Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is Sales More Like Hunting or Fishing?

When you implement a customer relationship management system (CRM) for sales force automation, you must analyze your sales process in order to understand the steps that should be automated, and all the business processes that come into play during the sales cycle.



Salespeople use many analogies that are used to describe sales, but the most common are hunting and fishing.  Hunting is the most common way of thinking about sales.  Your sales prospects are targets, and you spend your time tracking them down and finding out how you can reach them.  Sales tactics are a bit like hunting weapons, and you track statistics on how many of your quarry you bag and how many get away.

You can find sales books that explain sales as hunting, and how to use 'trust as your weapon."  Large sales are called "elephants" or "whales" and small sales are "deer" or "rabbits."  In the sales as hunting world, salespeople wander the earth to find prey and stalk them as long as necessary.

Fishing (specifically angling, or fishing with a line and a hook rather than a net) is another useful analogy to understand sales processes.  In most fishing, you cannot see the fish, so you rely on your judgment of the likelihood of fish where you are casting your line, and the quality of bait.

Marketing is the bait for sales.  The quality of your offering (product or service) is crucial for sales. You must have faith in the bait or lures that you use and present them with confidence to be successful.

CRM does a great job of keeping score of sales wins and losses.  It also shows which offerings are most successful, and often helps you identify successful marketing techniques.

What analogies do you use to describe your sales process?  How can these inform your CRM implementation?  If you see your sales force as hunters, how can tracking sales activities improve performance?  Can CRM reports help you understand the tactics of individual salespeople?

Don't assume that your CRM reflects your sales philosophy out of the box.  You can tailor it so that it reinforces the processes that you want to promote.






Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Introducing Employee Self-Service Knowledge Base, from Microsoft

Microsoft recently announced a new option for employee self-service. Some of the biggest drains on employee productivity and engagement come from one thing: a lack of available knowledge. Whether it’s an IT, HR, or customer service question, having to search multiple places or contact another employee for knowledge that is not easily found, wastes valuable time and effort.



Microsoft Dynamics Employee Self-Service (ESS) is a knowledge management solution that provides accessible and consistent knowledge for all employees. Knowledge content is easy to create and manage, and can be delivered internally across all departments, and through multiple channels including devices, productivity tools and applications used every day. For instance, you can:

  • Provide answers to frequently asked questions such as sick leave or benefits
  • Promote consistent answers to customer questions through a well organized knowledge base
  • Offer internal troubleshooting tools 




Microsoft Dynamics Employee Self-Service is surprisingly affordable.  It's a cloud solution so may be deployed quickly.

Here is a video of the solution in action.  Contact me to get more information or join our January 14, 2016 webinar.




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

GovCon Information Services: A List



I have not been able to find a comprehensive list of companies that provide databases to government contractors to find potential opportunities, so I'm starting the list here.

Many of these sources are reviewed here. This is a blog post which I will expand based on feedback from readers and additional research.

FedBizOpps: FBO from the General Services Administration is the best known source of federal business opportunities.  Many of the paid services list below include FBO search results.  Be sure to try the advanced search feature.

Deltek GovWin: Deltek's flagship service GovWin IQ is the largest and probably most comprehensive source, purchased by nearly every large government contractor. When GovWin was hacked in 2014, a news story claimed that 60,000 customers were affected, so this represents a large user base.  Deltek has purchased a number of competitors over the years, such as FedSources, Centurion Research and Input.  Deltek is one of the most expensive of these services.  Some users find the CRM user interface a bit out of date. Integration with Salesforce is available.

Onvia: Onvia covers state and local government and grant sources as well as federal opportunities. From my experience, their state and local coverage is the most extensive of all these services.  Onvia creates white papers, articleswebinars and analysis which are available without a subscription.  I enjoy their quarterly state and local procurement snapshot such as this one on Q3-2015. In August 2016, Onvia added integration with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  They also offer integration with Salesforce.

Bloomberg Government: Bloomberg is the largest new player in many years, bringing the same quality and breadth of coverage for which they are known in the financial industry.  Bloomberg hosts events with government and industry leaders as well as briefings from its analysts. I have attended Bloomberg events and the quality of their presentations and analysts is quite high.

Govini: Another relatively new player that, like Bloomberg, has recruited veterans from its competitors. According to this 2014 article from the Wall Street Journal, Govini has a plan to gather and publish contracts data from all over the world.  It was described in the article as a startup with 40 people and about 200 subscribers.

FindRFP: Contains U.S. and Canada government solicitations. You pay based on the geographic segment you would like to search.  You can try an anonymous keyword search to get a sense of how many search results you will get, although you will not be able to see the full opportunity detail without a subscription.  Plans are $19.95/mo. for regional and $29.99/mo. for national with annual plans of $199.50 and $299.50 for regional and national respectively.

Bidspeed: Merges data from multiple sources including FBO and provides templates for responses as well as additional services.

BidSync: Free and paid plans available.  Some government agencies publish bids through BidSync and user their infrastructure to manage amendments, proposals, and other documents. A few white papers are available. A review has been posted on Capterra in the category of procurement software.

FedMine.US: Established player.  Retro user interface with unusual use of color. Information on task orders as well as prime contracts.

Several procurement sites seem to be similar in terms of their offering and their data.  I had a harder time finding review information on the following:

FedConnect: Claims to be good complement to FedBizOps and Grants.gov which seem to be the sources of most if not all of their data.  Paid and free plans available.

GovernmentBids.com: Low cost subscriptions from $44 to $131/month.

GovDirections: Local, state and federal government bids. Offers daily update services called RFPDelivery. Federal data seems to be mainly from FBO.gov and FPDS.gov.

GovTribe:  Recent startup from Arlington, VA with refreshing user interface showing government agencies, vendors, contracts, solicitations, projects and more.  Monthly subscription is $24/user with volume discounts.

BidClerk: Specializing in bid opportunities for the construction industry.

BidPrime:  Pricing is by region, from $400-1,100 per year.

AmericasBiz.net: Administered by the North America Procurement Council, Inc. PBC (NAPC), a Colorado public benefit corporation, it includes some commercial as well as government solicitations.

USAOpps: Inexpensive service with free trail available.

EZGovOpps: Inexpensive service with free trail available. Seems focused on federal with data sources listed here.

EPipeline: Pricing not shown on website. Listed as a subsidiary of Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc. in Bloomberg Financial.

SmartProcure: Started in 2008.  Doesn't track bid opportunities.  SmartSearch is $425/mo. and SmartExport is $675/mo. billed annually.

I will add more information and links to each to these.  So far I have found none of these providers offering integration with Dynamics CRM.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When It Comes to Online Collaboration, It's the People and Not the Tools



It has been a long time since Lotus Notes defined the groupware category of collaboration software and Microsoft followed with SharePoint in 2001.  Since then, collaboration software has evolved and new approaches to collaboration have emerged based on social media (such as Yammer).

Business can choose from many collaboration platforms, some of which are free or included (like SharePoint) in widely deployed office suites.

What has not changed is that collaboration itself is a human activity.  Even the best collaboration tools are worth nothing without the participation of users.

Encouraging adoption for collaboration is more difficult than driving adoption of products which empower individual users.  For group projects, have only 80 percent of the participants using the collaboration tool often means failure of the tool for the project.

One of the best techniques to encourage adoption is to have managers and senior staff lead by example.  If they adopt collaboration tools and techniques, others are more likely to follow.

Another tip is to start small and try to avoid cumbersome governance policies unless absolutely necessary.  If you start by laying down rules of behavior that are difficult to follow, users will quickly learn that they should avoid the collaboration system rather than take risks in sharing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Microsoft Software Licensing for Non-Profits




As I mentioned in my previous post, Ten Things You Should Know About Microsoft Software Licensing, purchasing software is not as simple as you might expect.  In addition to the programs and concepts I discussed in that blog post, Microsoft offers additional benefits for non-profit organizations.

Some non-profits may qualify for the ultimate discount -- product donations from Microsoft.

Your organization can become a validated nonprofit to gain access to the Microsoft Product Donation and Volume Discount programs available in your country, including:
  • free software and services, including Office 365, Power BI, and more
  • upgrades to Windows 10* or Enterprise with up to 50 licenses
  • discounts on Microsoft software licenses through any approved Volume Licensing reseller
Even if you are not eligible for product donations, your non-profit may be eligible for special non-profit pricing

To find out whether your organization is eligible, you can start here.

Related posts: Ten Things You Need to Know About Microsoft Software Licensing

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ten Things You Need to Know About Microsoft Software Licensing



Microsoft software licensing is a complicated subject, but understanding just a few key concepts can help you get the best value from your Microsoft investment.

Here are the top facts to get you started:

  1. Microsoft sells through a global network of resellers.  Most medium and large sized companies and government agencies have volume licensing agreements which cover all their Microsoft products. This makes it easy to add new products and get the best discounts available. Your reseller will offer the best discount and can add products to your volume licensing agreement where applicable.
  2. Volume licensing is available for small and large customers. Microsoft segments its programs for organizations from 5-250 licenses (Open Value, Open Value Subscription, Open License and Microsoft Online Services) and 250+ licenses (Enterprise Agreement, Microsoft Products and Services Agreement, and Select Plus).  
  3. Azure is sold based on actual usage.  Microsoft Azure and Azure Government are subscription services which allow you to scale resources up and down as needed.  Therefore, your bill is based on actual usage, like a water or electricity bill.  The Microsoft Azure pricing calculator helps you predict the costs. 
  4. Some products are available in more than one licensing model. Historically, the most common model is perpetual licensing based on servers and named user client access licenses (CAL).  The fastest growing model is cloud subscriptions such as Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online. 
  5. Software Assurance provides product version upgrades and other benefits. In addition to product support, you may be eligible for deployment planning services, technical and end-user training. 
  6. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licensing is for pre-installed software on hardware that you purchase.  For instance, your laptop or server may come pre-loaded with the operating system and other programs.  This license is good for the life of the hardware but may not be reassigned to new hardware. 
  7. Microsoft manages licenses through software keys.  These are the codes that you enter when you activate or install software.  Many laptops come loaded with a trial edition of Microsoft Office or other product  This is a functional version of the product which limits the time you can use it.  By entering a valid product key, the software license is changed from trial to the full product. 
  8. Microsoft Volume Licensing offers programs for government, education, healthcare, and nonprofits.   If your organization falls into one of these categories, you are eligible for special offerings and pricing.  For instance, U.S. government agencies are eligible for the Microsoft Government Cloud and qualified non-profits are eligible for Microsoft charity pricing. 
  9. Microsoft License Advisor is a web-based tool to help you research licensing options. You can create sample quotes for many Microsoft products. 
  10. Microsoft offers financing for volume licensing. You can spread out payments based on your business and financial needs. 
You don't have to become an expert on Microsoft licensing, but it helps to consult with one from your Microsoft reseller or services partner like InfoStrat.

Related posts: Microsoft Software Licensing for Non-Profits


Monday, November 16, 2015

Ten Truths of Business Rule Complexity




In order to automate business processes, you need to understand the underlying business rules of your organization.  Analysis of business rules is time consuming, and complex business rules add to the time and expense of software development.

Based on my experience in developing business solutions, I would like to offer the following observations to help organizations understand how business rule complexity affects them.
  1. If you think your business rule is simple, you are not thinking hard enough.  Many business rules seem simple but turn out to be complex on closer examination.  For instance, you may have a rule that a contact person may be listed only once in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.  If each contact may be associated with only one account (or company) record, what can you do when a person acts in a different role for different organizations.  For instance, I can be listed as a customer of the phone company as the primary contact for my company as well as for my home phone number.  Even something that seems simple such as a company name or DUNS number can be complicated.  Some companies have one or more DBA names as well as official company names. A large company can have multiple DUNS numbers and it would not be obvious which is the correct one. 
  2. Automation involves simplification. If you built a model of the world which faithfully represented all the complexity of the world, you would have created another world as complex as the one you were modeling.  One of the purposes of a model is to simplify.  The trick is to find out which simplifications produce business benefits and which ones are not possible.
  3. Complexity alone does not determine the level of effort for automating a business rule. Some complex business rules are simple to implement and some simple business rules are hard to implement.  A complex business rule which operates on easily determined and unambiguous data can a quick programming task, while "fuzzy" logic in a business rule can be challenging to automate. 
  4. Counting the number of business rules does not directly yield a cost estimate. This is a corollary of the previous point.  Neither the number nor complexity of business rules are the sole determinants of cost.  
  5. Look out for exceptions. It's not the rules that will cause the greatest problems, it's the exceptions.  In many cases, you don't find out the exceptions until it's too late, when users are testing a new system.
  6. Words are important in defining business rules. Like law, business requirements analysis requires strict attention to linguistic details.  People at your organization may use different words to refer to the same thing, causing confusion and ambiguity in your system.  You may need to create a glossary and conduct training for users to understand the meaning of business terms terms such as account, contact prospect, customer, lead, order, purchase order, and quote. Most businesses have their own terms of art and acronyms which are important for their business rules.
  7. There is no limit to business analysis.  Unless you constrain business analysis by time or budget, you could keep going on virtually forever documenting requirements and processes without embarking on building your system.  Try to avoid analysis paralysis. 
  8. There is no pleasing everyone. Documenting business processes will highlight divergences and disagreements among people who perform their jobs in different ways.  This process may help foster greater consistency but it also may raise debates and power struggles in order to reach a consensus. 
  9. Consider an iterative approach. Automated systems and business rules affect one another, and changing one will affect the other.  You may be disappointed with the results if you try to complete your business process re-engineering in one iteration, because you may not be able to predict all the impacts of your changes in how people work.  If you allow for feedback and multiple iterations, you are like to arrive at a better solution in the long run.  
  10. Some processes should not be automated. The most common goals for automation are to improve productivity and reduce errors.  Some business processes may have so many exceptions that they are no longer fruitful to automate.  Leave room for human judgment in your automation if you are having trouble forcing the software to make all the decisions. The most successful systems use computing where it works best and trust humans in the scenarios where they can contribute most. 
In short, understanding business rules is essential to most business software development projects. Implementing new software is an excellent opportunity for business process engineering. By keeping tradeoffs around complexity in mind you can arrive at a more successful implementation and a better performing organization. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How Much Office Space is Enough?



After twenty-five years in the same building, I'm planning to move my office, and reminded of how much office space has changed since I started InfoStrat. In may ways, office space has suffered the same fate as the men's business clothing industry.

When I started my first job, everyone's goal was to graduate from shared space to a private office, preferably a window office.  The ultimate was the corner office, guarded by an assistant.

Today all this is changed, and I had to ask myself whether we needed an office at all.  Of course the assistants are long gone as well. Many new companies don't have offices at all, working at home and meeting in public places or temporary as-needed office space.  I have heard that some Google employees wander the earth to work out of offices in exotic areas.  Hey, why not, especially with free food at the office?

I recall when our clients and partners such as Microsoft and federal agencies started redesigning office space for "hoteling," and building new types of space for collaboration and individual work.

I have learned over the years that you never have the office space you need.  The only question is whether you have too much or too little.  Lately I have had too much office space.  This is not because we have too few people, but because our staff prefer to work at home rather than the office. Typically Monday is the busiest day, and you have to arrive early to grab choice space.  Other days there are many empty private window offices.

As for me, I am old fashioned in many ways and this includes enjoying dedicated office space.  I like to have comfortable, quiet space to collaborate with my colleagues, and I appreciate being able to switch from work mode to being home.  I do enjoy working at home on some solitary projects, such as writing, or for conference calls to other time zones around the world.

Cloud computing and online collaboration tools have made it easier for people to work remotely, and Dynamics CRM makes it possible to have a unified view of a geographically scattered sales or customer service organization.

Despite these changes, office space provides a way to concretely manifest the culture of your organization, and to show your commitment to your people and to your customers. Done right, the office can boost satisfaction and productivity.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Online Resources for Microsoft Grants Manager Plus



I often receive requests for information on Microsoft Grants Manager Plus.  While there are many resources for the solution, they are scattered a bit on several websites, so this blog post is designed to provide links to them all in one place.

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus is Microsoft's software solution for grantors to track the entire grant process, from establishing programs to publishing opportunities, accepting online applications, reviewing and scoring applications, grant awards, post-award reporting and closeout. It is built on the Microsoft platform, including Dynamics CRM and SQL Server, so it shares the same security model as these products.  It includes record and field level security as well as an organizational hierarchy in the security model which together provide quite granular security options.  You may use single sign-on in conjunction with Active Directory.

Microsoft chose InfoStrat to develop Stimulus360 in 2009 and later Grants Manager Plus based on the company's experience with grant management over 20 years.  

Here are some resources that may help with your evaluation or implementation of Microsoft Grants Manager Plus:

Home page for the solution -- a good place to start
Download site on CodePlex -- downloads of various versions of the solution
Demo script

Blog Posts


     Discussion of portal options for Grants Manager Plus:  
     Overview by Miki Itin 

Review on Capterra

Videos -- a good way to quickly understand what the solution provides
     Walkthrough Part 1 and Part 2
      Interview with solution architect Dmitri Riz

Finally, I often receive queries about the price of the solution.  Here is a price calculator that includes both on premise and hosted license costs as well as implementation costs. 






Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dynamics CRM and Government Contracting

My company InfoStrat has developed solutions for government contractors to get the most out of Microsoft Dynamics products, and is a member of the Microsoft GovCon Alliance.

Our most important solution is Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors.  It contains customizations to Dynamics CRM which allow you to track the entire government capture management process, including all the stages and decision points (called gates in the Shipley sales model) that government contractors go through from targeting an agency to eventually winning a contract award.  Dynamics CRM automates these steps using business process flows.



Because Dynamics CRM is easy to customize, it pays to make it conform to your business processes and to reflect the differentiation that your company brings to the market. Government contractors differ from one another based on their product and service offerings, and how they sell to government.  For instance, a military aircraft manufacturer looks at the procurement process in a different way than a company that sells training services or office supplies.

Winning government contracts is a difficult process, and it requires months or years and significant commitment from the leaders of a business.  It's not as simple as reading requests for proposals on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

If you choose Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors, you can adapt to changes in the government market and have better visibility into your business development efforts.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

10 Best Practices for Online Customer Service

Online customer service is being adopted by a growing number of companies, government agencies, and non-profits.  It is easier and less expensive than ever to provide online knowledge bases, live chat, and social channels for customer service in addition to call centers.

infographic on US State of Customer Service


If you are just starting on the journey of online customer service, you may want to start with some fundamental best practices to chart your course.

  1. Start with executive commitment. Customer service requires significant resources and perseverance, and will become an ongoing task that will grow along with the demands of customers.  Success is unlikely without the explicit support of senior executives.  
  2. Put yourself in the customer's shoes.  Many products and services are becoming more complicated with each new version, and customers can be overwhelmed with the pace of change.  Try to consider how a new customer regards your products and find a way to fill the gap in knowledge. 
  3. Share helpful content.  Create a feedback mechanism so that answers to questions may be shared with other customer service representatives and with customers themselves.  For instance, some products offer a feature to nominate content to be published based on a help desk ticket. 
  4. Hide the complexity of your organization. Customers should not need to understand your organizational chart in order to get help.  Consolidate web pages, email addresses, and phone numbers used to reach customer service to create a goal of one-stop shopping.  
  5. Engage a community of outside experts. If it is appropriate for your product or service, online forums of outside experts can supplement your official channels and bolster the credibility of your offering.  Pay attention to these groups because they will attract complaints that can inform you of areas to improve. 
  6. Use the channels your customers use.  The majority of customers still prefer the immediacy of a telephone call, but a growing number like online chat, social media, self-service websites, and even email to communicate with your organization.  Find out where your customers live by exploring these options and tracking the traffic you receive. Try to stick to the channel where the issue is first raised rather than drive customers to other channels, as many may drop out rather than continue to search for an answer. 
  7. Treat your customer service reps like you would treat your customers. Customer service reps have a difficult job, and these jobs often have high turnover.  Treat the customer service reps well because their happiness and empowerment will be reflected in the attitude they show to customers.  Promote the most successful reps to other positions which take advantage of their product knowledge and people skills.  
  8. Set accurate expectations for response time. If you inform customers of the estimated response time for a communications channel, they can make an informed decision on which is best for them.  Post your telephone hours online, and let callers know of wait times for phone or online chat. 
  9. Empower people who help customers.  Since customer service reps are the first line of defense, arm them with knowledge and capabilities to provide customers with what they seek.  Avoid making escalation the rule rather than the exception if possible. 
  10. Use complaints as a way to improve your product.  Feedback is essential to continuous improvement, and negative feedback is more actionable than positive feedback.  Customer service is a vital way to gather feedback on products and services as well as competitive offerings. 
Customer service drives perceptions of any company or other organization, and the experience of a few people is magnified through their communication with others, especially in social media. Online customer service gives you the opportunity to expand your communications reach, make customers successful with your offerings, and ultimately increase repeat business and customer loyalty.






Monday, October 26, 2015

You May Not Need a GSA Schedule -- At Least Not Yet

When you decide to pursue government contracts, the first thing you may be asked is whether you have a GSA Schedule -- the most widely used contract for federal, state and local agencies to purchase goods and services.

A good place to start to learn more is the official GSA FAQ: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/122123

In general, government contractors need contract vehicles, and many will win a place on the GSA Schedule. Before you reach for your checkbook to hire a company to help you with your GSA Schedule, consider some cases in which you may want to wait:

  1. Yours is a new company.  GSA uses past performance and pricing to validate you as a government supplier. For example, GSA Schedule 70 for information technology calls for two years in business.
  2. You haven't nailed down your commercial pricing. GSA looks for a track record of pricing, and commercial prices are often the basis for government pricing.
  3. You aren't prepared to handle the administrative burden.  Government contracts don't manage themselves.
  4. You are in a hurry. If you have a hot prospect but no contract, you don't have time to win a GSA Schedule award. Ask your prospective customer what contract they would prefer to use, then contact contract holders. 
  5. When using another company's contract is better.   There are many companies, especially resellers and systems integrators, that are happy to bring you on as a subcontractor so you can use their contract to win business rather than your own.  In the short run, this is usually less costly than the effort to chase your own GSA schedule.
In short, don't let the lack of a GSA schedule hold you back from winning government work, or waste your time by pursuing one before you are ready. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Overzealous Office Automation

In the quest for efficiency, it's easy to get caught up in a desire to automate all the processes of your business.  Sometimes, however, you can go too far and hurt your performance or productivity by excessive automation.

This is another way of saying that software design can fall into traps where it is needlessly complex, fails to deal with abnormalities that arise, or provides unhelpful feedback to users.

One of the warning signs of excessive automation is when users experience exceptions to the standard process and then stop using the system and fall back to manual processes.  In many cases, business rules are difficult to extract from users and may be so oversimplified or needlessly complex that when you automate a process it becomes too brittle to stand up to the real world.

The best way to validate how far to go with automating tasks is to get feedback from users.  Doing comparative tests with features can identify opportunities to simplify your system.

When a new software product is put into production, many development teams and managers heave a sigh of relief and then turn their attention elsewhere.  Instead, this is the time that work should begin on assessing the effectiveness of the solution and ways to improve the user experience.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365 Bundle

Microsoft has dropped the price of Dynamics CRM Online for its Office 365 subscribers.  This has previously been available only during limited time promotions.  Newly released pricing for U.S. customers is $48/user/month for Dynamics CRM Online Professional for Office 365 users.


Your pricing may be different depending on your volume licensing plan.

With each successive version of Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft has added new modules for marketing, social, customer service and other functions, so the Dynamics CRM that you purchase today is more powerful than earlier versions.

Microsoft offers a sales audit to help you improve the performance of your sales team with Dynamics CRM.

For more complete coverage of Dynamics CRM implementation costs, see my post.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 Deployment: Estimating Costs

One of the questions I am asked most frequently by clients is to estimate the cost of a CRM project. This blog post offers an approach for estimating implementations of Dynamics CRM. If you are in a big hurry, go straight to the InfoStrat CRM cost calculator.

Choosing the Deployment Model
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

Dynamics CRM Online
Cloud-hosted Dynamics CRM is the easiest deployment model to deploy and to price.

You can choose from the following plans:

Essential. Provides access to custom applications built on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform without using the Dynamics CRM user interface.
Basic. Provides access to core entities: accounts, contacts, leads, and cases. The Basic plan also provides access to reports, dashboards, visualizations and custom applications. This may be appropriate for occasional users.
Professional. Provides access to the full range of Microsoft Dynamics CRM capabilities, including sales, marketing and customer service. Most users such as sales, marketing and customer support need the Professional plan.
Enterprise. Provides access to the full range of Microsoft Dynamics CRM capabilities, including sales, marketing and customer service. It also provides full access to Microsoft Social Engagement, 
Unified Service Desk, and Microsoft Dynamics Marketing. A smaller number of users typically would use Enterprise rather than Professional. 

You can mix subscription types within your organization. Subscriptions cover both hosting and the associated software licenses. This deployment model is rapid -- Microsoft manages the infrastructure and you don't need to install anything on your servers. It is flexible and quite scalable, so you can add (or subtract) users as your needs change. In the short run it is also the least expensive option because it doesn't require any hardware acquisition or server licenses. If you deploy with Dynamics CRM Online, you will automatically receive all software updates which will be installed by Microsoft.

You can purchase additional storage for Dynamics CRM Online, so you should estimate the storage you will need to get an accurate cost estimate.

Microsoft offers a U.S. government version of their cloud. Government agencies and government contractors are eligible for the government cloud.

Bundles
Microsoft offers promotional pricing on Dynamics CRM from time to time and also cost savings on bundles with services such as Office 365. For instance, you can add Dynamics CRM Professional to Office 365 for $50/user/month.

Hosted Deployment
The second option is hosted deployment. Many companies will host your solution for you on their server facilities. Hosting may be shared (with other organizations) or dedicated (you have the server to yourself). Microsoft offers Service Provider (SPLA) licensing for its products which allows the license to be bundled into your monthly hosting bill. If you choose dedicated hosting, you may use your own licenses purchased in the same way as for on premise deployment.

On Premise Deployment
The third and most common option is on premise deployment --the most complicated licensing scenario. This means that you will install the software at your own facility on hardware that you provide. Microsoft offers software maintenance under a program called Software Assurance that includes updates to the products you purchase. Your organization must manage the servers and is responsible for backups and installing updates.

Dynamics CRM is licensed based on named users or device licenses, so the first step in calculating costs is to count your users. First, count internal users that are within your organization. The most common licensing approach is based on named users. For instance, if your department has 500 people and all of them will be using Dynamics CRM, you would buy 500 client access licenses (CALs). Microsoft also offers device CALs, so two or more people who are non-concurrently sharing a workstation could use just one CAL. This makes sense if you have shift workers or call centers that operate around the clock.

Next, count how many Dynamics CRM servers you will need. How many servers are needed to support the size of your solution? How many environments will you need, such as development, test, staging and production? Three or four environments are typical for enterprise solutions.

Your reseller is best source for software pricing, and can create a quote based on your volume license agreement. If your organization has an enterprise agreement for Microsoft products, it will offer the best prices.

Extras
For on premise deployment, you may also need licenses for related products such as Windows Server, SQL Server, and Microsoft Office.

After you nail down the hardware and software, the more challenging part is estimating the cost of professional services.

Approach One: Find a Similar Project
If a similar solution has already been implemented, this can be the shortest path to an estimate. For instance, my company InfoStrat implemented a Dynamics CRM solution called Stimulus360 for about 19 clients, so by the time the third or fourth client approached us, we had a pretty solid idea of the cost elements and the variables in order to estimate the project. The question to ask is whether your requirements will be different from other clients. Ideally, you could examine the features of the solution and map them to your requirements, highlighting gaps where new features would be needed.

Approach Two: Function Point Analysis A second approach, and perhaps the most classical approach for custom application development, is function point analysis. Detailed requirements are written down, and software developers group them by complexity and ascribe a level of effort for each function. The rub is that these requirements need to be quite detailed indeed. A requirement such as "can integrate with other systems" or "must be user friendly" had no place in function point analysis. At a minimum, you would need to define every data element to be tracked, every form definition, every report, every workflow, and every business rule. Most clients are not willing to provide functional requirements in such detail.

Approach Three: Define the Time and Team Another approach is to nail down the schedule and define the cost, with the only variable being the functionality to be delivered. For instance, if you have a firm ship date and a team of a project manager, and analyst, two developers and a tester, you can easily calculate the cost. Then the functionality will be determined during the course of the project through prioritization. One or more iterations may be created in order to seek feedback on the design and solidify the requirements.

Approach Four: A la Carte If you cannot specify the requirements and are not willing to define the schedule and budget, you can tackle an estimate by defining each of the cost areas, with greater or lesser confidence depending on the area and the assumptions.

Here are key areas we look at for estimating services costs. Note that hourly rates differ depending on the team members needed.
Requirements Analysis. How many people need to be interviewed? How much time will creating functional requirements take?
Design. What design documents need to be created? Do you need graphic design for a web site or will you using an existing style?
Implementation. The level of effort for building out the solution cannot be estimated before requirements have been compiled.
Testing. Who will test the system? What types of testing will be performed?
Project Management. Who will manage the project? How often will status meetings be held?
Training. What approach will be taken for training? Train-the-trainer? Classroom training? Training videos? How many sessions will be held? Will training be conducted in-person or online? Do system administrators need training?
Support. Who will handle post-implementation issues? Will there be a help desk? What hours of business will be included?
Within these broad approaches to estimating, there are many variables which affect the cost of a project. How much support do your users need to be successful? Is onsite support needed? How will the solution evolve after it goes into production? Will enhancements be needed? What will the release schedule for new versions be?

What about CRM customizations? The least expensive solutions usually are for the most common CRM scenarios, such as sales force automation, customer service, and marketing (or outreach). These scenarios match the out-of-the-box functionality of Dynamics CRM well to begin with. You are likely to require some additional data elements and reports, and nearly certain to need some workflows to match your business processes, but will not need too many new fields or entities.

Here are some of the key items to count and characterize:

Identify all the data elements you need to track, and map them to the Dynamics CRM data model. This exercise will show which attributes you need to add to existing entities and which new custom entities you will need to create.

Examine the user interface and determine whether you need customizations to the look and feel. If you want distinct forms for each user role, for instance, the cost of the implementation (and subsequent maintenance) will increase.

Enumerate and specify all the reports you will need. Try to categorize them by complexity to simplify estimation. We usually break them into simple (lists), moderate (some aggregation) and complex (multi-entity and more complicated calculations). Every Dynamics CRM implementation we have done requires some custom reports. Be sure to take a look at Advanced Find to see if it can satisfy any of your reporting requirements.

Determine which dashboards you will need. Dashboards combine business graphs with views into records. Dynamics CRM comes with standard dashboards for sales, marketing and customer service, but these may not make sense for xRM solutions.

Specify the workflows that will be created. Again, categorize them into groups based on the complexity of the workflows. If your workflow has a large number of exceptions you may want to reconsider whether it should be automated at all.

Armed with these lists and specifications, you can approach a Dynamics CRM expert and get a realistic idea of the cost. If you are familiar with Dynamics CRM yourself, you can use these metrics to create your own estimate. For instance, you may want to plan four hours for a simple report and twenty hours to create a complex report.

Integration
The cost of integration can only be determined with a thorough understanding of the systems to be integrated and the nature of the integration that is required.

Here are some of the details that can help derive a better estimate for integration:
Provide documentation for the systems to be integrated, including the data models and options for integration such as web services. 

Define functional requirements for the integration. Spell out how the scenario would work, where the data would be entered, how it is processed in each system, and where it ends up. 

Choose the direction of the integration (one-way or two-way). Which is the authoritative system in the event of a conflict? 

Spell out any tools that you would prefer for data integration. Do you own middleware or enterprise application integration software that would help.

Dynamics CRM provides a modern, web services interface to allow integration. You may want to assign the integration task to developers who are proficient in the other system with which you are integrating, especially if it uses a less open and modern architecture.

Training
No software implementation is successful without adoption, and most enterprise solutions require training in order to be adopted. Training is often shortchanged in Dynamics CRM implementations.

You should include training in your project plan, and start work on training materials as soon as use cases are created for the solution. Analysis, development, testing, and training all should be tightly connected so you end up training to the requirements and usage scenarios you have identified.

Several options are available for training on CRM, including:

Custom hands-on classroom training in a lab environment, tailored to your specific implementation. This is the most intensive and expensive option, but is appropriate in many cases, especially for critical and complex solutions.

Standard CRM classroom training. Microsoft authorizes training centers around the world to deliver the standard approved training for its products.

Video training. The content may be similar to classroom training and even allow exercises and interaction. One advantage is that it can be done at any time, and the cost does not increase based on the number of users or times that the training is used.

Commercial training materials. Microsoft and third parties publish training materials such as books and videos which are a great way to learn Dynamics CRM.

Train-the-trainer. If you hire a professional services firm to develop your solution, you may want to have them train your training and support staff. Many organizations have professional trainers on a fulltime or part-time basis.

Hybrid training. A combination of these training approaches may be best for your organization.

Free training videos. Microsoft and its partners have published hundreds of free training videos on Dynamics CRM that are available on YouTube and microsoft.com. These are great for getting a quick response to a specific "how do I" question.

In terms of cost, classroom training at a training center is several hundred dollars per person per day (often about $500). In person custom training is sometimes charged based on the number of students or at a flat rate of $2,000-3,000 per day including materials. Online training materials and training subscriptions are often less than $100 per person. Remember that the generic training materials are less expensive, but not tailored to your solution or implementation. In general, these materials are good for IT professional rather than end users.

A good place to start for online resources is http://crm.dynamics.com/en-us/support-overview

You need to understand your users in order to choose the correct training approach. Is traditional classroom training effective? How much time can users spend in training with their other job responsibilities? Will they be overloaded with information in a multi-day training session?

In addition to end user training, you will want to provide training for system administrators and other IT professionals. You may also want to train developers for maintenance tasks and enhancements to the system. You may need to customize some materials so they related to your particular implementation, but advanced admin training materials are readily available.

Don't wait until the end of your implementation to begin training. User acceptance testing is a great time for initial training of a subset of users. An incremental rollout or a pilot is also a great chance to refine your training approach before it is too late. Refresher training is also a good item to include in your budget. It can help renew enthusiasm for the system and improve user satisfaction.


Monday, October 12, 2015

End of the Computing Platform Debates?

I am relieved that some of the debates on computing platforms are finally coming to an end.  Few discussions are more boring than hearing people debate on Windows v. Macintosh, or Android v. iOS, or .Net v. Java.

It's not that competition among hardware and software vendors has come to an end, but in some cases the value of cooperation and interoperability seems to have won out.  This is certainly the case for the new Microsoft, which has embraced all platforms, from offering Office products for iPhone and iPad to providing top drawer cloud hosting for Linux.

Hardware manufacturers are spreading their bets across multiple software platforms as well.  The market for tablets becomes more diverse each year, and the line between tablets, phones, notebooks and laptops has been blurred as phones grow, notebooks sport removable keyboards, and tablets take on the power of desktops.

Perhaps we are on the verge of a peace dividend for all technology consumers.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Software Demos: It's Not About You

Since software is my business, I am obliged to attend quite a few software demonstrations.  I was reminded last week of a rule that is all too easy to forget when you are running a demo: it's not about you, it's about what the audience needs.

When you give a demo, do not feel obliged to cover every feature and suppress questions until you finish.  Your audience comes to the demo with expectations and sometimes prior knowledge of your product, so listen to their feedback.  Speed up or skip sections that they have already seen, and go to the areas that they care about the most.

Too often I feel like the presenter of a software demo thinks he is being paid on a per-feature basis, and most bring all of us in the audience along with him.  Nothing good comes from this approach.

If we wanted to see an exhaustive list of features rather than participate in a conversation with a human being, we might be tempted to read the manual or watch a training video instead.

Consider what you would want to see if you were in the audience.  Give people a chance to ask questions early to keep them engaged and allow you to tailor the presentation to their needs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Software Requirements: Is it a Toaster or an Aircraft Carrier?

Building software solutions begins with identifying business requirements, and many project failures can be traced to poor requirements.

Part of the problem is that features and requirements language is often too broad or ambiguous, leading to conflicting interpretations, as I discussed in a blog post Stuff Passing as Requirements. These include meaningless expressions such as "intuitive," "user friendly" and "seamless integration" as well as impossibly broad statements like "meets all applicable compliance requirements."

One of my favorite classic information technology textbooks is Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design by Donald C. Gause and Gerald Weinberg.  The book is a great foundation for understanding product development, not just for software development.  It will encourage you to ask more questions and think about requirements in new ways to make your projects more successful.

Another, related problem, is that information technology is by its nature both abstract and plastic, because it may be applied in so many different ways.  We often search for metaphors to help us scope software projects.  Sometimes the metaphor can illuminate, but often it obscures.

One of the most common metaphors I hear in software projects is the automobile.  "Do you want a Chevrolet, or a Cadillac?"  The idea is to separate required features from optional features.  This often fails in software projects, because a requirement of "red, has four wheels and carries passengers" applies to Radio Flyer wagons and to Ferraris.  One of our clients described a software requirement as so broad, you could use it to build an aircraft carrier. 

We also hear the analogy of a house or building.  How many rooms, or stories, or how tall do you want your software?  Again, this can be a point of departure, but often we end up with a skyscraper resting on the foundation of a shack because of changes made during the course of a project.

In the end, I often find that users cannot determine what they want or need until they see it. Prototyping and looking at comparable systems is much more useful than blue sky requirements brainstorming.  This approach allows you to benefit from the experience of others who have already covered similar territory rather than starting from scratch. 

Please share your software requirements experiences with me on Twitter @jamestownsend. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Learning from the Bank ATM Experience

When I first opened my own bank account, the only way to make a deposit or withdrawal was to go to the bank during business hours, wait in line, and interact with a human teller.  If a bank wanted to provide more service to its customers, their main options were to open more branches, open longer hours, and hire more tellers.

When automated teller machines (ATMs) were introduced, many customers were wary because they were afraid of errors and uncomfortable interacting with a machine rather than a person.  It didn't take long, however, for customers to learn that the convenience of the ATM was too good to resist for a large number of transactions, which allowed banks to change how branches were staffed and open ATMs essentially as micro branches to serve new neighborhoods.

The latest continuation of this trend is the growth in web-based customer self service, allowing customers to find answers to questions and solve problems online rather than on the phone.  Most of today's consumers grew up with ATMs and are more comfortable interacting with companies online.  They don't like to wait in phone queues or be transferred from one customer support person to another.



Parature, from Microsoft  offers a combination of online knowledge base, live chat, and multi-channel customer service.  It's the new ATM for today, offering businesses, government agencies and non-profits a new way to interact with people and improve the quality of service.


Grants Manager Plus: Theme and Variations

I have written before about how software solution implementations vary in order to serve the unique needs of customers.  One size does not fit all, and this is particularly true for implementations of Microsoft Grants Manager Plus.

When InfoStrat designed Microsoft Grants Manager Plus, the goal was to cover the entire life cycle of a grant, from creating a funding source to publishing grant opportunities, review, award, post-award reporting and closeout.   Our clients may choose to automate some of all of these processes, depending on the grants involved.

The downloadable solution has a large number of features, and is designed to be extended and integrated with other systems as well.

Some grant programs have large number of grants but small amounts of money for each grant.  They may need simple application forms and review processes.  Large grants tend to have more complex applications and review processes, such as review groups.

Fraud prevention and detection are a priority for some grantors.  Grants Manager Plus allows you to add fraud and error detection in post-award reporting workflows.

Grants that require complex post-award demographic reports need a structured approach to gathering metrics from grantees through the grantee portal.

Most grantors will want to use a portal to solicit applications and accept post-award reports online. Some use their existing website or another portal product they already own.  Some choose InfoStrat's PortVue as the portal for Grants Manager Plus.

Integration with financial systems is valuable in order to automatically forward payment requests from Grants Manager Plus to the financial system. The solution accelerator includes integration with Microsoft Dynamics AX and also integration points for other financial systems.  We have integrated with mainframe and Oracle-based financial systems as well as Microsoft ERP products such as Dynamics NAV, Dynamics GP and Dynamics AX.

Grants Manager Plus is much faster to implement than custom development, yet may be tailored to match the unique requirements of each grantor.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dynamics CRM Deployment Planning Services from Microsoft

Microsoft offers software assurance customers a number of benefits, including planning assistance from qualified Microsoft partners such as InfoStrat or Microsoft Consulting Services.  These services are included in your software assurance plan, and cover a number of products such as Office, SQL Server, Skype, Cloud, SharePoint and Dynamics CRM.

InfoStrat's clients have used planning services to analyze CRM implementations, prepare for upgrades, evaluate cloud deployment options, and other services.

Planning Services days are available in increments of 1, 3, 5, 10, or 15 days, and may include a Proof of Concept or Pilot.  You can access these days through voucher creation and redemption at the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center.  InfoStrat or your Microsoft representative can help you through the process.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dynamics CRM Integrations for Government Contractors

Dynamics CRM can be the centerpiece of capture management for government contractors, but it is even better when integrated with other office systems.  Here are some of the most common scenarios that we encounter, and integrations we have done for our clients and ourselves.

Document Management

SharePoint integration is included in Dynamics CRM, and it provides a great place to store proposal documents such as technical proposals, price lists, resumes, and more.  You can automate the generation of folders in SharePoint and populate the folder with standard templates and documents.

Dynamics CRM may be integrated with other document management systems if you are not using SharePoint.

Accounting

Accounting systems such as Dynamics AX, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics GP and Dynamics SL can play a role in capture management.  They are likely where you create cost codes to track the activities of a project team.  Price lists may reside in these accounting systems.   Microsoft offers a Dynamics connector to make it easier to integrate Dynamics CRM with Dynamics ERP and accounting products.

Timesheets

After a project is won, you may want to integrate with your timesheets system in order to create the project and the billing codes and rates for each member of the project team. 

At a minimum, you can send a message to the manager of the timesheets system to notify them of the win along with the names and rates of all the project participants. 

Project Server

Many proposals call for a project plan which is created in Microsoft Project or Microsoft Project Server.  Sometimes the project plan is not created during the proposal, but it is one of the first deliverables in the project. 

Integration with Project Server allows you to have Dynamics CRM create a project and notify the project manager that it is time to create a project plan. 

If you use Microsoft Project but not Project Server, you can attach the Project files to the opportunity in Dynamics CRM for looser integration. 

In summary, you can create basic or full integration with all the products that relate to the sales activities:


 System
Simple
Full
Accounting
Notify accounting and request budget code
Create budget code and timesheet entry
Timesheets
Notify human resources manager and create timesheet codes
Create timesheet codes
Project Server
Notify project manager to create project plan
Create project plan and add resources based on proposed team
Document Management
SharePoint integration included out of the box
Automate creation of standard documents based on templates



Monday, August 31, 2015

FAV Plugin for Microsoft Dynamics CRM: Formula, Aggregation and Validation


InfoStrat has developed the FAV Plugin for use with Microsoft Dynamics CRM to support data validation, aggregate operations, and formula support without programming.  Many business applications for Dynamics CRM require complex business operations that are not supported in Dynamics CRM out of the box but can be implemented through plug-in configuration.

Typically, in a complex Dynamics CRM deployment, business rules, complex calculations and additional security measures are scattered across multiple layers.  Often all of the above are implemented in JavaScript code on various Dynamics CRM forms, in Plugins, and in other extensions such as external portals and data integration components. This proliferation of implementation decisions makes a solution extremely hard to maintain and modify, breaking the development agility inherent to Dynamics CRM. The FAV Plugin allows an implementer to concentrate these functions in a single location and implement all requirements declaratively.

Background

Microsoft Dynamics CRM includes a flexible SDK framework that allows developers to modify the standard behavior of the CRM platform.  One of the approaches to customization in Dynamics CRM is custom compiled code—a Plugin—that runs against events triggered by actions in Dynamics CRM. These Plugins can be run on the Dynamics CRM server either synchronously or asynchronously.

The Dynamics CRM framework is designed for extension: the metadata for core entities is exposed in the API for creation of custom entities. Due to this high degree of extensibility, Dynamics CRM development can address the business functions for a wide variety of organizations.

InfoStrat has developed the FAV Plugin for use with any Dynamics CRM instance, whether based in the 2011, 2013 or 2015 version, hosted on premise or online. The context for the FAV Plugin operation is driven entirely by configuration objects located in the FAV Plugin registration properties, enabling developers to use this FAV Plugin against many CRM instances with increasing economies of scale for each implementation. As a result, the FAV Plugin can be used to implement declaratively complex business rules and additional security measures.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dynamics CRM for Political Campaigns

With the presidential campaigns taking so much of our national attention, I have been think about how candidates can benefit from customer relationship management technology.

My company InfoStrat has implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM to provide constituent management, executive scheduling and correspondence management for elected officials such as governors and county commissioners.

Candidates have similar requirements to communicate with voters as elected officials . These communications come from multiple channels, including website forms, emails, in-person meetings and, yes, even letters.  Dynamics CRM and Parature allow you to respond in kind, using the appropriate communications channel.  With ClickDimensions email marketing automation, you can create richly formatted emails and event invitations, and track responses in Dynamics CRM.

Communications should be handled consistent with the policy positions of the candidate and often require escalation and staff action to respond to requests. You can publish a knowledge base of candidate positions and documents, and organize them for easy searching and browsing.




Dynamics CRM social capabilities allow you to track voter sentiment and social engagement. 

Political candidates also have requirements to comply with federal and state election laws, so tracking relationships with donors is vital.  Integration with your campaign contribution system helps ensure compliance and associate activities with donors. 

CRM gives a 360 degree of people which interact with the campaign. Their role and relationship can change over time, such as contributing, volunteering, or even taking a staff position after a successful election bid.

You can use Dynamics CRM to sign up volunteers and track their activities.  With a portal like PortVue, volunteers can sign up online.

Mapping capabilities of Dynamics CRM offer visualizations to show where donors and supporters are located.

Getting organized and communicating clearly and consistently are important to political campaigns, so Dynamics CRM is a tool that can help you get elected. 


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planning for Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) Solutions

NOTE: Updated to include Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) allows a developer to package  a number of customizations as a solution so they may be installed and managed as a unit rather than individually.  For instance, you could put all your custom entities and attributes as well as reports in a solution.  The solution may be installed into an instance of Dynamics 365 -- online or on premises.

Managed solutions are a type of solution which prevents unintentional changes to the customizations. You must start by creating an unmanaged solution and then deploy it as a managed solution in another instance of Dynamics 365.

There are many approaches to defining solutions.  One extreme is to put all customizations in a single solution.  The other extreme is to use dozens of solutions.

For Microsoft Grants Manager, we would use one solution for the standard Grants Manager Plus customizations, and another which contains customizations unique to a particular agency. A third solution is used for the customizations that relate to the PortVue portal.

Be careful about dependencies among solutions, because this can complicate deployment. If you end up with proliferation of too many solutions, you may want to re-examine them and determine whether some should be merged into fewer solutions.

Solutions are not designed as a tool for managing a multi-developer project.  There are better ways of coordinating coding than to have a solution for each developer.

You need to consider maintenance implications of Dynamics 365 solutions.  For instance, today we were updating a client's CRM to a new version, only to find that a managed solution was installed that no one recognized.

Solutions are not backwards compatible to earlier versions of Dynamics CRM, as shown in the following figure:

Source: Microsoft https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg328109.aspx




Friday, August 21, 2015

Dynamics CRM and Azure Together at Last

It's no secret that Dynamics CRM 2015 and the Azure cloud are both high priorities for Microsoft. This summer has seen a series of announcements that bring them closer together than ever before.



Dynamics CRM 2015 and Dynamics CRM Online 2015 now support integration with Microsoft Azure. This means that you can use Azure as a channel to communicate runtime data from Dynamics CRM for requirements such as synchronization with other CRM servers.

In more news, Microsoft has published the Azure Mobile Connector SDK to connect to Dynamics CRM Online and allow built-in sync and integration with Azure Active Directory.

Azure can fill in some of the gaps of Dynamics CRM Online, such as offloading reporting or loading CRM data into business intelligence tools.  You can use Azure blob storage for document storage in order to reduce storage requirements for Dynamics CRM Online.

Azure can provide a great development platform for Dynamics CRM so you avoid the short lifespan of Online trial accounts as well as the performance demands of local virtual machines on the developer's laptop.  There are step-by-step instructions by Microsoft MVP Jukka Niiranen.

Please tell me more about how you are using Azure and Dynamics CRM together.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Dynamics CRM for Correspondence Management

InfoStrat has developed a correspondence management solution that complements its constituent management and executive scheduling solutions.

Elected officials need correspondence management in order to respond to letters and other communications such as phone calls, emails, and website comments. 

You can use the system to respond in kind, that is to use the same communications channel that was used to initiate the contact. For instance, you would respond with a letter if you received a letter, or send an email if you receive an email.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides the foundation of the solution by including activity tracking, a workflow engine, integration with email and Microsoft Word for merges, and even mobile clients to view activity on your phone or tablet device. 

When you implement the solution, you choose how to handle frequent inquiry topics, and can build a library of templates and standard responses which may be combined as needed. 

If you used Dynamics CRM to track everyone with whom you interact, you end up with a full picture of these relationships and better visibility on the work of staff members.