Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Standalone CRM is Not Enough

Nearly every organization wants to serve its customers and constituents better, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is seen as the answer to be better connected and more responsive to the needs of those your company, association or government agency serves.

CRM gives you a channel through which you can interact, and excellent means of tracking these customer interactions.  Microsoft Dynamics CRM, for instance, tracks customer service calls, orders, quotes, and marketing outreach.  With Parature for Dynamics, you get additional channels of online chat and social media. 

While CRM is a great start, and arguably essential to improving customer service, it is not enough without being integrated with other systems in your organization.  Being able to reach a customer service representative quickly is good only if that person can resolve your problem, and the information needed to solve the problem is likely in other system, such as accounting, manufacturing, orders, or appointment scheduling.

When InfoStrat worked on a Dynamics CRM implementation at a large U.S. federal agency, it required integration with over a dozen systems in order to provide all the visibility needed by a customer service representative. 

Fortunately, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a modern software platform based on open standards such as web services, and lends itself to integration.  Along with other integration tools on the Microsoft development platform, you can provide an excellent user experience for customer service reps and customers alike.

So the moral of the story is to give the customer service reps access to all the data that they need so they can improve the satisfaction of all your customers.  Don't stop with just a CRM system that let's you keep score -- go the full distance so they can make it to the customer satisfaction finish line.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Microsoft Convergence 2015 Roundup and Pictures

Today marks the conclusion of the Microsoft Convergence 2015 conference.  It's time to say goodbye to the host city of Atlanta for now, and go home to share all the information I have learned as an attendee with my staff back in Washington.

Should have turned on my pedometer to track all the miles walked in the convention center:

 
Convergence is overwhelming in the number of sessions, the size and diversity of the attendees, and the sheer volume of information and interactions packed into four days.

Microsoft left its imprint on Atlanta, and was prominent in billboards in the area:

 
The food was great, not only at the conference venue but the downtown restaurants.  I was treated to an amazing dinner by Bill Aiton of SSi Consulting, a top Dynamics GP partner, at Ray's in the City. From the raw bar to the sushi to the scallops and risotto, they made the shore seem closer than I think it may be to Atlanta.

Microsoft Public Sector hosted a tasty reception at White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails. It was fun to see old friends and meet new friends in a southern hipster setting. Yes, tattoos are required for all the bartenders and waiters.



My favorite keynote speaker was Seth Godin.  Quite inspirational and just like you would expect him if you have read his books:


 
 
I will miss my twilight view from the fiftieth floor of the opulent Westin Peachtree Plaza:

 
Can you have too much coffee at a convention?  I don't think so:



My favorite session was the government contractor (GovCon) discussion hosted by Microsoft's Elliott Ichimura. Elliott is the leader of the Microsoft GovCon Alliance.  He put together an informal discussion on how government contractors are getting the most out of Microsoft Dynamics products.


 
I tried to reduce my carbon footprint by taking the metro in DC and in Atlanta to get together airport.  Roundrip on the subway is $5 in Atlanta.

 
Now all I can do is drink plenty of water, sleep, and look forward to Convergence next year.
 
 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Getting the Most Out of Dynamics CRM Online

Thank you to all who attended our seminar on how to get the most out of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online this week.  We appreciate the opportunity to hear about your business needs and share our experience working with Dynamics CRM Online. 

For those who were unable to attend, here are some highlights:

1. The most successful implementations start with a cloud-centered attitude.  Think about ways that cloud deployment can make your users even more successful than on premise deployment.
2. Use Azure servers to build a data warehouse which will allow better reporting and data visualization from your CRM data.
3. Take advantage of Microsoft licensing that allows us to use cloud subscriptions for on premise deployments while you are migrating.
4. Stay current with software upgrades, and be sure to have enough environments to allow you to support the current and the next version adequately for testing.
5. SharePoint can be a great complement to Dynamics CRM Online.  You have many deployment models and integration points from which to choose.
6. Look at third party tools for integration, backup and data migration.
7. Understand the rules of the road for a shared environment, and how you can request help from Microsoft.
8. Find out whether you are eligible for Dynamics CRM Online Government.

Based on suggestions from attendees, our next seminar will be devoted to Dynamics CRM integration.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting Users on Board with Dynamics CRM 2015

In a previous post, I discussed some techniques for getting developers on board with your Customer Relationship Management implementation. Now for the real challenge...getting users to adopt your CRM.

The success of your CRM implementation hinges more on user adoption and data quality than any other factors.  Despite the arguable progress in software features, driving user adoption remains the most difficult challenge of CRM implementation.

Much has been written on the subject, such as Microsoft's training and adoption kit. Here are some highlights from my experience:
  1. Adopting CRM is not painless.  Help users understand that it will be hard work and sometimes frustrating, but the results will be worthwhile.  Setting unrealistic expectations of an easy process will make it harder to succeed.
  2. Show the support of upper management.  This means communications from leaders of your organization, attending meetings on the CRM project, and participating in implementation decisions.  Lack of interest can be contagious.
  3. Establish incentives for adoption.  Find those that fit with your organization's culture and which will work to motivate users.  For instance, in sales force automation, use a CRM dashboard as the centerpiece of every sales meeting, and don't discuss opportunities that have not been entered.
  4. Be sure to save enough funding and energy to provide training for users. Provide enough training but not so much that it seems overwhelming.  Don't train until your system is ready to use, at least as a proof of concept, because we forgot quickly without a chance to practice.
  5. During the adoption period, fix defects quickly and communicate problems to users.  Don't provide excuses to abandon the system.
Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 if you would like InfoStrat's help with driving adoption of your CRM system.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Moving Your Association to the Microsoft Cloud Part 1


Associations are often ideally suited to gain the most from moving their computing infrastructure to the cloud.  Industry experts point to cost savings, performance, and reliability gains you can achieve by moving your organization’s computing to cloud data centers. In order to make the most of cloud infrastructure, associations need a sound business case for moving to the cloud and an approach to determine which applications and servers should be moved and when. 

We recommend a gradual approach to moving to the cloud to minimize migrations cost and disruption.   This approach leads to a hybrid cloud where you will be using some applications in the cloud and some applications on premise.

InfoStrat has worked with national associations for over 25 years.  We have helped associations migrate to the cloud and have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

This blog series is written for associations that are beginning their analysis of the benefits and costs of moving to the Microsoft cloud.  Read the full whitepaper Moving Your Association to the Microsoft Cloud Step-by-Step.

Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 or email me at jimt@infostrat.com if you would like to discuss your needs and how we can help.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The DATA Act Driving Grant Management Automation

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act enacted in May 2014 calls for making spending data available in open, standardized formats to be published online.  It is a continuation of transparency initiatives and lessons learned with experiences such as grants.gov, the 2009 economic stimulus under the Recovery Act and the spending site USASpending.gov.

Government grantees will have significant new administrative responsibilities.  Many organizations that were tracking grants in spreadsheets or documents will have to adopt more sophisticated automated grant management systems such as Microsoft Grants Manager to keep up with reporting rules.

For profit companies will lose some privacy as a result of this law.  Grant recipients will be required to disclose information including officer salaries.

Continued improvements to publishing grant opportunities such as grants.gov may make it easier to find grants. These reforms together are designed to improve the effectiveness of grant programs and to prevent fraud and abuse in such programs.

Call me at 202-364-8822 x109 or email me at jimt@infostrat.com if you would like to discuss your needs and how we can help.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

To Code or Not to Code in Dynamics CRM

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers a wide range of features combined with the ability to customize the data model and workflows without any coding.  The question is, will these features fulfill all your business requirements or do you need to write some custom code? 

This is an important question, because once you start writing code you need to put in place a commensurate framework, methodology and platform to support it.  For instance, you may need multiple environments for development, testing, staging and production.  You may need version control for code as well as documentation. 

If you choose to go the No Code route, you may need to compromise the complexity of your business rules and change the way you work to suit the product better.  You will also have to settle for a bit less automation of some functions that could be streamlined through code. For instance, if you are determined to assign Account IDs that are a combination of the abbreviated customer name, state and date that they became a customer you will need to write some code.  Integration with other systems such as inventory or timesheets nearly always requires writing code.  Complex field derivations and validations require coding. 

If you are a do-it-yourselfer and not a programmer, and you want to implement Dynamics CRM on your own, try not to take on more than you can handle in terms of custom code.

Third party plug-ins can extend the capabilities of Dynamics CRM without forcing you to write and support custom code of your own. You can purchase plug-ins for reports and calculations or for functions such as sales tax calculation. 

Be sure to consider where you stand on custom coding in your implementation of Dynamics CRM.