The Microsoft release cycle for Dynamics CRM has changed and as a consequence, companies need to change their approach to updating software in order to accommodate this.
The previous release cycle
Previously businesses would wait every 2 years for the next major release of Dynamics CRM, choosing to either upgrade every 2 years, to stay updated, or skipping a major release before upgrading when the next version was released. In 2011, Microsoft changed the way it scheduled releases, instead turning to more regular release for more frequent updates and improvements, by guaranteeing one minor and one major release each year. While some companies still continue to wait every few years before updating, this approach no longer offers the stability it once did. Previously holding off from updating would ensure early bugs are addressed now holding back for any more than 6 months will mean no access to new functionality and potentially a larger amount of work and cost to progress to the latest version.
The new release cycle
Last year (2014) there were 8 updates to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform, including a mixture of major and minor updates, which although are classified as ‘minor’ still contain important improvements, bug fixes and incorporates users’ feedback. This rapid release cycle has now become the norm in today’s fast-paced software industry. By waiting a few years before updating, companies are now continually playing ‘catch-up’ and by doing this, your business could face a number of issues.
Issues avoiding upgrades:
By skipping an upgrade it makes the next upgrade much more time-consuming and difficult. Skipping a major upgrade will mean extra time needs to be dedicated to testing and training, as there will be a much larger jump in changes to get used to and understand fully. By skipping a release, you will still not be able to jump from CRM 4.0 to CRM 2013 – you will have to follow the upgrade path to CRM 2011 first and then onto CRM 2013.
Changes to user experience
The changes in user experience are very noticeable between 2011 and 2013 releases, however 2013 onwards uses the same user interface to keep a consistent experience.
Loss of Functionality
By avoiding or off-putting an upgrade to 2013 your business misses out on being able to take advantage of recent functionality – some of which could have valuable benefits to your requirements.
Potential issues both with browser compatibility and with customisations, even those performed within the guidelines of the Microsoft SDK.
Missing out on Innovations
With technology moving at such a rapid pace, you could miss out on valuable, recent innovations. A key example is mobile support, as only recent CRM updates have allowed sales teams to access CRM on tablet devices.
Weaker market position
Overall, CRM systems do require investment in order to benefit from their full potential and to profit from maximum ROI. Your competitors may be using the latest solutions, which may be putting your business in a weaker market position.
Larger lump costs
Finally, by upgrading every few years instead of in-line with the rapid release, you may require a much larger lump sum to be spent in one go, which may not be available at the time.
What are your options?
Companies need to move away from a largely CapEx-based model of IT spend (investing a large sum of money at software every few years) towards a more OpEx-based model (allocating smaller but regular budgets to continually invest in your software). This makes upgrading easier and quicker and also ensures your technology is as modern as it can be, allowing the best return on investment.
The next option solely depends on your deployment preferences: whether keeping up with this quick release cycle is too much of a hassle, in which case you may benefit from moving to the cloud-hosted Dynamics CRM Online, or whether you want to use (or stay on) Dynamics CRM on-premise.
With Gartner predicting that next year over 50% of CRM systems will be deployed as SaaS, now is the tipping point when cloud deployments are overtaking on-premise deployments. The immediate benefit of switching to Dynamics CRM Online is that all these releases are applied automatically. You do have the option to postpone these updates but companies do not have to pay a CRM partner to upgrade their system. However, to really make the most of these releases and improvements, companies should set aside some budget for consultancy work. The new updates can often bring about new functionality and features that companies may want to take advantage of or build upon, which will require some scoping and development work. How much work will completely depend on your company needs’ and budget and will most likely rely on the level of return of investment these updates can bring to your business – all of which we can help you with.
It is predicted by Gartner that 80-85% of CRM deployments with be cloud-based by 2015.
While moving to Dynamics CRM Online may be ideal to ensure the simplicity of automatic updates, for some companies it is not possible or desirable. Companies may choose to keep their Microsoft CRM on-premise for a number of reasons, such as: preference, integration with 3rd party applications that cannot go to the cloud or they are tied to an existing license agreement. If this is the case, the ideal approach to upgrading is to budget for these releases as you will have to pay for a CRM partner to upgrade your system (unlike CRM Online) and pay to do any development work if required. At Chorus, we make this as easy as possible for our clients by making sure we fully understand the requirements before ensuring we have a clear CRM strategy together. This allows maximum transparency and helps to outline clear objectives, so you do not get side-tracked by improvements that are not critical to your business.
The New CRM Approach
It is time to shift the IT budget and upgrade mind-set: throwing large amounts of money at a system every few years will make the upgrade more complicated, more time-consuming and could end up driving costs much higher in the long-term. Instead, it is worth allocating a more staggered and manageable IT budget to continue investing in your technology. This budget should not be set aside just to upgrade your system on a regular basis, but also to be used for system training and development. Your CRM system, like your business, is constantly evolving. Through a turnaround of staff and internal training, CRM system knowledge can often become diluted, leaving parts of the system unused. Finally, by ensuring the system’s functionality is updated (alongside training) will allow staff to use the correct fields in the correct way to ensure that data integrity remains, which is key to the success of your system.
If you want to make sure your Microsoft CRM system stays modern and takes advantage of the latest innovations that have been released, contact us via your preferred method. We can discuss your requirements, your CRM aspirations or just give your current system a “health assessment” to help outline your available options. With the rapid release cycle in full swing following the release of CRM 2015, now is the ideal time to think about the long-term plans of your CRM system.