We have less than a month to go until Windows 8 hits RTM (release to maunfacturing). What has been described as the biggest OS renewal since Windows 95 is the current center of attention for each and every division at Redmond, since effectively Microsoft is betting the whole company on Windows 8. How does such a significant shift in the operating system used by 1.3 billion users impact a business application like Microsoft Dynamics CRM that has “only” 2.7 million users worldwide?
The past glory of Outlook
Previously Outlook used to be the premium client for accessing Microsoft Dynamics CRM. While any other CRM application provider was technically able to design a great user experience on a browser client, tapping into the omnipresent Microsoft Outlook (1 billion MS Office users globally) was a much more challenging task for outsiders, since they couldn’t just borrow members of the Outlook product team to help in building a CRM client, like the Dynamics division did with CRM 2011.
One regular tweet the Redmond tweeps like to recycle is that Outlook integration is the most popular add-on for Salesforce.com. I can imagine that for anyone selling a CRM application the question of “how does it work with my Outlook email and calendar” will have been a common encounter. As a result, every significant vendor has developed an Outlook integration. Also, as admitted by Bill Patterson at his WPC 2012 presentation, some customers actually prefer the Outlook clients of competing CRM vendros over what Dynamics CRM offers today. Sure, it may be an add-on, but what’s the big difference at the end of the day?
Another aspect to consider is that CRM inside Outlook is no longer the Holy Grail it once used to be. While I don’t have actual hard evidence to back this claim up, to me it seems obvious that the Outlook client is losing the relevancy it once had as the central hub for all knowledge workers. We no longer process our emails or manage our calendars on only our work PC, instead we do it on mobile phones, tablets, browsers, everywhere. The traditional Outlook application as we know it exists only in one of these environments. Although it remains within the reach of most Dynamics CRM users, it is more about the desktop legacy than showing the way of the future.
Cross-browser vs. Metro
Alongside Outlook, also the Internet Explorer client is losing its past status. The Dynamics CRM browser experience is becoming available on pretty much any Internet capable device, be it a PC or tablet, as the cross-browser support in Dynamics CRM rolls out. It was supposed to be here already, but got put on hold for another 6 months based on a decision Microsoft has made very recently. Regardless of the delay, it is something that cannot be stopped anymore. All the users, be it on IE, Chrome, Safari or Firefox will get the benefits of the new “Refresh” UI in their web client.
The main reason stated for the delayed delivery schedule of cross-browser support has been quality issues related to customizations in existing Dynamics CRM environments. Microsoft representatives have emphasized that they will not release a beta level product for line of business software that’s business critical to many of their customers.
While those are most likely accurate claims, Dennis Michalis (General Manager, Microsoft Dynamics CRM) also brought up in his WPC 2012 session the impact that Windows 8 has had on product development for other Microsoft product lines. Based on his statements, the demands placed on all the product teams for reaching Metro compatibility as close to the Windows 8 RTM date (beginning of August) as possible have probably forced them to re-evaluate their roadmaps and take away resources from the development of non-Metro functionality. In his own words:
“If we didn’t render Dynamcis CRM in the Windows 8 context we’d look foolish.”
Think about the priorities from Microsoft’s perspective: Would you rather make your business applications run seamlessly across PC and non-PC devices, thus making your competitors’ hardware and software more valuable for the user, or would you focus on building something that will run only on Windows machines? Besides, who wouldn’t want to get to selling a CRM app as gorgeous as this ASAP?
With the introduction of Metro apps on Windows 8, it will once again be possible for Microsoft to deliver a premium user experience that is exclusive to the clients running the latest & greatest MS software. Metro CRM will effectively be what the CRM Outlook client used to be a few years ago. This slide from WPC shows how the future Dynamics CRM client portfolio will no longer be Internet Explorer + Outlook, but instead we have the Classic client (browser + Outlook), Core client (Metro) and Companion clients (mobile apps).
In this transformation process the iPad apps are relegated into the “companion” category, whereas Metro apps are considered a part of the “core” experience. We probably won’t be seeing all the Dynamics CRM customization tools in the Metro CRM app anytime soon, but most of the functionality accessed by the average CRM user will very likely be available in the Metro client. Companion apps fill the gap for usage scenarios running on truly mobile devices i.e. smartphones, but the iPad or Android tablet apps Microsoft themselves offer will surely never be allowed to reach the level of functionality available on the Metro UI.
By delaying the availability of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile from Q2 to Q4 the period of time between the Metro CRM app preview (Winter 2012 release = Q1 2013) and the official iPad app availability will have been conveniently minimized. Sure, anyone could acquire the iPad client straight from the manufacturer already today, but in the eyes of industry analysts who don’t pay attention to every detail in the product portfolio of CRM vendors they write articles about, little things like this can make a difference (case in point).
Are you ready to sell the Windows OS?
As we feast our eyes on the sneak peaks to a world where Dynamics CRM data is available literally at our fingertips, sliding away smoothly on the Metro canvas, it’s easy to forget what it will actually require for customers to gain access to a system like this. Metro apps will not run on anything but machines with Windows 8 OS. Also, they will not feel all that special unless you have some form of touch based input available in your hardware.
The Microsoft stack must be a faimilar concept to any IT professional. As an example, a customer doesn’t just buy Dynamics CRM from Microsoft, they buy the OS for the server & client, SQL Server for the database, Office for the end user information processing tools + optionally SharePoint, Exchange & Lync. Similarly, the Dynamics partners don’t only sell Dynamics CRM, Dynamics NAV etc. but also the surrounding stack. While in the past the OS hasn’t been a huge focus for Dynamics VAR’s, soon many of them will be selling Windows 8, indirectly. This is because if the customer doesn’t have the modern client software & hardware at their disposal, then you’ll need to fall back into the classic client in your CRM presales demo. Just imagine how crushing that will be once you’ve had a taste of Metro.
But there’s more to it then just flashy CRM demos obviously. Microsoft needs Metro to succeed in the enterprise. It may not need it immediately, though, and could therefore be prepared to not see a bigger uptake until Windows 9 comes around. Nevertheless, in order to have any chance of convincing companies to move beyond Windows 7 they’ve spent a lot of time and money migrating to not too long ago, Microsoft is in desperate need of Metro apps for the enterprise user. It’s not too difficult to convince developers to build simple Twitter clients and other small apps for Metro. The consumer can probably migrate to a Metro world pretty quickly, just like they’ve embraced the iPad. The enterprise scenario is a lot more complicated: No enterprise Metro apps -> users stuck with desktop apps -> Windows 8 only makes the life of IT department more difficult -> no sale.
The previous versions of Windows were sold to the enterprise as an operating system that meets the core needs placed on an OS. Windows 8 and its successors will be sold as the platform that runs the apps that your users need, with the user experience that they want. It’s no longer how you sold the enterprise BlackBerries, it’s increasingly how the enterprise was made to adopt iPhones. From the bottom up, through CoIT strategies (consumerization of IT). Cheap upgrade offers and shiny new slate devices targeted for the Xmas shopping season will not get the enterprises to adopt Windows 8, but they may get a few key influencers to go BYOD with Microsoft software and hardware (unlike the BYOM we’ve seen so far, i.e. Bring Your Own Mac) and put some pressure on their IT departments.
The same applies to Microsoft Dynamics partners. If the Salesforce.com sales reps go meet the potential customer with an iPad 3 in their hands, what Microsoft needs to get into the hands of its partners is the Surface. Long before the Dynamics CRM users will adopt it in any significant numbers. As the saying goes, the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed. Even if Windows 8 would become an instant success in the consumer space, this will likely remain the reality for the Dynamics CRM customer base for quite some time.