Post updated 2013-06-26:
Hi there, thanks for your interest in Orion, the next version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. You’ve probably arrived here by following a link that promised to show you what the user interface of the upcoming application release was going to be. Unfortunately you won’t find that content here anymore.
Back in March 2013 several Microsoft representatives presented a preview of the upcoming release at the Convergence 2013 event. It was the first time that Orion was publicly shown to MS partners, customers and anyone interested enough in the product to either attend the event in New Orleans or watch the webcasts through Virtual Convergence. I enjoyed the latter ones and took a few screenshots from those sessions (which can still be accessed through the aforementioned site. Based on them, I wrote my own analysis of how the upcoming user interface changes were going to impact Dynamics CRM users, consultants, developers and so on.
It turned out to be quite a popular post. As I write this update on June 28th, the page had been viewed over 11,000 times. Links to the post had been shared almost 300 times on various social channels. Several Dynamics CRM experts contributed to the discussion on the Orion UX changes in the comments section, on LinkedIn and elsewhere. In short, it was a hit.
The reason why the post cannot be available for you to read anymore is that three months after its release my employer has signed an agreement document and the contents of my (personal) blog is seen to be in conflict with the terms of this agreement. I understand the reasoning behind this interpretation and have no problem removing some of the content based on the request I’ve received. After all, I think the post has already done its job in distributing the publicly available information from Convergence 2013 in a structured format that has hopefully made it easier for anyone working within the Microsoft Dynamics CRM ecosystem to understand the direction where the product is heading in its upcoming release.
We’re approaching the moment when Microsoft will be making official information available about the Orion release. At that point there will no longer be a need for any preview screenshots of the UI. If you simply can’t wait for that moment to arrive, then luckily this is the Internet and it does a great job in distributing information to anyone who can be bothered to search for it. If you want to stay on top of the latest news around Microsoft Dynamics CRM, one source of information to keep an eye on is the Surviving CRM Google+ page. If you want to know, how to prepare for Orion, there are some fine articles written on the topic 😉
Interesting Jukka – thank you once again for such a detailed write up.
It certainly seems like the right direction of travel for CRM itself – though based on recent performance, (particularly with Polaris and UR12), I have to say I’m very doubtful Orion will actually be really usable in anything like the timescales Microsoft are suggesting.
Do you have a view on what it means for XRM scenarios? The goal of “making Dynamics CRM more configurable as opposed to customizable” doesn’t sound very favourable?
Simon, I think one of the occasions where the configurability goal was mentioned was the Quick Create forms. I’m not sure whether this implies that each user can personalize these form layouts for themselves or whether a standard user role with sufficient privileges would actually be able to perform system wide changes.
Since the process control of Polaris should become solution aware by the time when we reach Orion, I’m having a hard time envisioning how both the end user configurability of process steps and the solution layering mechanisms could be true at the same time. Unless it means a sales manager can publish limited customization changes for the whole organization without going through the customization UI, which sounds a bit scary. Of course this could just become another option that the organization can set themselves: do you enforce traditional solution level control on your CRM organization or do you allow power users to perform changes through these new simplified wizards like the Process Control Customization Tool.
To me it seems clear that the XRM scenarios are not currently a top priority in Dynamics CRM product development, due to the strong focus on application functionality and usability over platform enhancements. There will probably be a supported upgrade path for CRM 2011 XRM customizations, but like the UX Manager mentioned in his session, the results aren’t necessarily pretty. It’s pretty much in line with the message Microsoft has been giving on SharePoint 2013: don’t overdo customizations but try to leverage the standard UI and functionality as much as possible. I haven’t heard these exact words in the context of Dynamics CRM yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to start hearing them as the Orion release gets closer.
As usual great article !!
Everyone over here in Holland is enjoying it very much and looking forward to no more pop-ups.
Thanks for your efforts.
Have you heard about the availability of the ORION version mode on premise? for when?
I’d like the installed on one of my virtual machines…
We already have a vision of Polaris in CRM Online… only…
is it available on Windows Server 8 ? (not via http://danielcai.blogspot.fr/2012/05/install-crm-2011-on-windows-server-8.html )
Fabrice, the planned release schedule for Orion is the second half of 2013. Both Online and on-premises versions should arrive in the same time frame. I think Windows Server 2012 support will be introduced also for CRM 2011, but I don’t know the details of that yet.
It will be interesting to see how the iPad experience is via HTML5 (I saw an announcement this week that they were releasing a native app in both Windows8 and iPad, but your article indicates a little different). I think the iPad represents a two edge sword – a form factor that almost everyone enjoys, but the expectation is that the User Experience is fully native. HTML5 may not deliver that experience.
Rob, that’s a good point. From what I’ve understood, the CRM iPad app will follow very closely the content and presentation of the Windows 8 app of which we’ve seen the concept version made available to MS Partners (with dummy data, no live CRM connectivity). How well the Metro UI logic can technically be delivered outside Windows 8 will be interesting to see, but there’s also the question of what it will feel like for an iPad user who’s used to working with iOS style apps.
I’ve recently bought a 11″ Windows 8 tablet/hybrid and pretty much replaced my iPad with it. Now whenever I do pick up my iPad, I’m constantly looking for the Win8 gestures that don’t exist on iOS. There’s a bit of a mental switching cost involved with jumping between the devices, but I usually get over it after a few minutes. However, if I would be presented with an app on the iPad that actually looked like a Windows 8 app, this could really mess with my head and keep me from getting adjusted to the environment in which I should be working.
While the changes in Orion look a good step forward I have real worries as a CRM online admin of a very heavily customised XRM with 200+ users. Will Orion be installable as a product update; I can see potentially a huge amount of redevelopment, testing and retraining before I would want Orion applied to my live CRM online instance. Do you know if Orion will be released as an optional product update to CRM online instances to allow us to properly prepare before applying?
Keith, I would imagine that there would be a similar choice of opting in to the product updates as with Polaris, but it’s too early for any official information surrounding this. I’ve heard rumors about a new “preview” feature that might be related to viewing the updated UI before actually switching over to it, but we’ll see how this actually turns out.
The recently introduced support for multiple instances in CRM Online should help you in creating dev, test & training environments for the new version. Although there’s currently no data sync options built in to replicate your production instance (apart from the CRM 2011 Instance Adapter you can install on a local machine to sync 2 CRM’s), this is also one area where new functionality might get introduced by the time Orion is released.
All of this is great (maybe) for CRM, but as a developer of exclusively xRM applications, this scares the hell out of me. The one thing that really worries me is that all of this focus on the end-user. These are NOT the people paying me (the developer) to enforce business rules. The whole auto-save thing is a colossal headache when you have complex validations in plugins or jscript. Those may be things the users aren’t even aware of, but the business owners sure are. Once again it looks like xRM is getting the short end of the stick…
Already using the multi instances for dev, test, live purposes and it is working very well despite some initial hiccups with the instance picker which took Microsoft a few weeks to fix. In using CRM Online for over 1 year the support has been ok but the communication dreadful. We never know exactly when updates are going to happen (e.g. given two week ‘windows’ for applied updates) and as the changes being applied cannot be tested in-advance it does affect our live environment users.
There must be an ‘opt out’ of updates until they can be tested in dev and test instances! I agree above with Jeff, for those of us who are deep in xRM structured systems, the example of auto save is one that also gives me a large headache. If Orion is to be applied automatically to all instances without option then I will have no choice but to make the painful move from CRM Online back to an On Premise environment. I really am hoping not!
At convergence they said that they are evaluating all comments on auto-save, but there is no opt out. The only way to opt-out is to add jscript to the form so that it reverts back to the old forms. When the “old forms” go away with Orion, not sure what happens then. Many people, including myself, want LESS black box stuff I can’t control, not more!
Auto save is quite a controversial feature. From a general usability standpoint, I do very well understand how this can make the application appear a lot more responsive and effortless for the casual user. Also it’s a feature that users run into with an increasing number of apps these days, so somewhere down the line it could become the expected behavior for all software.
Having said that, there’s a world of difference between working with checkboxes that determine your personal notification preferences on a social network vs. processing business data used for driving things like invoicing, customer communication and other much more critical records. For example, what if you just accidentally overwrite the name of your key customer account with “agsfsgasdfs” when hitting the keyboard with your elbow, then Dynamics CRM goes and saves it into the database, triggers workflows and other integrated processes and doesn’t notify you of that incident in any way, because there never was an “are you sure you want to exit the record without saving” dialog? The very least you would need to have is an undo button, since I have my doubts on how intuitive it will be to access the related audit history log entries to copy & paste the old data back in the new UI.
Over the years many of us have come to think of the CRM entity forms as roughly the equivalent of a web form with a submit button, although it’s been labelled as a save button with a 3.5″ floppy icon of course. This has made if perfectly sensible to design custom processes that are initiated when the user acknowledges his or her readiness to move onto the next stage by submitting the updated form content through the save button. Now when we’re moving towards Orion where not only there won’t be a save button but hardly and visible buttons on the nearly chromeless UI, I’m having a hard time envisioning how these things should be designed to work in the future. Will the Process Control get so much more functionality included in it that it could be used as a replacement, I’m not sure.
Really bizarrely, given the apparent barriers for xRM coming in Orion, some are reporting rumours of an xRM SKU for Orion, presumably for ISVs?
The way Polaris was applied to existing online environments was kind of OK for CRM (with the exception of the abysmal communication as Keith has already noted) but the way access to new Dev/Test environments without the new features pre-activated was shut off at the same time suggests Microsoft just don’t get how clients do development – particularly for xRM?
If you’re not ready to jump to the next version straight away then any interim changes in the previous version to help get you there later become impossible in CRM Online. Unless you were fortunate/insightful enough to have all the Dev/Test organisations you needed (and restrained yourself from activating the new features in any you really needed) you are stuck.
It’s bad enough with CRM but unless Microsoft really change the way they force every single new online organisation to the very latest version I’d have thought it was a complete non starter for xRM now…
Thank you for your enlightening insight – very helpful indeed and clearly to the point (as always!).
We’ve been working ourselves with the product for quite some time, and to be honest, the new features that MS announces, are falling short of what we expected.
Handy (yet minor) end-user features, presentation and market-specific logic improvements (eg. not every industry is dealing with opportunities and long sales cycles) is clearly less than what we are anticipating, while HUGE issues, related to all markets remain unresolved for quite long;
Newsletters, (real world) quote support, true service management, sub-grid editing, SMS support, a descent BI tool (like in NAV), product/service configuration/management/pricing – just to name few functionality drawbacks, that represent horizontal customer requirements – and there are many more.
On the other hand, it’s disquieting to see that xRM capabilities are being silently degraded, and MS is attempting an “one-size-fits-all” offering.
Makis, we need to keep in mind that what we’ve seen so far is just the UX changes in Orion. Apart from the external services acquired by Microsoft to be better integrated into CRM as well as their mobile platform plans, there isn’t a whole lot of details available yet on new application functionality to be included in this next major version of the product.
Yes, the shortcomings you’ve mentioned are indeed very frequently encountered in real world implementation projects. While there are several ISV solutions out there that address these issues, it is somewhat frustrating from a VAR point of view to always have to go through the discussion with new customers: “yes, in theory you could build your quotes with Dynamics CRM, but if you really want a usable system for it, don’t forget to budget for add-ons / custom components to handle this”. As a result, less than 10% of users who would have a need for such solution actually end up getting the required tools for the job.
There’s quite a lot of features that have remained on their CRM 3.0 level and I’d really love to see some form of progress made 8 years later. However, to me it sounds like the whole focus on investing in application functionality vs. platform functionality is Microsoft’s plan to address exactly these type of gaps. 4.0 and 2011 brought us plenty of new platform capability to support the XRM story, but the price to pay for that has been the lack of significant improvements in the out of the box experience for new users.
I tend to spend my days working quite closely with the end users and planning for ways to improve user adoption of new and existing CRM implementations, so I’m biased towards solving the problems on this front. Yes, using the product as an XRM platform has great opportunities and market potential, but quite frankly, if the CRM part of Dynamics CRM would start to erode, I doubt there would be a bright future for the XRM platform either.
It’s very interesting to discuss with someone with the experience of real world implementations. From same standpoint, I must say that I totally agree with you to almost everything you mention.
Especially to the addon selection workaround that MS recommends for all product shortcomings that you mention, I couldn’t agree more that it’s clearly unrealistic in most cases.
I’d like though to escalate on what you mention about platform vs. CRM functionality (which is actually the strategic direction, an area that MS keeps on confusing us since the 1st version of the product).
Again, I will agree with you that MS-CRM is too expensive to use as a development platform. But, truly, we don’t seem to have an option here; “Sales – marketing – Customer service automation” are supposed to be the 3 functionality pillars where customers spend many of their limited dollars. Personally, in all real-world scenarios, I find the out of the box functionality both too elementary and restrictive (in all pillars).
Does everybody have opportunities and long sales cycles? Is it always “Opportunity->Quote->Order->Invoice”? Does customer service = issue tracking? Can you possibly imagine marketing automation without newsletters? (not to mention “vertical” “add-on” missing functionality such as questionnaires, Web 2.0,…, yet considered 101 by most marketeers).
I mean, it can’t be just me, running into such business requirements and realizing so important functionality gaps – unless of course every company has Adventure Works Cycles needs. I’d like to hear about your customers and how you deal with their expectations (mine are not easy to compromise their capabilities that much).
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but MS is not working towards filling those gaps. They’re working on making those same, simplistic business cases just prettier (and quicker), changing the UI, making CRM cross-browser, articulating a mobile plan, etc.
Personally, I cannot celebrate that MS (finally!) discovered that the ribbon sucks, or that there’s world beyond IE or that customer expectations have evolved to take mobility for granted. But since the CRM landscape is getting more and more competitive, i think that they should do much better than this; There’s no luxury for the dilemma “platform or functionality”. They (and we) need top scores to both areas.
Makis, it’s indeed an interesting topic to discuss. I think all of us who do CRM implementation projects run into gaps in the OOB functionality of the chosen product – no matter which CRM product it would be. Some of them are things that we feel like should be handled differently by the product itself, whereas in other cases it’s easy to understand that it goes beyond the core functionality that would be expected from the product.
As an example, it’s not an out-of-this-world expectation that users should be able to edit the line items of a quote without having to open each item in a separate window. It is also the kind of functionality that is difficult to deliver as a bulletproof ISV solution that would cover the wide variety of use cases where the inline editing of items in a grid is needed. A clear case of platform capability development need.
Taking your other example of newsletters (presumably email), I think that’s from the other side of the spectrum. Sure, there could be a far better email editor included in Dynamics CRM. But how many additional services required in the full marketing automation feature set should really be built in as an inseparable part of the CRM software? Click tracking, web forms, SMS sending? In practice all of these have been possible to do by a company using Microsoft CRM since v3.0, as long as they’ve been delivered by a service provider that integrates into the CRM platform.
The question is: would it have made sense for Microsoft to try and build a feature set into their CRM/XRM platform that would have competed head on with the marketing automation solution providers? I doubt it, because if they would have chosen that route, there wouldn’t have been any ISV’s providing marketing automation services to integrate with the customer databases hosted inside Dynamics CRM. It would have taken them a couple of years to come up with a credible product of their own, taking away resources from the development of core functionality needed in the CRM product.
Could Microsoft have built a Marketing Pilot of their own? I’m sure they could have, but they chose to buy it instead. Similar case with Yammer, which could have been an in-house product like Office Talk, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Again, with Netbreeze, there was a similar Social Analytics product experiment in SQL Azure Labs, which surely could have been raised up to become a social media monitoring and sentiment analysis engine.
The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes trying to cover too many use cases with the single software product would only make it worse. The more modules there would be built into Microsoft Dynamics CRM for things like product configuration, online support communities, click tracking etc. the bigger the nightmare of managing product upgrades, hotfixes, architectural shifts like cloud/cross-browser/mobile or user interface redesigns like the one presented here for Orion. Yes, of course there are software suites out there that consist of a far wider set of modules, but personally I’d rather steer clear from selling the Oracle/SAP type of monolithic products and work with something a bit more manageable that allows me to quickly solve the most pressing customer data management problems of an everyday business user.
Yammer, Marketing Pilot and Netbreeze may be applications external to the Dynamics CRM set of binary files, but I do consider them as examples of “apps” that enhance the capabilities of CRM as a product. As Microsoft has communicated, they’ll probably continue acquiring these type of companies to fill the gaps on sales and marketing side, not just the current marketing focus. What this will result in is a set of loosely coupled services rather than one huge, monumental piece of CRM software, which in my opinion is a better route to take in this day & age of the cloud apps.
What should Microsoft then be building themselves? What I’m expecting from them is far better integration between their own products. With all the Office Web Apps and SharePoint capabilities available in-house, the experience of working with documents and free text search in Dynamics CRM should be on a far higher level than it is today. I’m not talking about things being technically possible to implement with the SDK’s, but rather the applications working as a single, consistent product, following a user experience designed by people at Microsoft, not something that’s been casually thrown together by IT consultants writing customer specific code to connect the different platforms. Similarly, the BI stuff coming from the SQL Server team needs to transform into something that the Dynamics CRM user can take advantage of once he or she wants to drill down beyond the CRM dashboards. Oh, and it should work in the cloud, too.
This is quickly turning into a blog post within a blog post, so maybe I better stop here for now. I really appreciate all of you sharing your thoughts and comments on the topic, please do keep ’em coming!
Jukka, I’ve heard about the 3 solutions (Yammer, Marketing Pilot and Netbreeze) myself, and I like the acquisition idea as long as there will be tight integration with Dynamics CRM from MS, and no significant licensing charges. I also totally agree that MS could do a much better work in integrating their our product stack in it.
About the partner ecosystem though, in general, I don’t like much the horizontal solution development idea; this “jigsaw”, makes it harder for the system to move forward. Instead, industry-specific, vertical functionality is supposed to add more value to the product (has also been the key-message to the Dynamics partners).
Nevertheless, I tend to be off-topic here, where the point is to get a sneak peak to the forthcoming version.
Again, thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Thanks for the great article, Jukka.
Orion looks like a step in the right direction. From my perspective, as an end user with enough tech background to be dangerous, this is long overdue.
You touched on it but didn’t quite nail down my biggest complaint with Microsoft when you said, “. . . adding more features and more menus in an endless effort to deliver productivity enabling features . . .”
In fact, usability is greatly enhanced when (visible) options are reduced to just those that relate to practical use cases. Cluttering a form with endless options and, in the process, limiting the amount of visible user information reduces productivity in two ways. Every unnecessary visual distraction impedes focused activity and reduction of truly useful information leads to more fumbling around to find the next piece of information needed to get the job done.
Thanks, again, for the great information.
I am a little confused between uses and differences between MarketingPilot and Netbreeze. I think some of the features are overlapping in these. What is the best thing to do to leverage the power of Social CRM .
#A newbie to Dynamics CRM
Devendra, I’m sure there exists some overlap between these products in their previous independent form. At this moment it’s hard to know yet for sure what the actual feature set will be like as we’ve mostly seen bullet points and a few live demos. Still, I would say that Marketing Pilot (or “Dynamics Marketing” as it will likely be called) is clearly more focused on providing tools for managing the planning, budgeting, content creation and other activities of campaigns that may be implemented through a variety of different channels, whereas NetBreeze has been designed to enable listening to social and/or online channels specifically.
I doubt the social component in Marketing Pilot would be very advanced, so it was quite natural for MS to acquire further technology to strengthen this area in their marketing offering for CRM users. There hasn’t been too many concrete tools available in their software stack to connect with external social channels, so acquiring a service like NetBreeze does fill this gap much more than an Integrated Marketing Management suite probably could. Also, since there probably will be a free tier of some kind available for both products to existing Dynamics CRM customers (with premium subscriptions for those who need more), I don’t think it will be a question of having to choose between one service or the other.