By Ben Hosking, CRM Technical Lead, Crimson Systems Ltd

Microsoft Dynamic CRM 2011 has been a huge success and in my opinion has made Microsoft the front runner in the CRM marketplace. Microsoft listened to the users’ complaints about CRM 4’s weaknesses and has included many of these improvements in CRM 2011 - both in terms of features like Solutions Management, SharePoint 2010 integration, Auditing, Dashboards, and improved reporting, as well as by bolstering the customer experience with its CRM Online uptime guarantee, competitive pricing, and the growing CRM marketplace.

But CRM 2011 is far from perfect and now that everyone has had plenty of time to read up and investigate the new features, I think it’s fair to say the Dynamics CRM product still has lots of room for improvement. I would also like to point out this article is not intended to be negative because I am a massive fan of CRM 2011 but I am also interested in seeing Microsoft add enhancements that will make it even better.

1. No Multi Browser support

Microsoft still insist you use Internet Explorer which can be extremely frustrating when you have to explain to new users they can't use the internet browsers they are comfortable with but will have to use IE instead. The good news is Microsoft are aiming to resolve this problem in the next major release of CRM (CRM 6 or CRM 2012) because it will use Html 5 which will support multi browser funtionality.

2.  Online reduced functionality no custom workflows

I appreciate it is a great leap forward that we can have plugins in CRM 2011 online but the things we aren’t allowed seem very prohibitive.  It seems with one hand CRM 2011 gives us LINQ and other enhancements and then with the other hand you are told you can’t have custom workflows with Dynamics CRM Online.

3. Dialogs – You can’t save dates or bits

Dialogs are a fantastic addition to CRM 2011, the ability to get responses from the user and branch off a workflow based on their response is an incredibly powerful tool. The problem is using Dialogs can be very difficult and very frustrating. The Dialog editing tool is also very clunky and confusing to use. The two previous points are overshadowed by the limitations of dialogs; for some reason you can't store dates, bits or lookups in a dialog. This limitation is extremely frustrating and needs to be addressed in future versions. I think Dialogs just need a bit of polishing to become a really powerful tool.

4. Documentation and examples can be frustrating

The SDK is brilliantly written in some areas and in other areas there is almost no information. On most of the occasions I have given up on the SDK and instead turned to Google. This is one of the reasons I started writing a CRM blog to help the CRM community with CRM 2011. The examples in the SDK can also be very sparse on certain areas.

5. Javascript has a steep learning curve

Microsoft completely changed the way the Javascript worked but haven’t, in my view, provided the right support to ease the transition and this has beena massive learning curve for me.  It was basically a case of all the Javascript you used before will soon not be supported (although it will for the first couple of years).  Basically you need to be using the new Javascript way of coding and actually once you do you will learn to appreciate the improvements.  

But make no mistake, it is not easy to train up on the changes.  Almost every week the most popular post on my blog  is CRM 2011 – Javascript basics, although I would also recommend the Javascript cheat sheet blog entry and the comparison between Javascript CRM 4 and CRM 2011.  The point I am trying to make here is practically every developer needs help with Javascript coding because the fundamentals have changed and Microsoft have not provided many examples to help you.

6.   No small enhancements from the CRM community

Microsoft have added the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace but because it’s going to cost you a few thousand pounds to certify your plug-in or accelerator this has the potential to destroy the marketplace for smaller app contributors. The alternative is to try and sell your application on your own website or give it away free on codeplex.  I can personally say there is a fantastic amount of brilliant work given away free on codeplex by the CRM community and I am very grateful for that because it has saved me hours of work (just last week I was using a brilliant audit plug-in for CRM 4).  I have also mentioned many CRM 2011 codeplex plug-ins on my blog.  

In other words, rather than creating a system where these developers or small software houses could be rewarded in small increments for each person using a plug-in (e.g. Apple’s app type scenario) Microsoft has made the certification process so expensive that we could start to see fewer options when it comes to the smaller plug-ins that often provide so much value.

7.  Reporting in CRM 2011 and Bids/Fetch XML reporting

This seems an odd thing to add to a list of improvements but I have used the new bids reporting in CRM 2011 and although it is easier than using XML it also isn’t straight forward.  Firstly it takes a bit of time to setup and then I had problems with custom reports not working.  The major problem I have is that the fetch xml you create whilst doing an advanced find is really linked to the reporting software.  You have to export the advanced find, download it and then copy it somewhere else and then paste it.  

8.  NO AUTO NUMBER

Yes I had to write that  in capitals because it’s so totally crazy that Microsoft has not added in an auto numbering facility in entities other than accounts and orders.  Seriously do you not think an auto numbering system wouldn’t be useful in other entities???  So instead I have to write an auto number plug-in and thousands of other people also have to do it.

The good news is that after reading the latest Dynamics CRM statement of direction, the list of improvements in the next release is going to be fantastic. I hope Microsoft enhances some of the areas I have mentioned to cement their status as the leading CRM software on the market.