By Jukka Niiranen, Senior Consultant (CRM Solutions) at Anvia
part one of this article we looked at the original design intent of many
CRM systems, including Microsoft Dynamics CRM, whereby the process came first,
then the user. That remains the underlying principle built into the DNA of
typical enterprise software. Note that it doesn't mean anyone was specifically
or intentionally de-prioritizing the user productivity improvements to be gained
from these information management tools. I believe most people involved in
designing, developing, customizing, deploying and supporting such systems do
care about the user experience, because they also are the users of such
systems, even if not within the very same context.
Viral applications aren't sold to management, instead they
are adopted by the end user. This flips the whole scenario from top-down to
bottom-up. Management does not enforce a choice of tools, instead they approve
the choice that their subordinates have made through their own selection
process, which in itself has likely included unstructured, non-hierarchical
collaboration amongst peers. Due to this major shift in thinking, building a
viral CRM system doesn't mean you simply change the focus of your product
brochures and marketing pitches to emphasize the user perspective rather than
the management benefits. No, I'm afraid you will need to design a different
kind of a system altogether.
The fundamental components of the system may not be all that
different, no matter which approach is being used (process vs. user). The
objects and actions forming the typical day of marketing, sales or service
personnel aren't dictated by the choice of CRM system, rather they are defined
by the operational processes that the business runs on. Reflecting back to a
Dynamics CRM system, what this means is that the entities, activities and
relationships between these shouldn't be affected by changes in the design
language of the system. Instead the methods available to the user for
interacting with this data may require a complete overhaul to transform the
experience into something with true viral traction.
Where should CRM
application design go?
Many modern web and mobile applications deliver a user
experience in which it feels almost effortless to accomplish the tasks at hand,
literally with just a few swipes of the finger. Of course typically the scope
of tasks is considerably more limited than that of a configurable, customizable
and extendable CRM system. But perhaps this strength of systems like Dynamics
CRM is exactly their weakness as well: the users don't actually care about any
of that functionality. Yes, they'd probably prefer to have a system with as few
features as possible, just as long as they can accomplish the task that stands
between them and their current goal. In a system with 100 options, 99 of them
will be irrelevant to the end user while he's focused on a single task, and
probably around 80 will forever remain unused.
Just because the underlying product delivers a comprehensive
platform doesn't mean that an application with a polished user experience
couldn't be delivered on top of it. Dynamics CRM is perfectly capable of acting
as the foundation of a viral business application with a streamlined user
experience, but it will take some effort in reaching that goal. Some of it will
require technical enhancements and changes to the core platform from Microsoft
in the coming releases to make it more accessible and context aware in today's
mobile working environment. Others are simply design principles that the
parties implementing the customer solution on top of the platform will need to
Here's my proposal of items to include in your project's
do's & don'ts list for the design phase:
No matter how elegant the application front end might
appear, avoiding the featuritis
contagion that could add unnecessary process complexity and friction into the
user experience will always remain the responsibility of the implementation
project team. Virality is not a feature, it's the result of consistently using
a design language throughout every part of the system, conveying the desired
message to the end user: this is a CRM built for You.
In part 3 I will take a deeper look into how Microsoft
Dynamics CRM as a product is moving towards a more "viral ready"
direction in its upcoming releases.