What the heck are we supposed to call Microsoft’s online CRM platform anyway?

Ah, CRM. If you have lived in Dynamics CRM land for a long time, you know exactly what I mean when I say CRM. It used to be pretty simple; It’s Microsoft’s CRM product: Dynamics CRM. Then Microsoft branding and marketing got involved and we got a long ever-changing road of really confusing terminology.

In case you’ve been living under a rock… or you know, think of Dynamics as a brand of ERP products (we’ll get to that later), CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Essentially, if you are a business, and have customers, then you need a CRM system. Depending on the size of your business, that might just be a black book, or a series of Excel spreadsheets, or a database of some kind. A first-class CRM product would be called for if you have salespeople who need to track contacts, accounts, sales and opportunities. You might also need one to track customer service cases or to manage marketing campaigns.

In any event, Dynamics CRM started as a first-class CRM product that just happened to be very customizable (perhaps “xRM” rings a bell?). You could use it as just a CRM (you know, like Salesforce), or you could customize it to do almost anything you want with it (I’ll get to that later too). We always just called it “CRM”. That’s it. Not “Dynamics CRM” or anything like that, Just “CRM”. Everyone knew what we were talking about.

So when did the confusion begin really? Well originally, Dynamics CRM was on-prem. Fast forward to a few years ago (please don’t tell me it’s been almost 10) and Microsoft decided that like literally everything else that exists now Dynamics CRM would be offered in the cloud as SaaS. At first, the online version was called “Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online”. Nice.

Things were simple until it was decided in 2016 to rebrand CRM under the Dynamics 365 umbrella along with several different ERP products. CRM would appear in this suite of software – along with the ERP products AX and NAV – but wouldn’t be called CRM anymore. Instead you had a few different busniess apps – “Dynamics 365 for Sales”, “Dynamics 365 for Customer Service”, etc. Each of these apps was just CRM but with a narrow sitemap containing only the module in question. Of course there were also apps like “Dynamics 365 for Finance” which was NAV under the hood or “Dynamics 365 for Operations” which was AX under the hood. In terms of licensing you didn’t get a license for CRM as a whole anymore, instead there were different Dynamics 365 plans which included different apps from this unified selection.

In a way it did all make sense from a marketing perspective; since the desire was to mainstream the Dynamics products that had previously been under a different business umbrella. A popular blog post from 2016 compared it to when they bundled a bunch of previously separate products like Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel into “Office 365”. Instead you have a bunch of previously separate products that collectively are called the same thing – Dynamics 365. The difference really is that with the Office 365 product the separate apps are still called the same thing that they were before they were bundled. Word is still Word, Excel is still Excel. With Dynamics 365, you didn’t have a direct line of naming succession, and CRM was now called different things depending on the business application.

Further to all this, Dynamics CRM had for some time been pushed as a more than “just” a CRM application. It had been pushed as a platform. Some of you may have been around long enough to remember this:

CRM was actually xRM. Meaning that it was a platform that you could build a wide range of business applications on top of that went way beyond just CRM. Dynamics CRM was highly customizable and was in fact a great platform to serve this purpose. It was so robust that we even built a Portal product to sit on top of it and allow businesses to engage with their customers at a whole new level. Well, now that platform with all those applications and the Portal and all that…doesn’t officially exist anymore. Sure it still exists under the hood of Dynamics 365 Sales, Dynamics 365 Customer Service, and so on, but what should we call the platform now? Just “Dynamics 365”?

Here’s the thing. If you find yourself attending D365 community events or UG events, or worse still if you work on projects that have both a CRM and ERP element to them and D365 is the selected platform, you might bump into the situation were you start up a conversation with someone about Dynamics 365 and very quickly realize that you are speaking different languages. To the ERP person “Dynamics 365” means the ERP product. Dynamics 365 IS an ERP product to them. For you, it’s the opposite. When you say “Dynamics 365” what you really mean is “CRM” but you can’t say that anymore. Or you know, you could say screw it and keep calling it CRM anyway.

Realizing that there had to be some way of distinguishing the portion of Dynamics 365 that came from the platform that had been CRM, Microsoft decided in 2017 to introduce the name “Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement” to refer to the product that had been CRM but wasn’t allowed to be called that anymore. All was well. Soon the confusion started to abate. We had “Dynamics 365 Business Central” for “BC” for short, and that was the new name for NAV online. Then you had “Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations” and that was the new name for AX. And of course you had CE for CRM. So now you just had to get over the habit of saying “Dynamics” (or CRM) when you meant “CE”. Easy.

That is until Microsoft officially announced that CE is gone from the Microsoft cloud. The apps are still there, but they won’t be referred to collectively as “customer engagement” anymore. Instead we are back to them not really having a collective name and just being separate D365 apps again.

I kid, I kid…

So why the change? CE was a perfectly good name to describe the online CRM offering no? Of course there is a problem with this. CE is the name for the online version of the CRM product, right? Well, increasingly, the online product isn’t really the same product as the on-prem product anymore – it’s not even built on the same foundations. Under the hood, the underlying platform has shifted from what was CRM to what is now the Power Platform. No one explains it better than Nick in his amazing blog post explaining the Power Platform. Long story short – we got xRM, but in the form of the Common Data Service, and Dynamics 365 apps are just vertical apps built on this service. It’s all part of the power platform. So, there is no distinct CE product that is separate from the Power Platform anymore – least not for much longer from a tech or infrastructure perspective.

CE is now the name for the on-prem product. CRM is truly gone. Meanwhile, we are still stuck trying to figure out how to refer to “the set of model-driven premium business apps that you pay separate licensing costs for that aren’t ERP”. Or in other words “the CRM stuff”. Well, for now at least, the correct way to reference any of the individual apps is “[Insert Dynamics 365 app name] running on Common Data Service”, so for example “Dynamics 365 Sales running on Common Data Service”. Yes, that’s a mouthful and also notice there is no “for” in the title anymore. Therefore, as a whole, the set of apps should be called “Dynamics 365 apps running on Common Data Service”.

That all said, I might suggest a better name: wait for it.

Dynamics 365 Power Apps

*applause*

Hope you enjoyed the read! I’ve been gone for a while but hope to post more frequently again and will be making some updates to my site. Stay tuned, like and share!

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