In 2001 Microsoft CRM 1.0 was born – a basic contact management and email campaign functionality aimed at the small and medium business market. Since then Microsoft has embarked on an eighteen-year journey of astronomical change which was fraught with challenges and full of achievements. The 2019 D365 road map suggests they are not stopping there either, this year is all about increasing productivity and reducing efforts of both users and customers. The vision includes deeper integration and wider extension to bring all the data sources together; which then leverages AI to transform these insights into actionable activities and process that get results.

So how did we end up here? Let’s recap the highs and some lowlights of how CRM 1.0 has come to form a cornerstone of Dynamics 365 and the almighty power platform we know today.

For starters, v2.0 failed to ever exist. Four years later in 2005, CRM 3.0 was born and rebranded from ‘Microsoft CRM’ to ‘Dynamics CRM’. It boasted ‘solid’ integration with Microsoft Outlook to further boost its CRM powers; the Marketing module the ability to create custom entities was unveiled. The doors opened to non-traditional industries like finance, health care and entertainment enabling the management of relationships with absolutely anything – welcome to the XRM era.

Two years later in 2007, CRM 4.0 jumped into the 21st century with the launch of CRM online. Unfortunately, Siebel and CloudCRM had already beaten them to it in 1999, but it was still early days in the ultramarathon to business solutions victory. V4.0 also featured duplicate detection capability and greater automation powers through background workflows.

21 update roll ups later and Dynamics CRM 2011 arrived along with an ambitious agile announcement to release new capability twice yearly, as opposed to their original 2-3 year release cycle. CRM 2011 featured the ever confusing managed and unmanaged solutions; custom activity-based entities; role-based forms; charts & dashboard allowing users to visualise their data directly in CRM for the first time ever and finally, the ability to provide guided user journeys through the introduction of dialogues. The 2012, the Q2 service update was postponed at the 11th hour and merged with the Q4 Service Update and left thousands waiting until Christmas for the long-awaited cross browser support functionality – Happy Christmas from Microsoft!

Dynamics CRM 2013 had a facelift with a brand new UX design which completely changed the navigational experience, which in some ways was great and in others, not so great. Vast amounts of white space landed, and advanced find vanished from the main navigation bar. New features meant that customisations could replace code thanks to business rules, real time workflows and auto save. Behind the scenes server-side sync landed, enabling synchronisation of emails, activities and contacts even without outlook running in the background – magical.

Dynamics CRM 2015 was all about refinement. Recently viewed records arrived on the menu under each entity, global search landed, and Advanced Find was returned to its rightful home in the main navigation bar (hurrah!). New form-based magic provided the ability to calculate and rollup field values, apply field level security to out of the box fields and define branching business process flows without the need for any code.

Only one year later Dynamics CRM 2016 (aka v8.0) landed, which featured word/excel templates, the deprecation of mail merge and launch of Dynamics CRM App for Outlook. The marriage of ERP and CRM was announced, and the power platform was born – they called it Dynamics 365 (aka v8.1). AppSource opened its doors for business and a complicated overhaul in licensing landed to accommodate the power platform trio of Power BI, Flow & PowerApps leaving many scratching their heads for years to come.

V8.2 in 2017 rebranded CRM to Customer Engagement (CE), ERP to Finance and Operations (FinOps) whilst the decision between online and on-prem was a customer quandary no more as Hybrid deployment became possible. The Unified Interface framework landed with intentions to deliver full accessibility, consistency across platforms (desktop, mobile and application), performance, and faster deployment apparently. However, some would argue otherwise. New functionality included Multi-Select Option Sets on forms/views (but not workflows…); Virtual Entities gave us access to data in external systems; Business Process Flows could call business rules, actions and flows; and LinkedIn Sales Navigator meant users could access contact LinkedIn profiles in a single view. What a year!

D365 v9.0 in 2018 was the year of the Power Platform. We could now run Flows directly in Dynamics; show PowerBI tiles on Dynamics Dashboards and query records in Dynamics powered by Azure using Relevance Search. The long-awaited web client refresh said goodbye white space and hello wrapping field labels on forms; the D365 App for Outlook shifted to the Unified Interface framework; and component designers for Apps, View, Site Map and Business Process Flows were significantly improved. The ‘D365 for Marketing’ application landed, running exclusively on the Unified Interface with features that made a valiant attempt to compete with the likes of third-party providers, but it’s also came with its very own licensing implications and price tag to boot.

Finally, 2018 dropped the continuous deployment cycle bomb – all organisations running v8.2 online must update to the latest version before 31 January 2019 and there is no longer any ability to ‘skip’ a release. This made consultant sales teams see dollar signs and induced varying levels of anxiety for delivery teams and their customers across the globe.

Now to the current year of 2019 – the first time all D365 online customers will be on the latest version (9.2). ‘Upgrades’ are now known as ‘updates’ – more like software updates on laptops or phones; they will be delivered to all customers at the same time and the major version number will no longer be changing in line with this, we may well be on version 9.x for years to come. Advance releases are now available for non-production / sandbox environments to allow for testing of all code, apps & customisations before production updates (within a specified time on the release calendar of course); Integration deepens with CDS joining the power platform party and the benefits of Microsoft Forms Pro along with it; and the navigation experience for Dynamics customers continues to change. The latest changes seem somewhat inspired by the days of CRM 4.0 as the sitemap returns to a rightful persistent place on the left-hand side with highlighted in focus sub areas, whilst recent items are no longer shown at entity level; improved use of colour apparently gives a stronger visualisation of differentiation and associations too.

The cadence of change, growth and development in eighteen years suggests there are bigger and better things to come from Microsoft in the not so distant future; the momentum doesn’t show any signs of easing up; the possibilities really are becoming endless whilst the limitations seem like mere considerations. So, the next question is: How do we as consultants, customers and users ride the unrelenting Dynamics tidal wave without getting dumped in the ocean to drown? Until next time – just keep swimming!