Microsoft CRM 2011: Enterprise software, meet consumer expectations

As much as some may wish for Microsoft to abandon the consumer market and refocus on its enterprise business, that's not going to happen. Instead, what is increasingly happening is business-focused products and groups at Microsoft are integrating more and more concepts and features that many consider "consumer"-oriented rather than "business"-focused.

As much as some may wish for Microsoft to abandon the consumer market and refocus on its enterprise business, that's not going to happen.

Instead, what is increasingly happening is business-focused products and groups at Microsoft are integrating more and more concepts and features that many consider "consumer"-oriented rather than "business"-focused.

That point was driven home to me last week during a meeting I had with Craig Unger, the General Manager who heads up R&D for Dynamics CRM. Unger has been at Microsoft for almost 20 years, starting back when he worked on Excel 4 and 5 as a designer. The past four years, he's been working on Dynamics CRM.

As I blogged previously, with the 2011 release of Microsoft CRM, the Redmondians did something unprecedented (for Microsoft): They rolled out the online version of the product before the on-premises version. Until I chatted with Unger, I didn't really think about the kinds of changes on the back-end that rollout strategy required.

"How do we take enterprise software and mesh that with consumer expectations of how advances should arrive?" Unger asked. That was a key question for the hundreds of Softies who worked on the CRM 5/CRM 2011 release for the past three years, he said.

The team had to switch up everything from the kinds of engineering and test processes it conducted, to how it structured its pre-release programs. The CRM team had to "make sure we used our calendar time so that new development processes were running in parallel," he said.

"There was no more 'wall' to throw the (finished) code over," Unger said. Instead, there was a single team working on the online and on-premises versions of the product from the get-go.

In terms of specific "consumer-friendly" features, the CRM team also for the first time delivered the product in 40 languages simultaneously by creating a language codepack that gets installed alongside the single core codebase. The language pack allows any organization to decide on any customized subset of languages for its workforce.

Unger cited the try-before-you-buy option for the new 2011 release as another example of how the "consumerization of IT" is having an impact on Microsoft's directions.

"This (easy-to-sign-up-for trial) is a whole different model for enterprise software," he said.

In a world where users expect regular updates, rather than waiting for two to three years for a "major" update, the rules are different, Unger said.

Unger's comments made me think back to former Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's 2005 "Internet Services Disruption" memo. Ozzie wrote:

"Products must now embrace a 'discover, learn, try, buy, recommend' cycle – sometimes with one of those phases being free, another ad-supported, and yet another being subscription-based. Grassroots adoption requires an end-to-end perspective related to product design. Products must be easily understood by the user upon trial, and useful out-of-the-box with little or no configuration or administrative intervention."

Ozzie has moved on now, but it looks like his advice is starting to take hold....