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on demand crm Microsoft Dynamics CRM Software Review

Common Components

There are a number of software components that are common to all three core CRM software modules. These common areas are typically divided into the four areas of information security, workflow automation, reporting with business intelligence (BI) and software customization with Integration.

Information Security

Dynamics CRM uses a role based security administration that has become fairly common among both SaaS and on premise CRM systems. What Dynamics does that is unique is applies those roles to all aspects of the system which provides both great flexibility and an equal amount of potential complexity. What is new with this version4 is the capability to designate security at a variety of levels based on user attributes. For example, you can limit access to companies by a specific user based on their assigned Business Unit. With this security flexibility, each user will have companies filtered to the Business Unit they are assigned to. You can also allow users to create their own rights and permissions for each company and determine who can read, edit and delete within their designated accounts.

Workflow Automation

Although some Dynamics version 3.0 users would argue that the new workflow has taken a step back in version 4.0, many industry analysts and new customers alike are impressed with its flexibility and level of depth. With version 4.0, Dynamics has made it easier to designate rights to create, modify and process workflows at a role level - and this can extend the workflow tools directly into end hands of the users. Depending on the company, this can be either a blessing or a curse, but having the option is a nice benefit.

The CRM application based workflow tool delivers an easy to use interface that allows for the standard set of workflow types to be defined and run either as an on demand option or scheduled to run on a pre-defined schedule or when a specific event is triggered. Workflow rules and events can be created using a simple interface by most users or by a system administrator (SA) and published for the users population based on the following triggers:

  • When a record is created (contact is inserted)
  • When the status changes (a prospect goes from New to Qualified)
  • When any field changes from one value to another on a record (Assigned Resource = Current user)
  • When a record is deleted (opportunity is deleted)

When a workflow business event is triggered, the user can instruct the application to insert a new record, update an existing record, assign a record to a user, send an email notification or check to see if another condition exists. Each of these activities can be put into sequential steps or phases and then combined into stages for reporting purposes to track the progress of a specific workflow by stage.

Once created and published, workflow rules and events can be run on demand or combined and run in sequence as child routines from a master parent workflow. Workflow rules can be scheduled to run on a periodic basis as well. One example of where this can be particularly useful is for assigning leads in a specific geography to a specific sales staff or territory.

If that’s not enough flexibility for you, Dynamics 4.0 has also incorporated its latest release of Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) as the underlying architecture for the new CRM workflow application. This extendibility empowers software programmers with experience using Visual Studio to develop much more sophisticated workflow routines that may also include access into third party systems to check conditions and reflect changes in the core CRM application. WWF is Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) compliant so it can be used in tandem with other BPEL compliant systems to facilitate system-to-system workflow processes without the need for independently developed web services or custom middleware. When determining which software edition and deployment option to use for Dynamics CRM, keep in mind that workflows for the CRM Live product are limited based on the licensed edition.


Similar to workflow processing, Dynamics CRM has a few alternatives when it comes to reporting. There is a standard list of very basic reports delivered with each CRM module that users can access and print or export to Excel, PDF and other common file formats. In addition, there is a Report Wizard that is accessible by designated users to create simple column reports or charts using filtering criteria and defining logical groupings of records for summarizing key statistics such as numeric counts or currency. It is a good tool that compares favorably with similar solutions from other CRM suppliers. The Report Wizard was built upon Microsoft (SQL Server) Reporting Services, which is a robust reporting engine that allows developers to design, develop and deploy custom reports using a standard Report Definition Language (RDL).

If the simple standard reports and the Report Wizard are insufficient (which is common), customers that have developer knowledge of Microsoft’s Visual Studio environment can develop and publish custom reports and make them accessible to users.

Business Intelligence (BI)

BI is an area where there is a gap between product marketing and software reality. BI is often put into one of two categories - either executive dashboards that provide insights on day to day metrics against thresholds or Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) tools that allow knowledge workers to flex, filter and mash up metrics and different filters in order to analyze and draw conclusions from the data. While Microsoft sells solutions for both of these functions, I did not see evidence of any prepackaged components that do either of them in the CRM application. This could be due to a number of factor such as different companies wanting to measure different things. While this is true, having a baseline that can be modified or extended is better than having no prepackaged templates at all or forcing customers to rely on SRS and Analysis Services combined with Visual Studio to build these from scratch.

Many of Microsoft’s Dynamics competitors offer role based and account level dashboards as well as pre-defined OLAP cubes for Sales, Marketing and Customer Support functions.

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