Microsoft's CRM team wasn't kidding when it said last year it was going to put the pedal to the metal and start doing updates more frequently.
The group is on track to deliver two major updates to its Dynamics CRM on-premises and online versions in calendar 2012. Microsoft already disclosed what's coming in the Q2 2012 ("R8") release -- including new CRM mobile clients for iPads, iPhones, Android phones, BlackBerrys and Windows Phones. (There also are going to be some interesting new Power View analytics capabilities in CRM R8 which build on the business-intelligence technologies Microsoft is introducing in its SQL Server 2012 product this spring.)
But that's not all that's coming. The team already is planning what kinds of features they will deliver in the second major update this year -- the version known as "R9." And additional social capabilities are high on the likely feature list, said Craig Dewar, Director Product Management for Dynamics CRM.
One possible update coming in R9 will be a souped-up social-analytics capability that builds on top of Microsoft's "Project Vancouver," a k a the SQL Azure Social Analytics technology. Social Analytics is currently a SQL Azure Labs test project, not something that's part of SQL Azure as it exists today.
The idea would be to use the social analytics analysis provided by this hosted service to help CRM users attach value judgements to service incidents. ("How fast do I need to respond to this person tweeting about our product to control the damage?") Users would be able to manage this information from right inside their standard CRM client, Dewar told me during an in-person meeting this week.
Another possible R9 feature would draw on the data sets available in the Windows Azure Marketplace, Dewar said. The thinking is that users could pull information stored in these datasets to populate/enrich their account and contact information in their CRM clients. For example, a Dynamics CRM user could pull location information from particular data sets and use it to populate their contacts. If/when the data gets updated in the Azure Datamarket, it would also refresh the data in the user's CRM system.
I asked Dewar if Microsoft planned to include Skype integration in its CRM client this year. He noted that some Microsoft partners already have integrated Skype with Dynamics CRM. He also said that once Microsoft integrates Skype with Lync, as it has indicated it plans to do, Dynamics CRM users will benefit from that integration because "Lync is already baked into the product." (Support for Lync presence and communications are integrated into Dynamics CRM the same way they are integrated into Microsoft Outlook.)
Dynamics CRM Online is not currently hosted on Windows Azure, though the Softies have said this will likely happen at some point. However, certain Dynamics CRM components -- like the customer and partner portals, and some of the coming analytics capabilities -- already are. There's no new word on when Microsoft will pull the trigger on the move to Azure for its CRM service.