Yesterday Microsoft announced the availability of the on-premise version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. A month ago, on January 17th the cloud-based online version made its debut. It was the first time Microsoft ever announced an on-demand version before making the on-premise version available. Now, as they release the on-premise version we spot another rarity in the software world… bringing a product to market early. Back in January Microsoft had said they would release the on-premise version on February 28th, but lo and behold, it is already here.
In a way it is not surprising. The online and on-premise versions are really the same. While in the initial launch event Kirill Tatarinov (head of the Dynamics business) noted the symmetry between the two versions and touted this as something nobody had ever done before, I would respectfully disagree. In the past year we have seen several major enterprise applications vendors do the same, pointing to the value of giving customers choice and allowing them to move, uninhibited between the cloud and on-premise and back again. I suppose if you narrow the conditions down enough it might be unique, but instead I would point to it as a growing trend, particularly among those traditionally on-premise only software solution providers.
I am actually just now catching up on all this news. When I was recently with Aberdeen I was not the primary analyst covering CRM. But with a broad coverage area of Enterprise Applications, the center point being ERP, it was pretty hard to avoid. As ERP vendors continued to expand their solution footprints, the front office was one of the first targets. Very often I would see CRM modules being added to the core of ERP. Originally they were CRM Lite, but no more. These fully integrated or even embedded versions were becoming more feature-rich and fully functional. So it is not unusual for me to see CRM sold as a feature of ERP.
This made perfect sense to me because for almost 2 decades CRM vendors have been using the phrase, “a 360o view of the customer.” But I failed to see how they could pull that off without ERP, or minimally an accounting system. After all, it is not a CRM system that invoices the customer or manages the receivables and seldom does it manage inventory where field service is an integral part of servicing the customer.
But not only is Microsoft Dynamics selling the compatibility and integration with ERP, you could almost say they are selling it as a feature of Outlook. I see this as a rather ingenious way of getting CRM infiltrated into the organization. It is human nature to resist change (and new software indeed represents change) and the sales organization is no exception. In addition, how often have you seen a sales rep resist using the sales force automation “leg” of CRM for fear of big brother looking over his or her shoulder? End users of enterprise applications are less likely to ask for an additional software applications (to implement and learn) than they are to ask for more functionality in the solutions they already have. And what application does a sales rep, particularly an inside rep, practically live in? Microsoft Outlook.
Of course, adding this functionality to Outlook does represent some change. But I have just recently migrated from Office 2003/Outlook 2007 to the 2010 versions of both. Talk about change! Of course it presented a bit of difficulty in finding the features I was accustomed to, but even after several weeks, it is a constant series of discovery of new features and functions. Based on the demo I saw of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, the experience appears to be similar. Where I now click on Mail, Calendar, Contacts or Tasks, I would have an additional choice to go directly to CRM. But for the most part I don’t often have to leave the comfort of Outlook. I get new buttons on my tool bars with what Microsoft calls an Office-like ribbon. I get new personalization features. For example I can have any opportunity over a certain dollar value or forecast percentage highlighted with red, bolded font. With one click I can turn those opportunities into a chart, or I can have predefined charts. Or I could just stick to the raw data if I weren’t such a “visual” person.
Those are changes I could easily get used to!