Monday, July 20, 2015

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Upgrade: Time to Consider Deployment Change

If you are upgrading to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015, now is a good time to examine your deployment model as well. 

Moving from on premise to the cloud or vice versa may require architectural changes and programming, so an upgrade is the best time to make these changes since you will be doing some re-architecting of your solution anyway.

You can choose from four deployment models:

1. On premise -- traditional deployment in your data center
2. Dynamics CRM Online -- in the Microsoft cloud
3. Run Dynamics CRM on Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure
3. Third party hosting -- hosted by another provider

The deployment model also affects your product licensing strategy.  Microsoft offers flexibility which may help with moving from one deployment model to another.  For instance, Dynamics CRM Online subscriptions may be used to cover on-premise licensing while you migrate from on premise to cloud deployment.   The InfoStrat Dynamics CRM cost calculator provides licensing and subscription costs for on premise and CRM Online.

If you are upgrading from Dynamics CRM 2011 (or 4.0), you will likely be rewriting code that is no longer supported in 2015, allowing you to optimize performance for a cloud deployment.   Microsoft provides insights on this topic in What's New for Developers.

Cloud deployment offers different approaches to integration than on premise.  You also have different ways to tune performance in cloud deployment than conventional on premise deployment. 

Tackling deployment options along with your upgrade is a great way to save time and money in the long run.




Sunday, July 19, 2015

Top Six Mistakes in Dynamics CRM Upgrades

Every two years or so, Microsoft releases a new version of Dynamics CRM, packed with features and performance enhancements.  To take advantage of this technological progress, you have to upgrade your Dynamics CRM solution.



Here are the top six Dynamics CRM upgrade mistakes to avoid:

1. Stay one version behind.  Ten years ago customers would intentionally lag behind a version or two.  This approach is no longer viable, so if you upgrade be sure to bring your system to the current version.
2. Keep only one CRM environment.  Whether you are deploying your solution on premise or in Microsoft cloud, you need development and test environments as well as production environments.  Microsoft includes non-production environments for CRM Online if you have enough user subscriptions, or you may purchase them a la carte. 
3. Not using new features.  Each version comes with many additional features (usability, configuration, workflow and process management and developer extensions). Applying new features typically leads to a significant reduction in custom coding and making your system perform better and easier to manage. An upgrade is a prime opportunity to add new features and improve the user experience, so aim higher than reproducing what you already have.  
4. Skip versions. The upgrade path supported by Microsoft does not allow you to skip versions, so in most cases you should step through the versions until your system is current.
5. Skip reading the manual.  Microsoft provides thorough documentation on each upgrade, so be sure to study it.  Pay particular attention to the features from older versions which are no longer supported. 
6. Ignore testing and training.  Upgrades are an iterative process, so you have to test each time you attempt an upgrade before it is released to production. Microsoft fundamentally changed the user experience of Dynamics CRM in the 2013 upgrade, and users will benefit from learning the powerful new ways they can interact with the system with fewer clicks and pop-ups.  Without training, they may reject a system just because it is new.  Besides, how may end users really have sufficient training?

InfoStrat can help you successfully complete your upgrade. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Call InfoStrat to Make Things Right on a Software Project

More often than you might expect, InfoStrat is called to turn around a  software implementation which is in trouble.  After the client has consumed much of the budget and schedule for the project, it is falling behind and the client has doubts that it can be successful.



These turnaround projects are all the more challenging because they must be completed faster and at lower cost than the original project envisioned, and tension is already high at the beginning of the project.

How can we turn the project around?  Each case is different, but some common approaches are:

1. Reduce the size of the project team.  A large team can be a hindrance as time spent on communication increases.  A team is often slowed down by the slowest team member.

2. Use a team that has worked together before. Successful teams have strong cohesion and know each others' strengths and weaknesses.

3. Create a single client point of contact.  Conflicting requirements and feedback can paralyze a software project, and internal client communication and approvals also slow down the process.

4. Abandon failed approaches. Sometimes a project team finds it hard to disregard sunk costs, and sticks with an unsuccessful technical approach too long.

5. Change the project methodology.  If your project approach is more about deflecting blame than shipping a working product, it can undermine results. We have seen many projects with lengthy and well formatted documentation accompanying broken products.

6. Remember the iron triangle which forces tradeoffs among features, cost and schedule. Like the laws of physics, this can only be ignored at your peril.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Use Email When Talking is Better

Email is great for so many things, but that doesn't make it right for everything. In many cases in business, meeting in person or event a phone call are much better than an email.

It's hard to get to know new people exclusively through email or social media.  I know that sometimes my attempts at jokes would come across differently in person than they do reduced to the written word (and I supposed other jokes might work better in written form). 

I am pretty sure that I have never sold a new client on hiring my company InfoStrat without at least a series of phone calls, and in nearly every case, in-person meetings. 

Hiring, promoting and firing employees is best in person, although distance sometimes create the imperative for an HR phone call. This falls under the same rules about breaking up via text message.

After I already know someone, an email can be a great way to provide information quickly.  I really appreciate emails with quick status updates, for instance.

So let the medium suit the message, and consider when to use email and when to use a meeting, phone call, or even a text message instead. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CRM for Non-Profits

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is growing in popularity for non-profit organizations, as the price of software and cloud deployment make it easier for both small and large non-profits to adopt CRM.

My company InfoStrat has been working with non-profits for nearly thirty years, and we have witnessed growing adoption of CRM instead of more specialized software.  For most of this time, non-profits focused on software specifically built for their business requirements, such as membership management systems, fundraising systems, and event management software.  These products were custom developed by small companies, and from time to time these companies would go out of business or acquire one another, creating orphan software which was no longer supported or no longer being modernized.  These products were not necessarily compatible with one another, so you could end up with an annual meeting system which was a completely different technology and interface from the membership or fundraising system.

Today, non-profits are more willing to adopt more commercially widespread CRM products such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce because these products are affordable, widely supported and will receive future upgrades.

At our recent webinar "High Impact Web Presence for Lean Non-Profits," we highlighted features of CRM that can make your non-profit more productive.  For instance, it is vital to maintain an authoritative contact list for members, donors, vendors, and other constituents.  Most non-profits want to conduct outreach campaigns such as emails and letters -- a basic CRM function.

CRM vendors offer significant discounts to non-profits.  Techsoup (http://www.techsoup.org) is a marketplace for qualified non-profits.  You can search by product name to find the latest non-profit pricing.  Microsoft guidelines for non-profits are here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-customer-center/non-profit-pricing.aspx

InfoStrat helps clients tailor Dynamics CRM to meet the specific needs of non-profits.  For instance, we have added annual dues calculation formulas, and invoice generation reports to Dynamics CRM.  We integrate CRM with member portals to allow membership signup, meeting registration, and contributions.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Responsibility of Entrepreneurship

When I talk to aspiring entrepreneurs, they often tell me that they are drawn by the freedom and power of leading a company, and the idea that they answer only to themselves. The image that I think they may have in mind is the lone captain on the bridge of a ship, setting course and braving the wind and the waves to reach their sunny destination with a treasure chest.

                                       The Rakish Brigantine - Sea Captain in Storm by N.C. Wyeth: 

As an entrepreneur for the last 28 years, all I can do is to gently share the less glamorous reality -- it's all about the responsibility that you take on, not power, not perks, not freedom.

The leader of a company carries a heavy responsibility to all the people who make it a success. Responsibility starts with customers, continues with employees, investors, vendors and more. Even if you are planning your strategy alone, you depend on others to carry it out.  It doesn't take long for the startup entrepreneur to learn that few goals can be reached without enlisting help, building partnerships, and making compromises so that your vision can co-exist with reality.

I suppose that in a way, captains of industry are like sea captains.  They ultimately determine where the ship goes, and bear responsibility for their crew and for the treasure that has been entrusted to their care. May your voyage of entrepreneurship be the adventure of a lifetime. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

High Impact Web Presence for Non-Profits

Non-profit organizations need to reach large numbers of people with their messages, and typically have a small staff and small budget to accomplish their goals. 

Several trends have converged to make it easier to communicate via your website and social media without a large staff of computer or marketing experts.

InfoStrat held a recent webinar to share some of the latest techniques and approaches.

 
  
Here are some highlights from the presentation:

  1.  High production values are not as important as they were in the past.  This means that people are no longer impressed by the slickest websites and videos.  In some cases, too much spending can erode the perception of authenticity and make people trust you less.  Even cell phone quality videos are now acceptable.
  2. Content is king.  The quality of your content (writing, speaking, video, images) is more important than ever. 
  3. Multiple channels reinforce each other.  There is no single channel in social media that is most important, although different audiences tend to favor certain channels.  I cross channel strategy is likely to boost the visibility of your content.  For instance, use Facebook to drive traffic to your website and vice versa.
  4. Do it yourself websites have reached a quality level where they are acceptable for many organizations and often look and perform better than custom sites that cost much more. 
  5. Mobile is growing quickly.  Be sure your content will work well on mobile devices -- this trend is picking up momentum.
 If you are not comfortable embracing social media yourself (which you should) then you may find others on your staff who are willing to lead the charge.