Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

The calm before the storm...

Microsoft hasn't announced any real "news" about Microsoft CRM in the past few weeks. No new downloads. No announcements about the next version. No ship dates. Nothing.

Next week, however, will be a different story. The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference starts on Thursday July 7th, so we expect the floodgates of Microsoft CRM information to open early next week!

We'll be at the Partner conference and monitoring the news wires, and we'll get updates out as soon as information becomes public. Keep checking this blog, or sign up for our newsletter for the latest and greatest information...

Needs Assessment Import Utility Released

Microsoft released a free utility called the "Microsoft CRM Needs Assessment Wizard" in mid-May 2005. This tool creates an XML configuration file that could be imported into a clean Microsoft CRM database to save you time configuring the system. Unfortunately, they did not release the import tool you need to actually import the configuration file...until now!

Remember that these tools are still BETA, which means be very careful when using them. Do NOT import any Needs Assessment data into a Microsoft CRM database that has customizations.

You can see more screenshots, and get the Assessment Import Utility download link on our website. We have not tried this tool yet ourselves (because all of our Microsoft CRM servers are chock full of customizations, integrations, etc.) so please post a comment if you try and let us know about your experience!

Nucleus Research ROI Scorecard for Microsoft CRM

Nucleus Research published an "ROI Scorecard" for Microsoft CRM and ranked the software based on the following criteria:

  • Deployment (scored 5 out of 5)
  • Adoption (scored 3 out of 5)
  • Support (scored 5 out of 5)
  • Business Impact (scored 2 out of 5)
  • Vendor (scored 4 out of 5)

These scores average out for a total score of 3.8 out of 5. Nucleus gave Microsoft CRM top scores for Deployment and Support and a very respectable 4 out of 5 for Vendor. Now let's talk about those Adoption and Vendor scores...

Adoption
Nucleus says "Given Microsoft's focus on small and medium-sized business and divsions within broader corporations, Microsoft CRM doesn't receive as high a score for adoption as some of the broader enterprise platforms". This justification for the reduced Adoptoin really confuses me because they acknowledge that Microsoft CRM is DESIGNED for small and mid-size deployments, but they dinged the score because of poor enterprise adoption!

Business Impact
Nucleus says "The solution lacks some of the in-depth functionality such as sales methodology and coaching or extended analytics that – while more difficult to deploy effectively – can have a greater business impact." It is difficult to argue that Microsoft CRM 1.2 is lacking extended analytic tools out of the box. Of course, we encourage customers to work with their Microsoft CRM partner to develop their own analytic tools on a customized basis. With the next version of Microsoft CRM right around the corner, we think (actually we know) that customers will see amazing new reporting and analytic capabilities included in the new Microsoft CRM release.

Nucleus Research also released a Microsoft CRM ROI analysis for the company Human-i-Tees. The results?

"Human-i-Tees deployed Microsoft CRM and integrated it with Great Plains to avoid the costs associated with upgrading its Siebel solution, enabling greater flexibility and reduced ongoing consulting and support costs. ROI: 140% Payback: 6 months."

140% ROI and a payback of 6 months?!?! This ROI analysis (and lots of other similar experiences at other customers) seems to indicate that maybe Nucleus missed the mark by giving Microsoft CRM a 2 out of 5 in the "Business Impact" category...

New KB Articles from May Published

We posted the 69 new Microsoft CRM Knowledge Base (KB) Articles published in May 2005. Scanning the list, it is interesting to see the range of articles from the VERY simple:

  • "How to add an existing contact to an opportunity in Microsoft Business Solutions CRM"

to the ridiculously complex or obscure such as:

  • "You receive a 'The number of processing threads was limited to K by the system administrator' error when you open a report in Microsoft CRM"
  • "A 'Subquery returned more than 1 value' error is logged when you run the Microsoft CRM Redeployment Tool"
  • "How to modify the DTSRUN command to create Application log events for Microsoft CRM Integration DX jobs"

Remember, you will need a CustomerSource login and password to actually read the full KB articles. If you don't have a CustomerSource login, then you should contact the partner that you purchased your CRM licenses from.

Most popular corporate desktop operating system? Surprising numbers...

AssetMetrix Research Labs published a report about desktop operating systems usage for corporate environments. The results:

  • Windows XP has already become the most popular operating system for companies with fewer than 250 PCs (Windows 2000 second).
  • Windows XP will surpass Windows2000 and become the most popular operating system at midsized companies (at least 2,500 PCs) by the end of 2005.
  • Windows XP rose in popularity from 6.6% to 38% from Q4-2003 to Q1-2005.
  • Use of Windows 95 and Windows 98 declined from 28 percent at the end of 2003 to less than 5 percent in 2005 (What!? No mention of Windows Millienium Edition? Ha ha).
  • Less than 25% of companies using Windows XP have depoloyed Service Pack 2.

We were a little surpised to see how quickly Windows XP is growing, but it is easy to understand since it is a major upgrade over Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Learn about Microsoft CRM, win a flat-panel HDTV!

Microsoft is running a promotion to encourage more people to learn about Microsoft CRM.

Simply register on this website, and you'll have a chance to win this killer TV.

Of course after you register, you can also poke around and see more information about Microsoft CRM including case studies and videos.

Unfortunately, the contest is restricted to Microsoft qualified businesses in the 50 United States and District of Columbia. The deadline to enter is June 30th, 2005 so act soon!

New graphic design for the official Microsoft CRM website

Microsoft updated the design of their official Microsoft CRM website located at http://www.microsoft.com/crm. While the actual website content didn't change too much, we definitely appreciate the new cleaner design.

Here's a screeshot of the new design:

Tabbed browsing is here for Internet Explorer and Microsoft CRM...sort of

Microsoft released an updated version of the MSN Search Toolbar and it includes the ability to use tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer!

Tabbed browsing is one of the key reasons why some users were switching from Internet Explorer (IE) to the FireFox web browser. Microsoft said the next release of IE would have tabbed browsing, but now you don't have to wait until IE 7 ships.

Of course, we decided to install the MSN Search Toolbar to try tabbed browsing with Microsoft CRM 1.2 to see what the experience would be like. Here is what we found:

First, you MUST launch Microsoft CRM using the loader.aspx page. If you don't know how to do that, simply add /loader.aspx to your CRM server address in Internet Explorer. So if your CRM server web URL is http://crmserver, then you must launch CRM using this URL: http://crmserver/loader.aspx to try tabbed browsing. If you do not use the loader.aspx page you can simply forget about using tabbed browsing at all.

After you launch CRM, you will see the inital tab:

If you click the folder with the green arrow icon in the MSN Search Toolbar, all the links you click will open in a new tab. After turning this setting on, I clicked Opportunities, Accounts and Contacts. Here is the result:

As you can see, we now have tabs! There is one tab for each link that I clicked. But right away, you can see a problem. There are no page titles in Microsoft CRM so you can't tell which tab is Opportunities or which tab is Accounts.

If you click on one of new tabs, you will see another issue:

Several key elements of the Microsft CRM navigation are missing! The missing items include: the left side, the top menu bar and the bottom buttons. I think most users will find the system difficult to consistently use without these navigation elements. Of course there is a perfectly valid technical reason to explain this behavior (which I won't bore you with), but it still doesn't eliminate the issue.

A few additional issues/comments about tabbed browing in Microsoft CRM are:

  • The keyboard shortcuts do seem to work correctly which is very nice. So you can click CTRL + T to launch a new tab. Or, you can click ALT + a hyperlink to open the page in a new background tab.
  • You can also use the CTRL + Tab or CTRL + Shift + Tab to toggle left and right between tabs.
  • Microsoft CRM changes the "default" menu when you right-click a hyperlink in the application. This prevents you from accessing a few additional MSN Search Toolbar options.
  • Switching from tab to tab seems to cause a screen "flash" that is somewhat annoying.

In summary, tabbed browsing from the MSN Search Toolbar will work with Microsoft CRM, but there is still some room for improvement. I would recommend installing the MSN Search Toolbar and evaluate it for yourself. I personally found that using ALT + clicking the link was very nice to open just certain CRM pages in a new tab.

Of course, who knows what the tabbed browsing experience will be like with IE 7 and the next release of Microsoft CRM? Maybe Microsoft can address a few of these minor issues to deliver a truly killer user interface experience.

Microsoft announces ship dates for new versions of SQL Server and Visual Studio

Every Microsoft CRM customer and partner knows that the next version of Microsoft CRM will be released to manufacturing (RTM) in the fourth quarter of 2005. Today Microsoft announced a ship date of November 7th for several other long-awaited products:

  • SQL Server 2005
  • Visual Studio 2005
  • BizTalk Server 2006

Combined with a new release of Microsoft CRM, this will be a busy fourth quarter! Visual Studio 2005 will include the new .NET Framework 2.0 (code-named "Whidbey"), and SQL Server 2005 will include numerous feature and performance improvements. Of course, the current version of Microsoft CRM 1.2 uses the .NET Framework 1.1 and SQL Server 2000. So what will these new releases of the .NET Framework and SQL Server mean for the next release of Microsoft CRM?

We're guessing nothing.

We expect that the next version of Microsoft CRM will not take advantage of the new .NET Framework and SQL Server features right away...but hopefully we'll know the official answer to this question in the coming weeks. Again, we expect major announcements about the next version of Microsoft CRM this July at the Microsoft Partner Conference.

New XML file formats in Office announced, what's their impact on Microsoft CRM?

Microsoft announced they will make XML the file format for the next version of Microsoft Office (code-named "Office 12"). Since Microsoft CRM is a 100% .NET application with heavy use of XML, we wondered how this change would cross-over to Microsoft CRM. After some quick research about this upcoming change, here's our take on how the new Microsoft Office 12 XML file formats will impact Microsoft CRM users and developers:

  1. Most importantly - this will enable cleaner, smoother and easier integration between Microsoft CRM and Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel
  2. New file extensions -.doc becomes .docx, .xls becomes .xlsx, .ppt becomes .pptx
  3. The new Office XML formats will be published under a royalty-free license opening the door for more 3rd party products/integration
  4. Backward compatibility - users of Office 2003, Office 2003, and Office XP can download an update that will allow them to work with the new Office XML files
  5. Users of Office 12 can keep using the good 'ole fashion file formats and extensions if they desire
  6. Smaller files - the new Office XML formats will be less than 50% the file size of the current Office files

To explain this file format change in more details, Microsoft published a white paper called "The Microsoft Office Open XML Formats". In this white paper, they highlighted a few scenarios illustrating the tighter integration between Microsoft CRM and Microsoft Office:

  • Generating invoices in Microsoft Word - "After the rep types the customer name and account number into the invoice, automation behind the invoice template automatically will populate the documents with required data from the accounting and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, including invoice numbers, payment terms, account balances, and customer contact information."

  • Integrating live sales data into forecasting spreadsheets - "the manager will be able to take advantage of a new feature of the Open XML Formats, which allows external applications to place streams of XML data within the file."

While these scenarios can of course be accomplished with Microsoft CRM 1.2 and Office 2003, the ease and speed of setting up and customizing these features will be drastically improved in the future.

However, there is some bad news...Office 12 is not scheduled for release until the latter half of 2006!