Without saying why, Microsoft (news, site) has announced that it is accelerating its Dynamics CRM release cycle in a new Statement of Direction (SoD) that envisages releases on a biennial basis rather than on the current three-year cycle that it currently uses.

For immediate purposes, this means that it will release an automatic update to CRM Online in the final quarter of this year, while there will be a scheduled update to CRM Online in the second quarter of next year.

However, it is not restricted to CRM Online, as it applies to the on-premise edition too, so that over the next 12 months, in all, we are likely to see two minor updates and two more to both online and on-premise editions.

Scheduled, Automatic Releases

In this respect, it is worth noting the caveat that also comes with the SoD. It says:

...This document is not intended to be a detailed specification and individual scenarios or features may be added, amended or deprioritized based on market dynamics and customer demand.”

Not exactly earth-shattering and fairly standard in similar documents, but it does give Microsoft room for maneuver in the event that it needs to change the direction in terms of products, or scheduling.

It also adds that on-premise upgrades may incorporate significant Microsoft platform innovations (e.g. the next releases of Windows Server and desktop, .NET Framework, SQL Server, Office), while updates offer smaller scale new capabilities.

As the new seven-page SoD will be the guiding document for the foreseeable future, it’s probably a good idea to be clear about the difference between scheduled updates and automatic updates, as certainly in the case of scheduled updates it looks like enterprises will have to do some planning.

  • Automatic Service Updates: Will be available to all CRM Online customers with no additional action required by users or administrators
  • Scheduled Service Updates: May offer deeper functionality enhancements or improvements and still give users up to one year to schedule when those releases will be made available enterprise-wise

So let’s have a quick look at some of the other important points.

Expanded Functionality

Social Collaboration

This is the first functionality subset that people will be running to given the buzz around "social" at the moment, and, in this respect, Microsoft looks set to please.

First, it looks like there will be some CRM offering with Office 365, but there are no details on this so we’ll just have to wait and see.

The SoD says that Microsoft also intends to extend its collaboration assets to Dynamics CRM, as it has and continues to do with SharePoint, Lync and Office, to facilitate customer engagement while supporting:

  • Micro-blogging: Status updates and notifications regarding important events
  • Business activity feeds: Configurable real-time notifications of important client-related events
  • Social intelligence: Data pattern recognition
  • Identification of data patterns and streams to enhance customer service and marketing decision-making.

Notable here is the absence of any mention of Skype, but the document was presumably drawn well before that deal was announced and it seems unlikely after paying that price they won’t do something with it here in the future.

Application Agility

While "agility" is another term that gets bandied around a lot, just like "social," for many vendors, it still needs to be pinned down.

In this respect, Microsoft’s promise of agile business applications fits the bill. Microsoft Dynamics CRM comes with the xRM application, an agile solution framework that can be tailored and configured to needs.

After that, it all gets a bit fuzzy with future capabilities to include:

  • Service: Optimized service planning, collaboration and multi-channel engagement
  • Configuration: Enhanced configuration and tools to reduced Dynamics CRM deployment time
  • Business adoption: Providing a user experience that makes it easier to identify and access useful information.
  • Improved reporting: Additional charting, visualization and dashboarding capabilities.
  • Cross-device support: Not clear what devices it will support but it does say it will be used “…across a range of platforms and form-factors”
  • Multi-browser support: Accessible on different web browsers using HTML 5, but no specifics on this

Business Intelligence

Built on Microsoft’s Business Intelligence platform, uses will benefit from any changes here, with Microsoft making the commitment to invest in additional “additional proactive and insightful” intelligence.

This means:

  • Extended self-service BI: enhanced tools to enable users to create and share their own business reports and analysis solutions without requiring additional IT support.
  • Enhanced data visualizations: additional business charts and enriched real-time analytic dashboards
  • Improved decision-making: new data analysis capabilities to unlock data patterns and trends.

While some of the SoD is short on specifics, overall it does give a good idea as to where Microsoft is going with this. There will undoubtedly be more on this as the year progresses and release dates are nailed down.