Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Convergence EMEA 2007 in Copenhagen

I am writing this posting from my hotell room in Copenhagen on the end of the second of the three days of the Convergence event.

As you can expect, a lot of focus is on the new CRM 4.0 and all the brilliant new features of it. The other Dynamics products, mainly NAV and AX are also getting some of their well deserved air-time, but for me, it is all CRM! :)

So, anything interesting? Yes, a lot. I will be digging deeper into some of the topics later but would just like to write a little bit about everything I have seen and thought about thus far.

CRM 4.0 - What's new?
Well, a lot.

Multi, multi, multi!
Most of the focus is of course on Multilanguage, multicurrency and multitenancy. I personally feel that from the perspective of where I usually work, the two foremost "multis" are the most interesting. Multitennancy is maybe most interesting from a large enterprise view or hosting environment view

Internet facing
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 (as it formally is called, I will just call it CRM) has the ability to work as an Internet facing application, which CRM 3.0 wasn't (appart from CRM 3.0 SPE). This is really good news since it is really to be expected of the product. I havn't been able to get any info yet on how this works with MS ISA running reverse proxy (like you do in SharePoint) but I would imagine that it works (it didn't work very well in CRM 3.0).

Better Outlook client
The outlook client has gotten a major workover, and is now more stable and has a better interface. Some features to mention in that it will show a progressbar when loading and won't block the usage of Outlook during this time. It also allows for syncronization of other activity entities that just email, contacts, calendar and todo's, like for instance phonecalls and faxes. I havn't seen this in action yet.

The email subject tokens are gone! Exaclty how it is handled in CRM 4.0, is still unclear for me, but it is probably handled in the mail header somehow. Emails can also be converted to leads and cases directly.

Autocomplete in lookup fields
One very timesaving feature is that the well know autocomplete/intellisense function has been enabled on all lookupfields, vastly reducing the clickyness of CRM. Good job!

Multi language
A lot can be written about this, but in general it uses one server installation language (default language) and then MUI-packs can be installed on either the server or the client to be able to run CRM in another language. Multi language is supported for picklists, sitemap, isv.config and more but not for CRM content. This might not seem like a problem but it is, since for instance products and subjects are CRM Content. If you are looking into using this feature you had better look into it thoroghly.

The tenant is set up with one Base currency that will be used as such and will for instance be the currency used in reports. Pricelists are in several currencies and exchangerates can be set using the webservice.

Mail Merge
The mail merge has been improved a lot. Web client based mail merge has been activated (is only available using the Outlook client in CRM 3.0). Language specific mail merge templates can be created. Mail Merge has been enabled for custom entities.

CRM - Excel
Excel connections can be either iqv (like CRM 3.0) or ODBC. Refreshing of data is supported and a very very powerful feature of enabling updating back to CRM is also supported including creating new objects. This is very powerful since it can be used to clean data and do imports in a simple manner.

Office Communication integration
Office Communicatior has been integrated and you will get presence info in CRM. Very useful!

Resource Center
A new feature called the resource center has been added that allows role based info to be shown to the client. I don't know the specifics of what can and cannot be done yet.

New licensing
Two new licensing methods will be supported. Per device licensing and a "simple" user license, to be used for users who might only need to view CRM data shown in SharePoint in an agregated view. The details of the later licensing method, and what it will be called, is still very unclear. There will be no price difference between the per user and per device license. I will get back to you when I know more about this.

Diagnostics and troubleshooting
There are some additional tools to facilitate diagnostics and troubleshooting. Tools mentioned are Office Client Diagnostics and the possibility to switch on tracing in CRM (very performance demanding). There is also some sort of "self-healing" going on in the client. Exacly what it does is still unclear.

Entity relationships
This has been discussed before in this and other blogs. In short, all that you wanted from CRM 3.0 is there in CRM 4.0 - many - many, 1-1, self referential, system - system. I havn't heard of any limitations to this yet, but I am sure there are some (like maybe relationsships to "order product" or "quote product".

The workflow handling is totally new and has been moved to Windows Workflow Foundation. (.NET 3.0). This is great news since this allows for REALLY advanced workflows.

In short, you don't have to go to the server to create simpler workflows, they can be created from the web gui. A lot more creation options are supported, publishing of workflows is supported, there is a nice wizard, you can create workflow templates.

Also, the "sales process" has been removed and "stages" has been added to normal workflows, and can hence be used in all workflows, for all entities.

Workflows can now traverse relationships, the date-time handling is a lot better and the branching options has been improved a lot with support of "else" and "wait" statements. Dynamic data in forms is also supported using Workflow.

This is also an area that has been re-written a lot. Reports are now run directly on the CRM server, which gets rid of all Kerberos delegation issues. There is a nice end-user report wizard that is about as hard as creating an advanced find saved view. Reports are language specific (if you want them to be). There is support for scheduling directly from CRM. There is support for offline reports.

There is now a nice wizard for importing data and it is possible to save and export the datamapping. It supports all entities. It supports backing out of an import, even several weeks later.

Duplicate detection
An advanced and customizable dupicate detection exists that allows for cleaner data.

As promised, all supported customizations are supported for uppgrading, including callouts. There is a nice wizard that checks for possible problems before. Even though there are nice promises, I would really like to see this work before I believe it! It is almost to good to be true!

The exporting of security roles is now supported. When exporting all customizations, even all dlls that have been added as plug-ins are included. This will enable the movement of an entire solution from one server to another. (Ex. test to production).

Scale out possibilities
CRM has been split up into several services that can be distributed to several machines, so workflow, for instance can be moved from the front-end web servers to dedicated servers allowing for better scale-out options and greater performance.

The metadata webservice now enables writing, so new attributes, entites etc. can now be created programatically!

Create users in bulk
This has also been discussed in other blogs, but in short, it allows for the bulk creation of many users at once.

Well, that was a short overview of some of the new features in CRM 4.0 and I have hardly mentioned plug-ins.

I have attended lots of different sessions and will write a lot about it soon! As for now, the dinner table is calling (as is my belly!).

Over and out!

Gustaf Westerlund
CRM and SharePoint Consultant

Humandata AB (soon WM-Data)

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