October 31, 2016, is a monumental day for a lot of folks who have a long history with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Dynamics CRM as a product name goes away, to replaced with a new moniker – Dynamics 365. As someone who was tangentially involved with Dynamics CRM since version 1.0 was released back in 2003 it is a bit of a sad day.
So let's jump into the way-back machine and take a brief look at the history of Dynamics CRM – parts of this history comes from Wikipedia and Jukka Niiranen’s blog entry from 2013, but I have also added in my own memories especially as to how Dynamics CRM has influenced my career development and personal success. I’m sure there are a few errors in my chronology so feel free to point out any obvious errors and I will make updates.
Microsoft CRM 1.0 was released to the general public in January 2003 and was based on an application created by a company called Icommunicate.NET. Icommuncate.NET was acquired by Microsoft in 2001.
At the time I worked at one of the larger Microsoft GP partners, so we were invited to participate in the Alpha and Beta testing of the application. At the time cloud based applications were a rarity. Microsoft CRM was sold on-premise only and required several different servers to host different components of the applications. Needless to say CRM 1.0 was a complex product to implement. Licensing was based on functionality – either sales or customer service. There was no marketing functionality at this point.
Microsoft CRM 1.2 was released later that year and did not do very well in the market. Customization of CRM 1.2 was complex, and so this product failed in the market. I remember selling at least 1 Dynamics CRM 1.2 system to a company here in Omaha Nebraska. But the client was not happy and demanded his money back after the sale. It was apparent that CRM was going to need a complete overhaul to make a dent against the entrenched CRM systems at the time.
Microsoft announced Dynamics CRM 2.0 as a major update. Dynamics CRM 2.0 was expected to remove many of the problems encountered in the first generation software. However, at some point in the beginning of 2005 Microsoft canceled the release of CRM 2.0 in favor of a major upgrade to Microsoft CRM 3.0
So in December of 2005, Microsoft released Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0, the first to carry the Dynamics brand name. 3.0 was also the first release to include basic marketing including campaigns and static marketing lists. Professionally I had moved onto another Microsoft partner and was becoming interested in Dynamics CRM 3.0 as an application platform. I invested in this book and read it in a weekend. I still have a copy of this book about five feet from me, and while I haven't opened the book in years it is a reminder of the early days of Dynamics CRM.
Dynamics 3.0 introduced the idea of XRM – CRM could be extended beyond simple contact and sales management. Instead, CRM 3.0 made customization simple but still not as simple as CRM today. While forms could be customized within the applications, Workflows were developed in an external Workflow manager that existed on the CRM server.
As for my professional development, I focused on selling GP, but CRM was intriguing to me. I was a frustrated programmer, and the XRM concept seemed to allow non-programmers to build custom applications. My first CRM 3.0 project was for a food manufacturer in Ohio looking to manage Trade Spend. Trade Spend is the money or discounts that food manufacturers offer to retailers to highlight their products for example in an advertisement or a sampling event. This company had been spun off from a much larger company and had to implement all of the software systems to manage their business. I researched available systems for managing trade spend, and these systems sold for $300,000 or more. I made a radical suggestion to the client – let’s see what we could do with Dynamics CRM. In the end, I built a Trade-Spend management system for $30,000 including licenses for their users. At that point I was hooked – I became obsessed with how Dynamics CRM could help businesses develop inexpensive integrated systems to manage all of the data that the organization captures.
However, my employer and I did not share that enthusiasm and shortly after completing the Trade Spend project; I moved on to another Microsoft partner who was looking to build out a CRM practice.
By the time Dynamics 4.0 was released in late 2007, I had a new employer with several existing CRM 3.0 clients. Dynamics CRM 4.0 introduced several new features that we take for granted today, including data import and deduplication, multi-tenancy on a single server, and SQL Reporting Services taking the place of Crystal Reports. We were still limited to using Internet Explorer and Outlook for browsing, and if I remember correctly, we had the ability to do very light access via mobile browsers. It was an exciting time as Microsoft also started offering Dynamics CRM Online. A Microsoft-hosted version of CRM gave a first view of the future of Microsoft’s cloud-based applications. I believe that CRM Online was Microsoft’s first subscription-based cloud business offering (Did we even call it the cloud back then?)
CRM Online developed its popularity very slowly, and On Premise was still the default implementation choice.
The timeframe between the release of CRM 4.0 and CRM 2011 was almost 3.5 years. During that period social media like Facebook and LinkedIn began introducing people to the idea of interacting online with friends, neighbors and business associates.
CRM 2011 introduced several useful features including – Dashboards, Global Option sets, plugins in CRM Online and SharePoint integration for Document Management. The application also had an Office-like Ribbon for common commands My favorite feature was subgrids on forms. The ability to display a grid of related records on a form was awesome!
CRM still suffered from the lack of compatibility with browsers other than Internet Explorer on Windows. IE had a very poor reputation and many users only wanted to use Firefox or Chrome. This incompatibility became a point of contention at many sales demos as people just hated IE! Of course, Salesforce.com used this as a point of advantage in competitive sales.
Cross browser compatibility was announced with CRM 2011 UR9 in May of 2012.
Another drawback that still existed in CRM 2011 was the number of popups. Every time a user would click on a record in CRM; a new IE window would open up. After several hours of using CRM, users could have dozens of windows open! I remember being very careful while demoing to close these pop-ups as soon as possible lest the prospect notice.
Before Dynamics CRM 2011 was released, I had left my previous employer as they had decided that in the wake of the economic slowdown in 2008, they needed to focus on their core business. I was left with no job, but an opportunity to implement CRM at a mail order marketing firm in Omaha NE. I started my business under the name XRM Services in December 2008. For the first four years, XRM Services was me. I hustled to find new clients and became relatively successful – back then success meant I could feed my family and pay my bills!
Dynamics CRM 2011 was a very stable application, and I finally upgraded our last client running CRM 2011 system this year. I am certain hundreds remain in production, plugging away.
Dynamics CRM 2013 was probably the largest single upgrade to CRM. 2013 had a clean new interface with menus moved to the top of the screen. Pop-ups were finally under control as the streamlined interface opened records in the existing context. Server-Side Synch was introduced as a new method for managing email withing CRM, replacing the clunky email Router. Business process flows were my favorite feature as they gave organizations an interactive way to visually integrate their business process with Dynamics CRM.
Other features introduced in Dynamics CRM 2013 included
One caveat for users upgrading to CRM 2013 was that most jscript written for Dynamics CRM 2011 was no longer compatible. Developers spent hours searching out and rewritten for the new, multi-browser
Dynamics CRM also brought one horrible feature – A navigation system better suited to not yet popular touch screens. The Navigation menu was based on the tiles in Microsoft’s newly released Windows 8. The tiles never caught on, but the menu lasted through CRM 2016.
After six years as XRM Services, I renamed my company to enCloud9 LLC to reflect a growing focus on cloud-based software, especially Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365. We had grown from a sole proprietorship to four consultants by this time.
Since Dynamics CRM 2013 was released, Microsoft has moved to a rapid release cadence where new features and improvements are added to CRM in regular six-month update cycles. Online first emphasis demonstrates Microsoft’s continuing focus on Cloud as its preferred platform. New features and new platforms show up in CRM Online first and may or may not be eventually available on premise. Microsoft purchased several complimentary products and integrated them into the Dynamics product line including Microsoft Social engagement, Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, Parature and Field One. Project Service was added in Dynamics CRM 2016 Spring Update. During the spring of 2016, Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $26B. The product itself continued to evolve and surpass feature parity with its arch-rival, Salesforce.com. By now the CRM marketspace was a two-way battle between Microsoft and Salesforce, with a few other competitors including Oracle and NetSuite picking up the leftovers.
Finally, on July 6, 2016, Microsoft officially announced that the imminent demise of the CRM product name with the introduction of Dynamics 365, an integrated CRM and ERP system with entry points for small businesses as well as extremely large organizations. Replacing CRM with 365 removes the focus on CRM as a sales focused application, but allows Dynamics 365 to be presented to clients as a system that is integrated throughout the entire organization.
enCloud9 continues to grow and now operates in five states with clients throughout the United States. Our CRM practice enjoys a reputation for helping out SMB in many industries to solve business problems using Dynamics CRM. We have a thriving Office 365 practice and are looking into moving into the ERP side of Dynamics 365.
We have seen clients come and go over the years, and have had long-term relationships with many of them. Our knowledge grows with each project we encounter, and we love seeking out our client’s best challenges. We have helped clients in M&A, Real Estate, Retail, Legal and many other sectors to resolve their unique issues. Our latest project is in the lucrative sector of giant Ferris Wheels. Every project is an adventure, and we look forward to where are going with Microsoft as our partner.
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