ISV Hosting Toolkit for Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Part 1

The Proverbial Toolkit

The Proverbial Toolkit

In Part 1 of this series of posts I’ll summarize the parts of a toolkit an ISV needs for hosting Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  In the spirit of keeping my posts much shorter (based on good feedback), I’m going to break this topic down into bite-sized pieces.  I’ll follow-up with additional posts explaining in more detail the various pieces of the toolkit we built and some of the challenges we faced.

I mentioned in one of my first posts back in January, A Primer on Multitenancy for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, that at CourseMax we built an ordering, billing, and provisioning solution for our SaaS solution.  We host CourseMax ourselves at a colocation facility.  The toolkit is built almost entirely on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0.  In other words, we use CRM to provision and manage CRM.  That’s an intersting paradigm, isn’t it.  I always found it fascinating to think about early programmers writing text editors (vi, ed, etc.  No, don’t even say “edlin”) that they would use to edit source code to build their text editor, to build their text editor, to build their…  Is that recursion?

Control Panels, Self-Service, and Free Trials

There are many vendors out there that offer software to hosters called “Control Panels“.  These are generic and sometimes extensible.  However, a control-panel is only part of the solution.  As an ISV, you want to offer customers a simple sign-up process that starts with a free-trial and is completely self-service.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them, but if they don’t ever want to talk to you, they don’t have to.  If they have to call you to order your software, many potential customers will move on to the next option, your competitor.

The Tools in the Toolbox

Here are the parts of an ISV Hosting Toolkit:

  • Customer Sign-Up Forms
    • Free Trial, Buy Now
  • Tenant Provisioning Workflow
    • Automatically Provision CRM Organization, Customizations, etc.
  • Conversion Workflow
    • Can We Help, Free-Trial Expiring, …
  • Free-Trial Conversion Form
    • Payment Method/Term, Process Payment, etc.
  • Automatic Billing Workflow
    • Send Monthly/Semi-Annual Invoice
    • Send Invoice Reminders
    • Update Payment Status when paid
    • Disable CRM Organization (Payment late)
    • Redirect CRM URL to Payment Page (When grace period begins)
    • Backup CRM Database
    • Delete CRM Database (When grace period expires)
  • Tenant Self-Service Seat Management
    • Manage Licenses (Increase/Decrease Number of Seats)
    • My Account
      • Account History
      • View Invoices
      • Pay Invoice
    • Manage CRM Users
      • Apply Licenses to Users
      • Add Users
      • Disable Users
  • Operational Control Panel
    • Update Customizations on Multiple CRM Organizations
    • Deploy Reports…
    • Register Plug-Ins
    • Deploy Data-Maps

Making it Easy

The key is making it easy.  By that, I mean make it easy for you and easy for your customers.  That’s why computers were invented, wasn’t it.  Having a click/try/buy option on your website is a big advantage for you over your competitors that don’t have this option.  Having automatic billing means that you don’t have to hassle as much with billing and collections.  I promised to keep it short so that’s all for now…

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11 Responses

  1. […] ISV Hosting Toolkit for Microsoft Dynamics bCRM/b – Part 1 « Dan b…/b […]

  2. Please tell me more about this tool. I am interested in hosting multitenant Saas for CRM 4.0

    • Femi,
      I’ll be posting more on the toolkit we built here in the upcoming days and weeks.
      -Dan

  3. Hi Dan, we’ve been hosting CRM for nearly three years and facing exactly the same dilemas. We too use CRM to provision and manage CRM. We’ve built a series of tools to allow our operations team to deploy instances, create subscribers, and other features just like you’ve covered. Our next step is to expose those features on our customer portal to allow more self-service.

    We also looked at Control Panels from Ensim, ExtendASP, and others. But most were built to operate HMC (hosted Exchange, websites and SharePoint), whereas we’re a pureplay CRM hoster with no HMC.

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of your articles and comparing our experiences.

    Regards, Neil

    • Neil,
      Fantastic! We should compare notes.
      -Dan

  4. Hi Dan, Neil, I work for EMS-Cortex. We offer a control panel that can manage CRM as described in your article. We offer comprehensive management of CRM and additional services, and are not based on HMC. We have an inbuilt web-shop as well for self sign up. Give me a mail if you are interested in having a demo of what we offer

    Cheers……Daniel
    dthurston@ems-cortex.com

    • Daniel,
      Thanks for the information. Since we already built our own toolkit, it’s too late for us. I would have considered your tools had I know about them 9 months ago when we started down this road. That said, I think we are much better off with what we have for many reasons.

      Admittedly, I don’t have the full picture of how your toolkit works after a brief look at your website. But I do know that, since our provisioning tools are built on a CRM workflow in our own CRM system, it is part of our sales process. When someone gets a free trial, our sales process gets kicked off in CRM which ensures that we respond appropriately. Also, since the billing process and even the customer’s self-service seat management is part of our CRM system, everything we need to know about the customer is all in one place. With every other tool we looked at, it would have been harder to customize their tool and integrate it with our CRM system then to just build our own toolkit right in CRM. We also don’t have to “settle” for anything. We built it to work just the way we want it to.

      As an ISV, we’re a bit different than your typical CRM hoster. We have to deal with provisioning our own application on top of CRM. This gets into versioning and dealing with conflicts with the customer’s own customizations, etc. I found that commercial control panels, even if they were specific to CRM, were targeted at generic CRM hosting and could not deal with ISV applications well.

      I hope other ISVs will give your tools a look. Just the fact that you are addressing CRM hosting specifically makes your company pretty unique. If we were starting now, I would definitely consider your tools. I might still build our own but I would give EMS-Cortex a serious look.

      -Dan

  5. Hi Dan,

    We are half way through building what you have already build… We would be interested to see how we can share thoughts and if you want, have a commercial discussion to see how what you have build can be usefull for us?

    Please contact me. Our contact details can be found on our website: http://www.cwrmobility.com.

    Thanks, talk to you soon.

    Erik van Hoof
    CWR Mobility BV

  6. Hi Dan, Sorry for the Late reply – I have been away for a couple of weeks. I agree about the ISV challange though. It has been an interesting experience for us working with partners who have ISV’s developing apps ontop of CRM and the additional level of control they require. When you were looking we would not have done what you required I agree. I believe we hvae now got past most of the ISV issues we are aware of.
    Additionally the use of CRM internally to manage your sales process is an added bonus – we are starting to go through that process our selves.

  7. You can also look at Hosting Controller (www.hostingcontorller.com), a web based software to manage Dynamics CRM Hosting and many more.

  8. I checked out hostingcontroller.com (you misspelled the URL). There’s not much information except bullet points. This price looks decent at about $2,500 per server (depending on how they define a server). It appears to be basic and would handle provisioning of only generic CRM which means that we still couldn’t provision our application which requires several more steps. That said, it might be useful for a generic CRM hoster. Has anyone used or tried this product?

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