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Microsoft Dynamics CRM Review — An Independent Assessment

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Global Reach
Dynamics cloud CRM growth was initially stifled due to limited promotion, very cautious support from the VAR channel, inconsistent CRM channel geographic coverage and limited global capabilities. However, over time these obstacles have eroded and today Dynamics CRM offers global support for 40 international regions and 41 languages. Multi-national companies can deploy CRM in local languages at business units around the world while still sharing a single, central database.

Cloud versus On-premise
Dynamics CRM Online and on-premise use the same code set, however, there are some subtle differences you should be aware of.

  • New versions and updates are generally delivered to CRM Online customers first, and then later to on-premise customers.
  • InsideView offers a free version for cloud customers; whereas it is available only for a fee with on-premise customers.
  • On-premise CRM can take advantage of more flexible and automated reporting with SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and tools which can access the database.
  • Dynamics CRM Online requires Windows Live ID to login while on-premise CRM supports domain login.
  • CRM Online can be accessed from anywhere that has an internet connection. CRM on-premise can be accessed over the internet but will require some additional configuration for an Internet Facing Deployment (IFD). This will require a certificate and some additional configuration for IFD and Claims Based Authentication.
  • Microsoft CRM Online updates and service packs are scheduled and installed by Microsoft, so the system is always up to date with the latest features. On the other hand, Microsoft CRM on-premise updates must be applied manually but allow for more flexibility with regard to testing and deployment schedule.
  • CRM on-premise has the advantage of offering a full database backup and restore via SQL and CRM Deployment manager. This can be used to export a backup or make a copy of a production environment and keep the data and customizations in sync in a Test environment. CRM Online customers can request a backup of the database from Microsoft but Microsoft will not copy it over to another CRM instance for you.

Deployment Considerations
When implementing the Sales Force Automation SaaS version without modifications or system integration, a production-ready CRM system can be achieved in a few days to a few weeks depending upon the scope of configuration, user count and reporting requirements.

For trials or conference room pilot purposes, Microsoft offers a one month trial for small and midsize (SMB) organizations, and often agrees to trials of up to six months for enterprise pilots.

Implementing the broader CRM suite, including marketing and service, may require third party products or third party service providers such as system integrators. For example, the marketing module provides only simple campaign management so more advanced functions such as lead management will require Microsoft Dynamics Marketing or a third party lead automation system (such as ClickDimensions, IBM Marketing Cloud (previously called Silverpop), Marketo or SalesFUSION). Similarly, the service component may require an external service provider for environments beyond simple help desks, such as contact centers with deeper functional needs and integration to a host of systems and tools such as ACH (automated call handling), CTI (computer telephony integration), IVR (interactive voice response) and next-best-offer technology.

Service providers will also likely be required for vertical market adaptations of the Dynamics solution. Dynamics CRM is a horizontal (non-industry specific) product and Microsoft relies on its ISV, VAR and systems integrator partners to extend its solution for the needs of specific industries, geographies or market niches.

For sophisticated or enterprise Dynamics CRM implementations, Microsoft endorses a deployment methodology called Sure Step. It's a six phase implementation approach – Diagnostic, Analysis, Design, Develop, Deploy and Operate – that is configured by project type (Standard, Rapid, Enterprise, Agile, Upgrade), mature and well suited for Microsoft CRM and ERP deployments. Sure Step lacks real support for agile methods, but can be adapted by experienced implementors.

Market Delivery
Microsoft is showing its marketing muscle and providing increased incentives for reseller partners to more assertively push the CRM online version. However, this push is no small undertaking. VAR channels of almost all on-premise Customer Relationship Management and enterprise software solutions are accustomed to 40% or better software margins, up-front revenue collection and professional service fees which exceed the software licensing amount by a multiple factor. Coercing the channel to replace that up front revenue stream with dramatically smaller and deferred subscription fees, received in arrears and with fewer professional services is a hard pill for many VARs to swallow. Nonetheless, Microsoft shows commitment in educating those VARs and helping them adjust their business models for the next wave of customer demand.

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When implementing the SFA module online without modifications or system integration, a production-ready CRM system can be achieved in a few days to a few weeks depending upon the scope of configuration, user count and reporting requirements.

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