Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CRM and xRM vs SharePoint: Business Solution Architecture

  • You are tasked with developing an enterprise application or business process solution using a stable platform tool
  • You have MS SharePoint / Office 365 and MS Dynamics CRM options available and need to decide which to use
SharePoint / Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM and xRM Comparison
  • SharePoint and Office 365 is a(n)
    • Customizable and flexible business solution platform
      • Content-centric
    • Content/document management and versioning system (CMS/DMS)
    • Enterprise search engine
    • Workflow system (WWF/Azure Workflow)
    • Alert engine
    • Extension for MS Office client apps and MS OfficeWeb Apps (OWA)
    • Web site development and web content management tool (WCM)
    • Publishing tool
    • Personalizable web interface
    • Social platform
    • Cloud capable, multi-tenant framework
    • MS Access web database platform
    • MS Project platform
    • MS Team Foundation Studio site platform
    • MS Dynamics CRM document repository
  • Dynamics CRM (xRM) is a(n)
    • Customizable CRM line of business system
      • For Sales and Marketing departments
    • Entity management platform
      • Ex: Accounts, contacts, orders, cases and opportunities
      • May be configured for case management solutions such as health and human services, benefits administration, legal cases, grant management, etc.
    • Query tool
    • Workflow engine (WWF)
    • Analytics tool
    • Extension for MS Outlook, Excel, and Word
    • Custom business solution platform
      • Email and conversation-centric applications
        • Customer service, tech support, employee relations, outreach, campaigning, contracts, etc.

MS Dynamics CRM is designed as a customer relationship management system and the platform has native relational design at its heart.  It can be adapted to many conversational and relationship based business processes.  The primary problem with CRM, is that it lacks the popularity of SharePoint and Office 365 due to reduced feature set and increased cost and is therefore less likely to be available as a platform to most business developers and end users.  This makes finding third party solutions, developers, community forums, and experienced users difficult or costly.  Dynamics CRM as a line of business app has many competing products that make the base feature set less important when choosing a solutions platform.  These include those from MS partners built directly on SharePoint such as BPA Solutions CRM, SP CRM Template, and SP Marketplace CRM.

The capabilities of SharePoint and Office 365 currently outweigh those of Dynamics CRM for general purpose custom business solutions.  This is especially true when business solutions incorporate enterprise search, documents and content management, publishing and approval, personalization, collaboration, or public web content.   SharePoint with a typical set of third party add-ins provides the best long term, affordable, and flexible solution architecture.  Microsoft has embraced SharePoint as an application platform within most of its divisions, Dynamics being the outlier.  SharePoint/Office 365 is also the fastest growing product within Microsoft due to its rapid adoption globally.  Finally, SharePoint has many more third party solution providers and COTS line of business systems than Dynamics CRM.

For highly relational and performance based web applications it is better to develop a user interface in SharePoint (app model or web parts) with a SQL DBA developed backend or MS Access Web Database rather than develop a solution using the Dynamics CRM drag drop interface or native SharePoint lists/libraries.  This will remain the case until Dynamics CRM catches up to SharePoint/Office 365 in functionality, SharePoint integrates a better relational/back end framework, or another company develops a better web application platform.

Microsoft Corporate Strategy and Product Roadmap Commentary

Ideal Objective: SharePoint = Microsoft's Web Operating System

SharePoint must be the single web based application platform for all Microsoft's business solutions.  MS Dynamics CRM has not been ported to the SharePoint platform for the main reason that customizable relational models are not embraced within SharePoint.  Every attempt by the SharePoint product team to incorporate true relational database (RDBMS) integrity, performance, and design into the product have met with limited success.  External lists and lookups are feature deprived and difficult to configure. Access web databases are siloed from other SharePoint features and sites.  Native lookup fields lack basic features and have limited relational support. Database synchronization to or from lists is non-existent.  Many third party vendors have stepped up to fill these gaps, but that leaves Microsoft without the capabilities for internal development utilizing these missing features.  For now, we are stuck in that period where the Dynamics CRM platform is not yet obsolete, but SharePoint (without third party add-ins) is not ready for the port.

If Microsoft is to succeed in its primary focus towards enterprise software, then these product teams need to work together to bolster SharePoint's feature set as a solutions development platform and then port the Dynamics business solutions onto the improved platform.  This would allow the Dynamics teams to contribute to the design of the SharePoint platform while also removing the CRM team's burden of having to re-invent the wheel regarding the existing and continually improving SharePoint feature set.  Examples of these shared functionality opportunities include: workflow engine, search engine, forms engine, list engine, authorization, authentication, UI, admin consoles, deployment methods, device support, mobile applications, OneDrive for Business synchronization, web services, application object model, BI, content management, metadata, analytics services, patches, upgrades, and MS Office integration.  Microsoft has taken the first steps with incorporating the MS Access team into SharePoint forms and Access web database design, but the SharePoint team also needs the real world requirements and feedback from the Dynamics teams to ensure the future success of both products.

Nearly 10 years ago, at the last SharePoint Conference he keynoted, I asked Bill Gates if SharePoint would get true relational design functionality.  His answer was that they were working on some of these features (which turned out to be External Lists and Lookup RI) but he still insisted on using SQL RDBMS for highly relational solutions.  This answer was inadequate and shortsighted.  It is now time for Microsoft to step up and take advantage of the monumental opportunity to combine relational design into the worlds most prevalent and feature rich Web OS, SharePoint (aka Office 365).

Sources and Other Resources

MS Ignite 2015 Update
While attending MS Ignite 2015, I used the opportunity to talk with product leads and managers on both Dynamics CRM and SharePoint/Office 365 to find out how this is going down within Microsoft.  Both teams admit that there is very little collaboration between the Dynamics and SharePoint teams and there is a lack of direction from the executive level.  This issue flows from the Microsoft organizational structure and requires executive action or an internal grass roots effort to remediate.  If Microsoft wants to establish itself as the king of business solutions, then we need these teams (Dynamics, SharePoint/Office 365, and MS Access) to combine their platforms and stop wasting time reinventing the wheel.

One prime example of waste was brought up in the CRM line of business development session.  Since the CRM team does not collaborate with the SharePoint team, they are developing their own separate enterprise search engine rather than utilizing the highly efficient FAST search engine the SharePoint/Office 365 team bought for $1.2 Billion.


  1. Thank you for your insights on how SharePoint fits in the Microsoft platform and its evolution over the years. I agree that there has been a desire in the SharePoint community for the product to be more friendly to relational data, not only in performance but also in reporting and many common database applications.

    I think that the xRM approach is designed to extend CRM beyond addressing the requirements of sales and marketing departments. You could say that built-in CRM features are helpful for database solutions that involve the primary entities tracked by CRM such as accounts, contacts, orders, cases and opportunities. This means not only the conversation-centric applications that you mention but also case management such as health and human services, benefits administration, legal cases, grant management, and others. Case management benefits from features inherent in Dynamics CRM such as outreach capability and business processes relating to case activities.

    I'm sorry to go so long in this comment. I'm going to release a new version of my whitepaper on this subject to go into greater depth and my blog at blogs.infostrat.com. Just wanted to thank you for revisiting these issues and helping people think more deeply about which tools work in which scenarios.

  2. Thank you. I update the CRM section to include Case Management.