Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Understanding Microsoft AppSource and Dynamics 365



On July 6, 2016, Microsoft announced the introduction of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft AppSource. Scheduled to be available in the fall of 2016, Microsoft Dynamics 365 will allow new ways for customers to consume Microsoft's current CRM and ERP cloud offerings based on business functions such as financials, field service, sales, operations, marketing, project management and customer service.

Microsoft AppSource will be an online store for cloud services from Microsoft and third party providers such as InfoStrat and other Microsoft partners.  Microsoft expects to offer more than 200 business SaaS apps, add-ins and content packs when AppSource launches.



The announcement garnered quite a bit of response in the press, including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes

Although all the details of Dynamics 365 have not been announced, the essence is bundling and un-bundling of products and features from Microsoft's extensive Dynamics catalog.  Microsoft is enhancing the integration of Dynamics products with Office 365, and moving customers to Office 365 for authentication and management of Dynamics solutions.  One can easily imagine Microsoft progressively dropping support for on premises versions of some products -- perhaps sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Microsoft will be breaking some products into their component parts in order to allow a customer to mix and match the functions that they need to perform.  Dynamics CRM, in particular, has grown along with Microsoft product acquisitions and new developments, adding nearly a dozen new modules or products to CRM.  The Dynamics 365 announcement calls for a more a la carte approach to CRM, so customers could adopt sales force automation without a customer support capability.

In addition to new bundling and de-bundling options, Microsoft's announcement mentions two products which offer connections to "glue" Microsoft (and third party) products together -- Microsoft Flow and PowerApps. Flow connects web services to one another and let's you script business processes and publish templates to connect the web services you need for your business.  For instance, you could use MailChimp for marketing automation but integrate with Dynamics CRM. PowerApps is a tool to build web or mobile apps without writing code, connecting structured and unstructured data sources and even using mobile hardware capabilities such as cameras and GPS. 

Pricing has not been announced for Dynamics 365, but one might expect modular pricing as well as the option to install only the modules that the customer wants to use. 

Microsoft requires third party products on AppSource to use Azure authentication and to use more than one Microsoft product, such as combining Dynamics CRM and PowerBI. 

Up to now, Microsoft has not had a single, consolidated app store for line of business solutions but has had many sites with product listings and scattered app stores with limited support for purchase transactions. 

I doubt that anyone still harbors doubts about Microsoft's commitment to cloud computing, but if so this announcement is another indication of Microsoft's firm product direction to their cloud. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Statewide Grant Management Systems

State governments are slowly moving toward standardization of their grants management systems. Grant management software has been a small niche for many years, and government agencies tend to allow each grant program to choose its own software package, leading to duplication of cost and effort as well as making consolidated reporting difficult.

The rise of cloud computing is leading to consolidation and standardization of those grant management systems.  Major cloud providers have entered the market, and have invested in government cloud facilities which comply with rigorous U.S. Government security requirements and governance standards such as FedRAMP and FISMA.

Microsoft is one of the key players in grant management with its Grants Manager Plus solution running on Dynamics CRM Government as well as its Azure Government platform.

Choosing large vendors is a way for government to reduce the risk that a supplier will go out of business or its product will be retired after an acquisition.  For instance,  Altum, Inc., acquired PhilanTech, Inc. and Benevity acquired Grantstream.  Microsoft has also been in an acquisition spree for CRM companies (and LinkedIn as well).  So far in 2016, the consolidation trend has not ended.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Microsoft's New Dynamics CRM Product: Project Service


Microsoft has intensified the pace of innovation in Dynamics CRM, adding a broad set of new capabilities in recent versions of Dynamics CRM Online.  Most of these have been from companies that Microsoft acquired, such as Customer Service (Parature), Field Service (FieldOne), gamification (FantasySales Team), and Marketing (MarketingPilot).

Project Service, the latest addition, was developed in-house by Microsoft.  It offers an end-to-end solution that helps sales and delivery teams track project delivery activities.

Project service helps you:
  • Estimate, quote, and contract work
  • Track time and expenses
  • Plan and assign resources
  • Enable team collaboration
  • Capture time, expense, and progress data for real-time insights and accurate invoicing
Project-based contracts
Project contracts relate quotes and orders to project plans, financial estimates, labor pricing, and billing arrangements, like time and materials or fixed price. The contract highlights key metrics, including profitability and feasibility.

Project planning
Visual project planning tools include predecessors, and automatic task scheduling. The plan may be exported for use in other documents.

Resource management
Project Service tracks skills and availability, so you can assign people to the right projects. The following screen shot shows resource utilization for members of your project team.


Time and expenses
Team members can use the web or mobile apps to record time and expenses for projects. Managers can participate in approval workflows for timesheet entries.

This demo walk-though video is a good place to begin:



For a longer description of Project Service, watch this:



Many of our CRM clients require project management capabilities but find Microsoft Project Server too unwieldy for users who are not professional project managers.  CRM Project Service fulfills the needs of a large audience -- perhaps for the majority of services projects.




Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dynamics CRM MVPs and their Blogs



Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals are active in the information technology community and help spread knowledge on Microsoft products.  Many of them are prolific bloggers and are great sources for technical tips and review of the latest in Dynamics CRM.

Here are some of their blogs:

I know that I am missing some, and perhaps some of these MVPs have lapsed or are neglecting their blogs.  Please share other active bloggers with me so I can add to the list.

GovCon: Tracking Government Subcontracting Opportunities in Dynamics CRM




Whether your company is a large or small government contractor, teaming arrangements are more important than ever.

To be successful in a government bid, you must not only offer the products or services that are sought by an agency, but you must also gain access to the appropriate contract vehicle. Agencies seek to streamline procurement by pre-competing contracts to limit the number of proposals they will receive for a given solicitation.  They also have targets for set-aside contracts for special groups such as minority-, veteran-, and woman-owned companies.  Agencies may choose one or more large system integrators to simplify shopping for tasks later and use them as the clearinghouse for project labor.

The disconnect between contract vehicles and capabilities means that contract holders need to find companies whose skills match the needs of the agency, and companies offering products and services need to form alliances with companies that hold the contract vehicles.

With just a few small Dynamics CRM customizations, you can track subcontracting opportunities along with your sales opportunities as a prime contractor.  For instance:

  1. Add a contract type field to the Opportunity, indicating whether it is a prime or subcontract.
  2. Add a team members entity to CRM, linking between Opportunities and Accounts.  In this entity, show each team member along with their role on the team. 
  3. Modify reports if you would like to differentiate between prime and subcontracts. 

InfoStrat's solution Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors includes these customizations, and offers a feature complete basis for automating your unique GovCon business processes.

Monday, June 13, 2016

6 Reasons Microsoft's LinkedIn Acquisition is Different



For anyone left who thinks that Microsoft is the same company it was in the heyday of Windows, today's acquisition of LinkedIn shows just how far Microsoft is willing to go in pursuit of its long term vision.

How is this acquisition different from earlier acquisitions?

  1. Microsoft is acquiring the leader.  Similar to the Skype acquisition, Microsoft is gaining market share from a top player and not an also-ran. 
  2. Microsoft's timing for cloud and social is right. Microsoft comes into this acquisition with strong momentum of Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online cloud growth.
  3. LinkedIn targets business rather than consumer users. The business market is more conservative and less likely to flit from one social network to another.  
  4. Paid and free services go well together. Microsoft offers a strong sales channel and field sales presence that create new opportunities to monetize LinkedIn.  Free users create a steady stream of prospects for the combined product and service offering. 
  5. The target customers of Microsoft and LinkedIn overlap. Office 365 is a potential jumping off point for LinkedIn (and vice versa) and a large number of current customers use both services. 
  6. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is on a roll. In his memo explaining the acquisition, Mr. Nadella points to new customer experiences that will be made possible in Office 365, Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn.  He has energized Microsoft's leadership and shown the boldness needed to make further progress. 

The possibilities of using LinkedIn data to improve sales and marketing are tantalizing.  What if you could integrate Office 365 messaging with LinkedIn paid subscriptions for messaging?  Could you post directly from Office 365 to LinkedIn groups?  How about building a marketing list in Dynamics CRM of your LinkedIn connections and invite them to an online event?

The LinkedIn acquisition answers the question of how Microsoft will use its cash to increase its competitiveness for the long haul.  It may produce results in the short run and change the behavior of Microsoft's competitors.




Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Estimating the Cost of a Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Implementation

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus is a solution for tracking the full life cycle of a grant, from funding sources to publishing grant opportunities, accepting online applications, review, scoring, award, post-award reporting and closeout. The solution and its precursor Stimulus360 so far has been used to track over $200 billion in government grants.

InfoStrat has been building grants management systems for government agencies since 1999 and we have been exposed to a wide array of grant systems  which affect the cost drivers of automated grants management systems.   We will discuss some of the factors that must be considered to help you come up with a cost estimate for your requirements.

The Type and Number of Grant Programs
Grants are typically either Competitive Grants or Formula Grants.  As the name implies, Formula grants award funds to the applicant based on a preset formula.   For example, we worked with a federal agency that distributed funds to states for libraries and the money was distributed based on a preset percentage per state.  

Competitive grants are awarded based on merit.  Applicants compete for the limited funds and it is somewhat similar to applying to college where an extensive application must be submitted with copious details on how the money will be spent complete with resources needed and project schedule and the impact that will be made.     The more detailed the application, the more complex and costly is the process of building the web forms (and associated database fields) that the applicants will use to enter their applications.  To determine the cost of developing the forms, you can provide the number of forms to be developed into the customizations area of our Cost Calculator.

Scoring of Competitive Grant Applications
Just like in the college admissions scenario, competitive grant applications will be read and scored according to a set of criteria.   Sometimes applications are scored by grant program staff or more frequently by external reviewers who have expertise in the grant program area and can serve as independent experts in determining the best applicant for the program type.  If the applications need to be made available to people outside the organization, portal functionality will need to be developed that enables an external reviewer to log in to the system, read the application in its entirety and then to enter the scores for each of the criteria.   The areas for entering these scores will be forms of varying complexity depending on level of detail required and to determine a cost for developing these, you can again go to the calculator. To add public portal capability, select the PortVue Portal selection in the calculator.

Post Award Reporting
In many grant systems we have built, the government agency has strict post award reporting requirements which the grant recipient must adhere to.   In some cases, the grant recipient will not be given the money until the required report has been submitted.   These reports typically include financial reports and narrative reports which detail the work being done and status to date.   Oftentimes, money is not disbursed all at once but in increments during the life of the grant as progress is being made and validated through the submitted reports.   Consequently, a grant system typically needs to have a public portal which enables the grantee to easily login in and enter the required reports on a monthly, quarterly or semi-annual or annual basis depending on the requirements of the specific grant program.  The areas within CRM for entering the financial and narrative data will be moderately complex forms and cost can be estimated using our calculator.  To add public portal capability, select the PortVue Portal selection in the calculator.

Reports and Dashboards
Grant administrators typically need to provide status on grant money spent to date or grants given in a target geography.   Determine what reports are needed and the complexity of each report and use the Customizations area of the calculator.

Dynamics CRM Online or On Premises
Because Grants Manager Plus is based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, you need to purchase subscriptions or licenses to Dynamics CRM from Microsoft through your reseller. Government agencies and charitable organizations are eligible for product discounts.  The best prices are from your volume licensing agreement such as a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

One of the advantages of Dynamics CRM is that you may deploy your solution on premise at your office, in the Microsoft cloud, or at a hosting facility. Your choice of deployment options will affect the licensing or subscription cost.

You can start here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-purchase-support.aspx The comprehensive source is here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh699677.aspx

You can choose from several Dynamics CRM subscription types: Enterprise, Professional, Basic and Essential.  This post offers more details on what comes with each type.

Finally the costs of the product must be included and these can be either “on premises” in your data center or “in the cloud”.  Select your preferred deployment approach and the number of users in either the On Premises section or the Cloud area of the calculator.

Customizations
One of the best things about Grants Manager Plus is that it is easily customized to match your data requirements.  You can compare your data model to the data model of the solution and add new fields that you need.  You will also want to list and document your automated business processes so they can be implemented in the solution.  Grants Manager Plus contains a number of business processes but these can vary significantly depending on the number of people participating in the process and the steps that you follow for a grant.

Reporting
Most of our clients want custom reports in addition to standard reports.  You can reduce the cost of report writing by using the built-in ad hoc reporting tool, and also by using dashboards and business intelligence tools such as Microsoft Power BI.

Portal Options
Another key decision is which portal you choose for grantees to apply online. This post goes into some detail on these options.   You can use several commercial products with CRM integration, or build a custom solution based on your website's content management system.

Since Microsoft acquired ADXstudio and added portal capability to Dynamics CRM Online 2016, it may be a particularly attractive option, especially if you are using Dynamics CRM Online.

Data Migration
How will you handle data on prior grants?  Will you maintain your old system for historical data? Data migration can be expensive, but it affords you the ability to clean up data for better reporting.

Integration
Identify the systems that you plan to integrate, such as your financial management system.  In order to estimate the cost of data migration services, you need specifications for the integration with as much detail as possible.  You may also consider an integration product such as Scribe or Kingswaysoft for some integration.