Microsoft Dynamics CRM System Review
There are a number of components that are common to all three core modules of any CRM system. Those are typically divided into four areas: Security, Workflow, Reporting, Business Intelligence, Customization and Integration/API. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is no exception and version 4.0 includes a number of improvements in many of those areas.
Microsoft offers a role based security setup within Dynamics CRM that has become fairly common among both SaaS and on premise CRM solutions. What Microsoft does that is unique is it applies those roles to all aspects of the system which provides both an unlimited amount of flexibility and also an equal amount of potential complexity to get setup correctly. What is new with this version is the ability to assign security at a variety of levels based on properties of the user. For example, you can limit visibility to Accounts and underlying entities to a specific user based on their assigned Business Unit. With this security configuration, each user will have accounts filtered to the Business Unit they are assigned to. You can also allow users to create their own rights for each account and determine who can read, edit and delete their specific accounts. This is another feature that is not a likely one that an enterprise sales organization will want to provide to its end users, but it’s a nice feature that a smaller organization, that wants to provide end users with that flexibility, might consider a key requirement.
Although some version 3.0 users would argue that CRM Dynamics workflow has taken a step back in version 4.0, many industry analysts and new customers alike are impressed with its flexibility and level of depth. With version 4.0, Microsoft has made it easy to assign rights to create, edit and run workflows at a role level and this can put powerful workflow tools directly into end users hands. This can be both a blessing and a curse, but having the option is a nice benefit to this version.
The core application based workflow provides an easy to use interface that allows for the standard set of workflow types to be defined and run either as an on demand option or scheduled to run on a pre-defined schedule or when a specific event is triggered. These workflows can be created using a simple interface by an end user or by an administrator and published for end users based on the following triggers:
- When a record is created (Account is inserted)
- When the status changes (Lead goes from New to Qualified)
- When any field changes from one value to another on a record (Assigned Resource = Current user)
- When a record is deleted (Contact is deleted)
When an event is triggered, the user can instruct the system to create a new record, update a value in a specific field on an existing record, assign a record to a specific user, send an email or check to determine if another condition is true. Each of these activities can be put into steps and then also combined into Stages for reporting purposes to track the progress of a specific workflow by Stage.
When composed and published, these workflows can be run on demand or combined and run in sequence as child workflows from a master parent workflow. Workflows can be schedule to be run on a periodic basis as well. One example of where this can be specifically useful is for assigning leads in a specific geography to a specific salesperson and/or territory.
If that’s not enough sophistication for you, Microsoft has leveraged its latest release of Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) as the underlying architecture for the new Dynamics workflow engine. What this means is that developers with experience using Visual Studio can develop much more sophisticated workflows that also allow access into other third party systems to check conditions and reflect changes in the CRM system. WWF is also Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) compliant so it can be used in tandem with other BPEL compliant systems to facilitate system to system workflow without the need for independently developed web services. When considering which edition and deployment method to use for Microsoft CRM, keep in mind that workflows for the CRM Live product are limited based on the edition that is licensed.
Much like workflow, Microsoft has a number of options when it comes to reports. There is a standard list of reports delivered with each module that users can access and print or export them to Excel, PDF and other common formats. In addition to that, there is a Report Wizard that is accessible by end users to create basic columnar reports and/or charts using filtering criteria and defining logical groupings of records for summarizing key statistics such as numeric counts or currency. It is a good tool that compares favorably with solutions from other CRM vendors. The Report Wizard was built upon Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, which is a robust reporting engine that allows developers to design, develop and deploy reports using a standard Report Definition Language (RDL).
If Standard Reports and/or the Report Wizard is beyond the needs of specific users, customers that have developer knowledge of Microsoft’s Visual Studio environment, can develop and publish custom reports and make them accessible to end users much like their other reports are.
Business Intelligence (BI)
This is one area where there appears to be a gap between product marketing and reality. Business Intelligence is often put into two categories, executive dashboards that provide insights on day to day metrics against thresholds and analytics or Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) tools that allow mid management and above to filter and mash up metrics and different filters to analyze and draw conclusions from the data. While Microsoft sells products to do both of those things, I did not see evidence of any prepackaged components that do either of them in the CRM system. This could be due to a number of factors, the primary factor being that all companies want to measure different things. While this is true, having a baseline that can be modified or adapted is better than having no prepackaged examples at all and forcing customers to rely on SRS and Analysis Services combined with Visual Studio to build these from scratch.
Many of Microsoft’s competitors offer role based and account level dashboards as well as pre-defined OLAP cubes for Sales, Marketing and Customer Support functions.