The Match We’ve All Been Waiting For
Outlook integration has always been one of the most coveted features of Microsoft’s CRM platform. For as long as we can remember, we have had the trusted Dynamics CRM Outlook Client there to help us track email, convert leads to opportunities, manage contacts and accounts, and schedule appointments, tasks and other activities against CRM opportunities or cases. For many users, Outlook was the only CRM interface they needed since you could navigate the whole platform without opening a browser.
Now, a new upstart rival has stepped into the ring, the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook. Part of a new breed of functional add-ons for Microsoft’s “365” platform, the app is giving the “old man” a run for it’s money. It may not be as full-featured, but it represents a totally different way of thinking about Outlook CRM integration, significant usability improvements and does what it does extremely well. In short, it’s smaller, lighter and faster and packs some serious punch.
The Dynamics 365 App for Outlook links Outlook entities and data to Dynamics 365 CRM. It’s the “glue” that ties together day-to-day activity with process management, record-keeping and analytics. On the surface it might seem like only the branding has changed – to keep aligned with Microsoft’s “Dynamics 365” vision. While the names are similar, the function and experience of using the D365 Outlook App couldn’t be more different from the Microsoft CRM Outlook client. In the next few rounds we will look at the punches they each throw and put them head-to-head to see who will come out on top. Fortunately, you don’t need Pay-Per-View to see this match. We’ve got your front-row seats right here so enjoy the fight!
Round 1: Dynamics 365 for Outlook Client
Full Dynamics 365 Platform
From the first bell, the Outlook Client lands a heavy hit by providing a full Dynamics 365 interface right from within Outlook. No browser required. Just click the Solutions tab and CRM pages load in the Outlook frame. Navigation is achieved via a left-hand menu similar to operating Outlook folders. This does have the benefit of fewer windows open vs. Outlook and a browser, if you are one of those users who feels fewer windows is better, and it creates the perception of tight integration. allows Dynamics 365 to seem more like an extension of Outlook rather than another system altogether. That said, in our opinion the advantages of navigating Dynamics 365’s pages and forms through Outlook can sometimes be frustrating making us with we just opened a browser. The additional menu buttons like “Track” and “Convert to” on the other hand add meaningful CRM integration to Outlook.
Figure 1: The Dynamics 365 navigation built in Outlook through the Client add-in.
Since the add-in is installed directly on your computer, you are able to work in Outlook with Dynamics 365 even if you are offline. Any changes you make, emails you send, or activities that you create will automatically populate within your CRM the next time you are able to get online based on your sync settings. This becomes very useful if oftentimes find yourself in a plane, on a road trip, or in a hotel whose internet you just can’t seem to rely on.
We can’t lie, we found the Outlook Client for CRM to be really slow and clicky. Using the Track and Convert-to features were really handy for pushing Outlook data into CRM, that is, it was reliable and it did what it was supposed to. However we always felt it was slow and required a lot of extra navigation. Look-ups tended to be a little slow and if CRM needed additional data, for example in creating a contact record, it would pop open the appropriate CRM form which can take a few seconds to load and save. In short, it didn’t really behave like an Outlook “client”, in most situations it was more of a contextual CRM launcher.
Round 2: Dynamics 365 for Outlook App
Outlook FOR WINDOWS, Outlook Web Access, and Outlook Mobile
The Dynamics 365 App for Outlook provides a quick counter punch by being available on Outlook Web Access and Mobile, in addition to the full Outlook for Windows client. And it doesn’t even need to be “installed” locally by end-users a la Outlook client. Rather a user or admin simply enables the app and it then appears in all of the clients the user is working in. Simply go into your Dynamics 365 solution and click on Settings >> System >> Dynamics 365 App for Outlook. From here, you can manage the Outlook App, including pushing it out to all users automatically with no action required on their part.
Connecting Outlook to Dynamics 365 across all user experiences is a huge win in our opinion. Whether you’re on-the-go on your mobile or are using a guest laptop, you can always function as efficiently as you would at your own computer.
While this does mean that you need internet access in order to use the Outlook App, it’s evident that we have plenty of opportunities to be connected. Internet at home and at work is standard, but more importantly is how you stay online on the road. Hotels, restaurants, and airports are often well-equipped and you can always purchase a portable Wi-Fi device for when you’re on the move. “Unfortunately”, there is no workaround for expensive airplane internet prices, so perhaps you can use it as an excuse to relax for once.
The Outlook add-in is dead simple to use. With the focus on an email message for example, simply click the Dynamics 365 button on the right side of your ribbon to quickly bring up an easy-to-digest screen of cross-referenced CRM information directly within Outlook. While the previous Outlook Client mimicked integration with pop-ups containing CRM pages, the Outlook App is truly integrated using web services to retrieve information on the fly as it is needed.
From there, you’re able to accomplish a myriad of tasks starting with the Track button at the top, including updating information, filling out forms, and creating various activities. It’s easy, simple, and quick—a stark contrast to its alternative.
Figure 2: The Outlook App interface displaying contacts, information, and tracking options based off an email.
Did we mention it’s fast?
The Outlook add-in for Dynamics 365 is blazing fast. Since it doesn’t load Dynamics 365 pages the way the Outlook client did, it is able to fetch and display information much, much faster. We find this particularly useful for looking up contacts, opportunities and cases, and adding new information to records.Like What You've Read? Subscribe to our Newsletter!
Round 3: Winner, Winner!
By now, you have surely taken notice of the two different fighting styles. One brings a big punch and can accomplish any goal if you have the time. On the other hand, while the newcomer doesn’t have the same library of moves, it more than makes up for with great agility in daily tasks.
One last consideration is that Microsoft’s focus, based on the content of their releases, is squarely on the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook. You can expect further improvements that, over time, will better match the variety of what the Outlook Client brings.
After all is said and done, with its noticeably improved speed and considering Microsoft will soon stop supporting the Outlook Client altogether, the winner is clearly the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook. While you can delay the transition until the day of supporting the Outlook Client comes to an end, it would benefit you to get comfortable with what’s coming.
Granted, if many of your users desire to have all of the functionality of Dynamics 365 built within Outlook or they need the capability to work offline, then holding off may be the answer. Meanwhile, if your users only require the ability to do smaller tasks and are happy to open Dynamics 365 should they need something more complex, then the Outlook App would better maximize the use of their time.