Microsoft yesterday unveiled the latest update to its Dynamics CRM software. The software now includes a new user interface, integration with the Skype Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP service and a fuller connection to the Yammer social network service.
Microsoft also announced that cross-platform CRM mobile support on the iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry phones will be pushed back until next year, the second such delay.
Full integration of Yammer with Dynamics CRM is one of the fruits of Microsoft's $1.2 billion purchase of the enterprise social network service this June. With five million users, Yammer is expected to help Microsoft catch up with its competition in the social network arms race.
Yammer had been available as a Dynamics CRM plug-in, but when the new service update becomes available in December, it will be natively integrated with the Microsoft platform. Users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM software can tap Yammer to share CRM data, activities and information with co-workers, customers and clients.
Yammer feeds can be embedded into Dynamics CRM records, and include "follow" and "like" buttons. Once an employee takes action on a record, for instance, a Yammer page is created to allow employees to follow and share their thoughts. Those interactions are not just available on the Yammer page but are embedded into the Dynamics CRM record as well.
Dynamics CRM also makes use of Skype, which Microsoft bought in May for $8.5 billion. Via Skype, users can have video and voice chats with colleagues or customers directly from Dynamics CRM. A product demonstration showed how a Dynamics CRM user will see a Skype conversation box on the right side of the screen, and on the left side will have a view of the contact's personal information and other data.
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Incorporating Yammer into Dynamics CRM should benefit Microsoft, according to Denis Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research Group LLC, an IT consulting firm in Stoughton, Mass. "There's a need for vendor-customer, employer-employee, and man-machine interfaces to be 'socialized,'" he said. "I don't think any single product is going to get all that done, so Microsoft and everyone else has more work to do. That's not a bad thing, just the reality of the moment."
Software vendors still haven't adjusted to dealing with social's many niches, Pombriant said. In building a social stack, a vendor must consider communication, customer data capture, analysis and outbound social channels. The incorporation of Skype highlights Microsoft's efforts to embed video communication into the front office, he said.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM software offers new interface
In addition to Skype and Yammer, the user interface of Dynamics CRM has had a makeover, according to Seth Patton, the senior director of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. "It's more streamlined," he said. The interface shifts from a longstanding transactional approach to that of a guided experience, he added.
Each stage of a CRM process is outlined on the screen and recommends steps. Users can move forward and backward in a process, and as they do, they'll see a new suggested list of steps. Suggestions can be tailored to a user's specific role.
Pombriant, who was briefed on the Dynamics CRM update earlier this week, liked the new user interface but wonders if all CRM users will find it natural. "It struck me as being more content consumption-oriented than transaction-oriented, which is fine; but as a reality, we'll still need to do transactions," he said. "I worry some about guiding people too much in CRM processes. Some processes are rote, but many others are creative and intuitive, so guiding people might not be that effective."
The Dynamics CRM Online service update also offers new cloud extensibility options, as well as a bulk data application programming interface that creates, updates and deletes large volumes of records. This new feature adds batch capabilities to bundle multiple create, update and delete actions into a single Web service call.
The update also provides Dynamics CRM support on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari Web browsers that run on PCs, Macs and iPads. The only way a user now can access Dynamics CRM while on the go, however, is through the Safari browser on an iPad. Microsoft has delayed mobile access to the program for a second time.
In February, Microsoft announced it would release Dynamics CRM Mobile in the second quarter of 2012. Starting at a price of $30 per user, per month, the service would provide a license for as many as three devices. The second quarter came without the mobile offering, however. In July, Microsoft said that after listening to customer and partner feedback, it was scheduling mobile support to arrive in the fourth quarter. On Thursday, nevertheless, Microsoft delayed mobile support once again. This time Microsoft said mobile CRM would be available in mid-2013 as a Windows 8-based application.
"This is a small part of the deployment," Pombriant said. "I don't make much of it. Microsoft is trying hard to remake itself, but it still has these lapses."