An initial assessment of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016

by Richard Boardman on September 13, 2015

Microsoft released their Dynamics CRM 2016 Preview Guide this week (here) and a one minute fifty two second release overview video (here) , which set out what new capabilities will be available later in the year for both CRM online and on premise versions.

Microsoft release documents aren’t the easiest to interpret, (lots of impenetrable phrases such as ‘end-to-end, outcome-focused journeys’, ‘automated triage and adaptive sentiment’, and, my personal favourite: ‘ubiquitously connected’) but I’ve had a good run through it, and picked out what I felt appeared – based on my initial interpretation anyway – some of the more interesting enhancements.

So here are the ten that caught my eye:

SMS Marketing – will give marketers the ability to send and track the performance of SMS campaigns. I’ve worked on a number of projects recently where SMS messaging was a key requirement and we’ve had to use third party apps to facilitate it, so anything that works more natively within Dynamics looks a big step forward.

Excel Integration – new Excel integration appears to let users work in Excel directly within the CRM application, including making changes and committing them back into CRM. There also seems to be the ability to export to predefined Excel templates. It’s difficult to envision exactly how this will work without seeing it first hand at this stage, but if it gets over the thorny issue of sales people preferring to manage their forecasts in Excel rather than CRM, it’s a big step forward.

OneDrive for Business – Microsoft have added OneDrive for Business, so that users can access OneDrive documents within a record alongside data held in SharePoint, and Office 365 Groups.

Simplified document generation – looks a big one for me. A number of my customers are heavy users of the mail-merge function to generate the paperwork that supports many of their business processes. Generally this is effective, just very long-winded. If, as it appears, documents can be generated with a few mouse clicks, this will make a huge difference.

Surveys – Another interesting one. CRM 2016 will let users create and send questionnaires, and store the results back in the customer’s record in CRM. So much information gets gathered about customers in apps such as SurveyMonkey that never makes its way to the CRM system. Having something that’s integrated with the potential for automated follow up actions (perhaps if feedback was particularly poor) looks very appealing.

Customer service enhancements – this relates to what Microsoft describes as the interactive service hub, with CRM 2016 now shipping with new dashboards specifically set up to support the needs of tier one and tier two service agents.

Social listening capabilities – Microsoft’s social listening capabilities are built on its purchase of NetBreeze back in 2013. It allows users to monitor social conversations and associated sentiment relating to specified topics and keywords, and then assign follow up actions in CRM such as cases, leads, and opportunities. These capabilities are being extended in 2016 to include more sources, including internal sources such as Yammer, as well as 14 additional languages. Additional intelligence is also being added to allow users to be presented with what interests them i.e. cases for the service team, and leads for sales.

Mobile offline support – will give users access to mobile apps when offline, and allow them to add, update, and delete records, and have these changes synchronised when next connected. This capability seems to be restricted to CRM online users with 30 or more Professional or Enterprise users however.

Mobile management – in order to manage the security concerns posed by increasing mobile CRM usage, particularly where users are using their own devices, Microsoft has added mobile management capabilities through integration with Microsoft Intune, and appears to support policies such as PIN enforcement, encryption, and data wiping.

Bulk data loader for CRM online – is a new feature for CRM Online which will allow administrators to upload data to a cloud staging area where light data quality changes can be made before completing the migration to the CRM system. The service will also support ongoing data import/export. This would seem to have the benefit of allowing users to perform more complex data migrations to CRM Online without the need to use third party tools.

Anyway, those are the areas that stood out for me, based on, I emphasise, my interpretation of the September release document. Doubtless we’ll understand more as we approach general availability, and I’m assuming there will be capabilities in the final release relating to the recent acquisition of the FieldOne services management application. However if anyone has more first-hand exposure to what’s coming up, then please feel very free to comment on anything I’ve missed, glossed over, or misinterpreted.

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