The latest iteration of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which debuted this morning, hits all the high notes of functionality now expected in a modern CRM system: intelligence, productivity, mobility and service.  The company has enhanced or added features in these areas with its new release, which is due out sometime in the fourth quarter.

Angela Bandlow
The new release is debuting at a fortuitous time for Microsoft, Angela Bandlow, senior director of Product Marketing, told CMSWire. "It's been a great fiscal year for us as we have doubled our CRM revenue on a year over year basis."

Microsoft is continuing its pattern of releasing updates to Dynamics CRM every six months, with the autumn release focusing on on premise and online, and the spring release updating just the online feature set.

The application is still seeing growth with the on premise version, Bandlow said, "but now where near what we are seeing with our online growth."

Now, on to the enhancements Microsoft has made with its latest release — or at least one category of its enhancements.

Doling Out Information

Microsoft will be describing the features strictly on a one-by-one basis throughout the next several weeks and months leading up the release.  So, yes, that means if you are chomping at the bit for specific details about, say, the new intelligence features you will have to wait. Today it is productivity's turn.

With this release, Microsoft has doubled down on a lesson other software and online providers have learned over the years: never allow your user to leave the application if you can help it.  From the perspective of providers this is just smart business -- why allow users to get comfortable with another, possible rival application if you can deliver all they need? From a user perspective too it makes sense, especially if you are a particularly busy user.

Studies show that every time a user switches programs or applications there is a 40 percent decrease in productivity, Bandlow noted, which was the main driver behind this design tweak.

"One of our core ambitions is to reinvent how companies think about productivity," Bandlow said. "We have created an immerse experience for the tasks that people do everyday on Microsoft Dynamics CRM."

An Immersive Experience

To create this immersive experience, Microsoft has added new features and introduced some new capabilities, including adding Delve to the mix for the first time. For those unfamiliar with Delve, the new feature is worthy of its own article

For our purposes here, it is enough to say that Delve was the first application to be released under the Office Graph framework [see this Microsoft blog post for further explanation of Office Graph and Delve]. 

Microsoft describes it as a demonstration of "the art of what is possible" for Open Graph data. Here in Dynamics CRM, it is part of the company's productivity enhancements, allowing users to discover information to help in their jobs. For example, a sales person might use Delve to research an important lead or cross-sell to a big account.

Microsoft has also added new templates to Dynamics CRM that cover a range of tasks, functions and scenarios. Users can toggle between these templates instead of routinely exporting and importing data.

With the new templates, "I can manipulate data in the sales forecast and then update the changes in CRM," Bandlow said. "I don't have to go to another application to complete that step."

Users can also create private rows if they want to forecast changes in a local sales pipeline but don’t want to change the original data. This, incidentally, is the concept behind Birst's recent release of Networked BI.

Another productivity enhancement is a new integration with OneDrive for Business, which gives Dynamics CRM users access to documents. Also, as with Google's recent productivity enhancements, there is a tad of content creation capabilities in this release with new document generation features.

What About the Rest?

In a way, it's not logical for Microsoft to introduce the new and/or enhanced features of Dynamics CRM 2016 in silos, something it tacitly acknowledges as it describes other productivity features that cross over into mobility, service and intelligence in this morning's release.

For example, Microsoft tells us that Dynamics CRM 2016 will sport new predictive capabilities powered by Azure Machine Learning models that will help sales reps identify what customers' may need in the future and then target them with up-sell and cross sell deals.

And for the mobile portion of the release, Microsoft is debuting Cortana integration in the CRM dashboard. Cortana support for voice-driven CRM directives is already available in the personal assistance, able to complete such directives as 'get me my leads for today'. Cortana essentially navigates to CRM app to open the leads field for the user. In this version, Cortana support is embedded, giving voice control access to sales activities, accounts and opportunities, Bandlow said.

Dynamics CRM 2016 will also introduce the addition of Office Groups for the first time, according to Bandlow. "They are a common Microsoft currency for sharing and collaborating across teams," she said.  This time last year Microsoft added Office Groups to Office 365.

Next Up Is Service

Microsoft's next media tour on Dynamics CRM will focus on its service enhancements, Bandlow said. Its acquisitions of FieldOne and FantasySalesTeam will be part of the autumn release and be fully integrated in the Spring release, she said. So stay tuned.

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