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Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Spring Release “Carina” is Just Around the Corner!

With lots of exciting news coming out of Convergence a few weeks ago, it was easy to miss what was surely some of the biggest (if expected) news to slip out – Spring Release codename “Carina”, or as Microsoft calls it, CRM Online 2015 Update 1 (catchy!) is being readied for release sometime within the next couple months.

Although it’s technically just an “update” most of us close to CRM are blown away with the changes and added functionality that Carina promises – this feels much more like a major software revision, including a major UI overhaul, improved Office365 integration points and even some brand new functionality that Microsoft has recently acquired and quickly integrated into Dynamics CRM.

While there isn’t time to cover everything that is coming in the Spring Release, we’ve distilled the update down to what we see as the five biggest points below…

1. New Navigation Brings Less Scrolling

While CRM 2013 brought a badly needed refresh to the system’s user interface to bring it more in line with the common Microsoft design language generally referred to as Metro, there were still a few pain points in navigation that had users flustered.

While the application had been optimized for tablet and touch devices, there was an awful lot of scrolling needed to move between areas within the CRM navigation menu, and a small wrong move with the mouse could end up close the whole window on you.

Microsoft has addressed this in Carina by implementing a more stack-focused interface that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has previously used Microsoft Dynamics Marketing. This interface uses a similar touch-friendly interface, but brings sub-menus up a level, resulting in the ability to see much more in a single view.

Users now also have access to a very handy dedicated recent views and records panel that works cross-record type, as well as the ability to pin records you want to keep at the top of the list, much the way you would pin a live tile on your Windows 8.1 Start screen. While CRM 2015 (and 2013 for that matter) already had recent record lists, this integrated view is a huge improvement and the ability to pin your favorite records is sure to be a big hit with users, many of whom have been asking for such a feature for years.

[Image Source: Microsoft]

Overall, navigation in Carina just feels more natural and more fluid. The new interface should still be tablet friendly thanks to its large icons and fluid UI, but will be a huge improvement for users that typically access

2. Themes! Themes! Themes!

One seemingly minor enhancement might actually be the best piece of news a Marketing department could ask for – CRM now supports custom themes out of the box. Using the simple theme builder form, system administrators can create custom themes using HTML color codes and even include custom logos and tooltips specific to the company or instance of Dynamics CRM being used.

CRM supports custom themes out of the boxAn example of this configuration is shown below; in this case the standard default theme, which is non-editable.

Perhaps the best news with these new theme capabilities is that they will be fully supported in future upgrades and Microsoft has indicated to us that any customizations made through their theme editor will not have any negative impact on upcoming feature additions to CRM.

3. Improved Excel Integration

Dynamics CRM has always played well with Microsoft Office, and users have been enjoying that native integration for some time, downloading data extracts to slice and dice, refreshing data right from CRM, and even bulk importing changes via Excel template.

With CRM 2015 Online Update 1 Microsoft has gone one step further and has integrated CRM Online with the Office365 version of Excel, allowing users to open their data in spreadsheets inline in CRM. This is a great tool for quick analysis on the fly, or for when you are on a machine that might not have a compatible version of Excel installed.

[Image Source: Microsoft]

Microsoft has also rethought the Export to Excel function and now provides exports that preserve formatting for easier data calculation and manipulation, while still supporting data reimport for the entire data set.

Thankfully, Microsoft has also upped the maximum number of records available to export to 100,000 from 10,000. While this could previously be changed manually, it was a potentially unsupported “hack” so it’s good to see Microsoft now supports the larger amount of records that should satisfy almost any reasonable export request a user might make.

4. OneNote Online Integration

Similar to the improved Excel integration, Microsoft has now integrated their popular OneNote Online software with Dynamics CRM. Now, users leveraging any mobile device (such as a Surface Pro 3 or Apple iPad) can take notes, capture photos, sketch free-form drawings and even take voice memos and attach them directly to a CRM record via the OneNote application users are already familiar with.

5. Better & More Consistent Mobile Experiences

Microsoft’s native mobility offerings have been slowly improving since their release in 2012, and now with Carina they’ve taken another step forward by pushing the excellent process-driven functionality currently available within their tablet application downstream to their phone client. What this means is that users will now be able to more fully leverage sales processes through the phone application which was previously more feature-limited and geared towards simple access and updates rather than a total productivity.

Of course, CRM 2015 also brought with it Cortana voice integration, which allows users with Windows Phone Cortana-enabled devices to update their CRM records on the go and totally hands free. We expect CRM Online 2015 Update 1 to further refine this feature which has already proven popular with Windows Phone aficionados – we’re still hoping for a version that will integrate Siri and Google Now for non-Windows Phone users, but no word from Microsoft on that front yet.

Overall we’ve been very impressed with Carina so far! As we’re technically working on a Preview release, the details of what is actually included in the deployed product later this spring may differ, but we expect that we’re using what is likely a very nearly final version of the software.

We’re pleased that Microsoft has clearly made a significant investment in product development for Dynamics CRM Online, and this latest update is perhaps its biggest yet; certainly the biggest since the total UI redesign rolled out with CRM 2015. We’re looking forward to more good stuff later in 2015 (surveys, anyone?) but for now we’re very much looking forward to digging into all the good stuff Carina has to offer.

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