Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

The future of mapping in Microsoft CRM?

Microsoft announced a new service called "MSN Virtual Earth" scheduled for release by the end of the summer. The MSN service will offer similar functionality as Google Maps, but with a few very significant improvements:

  • 45-degree-angle views of buildings!
  • The satellite zoom will go two levels closer than Terra Server

Even though no specific plans have been announced, Microsoft hinted at future MSN Virtual Earth integration with Microsoft CRM. Based on this announcement, we whipped up a mockup to get everyone excited about the possibilities:

Satellite_3

This 45 degree view blew us anyway! As you could imagine, sales people could use this satellite view as an additional tool to screen or qualify Opportunities.

One major caveat: the satellite images from MSN and Google are only updated once every two years or so. Using Google Maps, we noticed that several major landmarks in our hometown of Chicago were still under construction (Soldier Field, Millenium Park, etc) in the satellite image even though both places have been open for years. So if you need up-to-minute information...the satellite images might not help you too much. However, if you can live with up-to-the-last-two-year information, you will be all set!

Bill Gates Gives "Sneak Peek" of the Next Microsoft CRM Release

We recently found this link with Bill Gates' keynote speech from the Microsoft Convergence Conference in March. You can read the entire transcript, download the PowerPoint file, and watch a streaming video of the keynote.

050520billgates 050520kari

In the keynote, Bill and Kari Hensein (CRM Development team) give a "sneak peek" of the next release of Microsoft CRM. They have a short workflow demo to illustrate how a company could integrate CRM with Microsoft SharePoint.

The streaming video quality is pretty decent, but the screenshots are a little difficult to see clearly. If you don't want to watch the entire keynote speech, you can skip to the 52 minute mark to see the CRM-specific information. Since the CRM section is only a few minutes in length we think it merits a quick look!

1,000 user install of Microsoft CRM? Believe it!

Australian IT reported that a Microsoft CRM customer just went live with 1,000 users. One of our Microsoft CRM customers runs a 500+ user implementation. Even though these types of large CRM implementations absolutely require a highly experienced CRM partner, we think these large installs are a great endorsement on the scalability of the product.

If you want to see some proof in the form of hard numbers, Microsoft published a Performance Scaling Analysis white paper last year that documents their scalability test results using Microsoft Application Center (ACT). Because our customer's CRM implementation was a highly customized implementation of Microsoft CRM, we developed our own ACT test scripts to measure their system performance under large user loads (including the customized CRM functionality) before they went live.

Long story short, if your organization is considering Microsoft CRM don't be scared away by the competition telling you the Microsoft software doesn't scale. There are plenty of large implementation success stories out there!

Microsoft confirms Internet Explorer 7 will have tabs

The Microsoft Internet Explorer Blog confirmed that Internet Explorer 7 will indeed have tabs. This confirms our previous speculation from our May 12th post.

With Microsoft releasing new versions of Microsoft CRM and IE7 close together (late 2004/early 2005), it will be interesting to see how new IE features like tabbed browsing will (might?) be utilized in the CRM user interface.

Microsoft Previews Beta Version of CRM "Needs Assessment Wizard"

Microsoft recently released a beta version of a Microsoft CRM Assessement Wizard / Tool. This interview-style tool is designed to help guide you through the planning of Microsoft CRM system deployment. There are lots of questions about your business processes and how they relate to your CRM install. Here is a sample screenshot:

Crmneedssales

We downloaded and evaluated the Needs Assessment Wizard. Most of the interview is really nice and well-thought out. However, some areas didn't seem too practical for larger organizations. For example, users have to manually type in all of their products one at a time (instead of an upload feature). To make matters more challenging, you can not save your work once you start the Needs Assessment interview. Considering the interview takes an hour to complete...be extra careful you don't close the window!

After you work through all of the interview questions, you can output two files:

  1. A planning guide (view sample)
  2. A customization configuration file (view sample)

As you can see from the samples, the planning guide could be a document that you hand to a customer at the start of a project...but it wouldn't be too helpful in managing the nuts and bolts (details) of an actual CRM implementation.

We're not 100% sure what to make of the customization configuration file yet, because we could not find the Microsoft CRM Assessment Utility that actually imports the file into CRM! We assume this utility has not been released yet because the Needs Assessment Wizard is still in Beta. However, we like the concept of setting up a bunch of system customizations using a friendly interview-style application instead of the Microsoft CRM Deployment Manager...which is a little too technical and cryptic for the average business user.

Overall, it looks like a great start but we will reserve judgement until Microsoft releases the final version of the tool.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Update 5/23/05
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We have seen this "Strong name validation failed for assembly" error on a few of our machines, but not all of them. All of the test machines were Windows XP SP2. We submitted a support request to Microsoft and we'll let you know what they say...

Needsassessmenterror

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Update 5/24/05
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We submitted a trouble ticket to Microsoft about this error, and they posted a new version of the Needs Assessment Wizard late yesterday. We downloaded, installed and ran it with no problems (even on machines where the first version didn't work correctly)!

Firefox, IE7 and Microsoft CRM

The Associated Press reported that the Firefox browser took more market share from Internet Explorer:

Microsoft Corp.'s share of the U.S. browser market has slipped below 90 percent as the Firefox browser continues to grow in popularity, according to independent tracking by WebSideStory.

On computers running Microsoft's Windows, Internet Explorer has a 91 percent share, down from 97 percent in June. Outside the United States, Germany is among the leading adopters of Firefox, with a 23 percent share, compared with 69 percent for Internet Explorer.

We bring this to your attention just to remind you Microsoft CRM only runs in Internet Explorer. In fact, if you try to access Microsoft CRM using Firefox you will receive this message:

Firefox_1

Firefox does have some nice features like tabbed browsing and PNG support, but hang in there! Microsoft will be launching a new version of Internet Explorer (version 7) this summer. The official Microsoft Internet Explorer web blog states that IE7 will address the PNG support, and we're guessing tabbed browsing too!

Microsoft Volume Licensing Improvements Coming Soon

The website Microsoft-Watch.com reported today that Microsoft will make changes to drastically simplify their volume licensing programs. Whether you are a buyer or a reseller of Microsoft CRM, you might have experienced the confusion involved with trying to determine which of the 75+ Microsoft CRM SKU's you need...and that doesn't even count the additional 50+ SKU's for Government and Education purchases! With this in mind, any licensing simplification will be greatly appreciated by customers and partners. Here is a list of the current corporate Microsoft CRM SKU's:

Crmsku_1

Among the projected volume licensing changes reported from Microsoft-Watch.com:

  • Reducing the Product Use Rights (PUR) document from 100 pages to 44 pages.

  • Cutting the number of different product licensing models from 70 to 9. The nine new categories will be catch-alls covering the 70 different Microsoft products that are available under volume licenses.

  • Changes will start July 1 (corresponding with Microsoft's 2006 Fiscal Year).

Microsoft did not release exact details about the volume license changes, and how these changes would impact Microsoft CRM. In the meantime, please make sure you work with certified Microsoft CRM partners who understand the licensing nuances.

Microsoft CRM Heads for the Enterprise and Tech-Ed info

Erika Morphy of CRMDaily recently wrote an article about Microsoft CRM, discussing a few topics new and dear to our heart:

  • Vertical Emphasis - Erika quoted both Microsoft CRM General Manager Brad Wilson and Yankee Group Analyst Sheryl Kingstone with comments about how the next version of Microsoft CRM will make it easier for partners to build industry specific (vertical) solutions. Of course, Sonoma Partners strongly believes in partners embracing a vertical strategy as evidenced by our focus in the Real Estate industry and our ISV product CRM Elements for Real Estate.

  • Broadening Distribution - There was some discussion about Microsoft's decision to allow any partner and software distributor to sell Microsoft CRM. Sheryl Kingstone argued "It also suggested a lack of understanding on the part of Microsoft that CRM is relatively easy software to deploy and then use". With all due respect, we disagree with Sheryl's analysis. In our experience, several customers have called us after a less-than-ideal experience with a partner...but almost none of these customers tried to implement Microsoft CRM by themselves! On the contrary, the availability of Microsoft CRM in the Action Pack and MSDN Subscription allows prospects to install and evaluate CRM in a "sandbox" environment. When the prospects were done with their quick and dirty evaluations, they called a Microsoft CRM partner to actually implement the project. So even though the Microsoft CRM software is easier to purchase in the broadened distribution channels, both customers and partners have a healthly respect for the challenges involved with implementing ANY new system that touches Sales, Customer Service, Reporting and Management.
  • Microsoft CRM Next Version - Brad Wilson was quoted saying "There will be 100 new features included" in the next release. Obviously, that's a pretty nebulous statement but we are hoping for some public announcements in the coming weeks.

With the Microsoft Tech-Ed conference coming up June 5 to 10th, we thought that might be an ideal time for Microsoft to release more public information about the Microsoft CRM Next Version. So we researched the conference website and took a peek at some of the breakout Tech-Ed session agendas:

BAP08  Experience the Next Release of Microsoft Business Solutions CRM
Session Type(s): Hands-on Lab
Track(s): Business Applications
A companion to the concurrent technical session entitled "Deep Dive Microsoft CRM 2.0," this lab gives implementers and developers an exclusive sneak peek at the forthcoming release of Microsoft CRM 2.0. Learn about the changes in system architecture, system security, application platform and system extensibility.
BAP237  Customize, Extend, Integrate and Innovate Using the Next Version of Microsoft Business Solutions CRM Solution Developer Kit
Speaker(s): Naveen Garg
Session Type(s): Breakout Sessions
Track(s): Business Applications
Day/Time: Friday, June 10 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM Room: S 320 E
This session centers on new customization capabilities and extensibility mechanisms available with the next version of Microsoft CRM Solution Developer Kit (SDK). Topics covered include the new Microsoft CRM SDK programming model, new add entity feature, new client side SDK, programmatic import, export and publication of customizations, and new features available with pre- and post-callouts. The session also spotlights the .NET assembly integration in workflow.
These sessions look great!

Microsoft Operations Manager - Microsoft CRM 1.2 Connector Released But...

Microsoft released a new download that connects Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) to Microsoft CRM. Even though this download is posted on Microsoft.com, the connector was developed for Microsoft by a Microsoft partner in Switzerland, Lambert Consulting. Here is the official description:

The MOM-CRM Connector is a COM+ component for creating the necessary entries in Microsoft CRM and a Web service component for connecting to the MOM 2005 connector framework. The connector code is written in C# on the Microsoft .NET Framework. While MOM 2005 proactively monitors your IT services environment, it raises initial alert warnings that are filtered and forwarded with the MOM-CRM Connector to Microsoft CRM 1.2 Customer Service, where a trouble ticket is generated, and where you can assign, manage, and resolve the cases with automated routing, queuing, and escalation of service requests, along with case management, tracking, and auto-response e-mail.

We haven't used Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) too much yet, but this MOM Connector description sounds great! However, then I read the "fine print":

Will this be upgraded to the next version of Microsoft CRM?
There will not be another release of the MOM-CRM Connector.

The MOM-CRM Connector is provided as is, and is not supported by Microsoft.

Considering that Microsoft V.Next is scheduled to be released late this year, the lack of another MOM Connector release disappointed me. Couple that with the outright lack of support by Microsoft, and I will understand if you don't run out and download the MOM Connector right away.

However, I definitely give 100% support to Microsoft releasing these types of add-ons even if they are not supported or don't have a defined product road map. I'm sure this connector will save someone a ton of time, please let us know if you tried it or installed it at a client!

We're Blogging!

After all of the news released about Microsoft CRM at the Convergence conference in San Diego this past March, we can barely contain our excitement for the future of Microsoft CRM. Microsoft announced they will release the next version of CRM (yet to be named) later this year, so we anticipate a lot of news and updates over the next 6 months. Consequently, we decided to add a blog to our website to give our customers and partners updates more frequently than our monthly newsletter.

In addition to more frequent updates than our newsletter, we will structure the blog with smaller "blurbs" and a more conversational/informal style. You can subscribe to our blog here. However, we will continue to publish our monthly newsletter containing more detailed news items. Please keep in touch with us using both!

Lastly, we wanted to announce that Microsoft invited Sonoma Partners to participate the CRM Technology Release Program (TAP), and we gladly accepted.