Dynamics CRM 2013: Early notes…

Microsoft released the CRM 2013 VM earlier this month for partners to show to clients. We thought we’d test drive it and give some feedback to the communities. There are a few highlights from a couple of different perspective:

  • UI/UX
  • Customization
  • Technical

Note that I singled out the features that I thought were “stand outs” from my perspective. There are many more new features that I have not talked about and each of the ones that I describe here could be the object of a single more detailed article (i.e. apologies for the short descriptions and little details).

UI/UX

Well, it’s different! It reminds me a little bit of the drastic changes between SharePoint 2010 and 2013 in terms of user experience. Here is what I have noticed in my first hours playing around:

  • The left navigation pane is gone! It’s been replaced by a Metro-like navigation bar on the top of the screen that puts the emphasis on
    • Navigation by Role

    • Quick Creation of records and quick access to information
    • Use of Dashboard to get 360 views
  • The forms are more in line with what we started to see in the process driven forms in the latest rollup updates of CRM 2011.
  • The ribbon is gone but it’s been replaced by a “button bar” right under the top navigation panel. Custom buttons will appear at the same location as you can see in the screenshot below. This is good since a lot of people where wondering about life without the ribbon.

Personal comments

It looks like Microsoft it trying to push their Metro-like UI on all platforms which is a good thing. Personally, although I don’t think the top navigation menu bar is unusable, I feel like it is better suited for touch screen experience. Maybe it’s just my reluctance to change that is speaking so I am giving myself time to get used to it. The other thing that I like it the process driven forms, they allow for easier visualizations of expected tasks within a process. One of the nice things about this new user experience is that absence of pop-ups! Of course, you can pop records out if you want but they normally open in the main frame which makes the application easier to use and less confusing… It’s also better for the browser which will use less memory. Overall, I think Microsoft did well. The only issue that I have with all these changes is that it’s a lot of changes for a platform that was completely remodeled and redesigned just 3 or 4 years ago. For the people who are using the application or have been using it for a couple of years, this means a major upgrade where they may have to do some redesign and some new user training when they already did that not too long ago…

Basic Customization

There are some very nice new stuff on the basic customization side.

  • Creation of business rules (with no code) to conditionally show error messages, set field values, requirement level or visibility (developers, watch out for your jobs! )
  • We can now define Business Process Flow. This is a great feature that allows to define a clear path on how to go through and complete a business processes. The business process flow are CRM processes of type “Business Process Flow” and they are linked to a specific entity type. I created an entity called Support Ticket. Below is a screenshot of the process definition and what it translates to on the CRM entity record form.

Business Process Flow Configuration Screen:


What it looks like on the CRM Form itself:

  • There are a few other gadgets like defining a default icon while creating a new entity, enabling forms for tablet viewing and more.

Personal comments

Microsoft’s is catching up really quickly on some of the other CRM applications out there. With this release, there are a lot of features that will not require any development to be implemented, thus (potentially) reducing the cost of implementation and of maintenance.

Technical

I have yet to go through the SDK material. Also, the official technical documents will have to come out before we can really discuss what has changed. There are a couple of points that I can quickly mention…

  • The “auto-save” feature that will impact the way plugins are designed and developed
  • There is no backward compatibility with CRM 4.0 API (Jscript and Web Service)
  • Ribbon Controls will be removed
  • Duplicate detection during record create and update operation will not be supported

PowerObjects has a good article on that. You can read it here. The official article on the changes coming to the SDK is available here. More on technical details later!

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