Microsoft picks up the pace on CRM release cycle

The move to update Dynamics CRM twice a year could be in response to rivals like Salesforce.com, which have had more frequent releases

Microsoft is planning to increase the pace of releases for its Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) software, according to a new "statement of direction" document from the vendor. The move may signal pressure Microsoft is feeling from rivals such as Salesforce.com, which updates its software several times a year.

"Traditionally, major CRM product versions have been delivered in 2-3 year development cycles over multiple milestones," Microsoft said in the document (PDF). When it launched an online version in 2008, the company "added a parallel track of shorter development cycles which delivered updates and enhancements to the service twice yearly."

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The online version shares a single codebase with the on-premises and partner-hosted version of Dynamics CRM.

"Moving forward, new capabilities for Microsoft Dynamics CRM (both Online and On-premises) will be delivered approximately twice yearly with releases targeted for Spring (Q2) and Fall (Q4) of each calendar year," the document stated.

Customers will also be able to implement optional features for all versions through the Dynamics Marketplace, it said.

On-premises and partner-hosted users will receive both updates and upgrades. The first type will provide new features without the need for a full upgrade, while the latter "may deliver deeper functionality enhancements and improvements, may incorporate significant Microsoft platform innovations (e.g. the next releases of Windows Server and desktop, .Net Framework, SQL Server, Office), and will have their own Microsoft support lifecycle for mainstream and extended support."

Those customers are scheduled to receive an update in the fourth quarter of this year and an upgrade in the second quarter of 2012, according to Microsoft.

CRM Online users will also have two flavors of updates.

"Automatic service updates are made available to all Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online customers with no additional action required by users or administrators," Microsoft said. "Scheduled service updates may offer deeper functionality enhancements and improvements, and customers will have up to one year to schedule when the new Service Update [is] made available to their users."

An automatic update is set for the fourth quarter, and a scheduled one for the second quarter of 2012.

The document also discusses Microsoft's development plans for CRM, which include support for multiple browsers through HTML5, "device-specific application experiences" and self-service BI (business intelligence) tools.

Both Salesforce.com and Microsoft are eager to land more deals with the world's biggest companies. CRM software is seen as an easier sale for vendors than ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, since the technical and operational footprint isn't as large and complex.

In announcing an update to Dynamics CRM earlier this year, Microsoft emphasized the release's ability to scale up to 150,000 concurrent users in a single instance without a hit on performance.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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