Sunday, January 14, 2018

You Gain by Using Software, Not Just Owning It

January is the time for New Years resolutions and for planning new initiatives.  The gym is getting crowded with new members who have vowed to exercise more.  Others are trying out new treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical trainers at home. Unfortunately, many of them will not stick with their plans more than a few weeks, as they become bored or other priorities take over.

This reminds me that business software requires long term commitment, and hard work to drive adoption in order to gain the benefits of automation.  Here are five tips from my company's clients who are most successful in using the software that they buy:

  1. Start at the top. Executive sponsorship and use by the appropriate leadership goes a long way toward driving software adoption.
  2. Keep training after your system goes live. It is hard to absorb too much training at one time, and users can hone their skills if provided training weeks and months after initial training sessions. New employees will also need training, so plan for how you can help them become proficient.
  3. Adapt based on user feedback. Users are likely to find new ways to make the system more effective after they have a chance to use it in production.  Help these suggestions make their way into the product so it can improve over time. 
  4. Learn from your best users. Every organization has users that go further and learn tricks and shortcuts that make them more productive.  Find a way for these users to share their techniques with others.  Lunch and learn sessions can be helpful.
  5. Establish governance over the system and your data. You need processes and people who can maintain the quality of your data and allow your system to improve over time.  A change control board or similar group should be created before you go live.
Business software often brings new approaches and workflows which can make your organization more efficient and effective.  Mindfulness is essential in order to make the most of these benefits, to avoid making your software end up like the treadmill in the basement which is used to hang laundry. 


Friday, December 29, 2017

Top 5 Predictions for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in 2018

The prognosticating season is on us, so I will stop procrastinating and offer my predictions for customer relationship management (CRM) in 2018:
  1. The software leaders (Salesforce and Microsoft) will extend their leads. As in many other areas of technology, the top selling products tend to gain market share, and smaller players wither or are acquired.  Salesforce is synonymous to CRM for most companies, especially when they are thinking of sales force automation and customer service.  Microsoft will drive Dynamics 365 to buyers of Office 365 as it continues to gain momentum. 
  2. Microsoft will ship a small business edition of Dynamics 365 for Marketing.  This has been announced since over a year ago, but has seemingly slipped into 2018. 
  3. Cloud deployment of CRM will continue to grow, compared to on premises deployment in corporate data centers.  Security accreditation for cloud providers have boosted confidence and allowed even some government customers to adopt cloud deployments.
  4. Many will boast artificial intelligence, but few will deliver.  AI is one of the hottest buzzwords, so it will be irresistible to marketers, but the features based on AI will not deliver meaningful business advantages in 2018.  Just ask yourself whether you would prefer that your account territories or quotas be based on AI, or whether you would wish this on your competitors instead.
  5. Vertical CRM solutions geared toward the needs of a particular industry will gain ground.  These solutions embody business rules that are important for a specific approach to sales, marketing, or customer service.   These may drive buyers to the online marketplaces of CRM vendors to find solutions and service providers with the right industry experience.
The definition of CRM has continued to evolve each year, reflecting disruptions and business model innovations.  Lines have blurred between some sales and marketing tactics, and customers will continue to demand and receive more information earlier in the sales process. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Microsoft Dynamics for Human Capital Management



Microsoft continues to release new Dynamics software offerings at a rapid pace.  This post is to introduce Microsoft solutions for human capital management. Future posts will provide more product comparisons. 

The flagship Microsoft Dynamics product is Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (Enterprise Edition): https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/unified-operations/fin-and-ops/  It is a full fledged enterprise resource planning solution which competes with SAP and Oracle.  It includes financials as well as HR benefits, employee development and training, recruiting and payroll.  This product was derived from Dynamics AX, a mature product with a wide global user base.  

Microsoft has recently created a related product called Dynamics 365 for Talent  https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/unified-operations/talent/index

The functions offered by Dynamics 365 for Talent overlap with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (Enterprise Edition) but it does not contain some of the accounting (and non-HCM) modules such as inventory or accounts receivable. 

Watch a demo video:




Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Talent streamlines many routine recordkeeping tasks and automates a number of staffing processes such as recruiting, interviewing, employee retention, benefits administration, training, performance reviews, and change management. 

You can use Talent to complete tasks such as:

  • Administer organizational structures (the org chart).
  • Maintain comprehensive worker information from hire to retire.
  • Define and administer benefits, enroll workers, assign dependent coverage, and designate beneficiaries.
  • Establish and monitor absence policies.
  • Implement and track profile-based time management and generate pay information to export to a payroll system.
  • Manage worker competencies.
  • Review performance and implement worker goals.
  • Set up, deliver, and analyze training courses that include agendas, sessions, and tracks.
One of Microsoft's unique advantages is integration with LinkedIn (a Microsoft company).  LinkedIn is the premiere social network for hiring and recruiting, so this feature is likely to improve over time as Microsoft consolidates and enriches its new offerings. 



Microsoft has also introduced a workforce tool for Microsoft Dynamics 365 called StaffHub https://staffhub.office.com/  StaffHub functions are quite different from those offered in Dynamics.


As with other Dynamics products, you can sign up for a trial account on Dynamics 365 for Talent to evaluate how it can help your organization. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Flexible Grant Management Software: Long Term Considerations

My company InfoStrat has developed grant management systems for federal, state, and local governments as well as non-profits for nearly twenty years.  I have noticed a new emphasis on the requirement for flexibility in creating a system which can be easily modified to handle new grant programs and changes in business rules.

Here are my top dos and don'ts from our experience and that of our customers:

  1. Whether you are a grantor or a grantee, don't develop a new system for every program.  When a new program is created, it may seem simpler to start from scratch and spin up a new system in order to avoid changes to your existing system.  This approach is an easy trap to fall into, but later you will end up with multiple systems which separately need to be maintained, upgraded, and enhanced.  Creating reports that combine data from multiple systems is needlessly difficult compared to using a centralized, integrated approach from the beginning.
  2. Consider your enterprise architecture. 
  3. Do include the entire grants management lifecycle in your system. A typical grant has phases such as pre-award, award, post-award, closeout, and post-closeout. Even if you start by emphasizing only some of these phases, try to make your system encompass them all.  Over time you can add enhancements to flesh out the phases through which your grant progresses.
  4. Keep up with security and software versions.  In order to maintain a secure system, you must keep pace with releases and patches issued by your software vendor.  To allow yourself to slip one or two versions behind is an invitation to a lapse in security compliance.
  5. Consider cloud deployment. Most customers embarking on a new grant management system project will choose cloud deployment, but even those whose systems are deployed on premises today can consider hybrid cloud solutions for failover and disaster recovery. Going with a cloud vendor is one of the most painless approaches to maintaining security compliance, especially to keep pace with U.S. government standards such as FISMA and FedRAMP.
  6. Add analytics to your solution. Most grant management systems offer standard reports and reporting tools. Consider analytics products that can go deeper than most reports and identify patterns, offer visualization, and integrate with geographical data when appropriate. 
  7. Catch fraud and errors early. As you develop or maintain your grant management system, tighten audits and controls that will help you spot erroneous payment requests and flag grant ineligibility as early as possible.  Our customers have saved many times the cost of their grant management software by stopping fraud and errors. 
You can learn from the mistakes of others by reviewing solicitations for grant management systems.  The regrets that I see most often are picking a product which is difficult to maintain or customize, and choosing a solution from an obscure vendor that is acquired or goes out of business. These are some of the reasons that our customers have chosen Microsoft Grants Manager Plus, developed by InfoStrat.  It is based on the widely supported Microsoft Dynamics 365 product family, and benefits from millions of dollars of annual research and development by Microsoft.

For more information on grant management and Microsoft Grants Manager Plus, see my posts:

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
6 Things to Look for in Grant Management Software
Estimating the Cost of a Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Implementation
Grants Manager Plus: Theme and Variations
Microsoft Grants Manager Plus
Online Resources for Microsoft Grants Manager Plus
Portal Options for Microsoft Grants Manager
Statewide Grant Management Systems
Usage Scenarios for Microsoft Grants Manager

Monday, November 27, 2017

LinkedIn Sales Navigator Integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365



Social selling is a fast growing category for sales force automation.  Since Microsoft acquired LinkedIn, the leading professional social network in the United States, it has been adding features and improving the user experience in order to support social selling for business-to-business companies. 
For most companies, the central repository for sales information is the customer relationship management (CRM) system.  Microsoft is one of the leaders in CRM with its Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) product, so integration with LinkedIn is a natural extension of CRM and a solid platform for anyone interested in social selling.

The primary social selling tool in LinkedIn is Sales Navigator. Dynamics 365 integration with LinkedIn Sales Navigator offers many features:
  • Log Sales Navigator activity directly into CRM
  • Automatically import accounts, contacts, and lead records that your team is actively working from CRM into Sales Navigator
  • Automatically log InMails, Messages, and Notes directly to CRM
  • Automatically import CRM Contact and Account records from Open Opportunities into Sales Navigator to get regular sales updates
  • View records directly in CRM with one click from Sales Navigator
You can use Sales Navigator on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

Mobile View of LinkedIn Sales Navigator

PointDrive offers a tool for publishing content and tracking your engagement with LinkedIn users.  It offers:
  • Consistent Branding 
  • Create Engaging Content (ppt, pdf & url)
  • Share Content (Inmail & email)
  • Control Narrative
  • Viewable Via PC, Tablet & Mobile
  • Track Engagement
The Lead Builder tool provides:
  • Advanced Search Filters
  • Save Leads (20) to Start
  • Accounts Page
  • Lead Recommendations 
LinkedIn offers three plans depending on the sales of your organization and sales team: Professional, Team and Enterprise. 

Taken together, LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Dynamics 365 offer a set of tools to help you master social selling in today's rapidly changing sales and marketing environment. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Migrating from Parature to Microsoft Dynamics 365: Part 2


On October 9, 2017, Microsoft released a migration tool to help its Parature customer service customers migrate to Microsoft Dynamics 365.   This blog post is a continuation of the first post in the Parature migration series.

The Parature migration tool provides capabilities to export data from Parature, map the data to Dynamics 365 fields, and configure a Dynamics 365 portal to replace the Parature customer service portal functionality. The tool is accompanied by training videos. 

In order to use the migration tool, you must be a Parature customer and request access from Microsoft technical support.  The tool is tied to your specific instance of Parature, so it requires configuration by Microsoft before you can use it.  It includes solutions that are installed in your instance of Dynamics 365.

Microsoft provides mapping of fields for entities such as contacts, accounts, cases (trouble tickets) and knowledge base articles.  In addition, the tool supports mapping of your custom fields. You can save your configurations and perform as many test migrations as necessary.

Migrating your data from Parature to Dynamics 365 provides an opportunity for data cleansing.  For instance, you may want to delete fake email account records if you receive online support inquiries from bogus email addresses or identities.  Many organizations are hit by spammers who use support email aliases because they are published on your website and discovered through searches for email addresses.

You could also clean up your data further if desired by removing erroneous cases that do not contribute to improving your customer service or are not used to derive your case performance metrics.  These may be cases submitted by SPAM accounts but they could also be other forms on illegitimate cases.

Part 3 of this series will focus on the migration of the customer service portal.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Amazing Subscription Deal for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales and Marketing -- For Small Business



My blog is not usually focused on bargain hunting, but Microsoft is offering a promotion for a limited time which represents more than fifty percent off the normal price of a Dynamics 365 Sales subscription for qualifying small businesses.  The offer is called Dynamics 365 for Sales and Customer Service, Enterprise Editions (SMB Offer) and the offer ID is 4F01C23A-C125-4E94-AAC4-E7B741C98052.

For U.S. customers, contact sales@infostrat.com for a price quote.

Sales Only.  A temporary promotional SKU for a version of Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition is available for up to 50 users with an estimated retail price of USD $40/user/month compared to the standard retail price of $95/user/month.

Sales and Limited Marketing. A similar version is available which includes sales and limited marketing functions for $65/user/month.

As you may know, Microsoft is planning to release Business Editions of Dynamics 365 for small business, but has experienced delays in getting them to market.   The promotion is intended to bridge the gap before the new Business Edition is available.  Only new customers are eligible for the promotions.

Here are the details from the information sheet:

Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition (SMB Offer). A temporary SKU for a version of Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition is available with an estimated retail price of USD $40/user/month. This SKU includes both the Sales functionality and the basic Marketing elements currently within Dynamics CRM Online (e.g. campaign and lead management, but not Microsoft Dynamics Marketing). The temporary SKU does not include access to any Customer Service functionality, as that is now part of the Customer Service application within the Dynamics 365 Enterprise edition. Use rights of this temporary SKU are identical to those of the regular Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition license, except there is no access to Operations, and there are no dual use rights. 

Dynamics 365 for Sales and Customer Service, Enterprise edition (SMB Offer). Dynamics 365 for Sales and Customer Service, Enterprise edition is available with an estimated retail price of USD $65/user/month. This SKU includes the functionality of the current Sales, Enterprise edition, and the Customer Service, Enterprise edition. Use rights of this temporary SKU are identical to those of the regular Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition and Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, Enterprise edition licenses combined, except there is no access to Operations, and there are no dual use rights.

Dynamics 365 for Team Members, Enterprise edition (SMB Offer). New customers that purchase the above SKUs will also be able to obtain a version of Team Members, Enterprise edition targeted at SMB customers with an estimated retail price of $5/user/month, which is in alignment with the current Dynamics 365 Business edition pricing. Use rights of this temporary SKU are identical to those of the regular Dynamics 365 for Team Members, Enterprise edition, except there is no access to Operations, and there are no dual use rights.