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Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Independent Software Review

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Integration and Customization
Dynamics uses the xRM framework to extend Dynamics core capabilities and empower ISVs to develop a variety of derivative line of business applications beyond CRM or customer management. The xRM framework includes the server-based application, Dynamics SDK (software development kit) and SQL Server. While Dynamics customization can be performed using JavaScript, developers will also need to license Visual Studio for more meaningful development.

System administrators or IT staff can modify data objects, many-to-many entity relationships, navigation, forms, lists, reports, workflow processes and more, as well as create new objects or entities with various Microsoft framework products such as Visual Studio, Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). New entities are not limited to traditional CRM objects such as accounts and contacts and may include more user-defined elements such as assets, items, tasks, documents or activities. With the most recent CRM release, forms can be appended with child-grids which permit one-to-many record (table) viewing on the same page—to avoid what can become navigation confusion from too many downstream or pop-up pages. Other helpful enhancements include field-level security and role-based views and page definitions whereby roles can be aligned with business units or territories. A user can also be included in more than one role.

Dynamics CRM online now permits developers to install and execute foreign code in the hosted product at the Microsoft data center. With the CRM 2011 release, developers can take advantage of Windows Azure to create and deploy custom code using tools such as Visual Studio. Programmers can use the .NET Framework to incorporate Silverlight, Windows Communication Foundation and other platform technologies into their cloud solutions.

As a highly successful platform and tools software company, Microsoft brings extremely flexible, enterprise-level frameworks to their CRM product. While powerful, the trade off of these products in their technical sophistication. Many competing products offer frameworks for customization and extendability with Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions. While these solutions are less mature, and less powerful, they provide a simpler environment for accelerated development. If your organization has Microsoft technical skills in house, Microsoft's frameworks will likely be considered a big plus. If not, you may need to weigh simplicity with sophistication in order to find the right balance to achieve your business software goals.

Software Technology
Dynamics CRM is developed in .NET Framework 4 and fully exploits the Microsoft stack, taking particular advantage of SQL Server and its many related services such as Internet Information Server (IIS), Analysis Services, Reporting Services, Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) and Windows Communication foundation (WCF). Leveraging a vertically integrated platform stack with the Visual Studio development environment delivers strong technology efficiencies and extensibility to the Dynamics CRM solution.

One Dynamics technology of questionable value and longevity is Silverlight—a Microsoft development platform that facilitates the creation of an interactive presentation layer. While Silverlight delivers rich controls to improve the user interface and user experience as well as provides ubiquitous browser support, it requires a download and may not be play nice with Firefox, Chrome and other browsers. Further, we have heard rumblings from Redmond that with the release of HTML5, Silverlight's unique capabilities are no longer unique and simply migrating to HTML5 in the future can lead Dynamics into a more open presentation layer platform with native support for more browsers and more mobile devices.

Dynamics is a true multi-tenant SaaS architecture. Multi-tenancy provides clear efficiency advantages for hosting providers serving many customers, and can also deliver similar advantages to internal IT departments who may wish to provision their own internal private clouds among different departments, lines of business or geographical operations.

On the downside, Microsoft does not deliver sandbox environments with SaaS subscriptions. This is unusual as most SaaS CRM competitors do, albeit at a premium or additional fee. Sandbox test beds are extremely useful for testing, quality assurance and trouble-free upgrades and roll-outs. The company suggests an alternate method for testing, however, such method lacks the assurance of a redundant sandbox environment. This is a potentially serious issue for SaaS customers who plan to implement software customizations and/or third party solutions.

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If you have Microsoft technical skills in house, Microsoft's frameworks will likely be considered a big plus. If not, you may need to weigh simplicity with sophistication in order to find the right balance to achieve your business software goals.

 

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