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Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Integration issues and bugs have paved the way for a CRM solution in version 3.0.
Posted Aug 1, 2006
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Persistence is something that every professional and company must have to succeed. This is especially true in IT, where issues need to be worked until they are resolved. As someone who believes in the value of persistence, I certainly admire other businesses and individuals with the same trait. Regarding the topic of Microsoft Dynamics CRM--an application that has been under intense scrutiny--persistence for Microsoft has been key. While earlier versions of the product were not nearly as functional as users had hoped, the latest version has accomplished what Microsoft first set out to do--become a viable alternative to CRM competitors in the marketplace. Our services company was one of the first to market with Microsoft CRM 1.0. This was definitely a 1.0 release from the start. From a technical perspective, it simply did not work well in the customer's environment, particularly from a hosted perspective. The seamless integration with Microsoft Outlook was clunky at best, and the application did not integrate well with third-party tools or even other Microsoft Dynamics modules. The software required a fair amount of hardware, which for a small to midsize business--the key target market for this application--certainly made it less appealing. In addition, CRM 1.0 just didn't support remote access very well, which is an absolute must-have for most sales organizations. From a functionality perspective our customers complained that Microsoft CRM 1.0 didn't work as advertised. Toolbars would mysteriously disappear and reappear, and it wasn't easy to build key parent/child relationships, such as tying accounts to channel partners. It was also difficult to modify an entity (e.g., a lead) to support effective lead tracking, or to create new entities (e.g., channel partner designation) that matched specific organizational setups. Most notably, the closed-loop capability that CRM applications traditionally offered was sorely lacking. For example, the only way to track an activity for a lead was to enter information into a Notes field; yet when the lead converted to an account, all of the activity information was archived with the lead--it didn't copy over into the account, contact, or opportunity record. In general, the Microsoft CRM 1.0 deployments we did on our customers' behalf required extensive customization to meet their basic needs.
Revision 1.2 of Microsoft CRM attempted to rectify some of the technical challenges of the product, but there was still a long way to go. Version 2.0 never saw the light of day, which is probably not a bad thing. With the advent of 3.0, the light finally went on. This is where Microsoft's persistence has paid off. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 is now a worthy competitor in the CRM space. Technically speaking, it offers a much-improved remote access feature set. The Microsoft External Connectors License, in addition to the improved laptop client, facilitate easy remote login via an extranet. Version 3.0 offers greater integration capabilities with third-party tools, such as CTI, and reduced hardware requirements make this version much more accessible to small and midsize businesses. The licensing model also makes more sense. The Small Business and Professional editions offer similar functionality, but companies that need to support more users can opt for the more scalable Professional edition, while smaller businesses can benefit from all of the features of the application utilizing the Microsoft Windows Small Business Server at a lower price point. Additionally, Microsoft now offers rental licensing through select partners in a hosted Microsoft CRM model. The functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 has also improved significantly. The application can be easily customized without a lot of technical expertise. In addition, seamless integration with Outlook now truly exists with just one click of a button. You can also create and modify reports and queries that can be saved for later use, and the Outlooklike application interface is both intuitive and familiar to many users. Most important, Microsoft CRM now offers the closed-loop capabilities expected with this type of application. You can accomplish true campaign management, tracking campaigns and associating the corresponding leads to wins. In addition, you can now customize relationships among leads, accounts, partners, et cetera and create new entities to match your unique organizational requirements. This isn't to say that CRM 3.0 doesn't have room for improvement, or that I'm touting the application as the only CRM package worthy of implementation for every company. In fact, our company provides application management services for almost all of the leading CRM applications, so we are vendor-neutral when it comes to the applications our customers choose to deploy. That said, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and Microsoft CRM should be considered for a CRM application implementation--particularly for the SMB segment. As someone who believes in the value of persistence, it's nice to see that hard work paying off. About the Author Mark Clayman is senior vice president of hosting services at NaviSite. Please visit www.navisite.com
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