MS Dynamics – the good, the bad and the ugly.

So no software is perfect and everything these days is in a state that could be best described as perpetual beta. Dynamics online is no different. I think though that more and more people will opt for this platform on the basis of cost so it’s with knowing what’s good and bad. Here’s my list!

The good

There are lots of good features in Dynamics so this is really a list of the highlights:

Case management – This was a core feature in our requirements list and by and large the system has delivered what we need. Dynamics has allowed us to track all customer cases through the system and this is giving us compelling stats that we can use to resource and drive the business.

Integration with Outlook – you’d expect Dynamics to be tightly integrated with other Microsoft products and when it comes to Outlook it doesn’t disappoint. Integration is really straightforward, especially when you are on the Office 365 platform removing all the awkward configuration issues you get with other email systems. Once you are in, the user experience is pretty good and lots of our team (but not me obviously because I am a geek!) use the Outlook client for using the system soup to nuts.

Dashboards and views. Dynamics provides dashboards and views on pretty much all the information it holds and these can be created and shared with people in the team depending on their access. This gives you up to the minute information that’s relevant to what you need without having to resort to Excel.

Online marketing support. The click dimensions feature really is very good and has helped us change the way we do our marketing in a fairly fundamental way. Watch out for a blog on this topic from Learning Pool’s very own guru very soon!

End to end view of the customer – this was what we wanted right at the start and we’re very close to it after 8 months. I think this has improved our customer care capability already but hopefully there’s a lot more to come as the system gets bedded in.

Opportunity management – this is a core function and works well (with a few creases mentioned below). Having oversight of our opportunity pipeline has enabled us to think about things in a different way and this has made us more efficient. It does of course bring its own challenges such as getting the team to keep things up to date but that’d be true of any system.

Integration potential with SharePoint – this really comes alive with the Office 365 platform and although we haven’t stretched this as far as we’d like yet, the initial signs are positive. The historic problems here has been the set up required to make two systems like this shake hands but with the Microsoft Online deal these days, this is just a point and click configuration away.

Bulk editing – if you are a fast growing company like Learning Pool you’ll constantly be re-categorising information about prospects and customers so you’ll need a way to update records quickly. The advanced find feature lets you do this really easily.

The bad

Service level compliance.  Dynamics does case management pretty well but bizarrely it doesn’t track compliance to service levels very well at all. We’ve ended up buying a plug from the marketplace to do this so I guess you could argue that there is a solution but my take is that this should be handled beautifully in the core product.

Contract management, the contract feature in dynamics assumes that every contract is a legal entity and therefore cannot be changed. Think about that for your own business and you’ll realise how limiting this is when, for example a contact changes or the contract duration is extended by even a couple of days. After trying to make do with this we’ve had to replace this with a customised entity – an expensive task that had a negative impact on our use of the system (although we look to have fixed it now).

Opportunity detail. The opportunity entity gives you a fair amount of flexibility but we’ve found that we’ve had to customise and extend this entity a lot to make it work for us. Given that what we are trying to do isn’t that unusual and that this is such a key feature from sales support tool you’d think Microsoft would get this right.

Hosting. While I admit it was unfair for me to ask a very senior man from Microsoft whether he was hosting my CRM in his garden shed I did have a point at the time and the chaos caused by the system being down is hurtful. These days we expect hosted services to be ubiquitously available. While dynamics online hosting isn’t terrible, it isn’t bullet proof either.

Mobile apps – there are a couple of third party (free and paid for) that you can get hold of but they are just OK and, in my experience not worth the money. This is a real missing piece in Dynamics and Microsoft don’t look to be too bothered about filling the gap any time soon. Interestingly we’ve been able to manage Ok without this feature and so it’s very much a nice to have for us long term.

The ugly

Data migration. I haven’t put this in the bad section because I suspect that our experience comes down to implementation more than software but we’ve really struggled with data migration. Although dynamics makes some noble attempts at duplicate detection and so on, our experience has been that this was a really painful thing.

Email routing – So this is a pure SAAS product right? So you don’t need to install any server software right?

Wrong!

Dynamics has a thing for email routing that you can use when you are applying workflow to emails (Helpdesk for example). This mail router has to be installed on a windows server somewhere which is just weird. And a pain for a company like ours where we don’t have any windows servers! I hindsight we probably would have chosen not to use the email router at all actually but unfortunately we didn’t know that at the time.

Customer portal. I’ve mentioned before but this thing is just unusable. It also needs its own server by the way which is another reason not to go near it.

Hope that’s a useful list – next up I’ll look at the importance of getting a great partner to help you implement your CRM.

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