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What’s New in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM November 2011 Service Update

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays causing a major distraction, Microsoft quietly released an impressive new update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. In typical wordy Microsoft marketing fashion, this released is named “Microsoft Dynamics CRM November 2011 Service Update”, although you might also see this release referred to as (these are all the same thing believe it or not):

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM Q4 2011 Service Update
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Update Rollup 5 (how you actually download and install the update)
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 R7 (Microsoft’s internal code name for this release)

You can check out the official Microsoft marketing content if you want to get your information right from the source:

We wanted to share our perspective on this release and call out the highlights. So without further ado, here we go! These are listed in rough order of importance from high to low.

Social Capabilities via Activity Feeds

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 now offers social networking capabilities directly within the platform via Activity Feeds. Activity feeds offer enterprise microblogging so that users can internally share and collaborate on CRM records. The activity feeds posts can be user generated or auto-generated based on rules that you configure. We created a short screencast to give you an overview of how activity feeds work within Microsoft Dynamics CRM:

The fine print: Microsoft does not automatically add Activity Feeds to your existing CRM Online deployment, you need to manually install Activity Feeds and setup them up. You can download the Activity Feeds solution from the Dynamics Marketplace.

Enterprise Cloud Capabilities

While Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is a great offering, in the past it lacked some of the capabilities that many large organizations demand. With the November 2011 Service Update, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is truly ready for the enterprise:

  • Microsoft CRM Online supports Active Directory federation so that users can logon with their regular AD accounts (instead of having to create a separate Windows Live ID account like CRM Online users need to do today). This is often referred to as single sign-on (SSO).
  • Microsoft announced they designed the AD federation feature so that they can support additional identity platforms in the future, although they didn’t specify which platforms they are thinking (guessing Facebook? Google?).
  • Microsoft added in-region disaster recovery with additional data centers in Europe and Asia. In the past, all of CRM Online was run out of data centers in the United States.
  • Microsoft added a bunch of industry certifications which many customers require of their data center.

The fine print: First, only customers running Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online on the OSDP (Online Services Deployment Platform) can setup AD federation. If you have an existing CRM Online org, you will need to get your organization migrated to OSDP. You cannot just “turn on” AD federation for your CRM Online deployment. Microsoft has not released the details and timing on this migration process for existing customers. If you are considering purchasing Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and you need AD federation, you can request a CRM Online trial on the OSDP platform but you must have at least 100 users.

In order to setup single sign-on, you need to configure Active Directory Federation Services 2.0 and meet the system requirements.

Announced Additional Browser Support for Microsoft Dynamics CRM

This one is a little tricky because it’s just an announcement of FUTURE functionality but we think it’s hugely important. Microsoft announced that the next service update (codenamed R8) will support multiple web-browsers and platforms. This includes:

  • Safari web browser (PC and Mac / iPad)
  • Firefox web browser (PC and Mac)
  • Chrome (PC only)

We are particularly excited about this because supporting Safari on a Mac also means that users will be able to access Microsoft Dynamics CRM through their iPad or iPhone. Nice! Microsoft communicated that the R8 release will be in the first half of calendar year 2012.

Feature Enhancements

The November 2011 Service Update also includes a handful of nice little feature updates. These improvements include:

  • Outlook reading pane improvements
    • You can now click on links in the reading pane (email, telephone, lookups, etc.)
    • Subgrids can be displayed
    • The reading pane will show Lync presence
  • Outlook email tracking switched to asynchronous, this will provide better performance over slower connections
  • Dialog improvements
    • Data is saved when moving back and forth within dialog windows
    • Added support for Date, Date Time and Lookup type data attributes
  • Added Insert Hyperlink capability so that you can include the Record URL in workflows and dialogs
  • Added User Audit capabilities so that companies can track when users logon to Microsoft Dynamics CRM (either via a Web browser or Outlook client)
  • Improvements to charting and reporting capabilities:
    • Added area and stacked chart types
    • Can include multiple series per chart (up to 5 series)
  • Duplicate detection enhancements
    • You can now ignore blank values when configuring your rules
    • You can also exclude inactive matching records when looking for duplicates

Unified Office 365 Experience

The November 2011 Service Update makes life a little easier for customers that are also using Office 365 because now they can have unified provisioning, billing and administration between the two systems.

The fine print: This has same restrictions as the ones mentioned above for Active Directory federation, it only applies to new customers running CRM Online on the OSDP platform.

What’s Next?

Obviously this update includes lots of great new stuff, but if you’re like us you’re already wondering what’s next after this?!?! You should expect to see the next release codenamed R8 in the first half of 2012, but Microsoft hasn’t announced the details of that release just yet. We are also expecting Microsoft to release an updated Statement of Direction document very soon, so stay tuned for details on that.