By Jukka Niiranen, Senior Consultant (CRM Solutions) at Anvia
In the previous three
parts of this article series I've discussed how the traditional management-focused
design process of CRM systems is beginning
to give way to a more
user-oriented approach, where generating pull or even viral traction for
the application is used as the strategy for achieving the desired business
results. In this final chapter I'll take a look at how changes in the client
hardware and software fronts can allow CRM to fully re-invent itself - and how
Dynamics CRM team has just recently made strong statements aligning itself
with some of these ideas.
Like many other business applications, CRM used to have a very physical
presence inside the corporation. You launched a client application on your
workstation and connected it to the server software located not necessarily
very far away from the client. As the web browser capabilities evolved, the
requirement of running a dedicated client app was soon lifted, but CRM still
remained something that existed behind the corporate firewall and was utilized
deliberately and as a distinct task, separate from the use of other
Today we are surrounded by a continuously increasing collection of apps
in the growing number of connected devices around us. The reason we are able to
cope in such an environment with the same size brains we've always had is that
the applications are becoming lighter. They load up within a couple of seconds
and consume only a tiny bit of our mental capacity. At best you barely notice
you're using them.
I can open up Foursquare on my smartphone and immediately see the
nearest companies around me, as well as view a feed of where my friends and acquaintances
are currently located. Shouldn't I be able to just as easily view a list of the
nearby customer accounts and read updates of any interactions that my
colleagues have recently had with them? We surely have the technology for
building such business applications, but most often our CRM solutions don't
fall into the same category as the lightweight apps we use as consumers.
They're typically big, sometimes hairy systems, which tend to require far more
attention than the user would prefer to give to them.
In reality, the best CRM application may not always be the one which
makes the most use out of the 14" laptop screen. It might rather be the
app that fits on the 4" smartphone screen. You see, the real beauty of
fitting your CRM application into a mobile phone is not that every user would
absolutely necessarily need to carry that functionality in their pocket. Not
all CRM users are road warriors - typically quite many of them actually spend a
fair deal of their working day sitting behind a keyboard and a display.
Regardless of this, many of them might be using your CRM system more if it was
smaller - like a mobile app.
To a large extent it is the design and the presentation layer of an
application that set the expectation level for users in terms of complexity.
While it is quite easy to deliver a "something for everybody" type of
a CRM system that exposes tens of menu options and entities to the user on the
big screen at any given time, it's much more demanding to design solutions
focused on the bare essentials, on very specific tasks. But do pay attention to
the trade-off you will be making: you design the solution once, but it will be
used and supported every single day your business operates. Even if the
"less" may end up costing more, in most cases less is in fact more.
You could characterize Microsoft's early target of bringing CRM into
Outlook as an almost unnoticeable addition of a few menu buttons, and automated
data sync was a reflection of this design language for the desktop PC era.
Today we've started the long farewell to the desktop environment and many of us
no longer look to the Outlook client for our email and calendar data. Instead,
these business-critical tools reside in the cloud and reach us on the nearest
browser, smartphone or tablet. In some statistics the iPhone Mail app has
already eclipsed Outlook as the most widely used email client.
If we're expected to track the flow of customer communications from our
inbox into the CRM database, and we use email increasingly from the cloud, then
our CRM app needs to connect with email in the cloud. Happily, in the Dynamics CRM
"Orion" release, scheduled for Q2 2013, Microsoft will at last break
the users free from the desktop legacy of Outlook and allow server side
synchronization through Exchange as well as tracking items through Outlook Web
Access (OWA) on the browser and even on the mobile phone screens. These
additions are an important step in reducing the perceived size of CRM as an
application, making it work in the context of the actual business task the user
is engaged in.
Another big leap Dynamics CRM will be making is leaving behind the warm
& safe arms of Internet Explorer and becoming
compatible with basically any platform that supports HTML5. In order to
bridge the gap between what a CRM application needs to be able to do on a
modern mobile device and what the HTML5 environment offers to developers today,
we may also see a range of platform specific apps being released by Microsoft
onto non-MS operating systems. Oh, and then there's that little product launch
right around the corner called "Windows 8".
The trend is inevitable: the number of different ways in which we access
the corporate CRM system is on the rise. What was previously a question of
"do you use CRM on Internet Explorer or Outlook" will need to be
reformulated into "which applications do you use with your CRM".
Solutions will need to be designed for all the user touchpoints into Dynamics
CRM information and processes, which of course sounds initially like a lot of
extra work. At the same time it will be an excellent opportunity to realign our
mental model of how CRM needs to work and what it should look like.