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With Dynamics CRM 2011 Update, Microsoft's Focus Shifts to Social

Microsoft on Tuesday went live with the Dynamics CRM November 2011 service update, which brings social technologies to the online and on-premise CRM platform that Microsoft released at the beginning of the year.

The release comes relatively early in Microsoft's calendar year Q4 delivery target for the customer relationship management (CRM) product update.

Microsoft discussed the features of the product at length at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July, but the company's marketing focus has shifted substantially since this summer. At the time, Dynamics CRM General Manager Brad Wilson mentioned social technologies but emphasized integration improvements between Dynamics CRM Online and the Office 365 online suite, additional datacenters in several regions of the world to improve failover, and business intelligence feature enhancements.

In an interview this week, Seth Patton, senior director of marketing for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, described the social technology improvements as the most significant aspect of the new release.

Patton said the Dynamics CRM release leverages social technology investments across the company, such as the Outlook Social Connector, SharePoint, Lync and Windows Phone.

"This release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a first step in delivering capabilities that harness social technologies and deliver real business benefits," Patton said.

Microsoft's intense focus on social follows Salesforce.com's launch a year ago of the Chatter social collaboration platform and that company's Dreamforce conference in late August when CEO Marc Benioff said, "We were born cloud, and now we've been reborn social."

In the interview, Patton used phrasing that also appeared in a Wilson blog entry on Tuesday, with both saying that Microsoft's effort "cuts through the chatter" -- an obvious reference to Salesforce.com. Patton declined to confirm the reference, but compared Microsoft's approach to the CRM industry in general by saying, "We're not just trying to make people more social -- we're investing in making them more productive."

Microsoft is bringing social into Dynamics CRM with a feature called Activity Feeds. Microsoft defines the feeds as "configurable, real-time notifications on important relationships and significant business events via a blended view of micro-blog posts and interactions for a person, customer or sales opportunity."

In screenshots of Microsoft Outlook, the Activity Feeds look very much like a Facebook feed, with micro-blogging status updates, automated notifications from business processes and comment-and-response style conversations among employees. The technology also works on Internet Explorer, with Microsoft planning to add support for Chrome, Firefox and Safari in the first half of 2012.

The version released Tuesday supports mobile Activity Feeds on Windows Phone. Patton said other smartphone platforms will be supported in the near future.

Reaching out to external social technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter, is on the Dynamics CRM roadmap, but this release is designed for collaboration within a company. "The initial feature is optimized around internal communities and collaboration, surfaced in Outlook," Patton said.

Microsoft got support for the approach from one high-profile Microsoft Dynamics partner. In a statement, Jim Steger, co-founder and principal at Sonoma Partners in Chicago, said Microsoft's social productivity approach meets his criteria for effectiveness. "Social tools need to be easily accessed and usable, they need to be searchable allowing you to filter information, and they need to be a holistic part of the CRM solution," Steger said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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