Microsoft CRM partner builds 'first-ever Windows 8 tablet app for the enterprise'

Microsoft CRM partner builds 'first-ever Windows 8 tablet app for the enterprise'

Summary: Sonoma Partners, a Microsoft CRM consultancy, shares its experiences developing a custom, line-of-business Windows 8 app.


Sonoma Partners is laying claim to the title of developer of the "first-ever Windows 8 tablet app for the enterprise" with a line-of-business app the consultancy developed for New Belgium Brewing.

The app, the "Ultimate Beer Ranger," is being built for the sales team at New Belgium. (New Belgium, as other beer aficionados no doubt know, is the Colorado brewer behind Fat Tire, Hoptober and a number of other tasty brews.) Sonoma and New Belgium will be showing off the app at Microsoft's Convergence conference for its Dynamics partners and customers which is taking place in Houston next week.

The majority of preview apps for Windows 8 from Microsoft and its partners have been games and consumer-focused wares. There have been few examples of line-of-business apps for Windows 8, and relatively little information so far about how these kinds of customized apps can best be built. These kinds of apps will be side-loadable and made available through the Windows 8 app store.

Sonoma -- which has lots of previous experience with Microsoft's Dynamics CRM product -- has been working on the Ultimate Beer Ranger app since the Windows 8 Developer Preview of Windows 8 hit last September. Microsoft's Windows team has worked with the consultancy to help them take advantage of Windows 8's new programming interfaces, the "contracts" for app sharing and the WinRT/Metro-Style framework.

"New Belgium's IT staff is very forward thinking and wanted us to tailor a specific use case for a tablet," said Jim Steger, a principal with  Sonoma Partners. (While a few iPads had begun trickling into New Belgium, the sales reps currently tend to use smartphones more than tablets for their on-the-road information needs, he said.)

In six weeks, Sonoma had a working prototype app, built using HTML and CSS, that would allow sales reps to access data on the retail partners and establishments selling New Belgium beer. Sonoma considered going XAML because a number of their developers were familiar with Silverlight, Steger said, but ultimately decided on HTML because of easier integration with mapping elements, and because Microsoft was interested in more HTML-based proof points for Windows 8.

Via the "search" charm in Windows 8, the app allows users to search account information stored in a back-end Dynamics CRM system. The app also allows reps to see accounts within predetermined areas using the geo-location capabilities; to import photos (of beer lines, end caps, etc.) straight from the tablet; and to obtain real-time access to key metrics, like volume and sales figures. There's also a live tile interface that allows reps to see their next appointments.

Sonoma currently has fielded the app to a few New Belgium reps for testing. They're using it on Samsung Windows tablets -- which ultimately may or may not be the final device of choice. Steger said he's still interested in seeing the app work on Windows 8 on ARM tablets, but hasn't seen any prototype devices beyond what Microsoft and partners kept locked away at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. He expressed concern when I told him that at least so far, it appears that WOA tablets won't be able to join Active Directory domains.

New Belgium's users are still "getting used to" swiping menus and charms, Steger said. Sonoma also has encountered the challenges of targeting an operating system that's still a moving target, plus a dearth of documentation for developing apps for Windows 8, he said. Learning to optimize apps for touch, which requires more attention to graphics and layout, also is new territory for the company, Steger said.

"This is a new way of looking at CRM," Steger said.

Anyone else out there done any early work on building business-focused Windows 8 apps? Any guidance and experiences to share at this point?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Apps, Tablets, Software, Operating Systems, Mobility, Microsoft, Laptops, Hardware, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Nice work by the Sonoma team

    Congrats on getting Microsoft CRM to the forefront of Win 8 tablets. This is the type of innovation for business users that will drive Win 8 tablets and CRM to high levels of adoption.
  • I certainly hope MS addresses ...

    ... Windows 8 on desktops / large screens soon. Hopefully with the use of contracts, or via some other means, utility apps will be able to be created, which display the content of several apps, in features like panes, which users can arrange and scroll through. This would allow users of several apps, to be able to see the content of their apps simultaneously.

    I think power users of Windows 8, should be able to do things like have a mixture of several traditional and touch monitors, and be able work with multiple metro and desktop apps across these monitors at the same time. I believe by the time Windows 8 is released, power users should be able to set up remarkable new scenarios, which they cannot easily do now with Windows 7.
    P. Douglas
    • Seriously

      We really shouldn't need an app that lets us see two apps at the same time. Every previous version of Windows alreaady let you do that, and for doing real work on the Desktop it's a pretty important feature.

      But then Metro on the desktop is such a bloody mess I'm not surprised Microsoft forgot minor details like desktop users using two apps at the same time to do work.
  • Great, but...

    They could have done the same app for the iPad in less time and it might be already in service... anyway, love hurts.
    • It is great

      The fact that folks are developing application for platform that is going to be released sometime in future talks about the interest level in the market, even with best of iPad saturation and competition
      • Not really

        People made Windows Phone 7 apps before it was release too, and that's not exactly getting a lot of market interest.
    • Great, period

      Yet another believer that any time someone develops an app for something other than iPad or iPhone, God kills a nerd.
    • riight

      as if objective c is so much easier and faster to develop with than html5. /facepalm
  • Windows 8 is the future

    Finally a tablet I can actually do work on, looks and behaves like my Windows Phone and supports user profiles/permissions.
  • Adobe EchoSign Metro UI at the Convergence 2012

    CompuSight Corporation, a Seattle-based software consulting firm, will also be demoing a Windows 8 Metro UI application at the Convergence 2012. CompuSight has implemented a business-focused application for the enterprise that puts the power of the Adobe EchoSign electronic signature service at the fingertips of the Windows 8 users.

    Visit CompuSight and Adobe at the Microsoft Convergence booth #1445. They will be demoing the Metro UI and you can enter into a drawing to win a Samsung Series 7 Slate.
  • Awesome Partnership

    This partnership with New Belgium is cool and cutting-edge. I hope this CRM becomes widely available at some point!
    Cheers, Katie