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. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Essential Dynamics CRM Customizations for Government Contractors

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers a rich set of features and a data model for sales force automation and marketing activities.  Each industry (and each company) requires some configuration changes in order to make it work according to their business processes.

For government contractors, here are some of the most common customizations:
  1. Change the focus from individuals to organizations.  You are likely selling to agencies (accounts) rather than consumers (contacts).  Add the relevant fields to forms and views.  For instance, marketing list members doesn’t show the account name by default. 
  2. Define the sales process in opportunities.  Define all the steps that an opportunity goes through before becoming a contract, such as sources sought, request for information (RFI), request for proposal (RFP), down-select, orals, best and final offer, and verbal approvals.  Be sure to allow for all your proposal review steps. 
  3. Add fields to track contract vehicles and types of competition.
  4. Add your own metrics. For instance, we often track how many users a software system will have in order to calculate license costs.
  5. Update reference table values if needed, such as the reason for an opportunity loss.  Do you want to add an option to show you decided not to bid?
  6. Update dashboards to show what you really care about.  Win ratios?  Proposal activity?
  7. Decide how to add the documents which accompany an opportunity, such as solicitations, amendments and proposals.  You could store them in SharePoint, in attachments to Dynamics CRM or in other repositories.
  8. Add your bid team to the opportunity, showing the roles for each person in the proposal.
  9. Allow for teaming if you pursue contracts as a subcontractor or if you hire subcontractors.
  10. Decide how to use the Leads entity.  Do you want to start there for the sake of email marketing campaigns?  Do you prefer to build out the list of targeted accounts and contacts instead?
InfoStrat has put all these customizations and many more in its solution Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) Benefits

Microsoft offers a special licensing plan for organizations that offer hosted software and services to end customers who can sign up for subscriptions rather than traditional perpetual software licenses. This program is Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) and is probably Microsoft's least understood licensing option.

Hosting providers who want to offer software services to their customers and who will include software licenses as part of their service offering should use SPLA. Microsoft SPLA is the only Microsoft Volume Licensing program that allows Microsoft products to be used for commercial hosting.

Under SPLA, Microsoft products are licensed per month, either per user or per server depending on the product.  Nearly the full catalog of Microsoft products are available under SPLA. 

If you already own perpetual licenses for Microsoft products, you can also use them in conjunction with a hosting partner, in essence extending your on premise deployment to a dedicated hosting facility. 

InfoStrat has been a Microsoft SPLA partner for over five years, allowing us to offer our clients greater flexibility than perpetual licenses as well as greater customization than Microsoft cloud hosting. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Optimism Imperative for Small Business Owners

Small business owners must remain optimistic, even after repeated setbacks, in order to be successful.  It's tough to own a small business, and easy to become bitter from the bad experiences you are nearly sure to suffer. 

Many people will try to take advantage of you, from customers to suppliers to employees to business partners.  You can swear never to be victimized again, and institute tougher practices to prevent loss, but most of these will alienate the good customers and partners.  This hurts business more than the direct damage from bad actors.

Yelp is full of unflattering descriptions of small business owners who treat customers with distrust or arrogance.  You often read of restaurants that quickly make diners feel unwelcome, or bike shops whose mechanics and clerks make paying customers feel stupid. I try to avoid such businesses, although I can't stop buying bagels from the grumpy deli owner in my neighborhood.

Only through optimism and the related acts of forgiveness (and perhaps forgetfulness) can a small business owner maintain the positive outlook that attracts customers, employees, and business partners.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Introducing the InfoStrat PortVue Portal for Dynamics CRM

Many Dynamics CRM solutions involve external or occasional users who do not need access to the full Dynamics CRM user interface and would be better served with a simplified view of selected forms and reports.
  • The InfoStrat PortVue portal simplifies portal access to Dynamics CRM, allowing you to
  • Support anonymous and authenticated users
  • Configure web pages which combine multiple elements such as data grids, data forms, and static HTML content
  • Enter data into multiple Dynamics CRM entities from a single web page
  • Allow document attachments to online forms
  • Run reports and export as PDF, Excel and other formats
  • Provide sortable grid editing for multiple records
  • Enforce Dynamics CRM security model and provide additional levels of security
  • Allow enterprise search across multiple Dynamics CRM entities
  • Support multiple browsers
  • Deploy on Microsoft and open source web platforms
  • Provide self-registration, password reset, and password encryption
  • Access other back-end systems



For more information, visit our solution page.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Top Ten CIO Checklist for Cloud Computing

Once you've made the decision to move your servers to the cloud, be sure to read the fine print. 

Here are some factors that CIOs and other buyers should look for:
  1. Understand your data security needs.  What form of encryption is provided?  Are there government security rules or standards you must follow?
  2. Don't take virtualization for granted.  Make sure that all your servers can be virtualized.  Some older systems such as mainframes and AS/400 may require co-location instead unless you want to migrate to a more modern system.
  3. Start small and prioritize your cloud migration.  Start with less essential services so you can learn how to transition from your data center to the cloud without as many angry users.  Running for a month or more with limited services will give you a better idea of actual costs.
  4. Watch pricing for data in and out.  Many services don't charge for moving data to the virtual server but charge for moving it off the server.  So if you have ten server images to move, you may get a different bill if you move to each from your office server than if you move to one in the cloud and copy from it to another.
  5. Track your return on investment. Keep checking your costs.  One of the main motivations for moving to the cloud is to save money, so keep track after you migrate and make sure that you are succeeding in this goal.  Report back to stakeholders so they know that the change has been worthwhile.
  6. Check the specs on your servers carefully.  Review all the performance parameters for the servers to be sure you are comparing apples to apples in choosing a cloud vendor.
  7. Test your backup and restore.  Backup and restore capabilities are essential, but worth nothing if you can't do them when you need them.  So put them through their paces.
  8. Find out the speed limit.  See if your provider sets a maximum speed for your servers.
  9. Learn about shared and dedicated servers, single and multi-tenancy.  Find out what is right for you.
  10. Standardize your platform.  The more you rationalize your servers and move them to a standard platform, the easier it makes migration and management.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Getting Your Developers on Board with Dynamics CRM

Many businesses and government agencies are adopting Microsoft Dynamics CRM to automate sales and customer service or even extending CRM for other business functions using the xRM approach. Even with all the features and benefits of Dynamics CRM, one group is not always thrilled about adopting it -- your software developers. 

Here are some thoughts and hints that may help adoption:

1. Stress the career advancement.  Learning a new product helps developers expand their skills and increase their value to employers -- so show your appreciation.

2. Tailor training to developers. Find a condensed training or self-study to learn how Dynamics CRM operates out of the box and then move on to development topics. 

3. Find a first project.  Don't start training until you have one or more projects to jump into. 

4. Identify mentors. Tap someone to lead the group and be a resource when people run into problems.

5. Collaborate as a team.  Work together to create development standards and style guides. 

6. Conduct group code reviews.  Show and tell or lunch and learn sessions can be a great way to bond the team and advance the knowledge of all your developers.

7. Burn the boats.  Stress that your organization will go forward with your CRM implementation regardless of complaints from the development team.  Don't allow platform debates to continue indefinitely.

Although it's always a challenge to learn new tools, Microsoft developers already know much of the coding techniques they will need to be successful Dynamics CRM developers.  Ulutimately, the xRM approach can make developers more productive and reduce boring .NET maintenance programming.