Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Grant Management for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)

Hurricane Harvey reminds us that Americans are vulnerable to natural disasters which can be devastating, especially to low income cities and counties.  Federal grants are key to recovery and rebuilding efforts.

As explained on its website, "HUD provides flexible grants to help cities, counties, and States recover from Presidentially declared disasters, especially in low-income areas, subject to availability of supplemental appropriations. In response to Presidentially declared disasters, Congress may appropriate additional funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program as Disaster Recovery grants to rebuild the affected areas and provide crucial seed money to start the recovery process. Since CDBG Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) assistance may fund a broad range of recovery activities, HUD can help communities and neighborhoods that otherwise might not recover due to limited resources."

Grants Manager Plus for Microsoft Dynamics 365 includes key functions needed for managing Community Development Block Grants, allowing CDBG recipients and sub-recipients at all levels of state and local government to track their applications, grants, post-award reports and payments.

To tailor Grants Manager Plus for your unique requirements, it may be integrated with your financial management system to process payment requests and report on budgets using your chart of accounts.

The solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365, and may be hosted online by Microsoft or on premises at a customer's data center.  It allows sub-recipients to access information through the Microsoft Dynamics Portal, a website which is simple to use for applications and reporting.

You can use SharePoint to store documents such as application forms and templates with Microsoft's included integration services.

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, August 21, 2017

Migrating from Parature to Microsoft Dynamics 365: Part 1

Breaking News: Microsoft has updated the release date of the Parature migration tool to the end of September 2017.

In spring 2017, Microsoft announced that it was phasing out its Parature cloud customer service offering in favor of Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, one of the Dynamics 365 apps based on what was previously called Dynamics CRM.  Parature customers and Microsoft partners were informed of this plan in August 2016 prior to the release of Dynamics 365.

Microsoft also announced a toolkit with tools for migrating accounts, files and other assets; templates for creating support portals and customer service workflows; and tutorials and documentation. As of this writing the toolkit is not available, but scheduled to be released at the end of September 2017.

In the absence of a migration tool, what are the steps to migrating from Parature to Dynamics 365?  What are your migration options?

First, you should catalog your Parature implementation to determine which features you were using and where your customer service data resides.  The planning documents from your Parature implementation such as design templates are valuable here.  Your analysis should answer questions such as these:

  • Are you using Live Chat?
  • Does Parature integrate with any other systems?
  • Do you want to migrate all your past data or only a subset of the data? 
  • Do you want to run in parallel during the migration or cut over completely?
  • Will you migrate groups of users separately or all at once?
  • How is authentication managed for your customer service representatives?  You will be moving to the Dynamics 365 authentication which is managed by Office 365 and may be integrated with your domain login. 
Parature includes an export feature which generates delimited text files for data including Accounts, Customers, Ticket data, Phone Calls and Notes, Tasks, Products, Emails, and Knowledgebase References.  You can use the import feature in Dynamics 365 to import these records or a third party integration tool such as Scribe or Kingswaysoft.  Be sure to consider the relationships among the entities that you are importing so that you import them in the correct order.  

Migrating to Dynamics 365 provides the opportunity to take advantage of new features in the Dynamics 365 platform which were not available in Parature.  This is a good time to review these and determine whether to implement them in the initial migration or add them as needed later.  For instance:
  • Should Live Chat be added now if not using before?  Dynamics 365 uses CafeX for Live Chat.
  • What new dashboards and reports would your users like to see?
  • Do you want to make your customer service portal look different than it did when implemented in Parature? 

While Parature provided a complete, integrated customer service cloud, it was not based on the Microsoft Dynamics architecture, and did not lend itself to being as easily or thoroughly customized. Developers with experience on the Microsoft platform in general and Dynamics 365 in particular can apply their skills to reshape Dynamics 365 for Customer Service and also combine its functions with apps those such as Dynamics 365 for Sales, Project Service, or Field Service.

Unlike Parature, the customer service portal is based on Microsoft Dynamics Portal. Configuration settings for the portal are stored in Dynamics 365, and many changes may be made without extensive HTML coding.

The user experience for customer service representatives is quite different in Dynamics 365 for Customer Service from Parature.  The good news is that there is more extensive training material, videos and official Microsoft courseware for Dynamics 365.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

5 Ways that Portals Improve Your CRM



Today I received a blog suggestion to explain why you might want to have a portal for your customer relationship management (CRM) system.  I have written about Portal Options for Microsoft Dynamics 365 recently, but I didn't provide reasons why you might want to use a portal.  So here are my Top Five Ways that Portals Improve Your CRM:

  1. Provide a simple user experience for occasional users. You don't want to train users on a full featured CRM system in order to enter a handful of fields to make a request to the human resources or information technology departments.  The portal offers simple forms to gather only the information you need based on information stored in CRM. 
  2. Integrate Dynamics 365 data with other systems.  A portal provides another approach to allow a single screen to show multiple data sources for viewing and data entry, including Dynamics 365.  
  3. Provide access to people outside your organization.  The portal access can be protected by different security mechanisms than those you use internal to your organization.  The portal may allow for self provisioning of accounts or go through an approval process. 
  4. Match your website branding. A portal can be customized to match the colors, fonts, layouts and other stylistic elements of your website and portal pages can show data from your CRM in the context of the site's navigation. 
  5. Combine Dynamics 365 data with other web content. The portal can show a SharePoint document library of forms and templates, for example.  Online grant applications are a good fit for a portal so that applicants can see instructions, videos, and documents as well as complete online applications. 
Some of these ways that portals add value to your CRM overlap with one another. For instance, users outside your organization are more likely to need a simpler user experience and a different way of authenticating themselves.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Defining "Enterprise Software" is Harder than Ever


In July 2017 Microsoft announced another set of name changes and new bundles for many of their Dynamics brand products. Most significant was the release of some new products for the Business Edition.  Dynamics 365 for Operations (an enterprise edition product) and Dynamics 365 Finance (a business edition product) were both renamed Finance and Operations within their respective editions.

This reminds me that it is not easy to segment software into enterprise and small business categories. For many years, Microsoft centered its business on servers and PCs, so the number of PCs and servers at a company determined whether they were a small, medium-sized or large business. This approach no longer holds up in the era of selling apps and services.

The most complex enterprise software for manufacturing, inventory, and engineering may have only a small number of end users, but it definitely qualifies as enterprise-class software.  My company has had small company clients which found enterprise software products fit their needs better than what is targeted to small businesses.

Counting total employees is not always a good measure of determining whether a company needs enterprise software.  Some companies have large numbers of laborers who are not knowledge workers, and not every company aspires to the same level of automation.

Twenty years ago we used to joke that the difference between business and enterprise software meant that you would add another zero or two to the price tag.  This is still the case, but cloud vendors are making the entry point for even enterprise products much lower on a per user basis than traditional software licensing models.

To determine which products fit for you, you must ignore the labels and look closely at the underlying capabilities in order to make the best choices.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

6 Reasons to Use Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sandbox Instances



Microsoft hosts production and non-production instances of Dynamics 365 (formerly called Dynamics CRM).  Most organizations using Dynamics 365 will benefit from having at least one sandbox instance for their solutions.

Here are the top reasons you should consider a sandbox:

  1. When you are developing solutions, the sandbox can be the development environment.  This means that you will not disrupt users who will be in the production instance.
  2. Sandboxes are great for testing before you release a solution to production.
  3. You can use sandboxes for training.  Users can add or delete whatever data the want during the training sessions without fear or harming the production system.
  4. For evaluating Dynamics solutions, a sandbox is more permanent than signing up for a trial account which will end.   
  5. Sandboxes offer some administrative controls which are not available in production instances, such as the ability to reset a sandbox instance which essentially wipes the solution and restores Dynamics 365 to default settings. 
  6. Microsoft provides Administrative Mode for sandboxes which only allows System Administrator and System customizers to log in and make changes. 
Microsoft Dynamics allows you to copy an instance in order to move a solution from production to a sandbox or vice versa. The copy instance feature allows you to determine whether to include all data, users and customizations or exclude the data.  Normally you will want to include test data in a sandbox for testing and training. 

What about subscriptions or licenses for Dynamics 365 sandboxes? The key thing to remember is that user subscriptions are based on named users and not on instances.  If you have 25 users and 3 instances (1 production, 1 development and 1 test) you only need 25 user subscriptions.  Microsoft provides a free sandbox instance for customers with 25 or more users and sells additional instances for a monthly fee. 

For more technical details, see Understanding Dynamics 365 Online Instance Management

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Portal Options for Microsoft Dynamics 365

Many Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) solutions involve external or occasional users who do not need access to the full Dynamics 365 user interface and would be better served with a simplified view of selected forms and reports.

Microsoft does not charge additional license or subscriptions for external users of your Dynamics 365. 

Here are some products that provide portal functionality for Dynamics 365:

Dynamics 365 Portal

In September 2015, Microsoft acquired Adxstudio which had long been providing a portal for Dynamics CRM and a less powerful, free version under the auspices of Microsoft.


Source: Microsoft

Microsoft used Adxstudio as the basis of its latest portal product, Dynamics 365 Portal which is available for Dynamics 365 users as part of the Plan 1 subscription bundle. 

Here are the steps to activate a Dynamics 365 Portal.

Dynamics 365 Portal is not available to run on premises.

The Portal Connector


Pavliks offers The Portal Connector for Dynamics CRM based on Telerik Sitefinity. The Portal Connector is priced at $14,995 ($3,000 of which is for the Sitefinity software license) with an optional e-commerce connector for $7,000.


Because The Portal Connector is based on Sitefinity, you also end up with a complete content management system for your website.


Microsoft Adxstudio

Microsoft has discontinued development of Adxstudio, but made it available on GitHub for on premises implementations.  


Source: Microsoft
InfoStrat PortVue Portal for Dynamics 365

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 editable 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
  • Provides 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





    Monday, June 12, 2017

    InfoStrat Joins Microsoft CityNext



    This month my company InfoStrat announced its participation in Microsoft CityNext, a global initiative empowering cities, businesses and citizens to re-imagine their futures and cultivate vibrant communities. Through the Microsoft CityNext initiative, Microsoft and InfoStrat will help leaders to do “new with less,” by combining the power of technology with innovative ideas to connect  governments, businesses and citizens with city services that increase efficiencies, reduce costs, foster a more sustainable environment and cultivate communities where people thrive.

    In a recent study, IDC named Microsoft the most trusted smart-city vendor. "Whether it's traffic congestion, citizen services, energy efficiency or operating costs, our Microsoft CityNext partners are equipped to tackle whatever problem or priority local governments want to address. Microsoft’s IDC smart-city scores are really a credit to our partners, which leverage our trusted cloud platform, powerful data analytics, security and privacy infrastructures, and other advanced capabilities to enable smart-city innovations."

    Cities have long been the center of industrial, economic and entrepreneurial activity fueling the rest of the world’s success. Today, as more of the world’s population urbanizes, cities face mounting pressures and challenges to maintain high standards and quality of life for citizens. It is expected that by 2050, seven out of every 10 people will live in a city.  Leveraging a broad portfolio of familiar and security-enhanced consumer-to-business software, partner solutions, devices and services and Microsoft’s history of successful education and social programs, Microsoft CityNext is a collective effort that helps cities anticipate and plan for these changes and challenges, enabling them to meet citizens’ needs, thrive economically and embrace modernity.

    “We’re thrilled to partner with InfoStrat on Microsoft CityNext. Microsoft prioritizes a people- and partner-first approach across all our initiatives, and Microsoft CityNext is no different,” said Trudy Norris-Grey, managing director, business development, Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft.  “While cities are feeling the strain from economic challenges, Microsoft CityNext ushers in innovative technology solutions to create opportunities for cities and their citizens, enabling them to accomplish what they never thought possible. We’re inspired by our diverse partner ecosystem and know that working together we can help cities realize their full potential.”

    I will explain some of the accomplishments and priorities of CityNext in future blog posts.