Microsoft is a struggling player in the mobile operating system market, and brings that experience as well the limitations to the Dynamics product. With the Dynamics CRM 2013 and 2016 releases, Microsoft has made up some lost ground in terms of mobile CRM, however, finds itself between mobile solutions. Many Microsoft CRM on-premise users continue to use Mobile Express while Dynamics CRM online users are benefiting from the new mobile strategy.
Microsoft CRM Mobile Future
The Dynamics 2013 and 2016 releases delivered not just a new mobile solution (sometimes called MoCA, for Mobile Client Application), but for the first time in my opinion, a mobile strategy. Although late to the game, the software giant now shows an intent to turn an inherent weakness into a competitive strength. The new Microsoft mobile strategy is a tablet-first approach, which essentially creates mobile solutions on tablets and then extends those solutions to phones in successive phases.
With the release of Dynamics CRM 2013, the company expanded its tablet support from Windows 8 and Surface to include the iPad with a semi-native iOS application and real 'touch and gesture' navigation that Apple users expect. Microsoft seems to have recognized that sales people are increasingly out of the office, and now carry their offices with them via their mobile devices. Tablets extend CRM mobility to deliver more information (more customer data, Contact communication cards, dashboards, charts, etc), in an easier to consume fashion, as well as aid shared screen selling experiences. With the Dynamics CRM 2016 release, Microsoft advanced from offline processing using cached records and timestamps to full mobile CRM offline capability.
The mobile CRM technology has adopted a mobile hybrid architecture, consisting of HTML5 at the presentation layer and a "shim" (shell that leverages native device capabilities) for OS and device capabilities. Most of the mobile controls are touch-based. Dynamics mobility extends capabilities and utilities (such as custom views, forms modifications, Business Rules and Portable Business Logic (PBL)) from the desktop application to mobile devices, so that both system administration and the user experience are consistent from the desktop to the mobile device.
The mobile client now supports global search so users can search across multiple entities, something not available in the full web client using Quick Find which only searches within a single entity. The mobile solution also makes good use of "fluid forms" which are essentially a Microsoft variant of responsive design techniques. Fluid forms adjust page displays to the form factor and device, and not just by resizing the pages, but by actually dynamically changing the page constructs (such as the number of columns used in the forms) based on view (portrait or landscape), device and form factor. This delivers a much more rewarding mobile user experience as compared to some competitor CRM systems. Another competitive advantage is that Microsoft does not charge an additional fee for mobility.
The new Microsoft CRM mobile strategy has a lot to like, but is in early days, and currently has a number of limitations (mobile forms are restricted to 5 tabs or 75 fields and 10 lists, whichever comes first) and some weaknesses such as an inability to support multiple dashboard views and forms, no support for iframes or web resources, missing enterprise mobile device management tools and a lack of support for core Microsoft technologies such as Yammer and Lync. In reality, some of these limitations may be resolved in the near term (such as support for multiple views/forms/dashboards, Lync integration and a steady drip delivery of mobile device management tools), however, other limitations are more complex as they are due to a lack of support by Apple's iOS. Nonetheless, as iPad is the industry standard tablet device in both the enterprise and for field sales forces, Microsoft is going to have to resolve these limitations within Apple's environment.
Finally, Microsoft's mobile strategy includes dropping development efforts and support for BlackBerry.
Microsoft CRM Mobile Legacy
Because Microsoft's new mobile strategy is a work in process, the legacy mobile CRM solution, called Mobile Express, will continue to serve a number of on-premise users and use cases. Below are some strengths and weaknesses for this mobile application.
Dynamics CRM Mobile Express strengths:
- Included with Dynamics CRM (no extra fee).
- Supports multiple browsers, including IE, Firefox and Safari.
- A visual editor allows users to easily turn individual entities on or off, add or remove fields, or change the field order on mobile forms (by object). Users can also dictate basic field controls such as making fields read-only.
- Mobile Express supports simple data query, and the displays include Views setup in the desktop application.
- There's some basic intelligence in the mobile display, such as fields with no data don’t display on forms.
- Mobile Express connects to both on-premise and online CRM.
Dynamics CRM Mobile Express weaknesses:
- There's no offline or sync capabilities.
- Mobile emails are not tracked in CRM (unlike the desktop Outlook client which uses the Track button to sync with CRM).
- Activity records are read-only or otherwise restricted. While users have CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) controls with accounts, contacts and opportunities, Activities are much more limited and editable behaviors depend upon the Activity type. For example, Tasks and Notes support create, view and edit. Phone Calls and Appointments support view and edit. Email, Faxes, Letters are view only. Also, users cannot update Activities as Complete using Mobile Express.
- Lookups are handled as “Text and Resolve” (meaning you have know and enter lookup list values, or get an error).
Over the course of time, Mobile Express will be gradually deprecated. While the mobile app will be replaced with the new Microsoft mobile strategy of tablet-first followed by phone apps, the underlying Mobile Express constructs will continue to be available and used for an extended period.
Additional feature rich mobile CRM alternatives exist from Microsoft's deep partner channel. For example, partners such as Resco and TenDigits offer mature tools to extend Dynamics to non-Windows based smartphones and tablets as well as support both offline (and synchronization) capability and advanced features. If mobile is a key part of your strategy and the Windows Mobile platform is not, evaluations of these third party products may be useful to accommodate any inherent weaknesses (such as functional limitations due to form factors or lack of support for persistent data storage on the devices).
To provide SaaS CRM users information when not connected to the Internet, Microsoft uses the Outlook client as an offline edition. The offline Outlook client functionality is made possible by utilizing Outlook, a SQL Express database to store the offline CRM data and IIS on the laptop to render the web pages. The sync process is flexible and permits users to setup local data groups, apply filters and choose which CRM records should be available offline. The synchronize process then updates CRM data, tasks and appointments. In prior Dynamics CRM versions the sync process could be a bit cumbersome and slow, however, this was remedied some time ago.
Like cloud CRM competitors Salesforce.com and SugarCRM—and unlike newer on demand competitors Oracle and SAP—Microsoft chooses to develop very few industry specific CRM editions and instead empower its ISV (Independent Software Vendor) and VAR (Value Added Reseller) channels to adapt the application for the particular needs of vertical markets. Also like nearly all CRM competitors, Microsoft has deployed an online application marketplace for its partners and the broader ecosystem. Microsoft's Dynamics Marketplace, aka AppSource, is a searchable online directory of software applications and professional services integrated with Dynamics CRM and Microsoft technologies. Pinpoint includes nearly 8000 third party applications with various levels of certification, user reviews and community scoring.
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||Although late to the game, Microsoft now shows an intent to turn an inherent mobile CRM weakness into a competitive strength.