Cobalt sent me down to Atlanta for this year’s Microsoft Convergence conference along with Michael Ochs (Lead Architect, R&D) and Amir Naghmi (Product Manager) to see all the latest that Microsoft has to offer. This post will highlight our top takeaways from the week.
Convergence is Evolving
Convergence as a whole is changing and I think it’s for the better. Convergence has traditionally focused on the Microsoft Dynamics product line – CRM, GP, AX, NAV and SL. In the past few years, we’ve seen this shift to focus on business as a whole. The term “premier business event” was used throughout the week. The opening keynote speeches focused on Office 2016, Delve, Power BI, Cortana, Skype for Business and Azure. Since Power BI is one of my favorite Microsoft technologies, I was very excited to see the advancements Microsoft has made in the past year with the new public preview for the latest version of Power BI. As a CRM partner, it is clear to us that we need to embrace the capabilities of all the Microsoft cloud services to offer a complete solution to our customers.
CRM Performance is a Hot Topic
Performance continues to be at the forefront of discussions and sessions about Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The Microsoft CRM API development team is focusing their attention on integrations in the latest updates to the API. The majority of the new API methods focus on data exchange and performance improvements. The following are the integration points specifically designed for integrators of CRM that improve performance.
- Execute Multiple Request (available since CRM 2011 UR 12) – The ExecuteMultipleRequest is most commonly used to perform CRUD operations on large data sets through the SDK where individual requests would take more time due to more round trips to the server.
- Custom Request Messages – Custom Request Messages allow integrators to perform multiple API calls in a single request, reducing the overall number of calls required to perform a single action.
- Upsert Message – Insert or Update with a single request rather than retrieving a record to see if it exists before deciding whether to call Create or Update.
- SetState and Assign records as part of an Update call. The SetState and Assign messages to update the state / status or a record or update the owner of a record have always required separate calls to the API. This enhancement means you can perform these actions with an update reducing the number of calls required.
- Transactional Batching – Like custom request messages transactional batching allows you to perform multiple API calls in a single request, but doesn’t require the custom message to be defined ahead of time and unlike the Execute Multiple Request all of the requests happen in a single transaction allowing all requests to rollback if any one fails.
- Change Tracking – Allows you to retrieve only records updated or deleted since the last time they were retrieved using a token. The idea here is to reduce the overhead of checking all records for updates in an integration scenario or relying on a date field in the record to track the last time the record was synced which wouldn’t be possible for retrieving the deleted / removed records.
- DynamicsPerf Tool is your friend. Many sessions related to CRM, in general, or SQL specific sessions touted this performance analysis tool as the starting point for any performance related tuning effort. The tool began as AXPERF and was used to tune Dynamics AX databases, but has since evolved to be used to analyze databases for multiple Dynamics products including CRM.
The Spring 2015 (Carina) Release of CRM Online is Sweet
Cobalt has been part of the preview program for this release for several months now, so it feels good to be able to share the exciting new features with everyone else (the announcement at Convergence allows us to share these features publicly). These are my top 3, but you can see more at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-customer-center/get-ready-for-the-next-release.aspx.
- Improved navigation and user interface options. Microsoft has heard the complaints (I mean feedback) and the main navigation have been tweaked to make it easier to use. Additionally, support for theming including the ability to add your logo to CRM will be supported.
- Immersive Excel experience and update Excel export. This is the best update in our opinion. You can now open up Excel Online (must have an Office 365 account) to do quick analysis right from CRM Online.You can even manipulate data and save it back to CRM! Microsoft has also completely redesigned the export feature to automatically open the document as an XLSX file with a single click
- Embedded OneNote. We’re not big OneNote users, but maybe this will convert us. You can now capture photos, take voice notes, do free-form drawings, etc. and everything is automatically linked with the record in CRM Online.
Unfortunately for on premise users, these features will only be available for CRM Online until the next release is available in the fall. To learn more about how Cobalt can help you implement or upgrade CRM, click here to learn more about our CRM Services.
Azure Continues to Add New Services to Enhance BI
Big data, predictive analytics and machine learning technologies are now available for everyone thanks to Microsoft Azure. There were several great sessions discussing how to leverage these technologies to both analyze past trends and model future behavior without having a team of data scientists on staff. Our favorite was Azure Stream Analytics. Stream Analytics is a real-time data processing engine that allows you to monitor and analyze data as it’s created including the ability to create real-time dashboards in Power BI. In one session, the Microsoft demonstrated Stream Analytics resulting in alerts to your iPhone through Power BI. Great stuff.
Summing It All Up – All In On CRM Online & Office 365
Other Cobalt team members have asked me what my overall takeaway from Convergence 2015 was and my answer is that if you’re not moving to CRM Online and Office 365, you’re missing out. Microsoft is continuing to push for more CRM Online users by releasing new features earlier in CRM Online and providing a more integrated environment with Office 365. There was a massive gap between the number of on premise and online customers in attendance. In several sessions the audience was polled to see which version they were running and it seemed as if more than 80% of attendees were running CRM 2011 on premise, which explains the push. However, there are mixed messages coming from partners, users and Microsoft as to CRM Online’s ability to handle high volume. Some partners claim that under heavy load, tenants of any given machine can suffer performance degradation as a result of other tenants. Microsoft, meanwhile, promises this is not an issue and they have systems in place to handle exactly this situation. Then there is always the issue of not being able to “own” the data in CRM Online either by loading data en masse through SQL or extract that data in a similar fashion. Both of these situations are being addressed, in part, by the CRM development team through the updates to the API explained above and by new capabilities in Power BI. In the end there will always be some limitations in CRM online compared to on premise. Users and Partners will just have to weigh the drawbacks with the benefits and my guess is the latter will outweigh the former very soon if the scales haven’t tipped already.. To help with this transition, Microsoft highlighted the Microsoft Software Assurance Planning Services program which gives customers points for all your software assurance licenses (not just CRM). These points can be redeemed for 3, 5, 10 or 15-day “Planning Service” days from a qualified partner. Of course, Cobalt is a qualified partner. You can click the button below to find out more about this valuable service from Microsoft.