Since its inception in 2003, Microsoft’s Customer Relationship Management business offerings have undergone a vast array of functionality and name changes. We take a look at the history and current makeup of Microsoft’s Power Platform.
In the beginning: Microsoft CRM
Back in 2003, Microsoft released Microsoft Business Solutions Customer Relationship Management, which comprised of basic Sales and Customer Service modules. New fields and custom code could be added to enhance the product, but beyond that, customisation options were limited. With the release of the newly renamed Dynamics CRM 3.0 in 2005, in addition to the core Sales and Customer Service modules, Microsoft introduced a Marketing module and custom record types could now be added to track activity elsewhere in a business. Already, the product was gaining impressive flexibility.
The next step: xRM
As further versions of CRM were released, the ability to create one system on a single platform that could benefit almost all areas of a business led to the coining of the term ‘xRM’ or ‘Anything Relationship Management’. Complex multi-faceted systems could be created, with a strong security model and straightforward reporting options. However, all this was still built on the Sales, Service and Marketing foundation of the original Dynamics CRM platform. Typically this meant that customers had to buy full Dynamics CRM licences just to get their hands on the ‘xRM’ platform, even if they didn’t actually need the core Dynamics CRM out-of-the-box functionality.
The arrival of Dynamics 365
Of course, Dynamics CRM was not the only business application in Microsoft’s growing business software catalogue – they also had several Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) products, including Dynamics AX and Dynamics NAV. In a bid to standardise their business offering, the decision was taken in 2016 to launch Dynamics 365, which was essentially an umbrella grouping of the CRM/ERP products. So, each product was rebranded:
- Dynamics CRM became Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement – with modules for Sales, Customer Service, Marketing, Field Service and Project Service Automation
- Dynamics AX became Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations
- Dynamics NAV became Dynamics Business Central
However, although there were integration options for those businesses using more than one of the products, there was no underlying shared data platform.
The logical conclusion: The Common Data Service and the Power Platform
Away from the CRM/ERP platforms, Microsoft had been developing a cloud-based database platform to deliver the power and flexibility of SQL but without the need for highly-skilled development resources. This platform had a predefined schema that included entities such as Accounts, Contacts and Activities and was referred to as the Common Data Model (CDM). As there was already an overlap between the CDM and CRM/ERP entities, it made perfect sense that the CDM (more commonly referred to as the Common Data Service) should become the shared home for this business data.
In other initiatives, Microsoft had also been developing a range of other tools:
- PowerApps (now called Power Apps) – An easy-to-use method of building bespoke mobile apps without the need for complex tools or a development team
- Microsoft Flow (now called Power Automate) – Automation and process streamlining with the aid of a simple flowchart-style builder
- Power BI – Enterprise-grade business intelligence, with a vast range of interactive visuals providing detailed data insights
The Power Platform is the grouped term for the Common Data Service, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI and is the new home for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. Instead of Dynamics 365 being the platform, it’s now a series of first-party business Apps that run on the Power Platform. This means that for businesses who want to build an application unique to their needs, without requiring the specific functionality of the Dynamics 365 first-party apps, they can do so by building it directly on to the CDS, utilising Power Apps as the front end, at much lower licence price points, without now having to also license the more expensive first-party apps. Should they then require Sales or other functionality in the future, this can always be added in later.
It’s been a long and complicated journey for Microsoft’s CRM offering, but with the introduction of the Power Platform, we now have a comprehensive suite of customer and business management tools, making it easier than ever to build a system that can work for companies of any size, providing complex functionality, flexible security models, automation, a wide range of mobile functionality and detailed reporting.