CRM 2013 Orion - Windows 8 App I have been spending this week in Houston at Microsoft's 2013 Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), along with about 30,000 other Microsoft partners who are participating either in person or remotely. With all of the product updates and new product releases this year, it is a little overwhelming! Naturally, most of my time has been spent getting a deeper look at Dynamics CRM 2013, SharePoint 2013 and Office 365. In this post, I'll be focusing more on Dynamics CRM 2013 updates.

First of all, the upcoming release presents significant new functionality, thus CRM will now officially become Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. This release will be available both online and on-premise, and is expected to be delivered in late 3rd Quarter or early 4th Quarter (October/November timeframe). If history is any indication, I expect Dynamics CRM 2013 to appear online 30-60 days prior to the time it is available on-premise.  This release will look quite a bit different from your father's Oldsmobile CRM system, so be sure to allow time to get your users trained as a part of the upgrade.

Let's dig in a little deeper to see what this ground-breaking release of Dynamics CRM will entail. Before I do so, here's my disclaimer: Microsoft has still not finished the product. Some of the information I am posting here was covered by Microsoft during WPC sessions, and some of it was gleaned by getting a few minutes of hands-on time in Dynamics CRM 2013/Orion at the demo booth. Any of this may change by the final release. Based on earlier releases of Dynamics CRM, I expect 10 to 20 percent of the information contained herein will change by time of final release. So please consider this information to be directional but not final.

The Dynamics CRM 2013 Menus and Navigation System

In the new release of Dynamics CRM, you will see a major (and much needed) overhaul of the navigation system. Rather than menus appearing down the left-hand side of the application, they will now be built into a fairly thin ribbon at the top of the screen.


Why is this exciting? I see two huge benefits here:

  1. This new menuing system will open up a lot of real estate for users. With the old combination of left-hand navigation and ribbon menus, there was a relatively small amount of real estate for things like views, forms and dashboards. This problem was compounded on monitors that are continuing to get smaller on portable and tablet-style devices. The new menus are dramatically smaller, which gives users more room to focus on getting their jobs done, and less clutter from buttons and menus.
  2. This will offer much better support for apps. If you're currently using Dynamics CRM for mission critical applications like many of our clients, you've probably noticed that adding new menu areas quickly reduces the amount of real estate available on the left-hand menus. This can also add complexity to the application. The new menuing system will allow you to add more applications (examples may be: Project Management, Human Resources, Real Estate Appraisals, Equipment Tracking, etc.) to the CRM application. This commitment to apps is also supported with some of the new licensing options that Microsoft is rolling out. 

With that said, there are still unanswered questions about the menus:

  • How will menus be edited? Will Microsoft build menu editing into the  user interface (UI), or will we need to update XML files?
  • Will existing menus migrate over to the new UI?
  • How will menu visibility be controlled? Will security roles be enhanced to allow more granular control of menus?

Orion’s Flow UI Changes & Other Form Updates

The new Flow UI has been available in Dynamics CRM Online since around the first of 2013, but is not yet available for CRM On Premise. Dynamics CRM 2013 will extend this new UI to the on-premise version, while also significantly enhancing the rather limited functionality that was available in the online version up until now.

What does the new UI mean to you?

  • It is a cleaner UI. You'll notice far less clutter on the screen in this new UI. Users want an experience that is simple and the Flow UI delivers on this by getting rid of ribbon menus and the left-hand navigation to sub-forms.
  • There are fewer pop-ups. Although opening additional forms is still sometimes necessary, there is FAR less of this than before. The result is that users can find information and complete simple tasks (such as scheduling and completing phone calls, or adding members to a sales team) with far fewer clicks and pop-ups than before. 
  • It provides visual process guidance. In the past (and in virtually all competing CRM systems) business processes, such as sales opportunity management, are handled through workflows that can be clunky, difficult to understand and may require a lot of user training. Dynamics CRM 2013 handles processes right at the top of the screen – prompting users for just the required information at each stage of the process. It supports this across any form (or entity), and it now supports multiple processes for any form. This is truly ground-breaking and will give companies using Dynamics CRM a significant edge over those that are using legacy CRM systems.

If you want to see a basic demo of the Flow UI, register for our next webcast: Dynamics CRM and Side-by-Side Comparison.

Some other items to note about the new design of forms in Dynamics CRM 2013:

  • It appears that JavaScript will now work with the new forms. I only caught a glimpse of this during my time hands-on with Orion and have yet to confirm it with Microsoft but, if true, this is important. Many companies have invested a lot in customizing how their forms interact with users through the use of JavaScript (and other Web Resources).
  • It appears that "classic" style forms are still available as well. So you shouldn't have to convert to the new forms right away and you can have some users on new forms while others stay on the old forms. Personally, I hope that Microsoft will keep the classic forms for good – I think there will be some job roles that will prefer the more detailed forms to be more productive, so keeping these forms available could be helpful. 
  • Flow UI forms now support creating more activity types. In the Flow UI that was available in Dynamics CRM Online, users were limited to creating calls and tasks. You can now also create appointments and emails (and click a button to see all activity types).
  • Forms now support more advanced "Business Rules" – see my notes under the Configuration heading, below, for more information. 

Configuring Dynamics CRM 2013

The layout of the configuration area of Dynamics CRM 2013 remains largely unchanged. But if you look under the hood, there are some exciting new options:

  • Two New Process Types: In previous versions of Dynamics CRM, there were two types of processes (workflows and dialogs). This has now been expanded to a total of four different process types – with Business Process Flow and Custom Operations added to the list.
    • Business Process Flow: Is the engine that powers the top portion of the Flow UI. It enables you to define the stages for each entity type, and to define the data collection rules that appear under the list of stages at the top of each form. It also allows you to define as many different business process flows as you want for each form. So, for example, you can define a process flow for "New Candidate Lead" and for "Prospective Customer Lead" – and apply both of these to the Lead entity. 
    • Custom Operations: The function of this process type was not as clear to me. From what little I could see, it appeared that it may be used either for a "real time" workflow (i.e. it runs as soon as triggered) or possibly for calculating fields. I didn't have enough time to play with it to be sure.
  • Business Rules: Outside the process area, a significant new area of configuration is the ability to apply business rules to an entity. An example of a business rule would be: If Account Type = "Targeted" then set three fields to read only, hide a tab on the form, and default the Potential Revenue field to "$1 million or more". Most of these rules were possible using JavaScript in the past but the business rules engine (a new part of each entity) will put this into the hands of non-developers. 
  • Quick Forms: It is now easy to create a new record without leaving the record you're on. This is accomplished with Quick Forms. And it looks like there is a form builder for this so you can put whatever you like onto a quick form.
  • Other Forms: There is another form type (whose name escapes me at the moment) that appears to be used for creating lookups and/or possibly for different types of views on Dashboards.
  • Images: There is a new field type called image. Not only can each record in Dynamics CRM have its own image (for example a LinkedIn integration here that will fetch a photo of each contact), but it appears that you can have multiple image fields on a record if you want (one of our clients uses CRM to track environmental risk assessments for commercial real estate loans – CRM could now easily be extended to capture images of inspections as part of their tracking process).

Mobile Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013

Microsoft already has Mobile Express and Dynamics CRM for iPad. With the rollout of Dynamics CRM 2013, they will be rolling out a mobile client for Windows 8 tablets and an enhanced CRM mobile client for iPads. Both looked quite impressive. It wasn't made clear, but I suspect that they will also have a mobile client for Windows Phone and iPhone.

While waiting for these, however, it is worth downloading the free version of Resco Mobile CRM. Resco has Mobile CRM versions for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iPad, iPhone and Android. The free version is quite powerful and may be the only mobile CRM that your business needs (it is quite a bit more powerful than the Mobile Express version of Dynamics CRM and comparable free mobile CRM applications for competing CRM systems). You should be able to go to the app store for whatever device you are using and search for "Resco CRM" to find it.

One of my colleagues will soon be doing a much more detailed blog on mobile Dynamics CRM options where you can learn more about all the options for accessing Dynamics CRM from your mobile device. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or Facebook so you'll know when this blog comes out.

Possibly Still Missing

There are a few items/features, below, that I hoped to learn about during WPC. Some of these items have been on my long-standing wish list, however, I did not hear about them from Microsoft or see them in my hands-on preview. Please comment on any of these items if you are aware of them. I will post follow-up entries as I learn more about these items.

  • Global Search: The new menuing system presents an easy place to add a global search functionality, but it is not there. One of the frequent things we are asked for is a single search bar that can be used to search all of CRM. In reality, it isn't too difficult to find what you want in CRM, and there are other options out there for this (such as Global Search and integration with SharePoint), but it sure would be nice to have this feature built right into the system.
  • Aggregated / Calculated Fields: Calculating an aggregate value (such as the total weighted value of all opportunities that are not in the first sales stage and making it available on the Account entity) or just a calculated value (such as adding two money fields together and storing the result in a third field on the same form) is still not supported out of the box. You can accomplish this with JavaScript, workflows or a custom plug-in but none of these are ideal solutions. While the new "Custom Operations" process type may take care of this, from my brief look it appeared that this would not offer a complete solution. 
  • Cascading Option Sets: Another gap in the Dynamics CRM configuration options is the ability to create one option set that depends on the value of a parent option set (such as a Category and Sub-Category option set). There are many ways to work around this, but it would be nice if no workaround at all were necessary. It appears that the new business rules functionality may come close to solving this, but once again, I could not determine how it would do that from my brief time working with it.
  • Record Types: With Dynamics CRM 2011, Microsoft added the ability to have role-based forms (i.e. users are presented with a different form depending upon their security role). While this is helpful, what would be more helpful if different forms could be presented based on "record type". For example, an Account of type "Prospect" may be quite a bit different than an Account of type "Partner". JavaScript can partially resolve this gap, but the solution is clunky at best. Record-type-based-forms is the optimal solution. 

Other Perks

While I didn't get answers on every aspect of the upcoming release of Dynamics CRM 2013, I got way more information than I can cover in one blog post. Here are some of the other perks and highlights worth mentioning:

  • Licensing: Microsoft will offer 3 tiers of licensing now. There will be two new licensing costs that are less than the current licensing cost - these will be available for individuals who need access to only customizations (i.e. custom apps) built on the Dynamics CRM platform. The highest tier pricing will be for those who need access to the sales, marketing and/or service functionality built into CRM. This may seem like a small matter, but we find it tremendously exciting because now businesses will be able to leverage custom apps built on Dynamics CRM. For example, we have an app for expense reporting in Dynamics CRM. Relatively few companies use it because they don't want to pay full license fees for their users that only need an expense reporting system – now they will have an option that will provide a cost-effective solution for individuals who need only an expense reporting application.
  • Marketing Pilot: Microsoft recently acquired this company and is integrating it into Dynamics CRM. It appears that there will be only basic (if any) integration into the CRM 2013/Orion release, but they do expect to have more integration in the Mira release (due out in early 2014). 
  • NetBreeze: Another recent acquisition for Microsoft is an analytics company called NetBreeze. Microsoft will be building some of this online analytics directly into future versions of Dynamics CRM. This looks like an exciting development for gathering customer intelligence prior to going into a client or prospect meeting.
  • Social and Yammer: Enterprise social was a major theme throughout the WPC event. Whenever Microsoft talked about social, they talked about three things: Yammer, SharePoint and Dynamics CRM. Social will play an increasingly significant role in Dynamics CRM. Look for tighter integration with Yammer in the near term and access to other social integration in subsequent releases. 

Bottom Line

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 is ground-breaking. It presents a new interface like nothing available in any other product. It is not only easier to navigate and more intuitive, it is also touch-friendly and can be used in browsers on virtually any modern device. With all of this new functionality, we expect to see the price of the full version of CRM go up in with this release.  If you're considering moving to Dynamics CRM, now is the time to jump on it and get at least your first year at the current pricing.

If you're already using Dynamics CRM, now is the time to begin planning your upgrade. It will undoubtedly accelerate the performance of your team. Keep in mind, however, that this new release is not something you just want to "turn on." There are major changes in the user interface, in the process flow that your team will follow, and in the way you configure the system. You will want to carefully plan your upgrade and treat it more like a "new product" than just a "new version."

The good news is that you can move forward incrementally – continuing to use the classic UI for many parts of the application until your users are ready to make the leap into the new world! If you'd like more information on Dynamics CRM 2013 or the upgrade process, please contact us.