Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online beta has a very obvious button on the interface that allows you to download the software to integrate Microsoft Outlook with your CRM 2011 Online, your application in the "cloud." You will get the opportunity to download the file ClientInstaller1033.exe, and for most Microsoft techs, they realize that the 1033 stands for the English version.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM screen
Microsoft Dynamics CRM screen



Running the file gets you to the process of installing the Outlook Client for Microsoft CRM 2011 in the Cloud.

The client software gives you the "power of choice" in many ways. We all know how we often spend much of the day in Microsoft Office Outlook. So it makes sense that we can be empowered to conduct business and be connected to business data within Outlook—not just our contacts and emails, but also data that is available to many parts of the company.

Online/Offline?
One concept in enabling Microsoft Outlook to mean business is to allow an option to be disconnected and still be able to have some key business data with us. Believe it or not, there are some people who do not have air cards or international access to the Internet when they travel. And I still don't see free Wi-Fi on the plane (even as it's getting harder to get your laptop open in coach).

So Microsoft has made the client for Dynamics CRM in the Cloud with two options. You can install the client so that you can only do work when you're connected, or you can have the offline ability to have some of the data on a local SQL Server database on your laptop.

Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook setup screen
Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook setup screen



What data could you have from the company? Well, depending on your business role, certain views of the data can be downloaded and synced with a local SQL Server database on your laptop.
 
If you're the IT person who provisioned the software, and you don't want to give offline access to the user at this time, you can just install for online and you have the option of doing the offline install without having to uninstall and reinstall the software. This is a big improvement over the former offering.

As you can see below, SQL Server 2008 Express will be installed on the client, if you choose the offline option.

SQL Server 2008 install on Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook
SQL Server 2008 install on Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook


 
When the installation is done and you log in, you have the option of connecting to an "On Premise" server or a URL for the cloud version.



The URL for the Cloud beta is CRM Online, as seen below.

URL for Dynamics CRM in the Cloud beta
URL for Dynamics CRM in the Cloud beta



Even at this point, there are options to change servers, test the connection, use a different ID, or switch to another organization.

Configuring Dynamics CRM in the Cloud
Configuring Dynamics CRM in the Cloud



Finally, you start up Outlook, and you will see a new toolbar with new options to interact with the CRM 2011 online in the cloud.

Dynamics CRM 2011 Online toolbar in Outlook
Dynamics CRM 2011 Online toolbar in Outlook



So, What Now?
Well, now you have business functions right from within Outlook by being connected to the live data in the cloud. For instance, below you see how we just opened the option to create a new quote for a potential customer from within Outlook.

Working with Dynamics CRM Online within Outlook
Working with Dynamics CRM Online within Outlook



From the form, you can see that you have access to other data within the company, such as price list and potential customers. Once the form has been created and saved, you see a ribbon full of action options.

In fact there are other "out of the cloud" business forms in the drop-down from the tool bar, including these:

  • Client
  • Contact
  • Lead
  • Opportunity
  • Marketing list
  • Order
  • Invoice
  • Campaign

The list goes on, but with this application each form is customizable. Additionally, code can be incorporated within the form as part of the customization options, enabling you the creation of new forms and fields that would work in different businesses.



And the Email?
As the "prime directive" of Outlook is email, the CRM 2011 Online tool bar allows for emails to be associated with an account, a contract, or most of the business entities included in the Cloud application. Then again, each email can be tracked in CRM 2011 online. This means that the email is associated with the record in the database in the cloud. All who have been given access to those records can have access to the emails as well. The collation of all this data allows a project manager, a sales director, or a head of surgery—or any other business professional—to track the activities, achievements, and progress of any activity that might occur in any kind of business.

There are pages and pages of features that could be discussed here in a few pages. But what we have seen so far is that Microsoft has positioned Microsoft Outlook to work with a sophisticated cloud application in CRM 2011 Online and create a new set of abilities that will mean advantages to those who implement them.

In addition , we can also see that IT pros will enter a new kind of work, where they will be intimately involved with aggregating data and making it available to end users, with new roles-based security and "claims-based" security technologies. Will all of a company's data be in the cloud? Most likely not, but this will also require IT pros to create processes that will allow for providing subsets of data to mobile users and remote office users.

Based on what we have examined so far, it is not hard to see how hybrid mixes of on premises, workstation, and cloud applications will keep Outlook a key requirement for knowledge workers. That will mean that for the foreseeable future, Microsoft Outlook will "mean business."

Curt Spanburgh (CRMMVP@onesolutiongrp.com) is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Microsoft Dynamics CRM MVP and owns One Solution Group, a Dynamics CRM consulting firm. He has worked with Microsoft applications for more than 20 years and moderates the Microsoft Dynamics Support forum at www.minasi.com.