CRM 2011 and CRM Online Q2 2012 Service Update aka R8

Microsoft have made a much-awaited announcement today about the features we can expect to see in the next service release for CRM Online and CRM 2011 on-premises. They remain committed

Earlier information made it clear that the key aspects of this update would be to make CRM available to a wider range of clients, specifically by providing cross-browser, cross-platform support. Whispers had also indicated that some form of ‘real’ client for one or more mobile operating systems. Today’s press release is titled “Microsoft Unveils Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile” and the opening lines confirm the rumours:

Next Microsoft Dynamics CRM service update will include a new, cloud-based, cross-platform, native mobile application…This service update will deliver the capability for customers to access the complete functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM on virtually any device with a new cloud-based, cross-platform, native mobile client service for Windows Phone 7, iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry mobile devices.

So, before discussing the news any further, the first thing to do is go and read some of the official information. The new General Manager for Dynamics CRM, Dennis Michalis published an article on the CRM Community blog entitled “CRM Anywhere” which looks like it will become the shorthand phrase to describe many of the changes being delivered in this next update.

A more lengthy and detailed discussion of the full range of features expected to be included in R8 can be found in the Release Preview Guide (aka February 2012 Roadmap). There is also some great information and various screenshots at the roadmap page of the CRM microsite.

So, the key features of the release will be:

  • Cross browser support including Firefox 6+ on Windows and Mac OS-X, Chrome 13+ on Windows and Safari on OS-X and iOS 5 (iPad 2). Oh, and a little thing called Internet Explorer 7+ on Windows.
  • Native mobile client for Windows Phone 7.5, iPhone 3GS / iPad (iOS 5), Google Android 2.2, RIM Blackberry 6 / 7
  • Support for SQL Server 2012 when it is released
  • Extended functionality of the “social CRM” features in R7 based around Wall Posts / Activity Feeds
  • Support for custom workflow assemblies in CRM Online, previously not an option and for some customers a reason to go with an on-premises deployment instead.
  • New UI options to give users a more responsive experience when doing read-only operations.
  • “Template” solutions for a variety of vertical industries

Multiple supported browsers

One of the most common requests from customers will finally be answered with support for the most popular browsers on a range of operating systems. These do not require the latest versions in most cases, and although no Linux systems are specifically supported, it may well be that appropriate browsers will work anyway.

Native mobile client

This is the big one in business terms. A ‘real’ application that can be run on various smartphone devices for the users that need a much richer experience on the move than has previously been provided by the Mobile Express service or via a browser. Crucially, the apps are planned to provide for offline access to data for when network connections are unavailable. This won’t be a free option however, but is expected to be charged on a monthly basis per user, pricing not yet finalised.

For most customers this is likely to be an option reserved only for those who really need it, and of course may require an investment in devices not already used in the business. Ironically, the one platform which won’t have offline capability on day one is Windows Phone 7

Of course, there are other vendors in this “mobility” space such as CWR Mobility, Resco and Ten Digits. They already have existing customers and partners and flexible development platforms which will help them to retain some market share, but inevitably some new customers may not look any further than Microsoft themselves to provide an end-to-end service.

More soon when I’ve digested the rest of the details.