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6 ways to evaluate moving Microsoft Dynamics CRM to the cloud

26 June 2014
Written by
Helayna Lowe   So you've been running Microsoft Dynamics CRM on-premise since, well, forever. But now you're thinking about giving this whole cloud thing a try and moving to a cloud-based solution like CRM Online. Of course, you have a whole lot of questions, not the least of which is: Does a switch from Dynamics CRM on-premise to CRM Online (or another cloud option) make sense for my organization? Answering that question isn't easy, so we've asked some experts for their experiences and tips on evaluating and executing this type of migration. Here are seven ways to look at your organization's situation. Justify your off-premise adventure "The move from on-premise to online is probably the least common migration that we have ever done," said Richard Riddle, CRM consultant at Columbus. "And it is strictly in instances where either the company's infrastructure is aging or the [current CRM solution] is either so out of date or just not working enough that a move to online represents a fresh start." It doesn't make sense otherwise, Riddle says, because the investment a company has to make to get CRM on-premise with SQL Server, hardware, server licenses, and user accounts is significant for most companies. "So once they've invested in that technology, it's very uncommon from what we've seen to have them throw all that away and then invest in the cloud," he said. "It's on a case-by-case basis."¬†   Business¬†process improvement: How to get there? An on-premise Dynamics CRM implementation, once deployed, can sometimes stagnate, leading to a lack of progress. For companies that are comfortable with a slow pace of change, staying with Dynamics CRM on-premise is fine, said Rebecca Wettemann, Vice President of Research, Nucleus Research. Over time, though, technology evolves and companies need to change. And a cloud environment enables firms to focus their resources on innovation and taking advantage of new technologies that make them more competitive, she said. "There are organizations that have invested a lot in data and in CRM software for on-premise but at this point lot of that is getting old," Wettemann said. "That means staying with on-premise means they customized a lot, making upgrades very expensive and disruptive. And even if they do upgrade, they're always behind the value curve. The day after they upgrade, they're not current anymore. And they're paying license maintenance for software that they're not fully taking advantage of." From another perspective, if the only certainty in an organization's future is that there will be change, CRM in the cloud provides the benefit of knowing that almost any type of change can be accommodated down the road. "The uncertainty could be positive or negative," said Greg Pierce, vice president of Concerto Cloud Services at Tribridge. "You're not sure how fast you're going to grow or you're not that you are going to grow and, in fact, you might shrink so you need to be able to understand what the ramifications are - and cloud is a great model for that because you pay for what you use." As IT goes... Andrew Snodgrass, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said that a good time for organizations to consider moving to Dynamics CRM Online is when they're looking at upgrading their server environments. "Anyone going to Office 365 or any online service, if they have an inside infrastructure they need to consider how old it is and where it is in the lifecycle before deciding if they should reinvest in on-premise or move to the cloud," he said. Companies could also think about transitioning to the cloud if they're not on the latest version of Dynamics CRM because they might be faced with doing a re-implementation of the application, regardless. Another reason to make the switch is if there is some kind of compelling event or upheaval or something in IT that is driving it like a lack of skill set within Dynamics CRM. "It's important not only to understand the nuts and bolts infrastructure stuff but the application as well because if you don't what will happen is a problem will occur that is not easy to figure out like the application is slow," said Pierce. "But is it the application, is the underlying platform and when it's on-premise that can sometimes be hard to dissect and there's finger pointing that goes on and everybody is trying to figure it out. So you need to have that skill set. There can also be cuts in IT and instead of having that skill set in house, you move it out. Or maybe you grew fast and IT is struggling or maybe there are some process problems." For small businesses the online offerings are the best solution, says CRM consultant Henry McCallum. "Those organizations benefit from faster availability of new features and a minimal IT management cost with a proven degree of self-service with respect to issues and learning." Marching to a cloud cadence Microsoft has made it clear that updates to Dynamics CRM will now be "cloud first". If an organization thinks it will benefit from adopting the frequent enhancements of CRM Online - or can identify risks from missing out on them - then they have a case for a migration. Most enhancements will eventually be rolled into updates for Dynamics CRM on-premise, but others, like alignment with Office 365 may always fall short to some degree. In some cases where organizations have already started migrating applications like e-mail or portal technologies to a cloud platform, the next logical step is moving CRM to the cloud, said Pierce. But he notes that there are a range of other reasons including economics, SLA requirements, risk management, scalability, and even data security. Cloud integration eases the way Additionally, it's getting easier for companies to migrate their data to the cloud, which is why there is a stronger case for moving today than ever before, Wettemann said. "There are technologies like Jitterbit and Scribe where companies can integrate legacy systems with new cloud applications so it doesn't have to be a forklift migration," she said. In fact, companies can focus on the areas where they want to take advantage of emerging technologies - sales performance management, automated customer service, social capabilities and the best mobile platform - in the software and rapidly integrate with the data they have in existing systems and retire those legacy systems over time, she said. Private vs public cloud Moving a Dynamics CRM solution from on-premise to CRM Online isn't the only option, and CRM Online may not be the right match for some customers, especially larger organizations. They sometimes regret that approach due to the rigidity of the platform, notes Henry McCallum. "For larger organizations, the CRM Online model can be a hassle due to the rigid upgrade process that requires an organization to accept any changes, features, or other modifications made by Microsoft. And there is usually little flexibility in the scheduling of upgrading." "We've had a number of customers who will go to CRM Online, but later they'll figure out that because there were some complexities to their environments [like a customization technique], when an upgrade rolls out it breaks things and they're down for a period of time and they can't really control the upgrade cycle," said Greg Pierce. "And they also find, in some cases, that the performance isn't quite there because [their solution is] very resource intensive. In that case, companies should look at virtual private clouds."  

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