Microsoft Updates Dynamics CRM with Social Features

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Earlier this year in a post about Microsoft Dynamics CRM, IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard hit on the key differentiator in how Microsoft approaches cloud-based CRM. Microsoft, along with other CRM providers, is chasing Salesforce.com, the company that shook up the industry a decade ago by putting CRM in the cloud. In contrast to Salesforce, Vizard said, "Microsoft is building a cloud computing ecosystem where multiple partners will be able to not only deliver Dynamics CRM 2011, but those services can be integrated with Microsoft CRM and other application software running on premise to give customers maximum flexibility."


Microsoft may also find itself chasing Oracle, which earlier this week acquired RightNow Technologies. Both Oracle and Microsoft seem to be following Salesforce.com's lead (again) into the nascent customer experience management category, adding social elements to their CRM software and strengthening its capabilities to serve customers in new channels like social networks along with traditional ones like call centers.


A CRM Buyer article spotlights Dynamics' new Activity Feeds, configurable, real-time notification streams that allow users to post information and follow feeds of interest. I guess we can thank Mark Zuckerberg for these, which seem to be showing up in all kinds of enterprise software these days, but Salesforce was the first to latch on to the concept when it launched Chatter in late 2009. Microsoft also added a microblogging feature. The article quotes Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, who says Microsoft is "making a lot of investments in social right now."


A CIO.com article notes the new features will be available within the Outlook client as well as the browser interface and on Windows Phone 7. It quotes Wilson as saying the idea is to align social features with existing productivity software. This strategy makes sense, as users haven't seemed all that interested in enterprise social tools that require them to exit their usual workflows.


Both CIO.com and CRM Buyer mention Microsoft's efforts to make Dynamics connect more seamlessly with Office 365, by offering a single environment for billing and provisioning, among other things. This makes it easier to offer the kind of value Vizard wrote about in his post.


According to the CIO.com piece, Dynamics CRM now has some 30,000 customers and 2 million users, up from 23,000 customers and 1.4 million users in July of 2010. Its single biggest deployment is an on-premises installation with 70,000-seats, but it also has some cloud deployments as large as "several thousand seats," Wilson says.


Wlson tells CRM Buyer that Microsoft intends to roll out new features every six months. I expect rapid release cycles may become a given for CRM vendors. As Jason Mittelstaedt, RightNow's chief marketing officer, told me when I interviewed him earlier this month, "When you're talking about anything that touches the consumer, you need to be able to innovate and adapt rapidly."