The mystery of Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s missing Q2 functionality – the plot thickens

by Richard Boardman on November 18, 2012

Back in July I posted that Microsoft’s six monthly development schedule seemed to be in some disarray. If anything’s clear from November’s ‘Microsoft Dynamics CRM December 2012 Service Update – Release Preview Guide’, it’s that their CRM development strategy is still in a state of flux.

Back in 2011 the company announced a new agile approach to development:

‘Moving forward, new capabilities for Microsoft Dynamics CRM (both Online and On-premises) will be delivered approximately twice yearly with releases targeted for Spring (Q2) and Fall (Q4) of each calendar year’.

Things started off well enough with the Q4 2011 release, but foundered with the Q2 2012 release. Six days after the end of the second quarter a blog post from Microsoft Dynamics CRM General Manager, Dennis Michalis, announced that the key features of the Q2 release would be delayed until Q4:

‘On July 19th, as we committed, our Q2 release will include Microsoft SQL Server 2012 support, Industry templates and certifications for our online service. After listening to the feedback from our customers and partners we are delaying availability of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile and cross-browser support. These were previously scheduled to be delivered in the Q2 2012 Service Update, and we now plan to deliver them in the service update scheduled for Q4 2012.

At the heart of the Q4 release we are focused on delivering a more compelling customer experience in mobile and cross browser. A Q4 2012 Service Update Release Preview Guide detailing the new capabilities and interface will be published this summer.’

Presumably the summer referenced above was a southern hemisphere one, given the release guide was published in November, with a published roll out from mid-December into January 2013. So are the missing Q2 capabilities finally here? Well sort of, but not really.

The first thing to note is that the December 2012 Service Update is for the online version only. It doesn’t explicitly state it’s not for on-premise, but that seems to be the case. It would appear, though this isn’t confirmed in the release documentation, that new online features, which include an updated user experience, Office 2013 compatibility, Yammer and Skype connections, Bing Maps integration, packaged process definitions, and collaborative selling, will not be available for on-premise users until the ‘Orion’ release in Q2 2013. The exception, again not specifically confirmed in the release preview guide, is that the long awaited cross-browser support will be available for on-premise in an update scheduled for December.

My understanding, after some scouting around the Microsoft CRM blogs, is that Microsoft are switching to an annual release for the on-premise version, while there will continue to be a six-monthly release schedule for online users. So it appears on-premise will effectively trail online by up to six months.

This has a number of interesting implications. Firstly, it would appear that Microsoft’s on-premise customers, which I assume include most of its larger implementations, will now in principal be at some measure of competitive disadvantage to its online customers who get access to new features up to six months in advance.

It will also undermine the competitiveness of partner hosted solutions which for many years helped Microsoft address its lack of a cloud-based version. Also, any time you have different functionality in different versions you inevitably end up confusing customers who think they’re buying one thing but end up with something rather different. One thing I’ve learned from many years working with CRM software is that life is a lot easier when you only have one version of your product.

The other key thing you will find no mention of in the release preview guide is the mobile client. This was the showpiece of the Q2 2012 release and a central part of their CRM Anywhere strategy. It would appear that Microsoft have had a change of plan.

This isn’t entirely surprising. Rebadging CWR Mobility’s client, and charging $30 per user per month, never looked as if was going to be commercially viable. Again, casting around various blogs it would seem that Microsoft are planning on developing native CRM clients for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the iPad by mid-2013.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that strategies change. The general IT landscape is shifting and the prevailing winds are increasingly against Microsoft. On the CRM front, Salesforce.com continues to acquire and innovate, and other competitors are following suite. Microsoft is clearly working hard to respond with Windows 8, Surface, and Windows Phone, and, from a CRM perspective, the acquisitions of Yammer and MarketingPilot. These moves inevitably lead to changes of course, but it doesn’t feel as though communicating these changes is getting any better. Microsoft may feel that customers and partners only need to know as much as they’re prepared to tell them, but times are changing. As CRM systems become increasingly mission-critical, and customers and partners need to plan their strategies in ever more detail, this stance is looking increasingly untenable.

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