Toronto-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner serving the education, government and non-profit industries.
This non-profit has 500 users across Canada and about 130 federated offices worldwide, and it uses Dynamics Online because it gives the organization the ability to standardize on a single platform worldwide.
"One office located in Australia saw what the organization in Canada is doing with Dynamics and wants to do the same thing," says Colin Dickinson, managing partner and vice president of sales at Altus Dynamics.
"From my perspective, this is a great example of the power of the cloud. Dynamics online opens up all kinds of opportunities for our customers and for us," he adds, noting that this non-profit will turn to the cloud for both Dynamics and Office 365, Microsoft's dynamic communications and collaboration product that combines Microsoft's Office desktop suite with Exchange Online SharePoint Online and Lync Online.
In addition to offering Microsoft Dynamics CRM, both Ideaca and Altus Dynamics provide businesses with custom development work that uses the Dynamics platform to help customers solve unique business challenges.
Best Feature Highlights
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2011 delivers productivity with a solution that is familiar, intelligent and connected.
One of the most talked about features of both cloud-based Dynamics and the on-premise version is the native Outlook client. Dynamics CRM takes full advantage of native Outlook functionality such as email messages, meetings, contacts and customer information without making users launch another application.
"That's a huge benefit that offers users a rich experience. Many sales professionals live in Outlook," says Dickinson.
Microsoft also improved productivity in Dynamics CRM 2011 with preview panes, contextual Office ribbons and key Office feature like mail merge and Microsoft Excel export/import, delivering a consistent and familiar user interface across products.
The familiarity across Microsoft products helps organizations control training costs while users are able to get off and running quickly.
Advanced personalization features for role-tailored forms or views based on individual teams or departments, for example, enable users to configure unique and default workspace views.
Powerful new features in the real-time dashboard, unlike the static dashboards in previous versions, and a brand new goal tracking tool are getting rave reviews from Microsoft channel partners as functionality that will offer users more insight into data and empower business decision-making.
Not only are dashboards easy to create and customize on the fly, but sales, marketing and service professionals can also do more analysis within the dashboard itself with real-time drill-down capability to see the data that's driving dashboard components.
"The real-time dashboard is better than ever, allowing users to slice and dice data," says Amerongen.
Inline visualization further improves the dashboards, allowing users to digest new information quicker and easier. A change in the data is immediately reflected in the dashboard visuals.
Goal management, which is used for setting goals and goal metrics, is brand new to Dynamics CRM 2011 and it's a feature that Dickinson expects will resonate with most customers. "This is a new robust area of CRM," he says, one that is critical to helping organizations run their business.
The new goal-setting feature allows a sales department to set a goal for four sales reps — for example, $250,000 in sales — for a particular calendar quarter. The business can set hierarchical individual goals that build logically to reach the overarching goal. Once the business establishes the framework, or workflow, the sales department can track "in-progress" and "actual" values against the target to determine performance or under performance.
Another important feature that adds intelligence to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is field-level security and pervasive auditing. Critical for compliance, privacy and protecting data integrity, Dynamics CRM 2011 allows for permissions such as read, update and create at the field level rather than record level for different roles and security profiles.
Built-in integration with SharePoint 2010 is sure to improve user productivity, says Amerongen, who notes that it eliminates previous integration efforts. "Integration is out of the box," he says, simplifying document management.
Integration with SharePoint enables organizations to use the document management capabilities in SharePoint from within Dynamics CRM for improved and more efficient collaboration. With contextual document libraries organizations can manage the creation of marketing collateral, sales proposals and customer contracts with integrated document management and versioning.
Also noteworthy in Dynamics CRM 2011 is the introduction of the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace, an online solutions catalog to help both organizations and developers extend Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online implementations.
"Microsoft partners who create xRM applications or functionality extensions can put them in the catalog," says Dickinson, who adds that his company already placed three approved solutions in the Dynamics Marketplace.
According to Microsoft, the Marketplace helps customers find technology experts, software applications and professional services that solve specific business issues and support long-term goals. The Dynamics Marketplace also helps developers and technology service providers get applications and professional services to the customers who need them.
Microsoft channel partners agree that Dynamics CRM Online is an outstanding and significant product release from Microsoft. Not only does it give organizations the power of choice for deployments, the level of integration between Dynamics CRM Online and Microsoft 365 demonstrates the vendor's commitment to the cloud.
"That's the advantage of Microsoft. Other CRM vendors can't say that," says Amerongen.