Some exciting news has emerged from the Worldwide Partner Conference that Microsoft held recently in Houston, Texas. In addition to announcing and unveiling Microsoft’s vision for the CRM product, the company also announced that a series of ‘Accelerators’ would be released to the public by the end of 2008. The initial reaction to this announcement was very positive from the development community. A lot of the functionality and modules that developers have been seeking since the release of version 4.0 seem to have been addressed (at long last we will have enterprise level search capability!). But what about the end users? The end users seem to be left scratching their head wondering what these accelerators are and what they can do for their business…
It is easiest to think of these accelerators as simply add-ons to Dynamics CRM. These accelerators expand the breadth and depth of certain areas of CRM in addition to adding functionality that was nonexistant in previous versions. Rather than saving these extensions for Version 5.0 of the Dynamics solution, Microsoft has decided to release these for free to the community. Each extension showcases a different area of the Dynamics CRM solution, vividly painting a picture of what kind of customizations are possible with the Dynamics platform.
1. Analytics Accelerator
Many customers and partners will be familiar with Analytics Foundation for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 which was a business intelligence feature pack for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0. Analytics Foundation for Dynamics CRM 3.0 included Dashboards, Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and a suite of new reports. Analytics Accelerator for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 expands on this, and is designed to support a range of business intelligence “maturity” levels for customers and partners. The Analytics accelerator has been built to cater for differing business intelligence skill-sets and experience levels. Features include:
*Sales, service and operations dashboards delivered with Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
*Two Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cubes which are designed to allow customers to conduct in-depth analysis and key performance indicator (KPI) monitoring based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 data. Customers can consume these cubes through Excel, SharePoint technologies and PerformancePoint Server. The first OLAP cube is designed for simple setup and consumption, the second cube is more detailed and requires a more advanced knowledge of analytics and OLAP technologies within Microsoft SQL Server.
*Predictive analytics to provide statistical guidance in areas such as lead and sales opportunity management. There are several sample applications which ship as part of the accelerator that showcase how customers can leverage predictive analytics directly within the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 user interface
2. eService Accelerator
Customer Service is generally considered a cost center where cost-savings and productivity are the top priorities for most businesses. This stands in stark contrast to marketing and sales which is usually viewed as a profit center where revenue generation is the focus. People that manage call centers or customer service operations are constantly looking for new processes and technologies that can help them drive customer service efficiencies. Essentially, they want to service more customers at less cost while at the same time maintaining (or even improving) customer satisfaction. This can be a difficult equation for organizations to solve.
eService provides the mechanism to help businesses solve that difficult equation. At its core, eService is comprised of a range of technologies that allow businesses to provide online support to customers, which can “deflect” calls and in-person visits, or at minimum reduce a portion of the cost to manage a service issue. As demographics shift worldwide and Internet technologies become more pervasive, many customers prefer to use an eService channel.
The accelerator can either be used within the customer’s own web portal or they can use the pre-built portal solution provided by Microsoft in the ASP.NET 2.0 Small Business Starter Kit
3. Event Management
While Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 does include a very robust and extensible Service tool which is capable of scheduling tasks, appointments and service requests, organizations looking to track, schedule and report on events have found this area of CRM lacking. Thankfully, Microsoft has unveiled its Event Management accelerator with this concern in mind.
The event management accelerator gives companies the ability to easily manage the planning, execution, tracking and reporting requirements for events. The event management accelerator focuses on three areas of event management, namely:
4. Enterprise Search
The enterprise search accelerator allows Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) customers to view and search for Microsoft Dynamics CRM data directly from their SharePoint portals.
By combining these two technologies users from different areas of the business will be able to:
- View and edit any Microsoft Dynamics CRM data such as accounts, contacts, opportunities, sales orders, invoices, service cases and any custom entity data through SharePoint. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM security model is preserved and enforced so that users can only view or edit CRM information that their security role allows.
- Launch a SharePoint search which can return documents, emails, web content and Microsoft Dynamics CRM data.
The enterprise search accelerator provides one enterprise portal that users can search and view important customer information and documents from several sources within the organization.
Additionally, the technology, Business Data Catalog (BDC), and techniques used with this accelerator can be employed to surface data from other line of business applications to further enrich the SharePoint portal.
The BDC makes it easy for people to connect to, find, and act on information stored in structured line-of-business systems (such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM) by using a declarative framework to securely integrate them into search results.
With the BDC customers and partners can configure actionable audience-specific portals, dashboards and mash-up interfaces for this data without writing any code.
This is a look at the first four accelerators that were announced. Stay tuned to the Powerobjects CRM Blog for more on the other accelerators very soon!