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Microsoft Dynamics CRM Rapid Release Cycle and Why You Should Try To Keep Up

Since the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, the platform has been on a very rapid release cycle. As was announced three years ago, the release cycle now includes two releases a year, a minor one in the spring and a major one in the fall.

For Online customers, you get these updates automatically. For On premises deployments, you have to decide when you upgrade to the new version.

Approaching CRM upgrades with the same mindset you did in 2010 will not serve you or your users well. Back then there were 3-4 years between major releases. It was not uncommon for a company to sit out one upgrade cycle and then upgrade for the next one. But the world has changed. CRM 2013 was released about a year ago, and the next major version, CRM 2015 (Vega), is coming by the end of the year. Here are a few points to consider:

  • If you sit out a version, you are going to make your upgrade much more difficult and expensive. CRM 2013 was probably the last of the traditional upgrades for Dynamics CRM. it was a major change in user interface. The upgrade after 2013 (SP1) was much more iterative. It added great new functionality and refined the user experience, but it was not the user shock that the user experience change in 2013 was. If you upgrade one version, you can typically upgrade fairly quickly. However, if you upgrade two or more versions, your upgrade process is longer and requires multiple environments to upgrade, as the upgrade scripts only work with the previous version.

  • Modern device support creates additional urgency to stay up to date. If you are using CRM for tablets on your iPad or the CRM for Phones app on your Android phone, the release cycle of mobile app updates is tied to the CRM platform release cycle. New functionality is being rapidly added to the mobile apps, and the new updates to the app will require the current version of Dynamics CRM. Mobile device owners typically install updates to their operating systems soon after they are released. If there is a new version of your mobile OS, like IOS 8, compatibility for the new version will be added in the update for Dynamics CRM. If you wait 3 years to upgrade CRM,  you are going to either hold your mobile users back or create compatibility issues with their devices.
  • Your future upgrades (and user experience) will be much easier if you are using newer infrastructure. Microsoft has been very clear that they plan on dropping support for legacy versions of Internet Explorer, SQL Server, and Windows. This move is not just a ploy to get customers to spend more money. Internet Explorer 8 and 9 process JavaScript much slower than newer versions of Internet Explorer or other modern browsers. Newer versions of SQL and Windows have new features that CRM cannot take advantage of if support for legacy versions are required. If you upgrade your version of Internet Explorer and move to SQL 2012/2012 R2, your user’s experience will be better
  • If you upgrade one version, Outlook users can upgrade Outlook clients “in place,” and preserve the sync relationships. if you upgrade two or more versions, you have to uninstall/reinstall the Outlook client. if you use Outlook synchronization, uninstalling the client leaves behind synchronized contacts that the users own, and when the new client is installed, these contacts will be duplicated. This can be mitigated by using server side sync, but this option is not available if you use CRM on Premises and Exchange Online, or some other email system. if you have many Outlook users using Outlook synchronization, your upgrade process will be much easier if you only move one version.
  • Each new version of CRM adds additional security role permissions. These privileges are not enabled by default for custom security roles. When you upgrade one version, it is typically straightforward to add the missing privileges to existing custom security roles. If you move two or more versions, there will be a significant number of role discrepancies and it will likely take a significant amount of trial and error to get the missing privileges added to your roles to give access to the new functionality. That is why I strongly recommend that if you move two or more versions of CRM, recreate your custom security roles.
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    Upgrading enterprise platforms is not easy, especially for large companies. It requires updates to documentation, testing, and potentially user training; however, in the new rapid release cycle, if you upgrade to the major releases yearly, your upgrade experience (and user explerience) will be much better than skipping a version. Dynamics CRM 2013 SP1 is the new baseline user experience. Future upgrades will build on SP1.

    You don’t have to be an early adopter—you can wait for 3-6 months before upgrading. You don’t want to wait 3 years though.

    If you are still using CRM 2011 or 4.0, upgrading to 2013 now will make your future upgrades easier. If the rapid release cycle is making you dizzy and you are concerned about keeping your infrastructure up to date, you may want to consider migrating to CRM Online.