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why crm online navigating the cloud1Microsoft Dynamics CRM is available both as an on-premise solution and as a public cloud solution. With Software-as-a-Service (cloud-based) taking off, people thinking about Microsoft CRM are looking at CRM Online.  But before you commit, make sure that you know why CRM Online is the way to go.  Or whether it is the best option for you at all.

There’s no denying that ‘cloud’ is a buzz word in the early 21st century.  When it comes to CRM and cloud, Gartner predicted that over 50% of CRM deployed will be SaaS (Software-as-a-Service, or cloud-based) by 2015.

It’s certainly a good time to look at cloud-based CRM, and why CRM Online may or may not suit you and your business.

Why is Cloud so popular?

A key attraction of a cloud solution is the apparent simplicity.  The technical hassles are all managed by the cloud provider – aren’t they? Possibly.

But remember, a cloud environment is still using servers; it’s just that those servers are located outside your office, and sometimes outside of your control.  A cloud offering is usually rented hardware, software licences and some related management services.  The payments for the hardware, the licences and the services tend to be bundled together.  But from a technical perspective, there is nothing achievable by cloud that cannot be achieved using your own servers.

Know your clouds

No, we don’t mean cumulo-nimbus vs cirrus! There are different kinds of cloud in IT as well.

Public cloud

This is where you subscribe to a service and you have little control of that service. You may have licence options allowing more or less functionality, more or fewer users.  You probably also have some limited capability to tweak your system, but not much more than that.

With most public cloud services the service will be shared between many users.  Not just users in your organisation, but users from other businesses will share the hardware.

Private cloud

This is a more restricted environment, where only selected users have access.  In business terms, this means that the environment is limited to one organisation. Yours, if you go for this option.

In the Microsoft Dynamics world:

  • CRM Online is public cloud. Only your users have access to your system and your data, it’s true – but that system and that data share hardware with other businesses.
  • Private cloud options also exist.  They’re called ‘partner-hosted CRM’ or ‘third-party hosted CRM’.
  • Finally there is also the pure ‘on-premise’ option where you buy, host and look after all your CRM yourself.

One way of looking at these options is to compare them to modes of transport.  

  • Public cloud is a bus.
  • Privat cloud is a taxi
  • Your own on-premise solution is your own car.

why crm online whos in charge

Neither the bus nor the taxi belongs to you, but you have much more control over the taxi than the bus.  The bus is great as long as it goes where you want to go, when you want to go there.  If it doesn’t, why not pay more and use a taxi?  

Now it’s clearer why CRM Online is not always the best cloud CRM option.

Of course, if you want to go all over the place at a moment’s notice, get your own car.  But this scenario is far less common in CRM Land than in real life.  Too much change tends to confuse all your users so you don’t get much benefit from it!)

Microsoft CRM Online is not the only way that you can have Microsoft Dynamics CRM available without having all the challenges of looking after the servers yourself.  While all CRM Online is Cloud, not all cloud Dynamics CRM is CRM Online.  Many Microsoft partners, including us, offer hosted CRM, usually with monthly payments so you are not forced to purchase the software in a lump at the beginning of the project.  Each of these partners will have different bundles within their offering, and all of them will be different to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.


How to decide between CRM Online, partner hosted CRM or genuine on premise CRM

Which option is right for you depends very much on your needs as an organisation. Opsis have a partner hosted solution called OzCloudCRM. We also support both CRM online and on-premise solutions for clients.  Since we support all options, we can afford to be impartial!

Here are the considerations to keep in mind when selecting the best platform for your Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Total cost

At first glance, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is cheaper than the options hosted by Microsoft Partners. However, what are you getting for your money?

Monthly licence cost is the major consideration, but not the only one.  For example, what if you want a development or training environment?

With CRM Online, you will either have to manage these tasks using your final environment, or to purchase another org.  This currently costs $500 per month.  How does this compare to partner-hosted CRM?  Opsis offer a short-term development or training environment free of-charge.

It is also important to be aware of the licence terms.

When you commit to a CRM Online solution, you are committing for 12 months with an automatic rollover.  This means that on your anniversary you automatically commit to a further 12 months, unless you give notice before your anniversary.  Even so, this is less onerous than some of the leading competitors.

There’s a more complete look at total software project costs in this article.

Speed

The speed of CRM has a range of effects.

The most obvious of these is the day-to-day use of CRM by your users.  If CRM is slow, users are move likely to find ways of not using it.  They develop their own methods, all different, which probably invalidates your reasons for deploying CRM in the first-place.

Other, more insidious, effects occur in development.  There are some aspects of a CRM project that can takes between three and five times as long to implement if the development environment is CRM Online.  Plus, it is not always possible to develop in an on premise environment and deploy to an Online environment.

Automatic updates

Automatic updates are both a blessing and a curse.

Do you want your CRM updated at a time convenient for the data centre?  Or a time convenient for you?

Over the past couple of years, we have spoken to several organisations where an update was applied unexpectedly, at least as far as users were concerned.  No training or warning had occurred.  This caused mayhem for a few days while the users found their way around the new layout.

Something else we experienced recently was an automatic update being applied to the CRM Online platform in the middle of a project.  This can mean that your development is not compatible with your production environment.  In our case, we spent about 2 days doing an upload that should have taken no more than an hour – all because of a CRM Online automatic upgrade.

Data location

With any cloud solution, your data is held in the data centre.  To ensure that the data provider can recover if the data centre fails in some catastrophic way, the data will usually be backed up to an alternative location.  When deciding on a solution, you need to be confident that all of these locations are appropriate for your data.

For the past couple of months, CRM Online has been available from an Australian data centre.  Nevertheless, anyone who has been using Microsoft CRM Online since before March 2015 will be hosted overseas.  It will take about 18 months to move all the Australian users to the Australian data centres.

Database access

Direct access to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM SQL database is not supported or recommended regardless of the platform.  With CRM Online it is completely impossible.

This should not be a problem for configuration, integration, reporting and so on.  These can still be done in other ways.  But what happens if you require a complete copy of your database?  The challenges associated with this need to be considered before committing to the CRM Online platform.

Reporting language

Reports are one area where you can come very unstuck using CRM Online.

For CRM Online reports, the data extraction work has to be done using Fetch XML.  There are very good reasons for this; nevertheless Fetch XML is less powerful, and more limiting than working with tSQL.  For example, data grouping cannot be done in FetchXML, so any data grouping required in a final report must be done in the design layer.

Fetch XML is a Microsoft proprietary language which has only been available for the past few years.  tSQL has been in use for over two decades, and is not proprietary, so there are many more people skilled in it.  These limitations mean your reports may take longer ( perhaps significantly longer) to develop.  So each report has to deliver more value to you to be justify its development.

In summary

Caveat Emptor – buyer beware!

There is much hype about the ease and low cost of a cloud environment.  However, do your homework and check out the total costs.  No one else will do it for you.

In Opsis’ experience, CRM Online is likely to be the best option for smaller organisations happy with a close to vanilla solution.  If this doesn’t describe you, then your total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the solution will probably be somewhat higher with CRM Online than with the alternatives.

As a final point, while this article focuses on Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, the issues are similar with any hosted or cloud solution.  At least with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, you have the option to move to an on-premise or partner hosted solution later.  That flexibility isn’t there with some of Microsoft’s leading competitors in the CRM space.

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Phone: +61(2) 8212 3480

Email: opsisinfo (at) opsis.com.au

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Pymble, NSW 2073

Taming the Beast of CRM data

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Opsis is an expert CRM consulting company. We are not an IT company, nor a management consultancy, although we often work with both of these.  Our focus is wholly CRM, and particularly Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  We are based in Sydney, NSW, with clients in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and across Australia.  Our range of CRM services include CRM strategy, CRM scoping, CRM implementation, technical  support and CRM training.