Thursday, September 21, 2017

Grant Management Portal: What to Include



If your government agency or non-profit provides grants, your applicants and grantees may expect a web portal to apply for a grant, check on that status of their applications, and submit post-award reports.  Grant software such as Microsoft Grants Manager Plus offer portals which allow you to interact with your data via the portal rather than store the data in a second place and replicate the data.

This blog post offers ideas for how to get the most out of your grantee portal, and which features and content to include in your implementation.

Consider which elements you will offer to anonymous users and which will be visible only to applicants and grantees who log in.

Grant Program Background

The portal may be the first place that the public and grant applicants learn about your programs.  It is a place to tell your story, with text, photos and videos that show how your grants make an impact.

Dynamic content can include reports, graphs and maps showing who receives grants and how they are spent.  For instance, several of our clients included maps showing the impact of economic stimulus spending on public infrastructure.

Eligibility Rules and Application Instructions

The portal should contain eligibility information for prospective grantees, and contact information for grant managers or your help desk where applicants can turn for additional information.  This is general static information which can be conveyed through HTML pages or links to documents as appropriate.

Online Applications

Applicants often expect to be able to apply online. Applications usually consist of online forms along with file attachments for backup materials such as budgets or longer narratives.  Be sure that your portal saves data often so that applicants don't lose data they enter in an incomplete application.  Similarly, unless they are quite simple, most grant applications are not finished in a single session. You should allow applicants to save their work and resume the application later.

Consider including training videos, especially if your applications or process are complex.

Grantee Documents and Templates

In addition to application forms, you may want to provide document and spreadsheet templates to your prospective applicants.  Documents such as these may be stored on your web server or in SharePoint or another document management system.

Grantee Login

Before they apply, you will want applicants to create user accounts and provide their profile information.  Microsoft Dynamics portal provides facilities for creating accounts, changing passwords, and lost password recovery.  Consider using multi-factor authentication, such as sending a confirmation code to a mobile phone, if this is appropriate for your organization.

Application Status

The portal should allow authenticated (logged on) applicants to view the status of their grants and applications.   Often this is shown as a table on their home page.

Payment Requests

The portal can allow grantees to submit payment requests based on grant activities.  These requests may be tied with status reports.  Often the payment request is integrated with the financial management system to initiate the process of reviewing and issuing the payment.

Post Award Reports

One of the most valuable functions of a grants portal is to allow grantees to submit periodic post award reports.  These reports often include attachments with material such as receipts or spending details.

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

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. 


    Tuesday, June 6, 2017

    Recruiting with Dynamics 365 and ClickDimensions


    Marketing automation is not just for traditional marketing.  Some organizations, including government agencies and educational institutes, can benefit from integrating automated marketing campaigns with their recruiting efforts.

    My company InfoStrat has helped civilian and military government clients automate their recruiting processes.  As employment rates have improved recently, recruiting has become more challenging than ever, so tools which provide an edge are vital.

    A customer relationship management system such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides a central store of information on recruiting prospects.  By adding automation from ClickDimensions, recruiters can reach prospects with their message using tactics such as:

    • Event marketing - If you hold in-person or online recruiting events, ClickDimensions tracks the open rate and response rate for email invitations, and even integrates with services such as GoToWebinar and Eventbrite. The system offers quick create registration and check-in forms for events. Event Registrations and Check-ins create Event participation records and help the host track analytics around their event. Campaign Automation also integrates with Events by incorporating and Event Registration trigger to initiate your automation.
    • Nurture campaigns and campaign automation- Recruiting can be a long process, starting with awareness and working toward a closer relationship that results in a hire. ClickDimensions offers a visual editor for setting up the steps of a nurture campaign. 
    • Inbound website analytics. Track the behavior of website visitors to understand how your web content is working and improve the quality of the user experience. 
    • Qualify and quantify your leads and contacts through automated scoring. Lead and contact scoring includes, form submissions, visits, page views, opportunities created, opportunities lost, and email clicks.
    • Email campaign automations– Bulk Marketing emails can reach a large group of prospects with related interests. Marketing lists can be managed through form submissions and used in bulk marketing emails to market organization openings, opportunities, and upcoming related events. These actions can all be incorporated in campaign automation as well. 
    • Whitepaper and other downloads. Set up registration for downloads to add prospects to you mailing lists. 
    Together, these marketing automation techniques can increase the number of prospective recruits and raise awareness of your organization.  

    Related posts:

    Thursday, May 25, 2017

    Microsoft Announces LinkedIn Sales Bundle



    As I discussed in my previous blog post, the Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn is likely to bear significant fruit.  We are starting to see changes such as the new user interface of LinkedIn.  Now Microsoft has announced a sales bundle which included Dynamics 365 and LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

    The Microsoft Relationship Sales solution bundle will be priced at $135/mo. compared to purchasing Sales Navigator and Dynamics 365 separately at $64.99 user/month and $95 user/month.

    The solution helps sales professionals:

    • Identifying prospects based on predictive intelligence
    • Use Office 365 and Dynamics 365 data to reveal relationship health and risk 
    • Build trust with customers with product recommendations
    • Engage your customers in more personalized, effective ways 
    • Easily collaborate and share conversations, events, notes, and sales content with colleagues—even if they aren’t using Dynamics 365 for Sales
    • Work on the go—anytime, anywhere—with rich, mobile apps that provide contextual news, social data, and task flows
    • Use process automation and a guided sales process
    Saving money is good, and I expect that new features will be introduced into Dynamics 365 to take advantage of LinkedIn capabilities as well. 

    Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Office 365 for Contract Management


    Many organizations need automation to streamline the contract management process.  You may already own many of the products you need to help your legal department respond more quickly to requests.

    Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics 365 offer a set of tools which offer:

    • Employee self-service to request legal documents
    • Document and approval tracking
    • Contract authoring
    • Execution
    • Compliance monitoring
    • Retention

    The contract management process typically involves several steps such as:


    The process starts with a request for a contract from an end user via email, phone, or the intranet. This is really just a special case for customer service, so Dynamics 365 Employee Self-Service provides the capability to accept requests and turn them into cases for the legal department.

    Next, the contract is assigned based on the type of contract and availability of staff.  Dynamics 365 includes the queues feature which meets this requirement.

    Microsoft Dynamics 365 includes a workflow engine which allows you to set up routing, approvals, and notifications to match your business requirements.

    The Fast Track allows some routine contracts to shortcut lengthy authoring and approval where less legal work is required.

    Authoring takes advantage of Office 365 and SharePoint.  These offer version control, collaborative authoring, and the ability to share files with external parties to the contract using SharePoint and OneDrive.

    Approval brings us back to the workflow capabilities of Office 365 and Dynamics 365.

    Finally, for executing the document, you can use a third party e-signature product such as Adobe Sign or DocuSign, both of which offer integrations with Microsoft products.  Adobe Sign is integrated with SharePoint and DocuSign with Dynamics 365.

    The following table shows how Office 365 and Dynamics 365 fulfill contract management business requirements:



    Microsoft’s Corporate, External, & Legal Affairs (CELA) group developed Matter Center for Office 365, a SharePoint-based document management and collaboration solution. It offers many additional benefits through the Add-ins in Outlook and Word. You can download Matter Center from Github.

    By choosing the contract management elements you would like to automate, you can tailor the solution to your business processes rather than change your processes to match a product designed for law firms or others who may have features you don't need.

    Monday, May 22, 2017

    Options for Reviewing Sales Opportunities in Dynamics 365 (CRM)

    Using a customer relationship management (CRM) system is a great way to get a better handle on your sales efforts.  If have have a CRM, one of the best ways to drive adoption among your sales force is to use it as the basis of sales pipeline meetings.

    Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers several options for how you can use it to review sales opportunities. At my company InfoStrat, we prefer to log into Dynamics 365 and examine the sales pipeline rather than generate static reports.  That way we can update information on the fly as we discuss each opportunity.

    My favorite is to start with the sales funnel graph in the standard Sales Activity dashboard:

    The sales funnel shows the estimated dollar value of each opportunity, segmented by the sales stage.

    Next, click the center icon in the upper righthand corner of the chart:


    Now you can see the chart alongside the underlying opportunity records.


    By default, the chart shows all opportunities, but if you click on a segment of the funnel, the records will be filtered so only those from the selected segment are shown:


    In our typical sales meeting, we use the funnel starting at the bottom and working our way up to unqualified opportunities.

    Some of our clients prefer other approaches.  The most common are to run the Sales Pipeline report or a custom report that is similar.  This report may be exported to PDF and emailed to people who do not use Dynamics 365. You can also change your report criteria at runtime as shown below.



    You can also export opportunities to Excel.  One way is to click the Export to Excel option in the funnel graph page:


    The other approach is to use Excel templates.  These may be as simple or complex as you would like to make them, and may include graphs.


    The resulting Excel workbook will contain your opportunity records:


    Finally, some client prefer to use PowerPoint to discuss opportunities at sales meetings or for pipeline reviews.  Although Microsoft doesn't provide a direct export to PowerPoint, they provide tools you can use to automate the creation of the presentation. I will cover this in a future blog post or contact me if you would like to learn more.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    Microsoft to Host SharePoint Virtual Summit – Register Today



    My company InfoStrat has been working with Microsoft SharePoint since it was first announced as “Tahoe” server and released in 2001.  The product has come a long way in all the versions since then but today there is more SharePoint news than ever.

    Microsoft Office 365 incorporates SharePoint and related collaboration tools, with so many new features and integrations released that it may be hard for users and system administrators to keep track of them.  That’s why you should sign up for this free event:

    SharePoint Virtual Summit
    Tuesday May 16, 2017
    10 am PDT
    Register here

    Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper will unveil the latest SharePoint product innovations and roadmap. You’ll hear from industry-leading customers on how they use SharePoint and Office 365 as part of their digital transformation. Jeff will be joined by Microsoft corporate vice presidents James Phillips and Chuck Friedman to discuss how Office 365, connected with Windows and Azure, is reinventing productivity for you, your teams and your organization.

    Topics will include:
    • Office 365
    • OneDrive
    • Yammer Integration
    • PowerApps and Microsoft Flow


    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    When Government Contractors Know They Need Customer Relationship Management (CRM)



    Government contractors, even those that sell high tech software solutions, are not always the first to embrace automation.   Many regard tracking the capture management (sales) process with suspicion because they recognize the importance of personal relationships and high touch sales techniques for winning government contracts.  Therefore they wait until something happens to bring the need for CRM such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce to the top of their priorities.

    What are the top signs that you  need customer relationship management (CRM) for your government contracting company?
    1. Growth of sales people.  If you only have one or two sales people, you can get by emailing spreadsheets with a list of opportunities and notes on their status.
    2. High transaction volume.  If you are a reseller and handling a large number of small transactions, you need a system to keep track of them. 
    3. Proposal deadlines. Federal proposal deadlines are constantly changing, so you need a shared system to store all the key dates and provide notifications not only for writing proposals but for conducting internal reviews.
    4. Working with teammates. If you work on a team with other contractors, you need CRM to coordinate your efforts and track the roles of all the people at each company who are working on the opportunity.  
    5. Mergers and acquisitions. When two companies combine, you are faced with a great opportunity to change the culture of the sales organization and encourage more collaboration and sharing with sales and corporate management.  We often receive inquiries from companies that are initiating a merger and want to standardize their sales systems.
    6. Marketing and outreach. Government contractors can go for years ignoring marketing, but many eventually realize they need to use marketing techniques such as email newsletters and events to stay in touch with their customers, prospects and partners.
    7. Contract management. As a government contractor wins more contracts and projects, their contract compliance becomes more demanding.  A CRM system provides a shared view for delivery and finance as well as sales departments to track their obligations.
    Once your company decides it's time for CRM, you have the opportunity to examine your business processes and introduce innovations that will make your sales team more accountable and productive. 

    InfoStrat's Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors is tailored to support the business processes of government contractors, and may be tailored for the unique requirements of each government contractor. 

    Friday, April 28, 2017

    Don't Buy Business Software Designed for the Wrong Business



    Buying software for your business can be confusing due to the wealth of choices in nearly every category, from accounting to email marketing to customer relationship management (CRM).  Some categories of software are horizontal, that is they are applicable to nearly all businesses, others have a vertical focus that makes them suitable for certain industries but not all businesses.  Word processing or email, for instance, have comparable features which appeal to a broad group of customers.

    Sales, accounting and marketing software are often customized for vertical industries, or for the size of your company.  QuickBooks is a leader for small businesses because it is affordable and easy to learn, but you would not expect it to be used by multi-national corporations, large manufacturers or national retailers. An industrial-strength software package such as SAP might make sense for an automobile manufacturer, but probably not for a carwash.

    Marketing software has similar specialization.  The way that you engage customers is quite different in consumer markets than business-to-business markets.   Would your customers like to learn more about your complex product or service through videos or webinars? What message medium is best for your prospects?  Emails? Social media?

    Even the social media marketing approach is driven by your industry.  In reaching buyers for software services to business or government, I will not rely on Facebook even if it works for my neighborhood restaurant.

    One of the best source of recommendations is from your peers (who may also be your competitors).  Find out that is working for them to help narrow your search.

    Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    Getting More Out of Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors

    Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors (GovCon) is one of InfoStrat's most popular solutions, and it may be extended in many ways to meet the unique needs of government contractors. Here are some top hints on ways to take advantage of new features to get more from this solution:
    1. Track email activities automatically with Komiko.  Dynamics 365 allows you to create emails from inside Dynamics which are tracked or to track emails by adding them to Dynamics 365, but Komiko goes further by crawling your email and automatically tracking those message sent to email addresses for your GovCon customers and prospects. 
    2. Try the preview of Relationship Insights. This includes automated email track and a relationship assistant. 
    3. Automate marketing with ClickDimensions.  Email marketing for events, newsletters, and other outreach is a great way for a government contractor to stay in touch with customers and prospects, and complements high touch in person networking and phone calls.
    4. Create a Partner Portal for your teaming partners.  The portal allows you to share secured documents with one another during proposal teaming efforts.  Because Dynamics 365 is integrated with Office 365, you can store documents on SharePoint or OneDrive.
    5. Integrate Dynamics 365 with your government contracting data sources, such as Deltek GovWin IQ, the Federal Procurement Database, Federal Business Opportunities and others.  InfoStrat supports these integrations and provides options on how to connect with external data to add and update opportunities. 
    6. Try the mobile apps for Dynamics 365.  Find out how you can connect via your smartphone or tablet device. 
    7. Deploy the Microsoft Dynamics 365 App for Outlook.  The tool is different from Dynamics 365 for Outlook, so here is a quick video overview. 


    As you adopt automation for your GovCon capture management process, you will become more sophisticated in your approach and your software solution should evolve along with you.  Dynamics 365 allows you to add new features and even customize for different groups of users at your company. 


    For more posts on CRM for government contracting, see:

    Monday, April 17, 2017

    Adobe and Microsoft Team for Online Marketing Offerings



    This month Microsoft was featured prominently at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. What was announced and what does this mean for Microsoft and Adobe customers?  How will the two companies work together?

    The alliance with Microsoft follows a string of product acquisitions by Adobe to gain dominance in the fragmented marketing cloud market.  Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and IBM have spent significant sums on acquiring companies with products to flesh out their online marketing offerings, as show in the figure below from this TFM Insights blog post.

    Source: https://tfmainsights.com/rise-of-the-marketing-cloud-adobe-vs-ibm-vs-oracle-vs-salesforce/ 

    Here are the products sold as the Adobe Marketing Cloud that are most relevant to sales and marketing:

    • Adobe Target -- Helps you test the user experience on your website, such as alternative landing pages, to optimize for desired results, such as lead conversions. 
    • Adobe Analytics -- Suite of web analytics tools which may be extended and customized. Competes with Google Analytics. 
    • Adobe Campaign -- Marketing automation tools for email and offline channels.  Competes with Mailchimp and ClickDimensions.  
    • Adobe Social -- Social sentiment analysis and coordination of social content and conversations. Similar functions to Microsoft Social Listening and Microsoft Social Engagement.  Competes with Hootsuite.

    Many details of the Adobe Microsoft alliance have not been released, but here is what we know so far from announcements from both Adobe and Microsoft.

    Adobe has chosen Microsoft Azure as their preferred, but not exclusive, cloud vendor. The Adobe Experience Manager Sites Managed Service is now available on Microsoft Azure.

    Microsoft Power BI offers connectivity to Adobe Analytics through the Microsoft content pack. This means you can create dashboards and visualizations with Power BI that consume data from Adobe Analytics, as shown below.

    Microsoft Power BI dashboard for Adobe Analytics

    Microsoft recently announced discontinuation of their Dynamics Marketing product.  It was based on Marketing Pilot, a product that Microsoft acquired.  Rather than creating a new product to replace Dynamics Marketing, Microsoft chose to endorse the Adobe Marketing Cloud and create incentives for join selling.  

    Because Microsoft was unable to gain significant market share with its Dynamics Marketing product, Adobe provides a lifeline to relevance for Dynamics in the online marketing arena. Microsoft is not shown in the following Gartner "magic quadrant" matrix, but Adobe is in the strongest position:

    Source: https://tfmainsights.com/rise-of-the-marketing-cloud-adobe-vs-ibm-vs-oracle-vs-salesforce/ 

    In a broader initiative, Adobe, Microsoft and other industry leaders (AppDynamics, Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, Qualtrics, Zendesk, [24]7 and MasterCard) are collaborating on a semantic data model for  real-time customer engagement. This data model will standardize how data is structured and build new applications based on the common language. An update on the progress is expected at Microsoft Build 2017 on May 10-12. 








    Friday, April 7, 2017

    Microsoft Dynamics Employee Self-Service: New Version Released

    Employees can save time with better access to information on how to do their jobs. 
    Microsoft has released a new version of their Employee Self-Service (ESS) solution, updated to be based on  Dynamics 365.  Dynamics ESS is a knowledge management tool based on the Knowledge Base features of Dynamics 365 Customer Service. In December 2015, Microsoft released a prior version of Employee Self-Service based on Dynamics Parature, a product whose planned retirement in 2020 was announced in 2016.  The latest version incorporates significant enhancements based on Parature technology which has been incorporated into Dynamics 365.

    Information technology departments are likely to be the first adopters of Dynamics ESS, to supplement their intranets and help desks in order to reduce the number of trouble tickets and provide 24-hour coverage when their help desk resources are limited.

    Dynamics ESS works in Office 365 to look up answers in Word or Outlook
    Users can access the information in the Dynamics Knowledge Base through Office 365, such as looking up an answer directly inside Outlook when responding to an email inquiry, or even in Microsoft Word.

    Dynamics Employee Self-Service can complement your SharePoint intranet. The solution is simple to deploy, but the main challenge, as with most knowledge management projects, is to populate the knowledge base and make company rules and guidance more explicit and accessible.

    Dynamics ESS works on mobile devices
    If you already are a subscriber to Dynamics 365 Enterprise, you can enable Dynamics ESS from the Dynamics 365 Administration Center (which is accessed from the Office 365 admin page:


    When you initiate Dynamics ESS, a new Dynamics Portal will be created, and the link will be displayed which you can share with your users.  Users in your company can access ESS with the affordable Team Member subscription for Dynamics 365.

    For more information, download the overview document or contact my company InfoStrat for our Dynamics ESS Quick Start or watch the video demo.

    Tuesday, April 4, 2017

    5 Tips on Moving from Dynamics CRM On Premises to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Cloud

    Source: Microsoft Dynamics CRM (on-premises) to Microsoft Dynamics Online Migration Guide (microsoft.com)
    Many customers are moving their Microsoft Dynamics CRM from traditional hosting on premises in their server facilities to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 cloud.  Migration to the cloud can be challenging, especially if you are still using an older version of Dynamics CRM.  You will not have the same control over the cloud environment that you have of your servers, and your data import performance may be throttled down by the cloud environment.  For instance, you cannot schedule restores from a Dynamics 365 backup on the cloud or make backup snapshots in the same way that you control these on your servers. 

    Here are InfoStrat's top hints to make the transition easier for your organization.
    1. Upgrade to the latest version of Dynamics 365 on premises. Microsoft doesn't provide a smooth transition which allows you to skip versions, so you will need to upgrade to each of the successive versions or consider your new solution a clean break and migrate only the data.
    2. Switch your licensing to the subscription model and provision your cloud environments. The InfoStrat Dynamics 365 cost calculator can help you choose the plan that is right for you.  Microsoft allows you to run on premises with your cloud subscription, so there is no incentive to wait and no need to buy duplicate licenses/subscriptions for your users. You may be eligible for Team Member subscriptions for many of your users.  Create the production and non-production instances of Dynamics 365 so you can practice the process of promoting your solution from one environment to the next before you go live. Also be sure to check the storage requirements and perhaps archive data if appropriate rather than pay for additional storage of data you are not using. 
    3. Freeze development of your solution until the migration is complete.  Once you are upgraded to the latest version of Dynamics 365, focus on moving to the new environment rather than entertaining more changes to the solution.  Otherwise you may find yourself chasing a moving goal line.  
    4. Consider a data migration tool.  A data migration tool such as Scribe will save many hours of development and testing time for any upgrade or migration effort.  Scribe offers special migration bundles for 60-day or 180-day subscriptions.  By using Scribe, you can dramatically boost the import rate with additional clients as shown in the chart above. 
    5. Move to Office 365.  If you are not already on Microsoft Office 365, this is a good time to switch.  You can combine your user training and support changes. Dynamics 365 is administered from the Office 365 management console.
    A typical migration effort involves more than one trial migration followed by testing until all migration issues have been addressed. Moving your data from on premises to the cloud takes longer than most customers expect, and you must avoid disruptions to the use of production systems. 

    Contact InfoStrat or your favorite Microsoft services provider for migration services and to get answers to your questions. 

    Monday, March 27, 2017

    Account-Based Marketing with Dynamics 365 and ClickDimensions

    http://terminus.com/expanding-new-frontier-account-based-marketing/
    Account-based marketing (ABM) is a sales strategy that starts by identifying companies or other organizations that are likely customers and targeting people at those organization rather than gathering leads from broadly-based marketing initiatives.  Interest in ABM has been growing, and a number of companies such as Terminus and Marketo offer software tools to help with your ABM efforts.

    Users of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and ClickDimensions already own some of the key tools for an effective account-based marketing approach.  Here are ways you can use what you own:
    1. Microsoft Dynamics 365 includes Insights powered by InsideView to allow you to look up companies and contacts based on your search criteria.  This is a good way to jumpstart your account list and learn about a company's people, products and revenue.
    2. Use Dynamics 365 Marketing Lists to track the accounts you are targeting. As you refine your approach you are likely to create more lists as you go.  
    3. Create nurture campaigns in ClickDimensions to send emails such as electronic newsletters and webinar invitations to your marketing lists. 
    4. Use Komiko or experiment with the new Relationship Insights for Dynamics 365 app.  These tools track email interactions with contacts and accounts to explore relationships between activities and sales. 
    5. Reconsider how you look at the traditional sales funnel.  Consider the inverted funnel shown at the top of this page and compare it to your funnel.  To succeed you will need to spend time cultivating your target list of people and perhaps the accounts that you target as well (unless these have been predetermined). 
    6. Use the email and web analytics in ClickDimensions to check on how your marketing messages are being received.  Which emails are opened?  Which calls to action are heeded? What are the strongest and weakest of your offerings?
    Don't forget that the most likely new sales are to your existing customers, so be sure to consider how you can keep them engaged using the same tools you might use for new customers but tailored based on your relationship.

    Related posts:
    from Steve Mordue:

    from this blog:

    Monday, March 20, 2017

    5 Warning Signs Your Software Development is Not Agile

    Source: Digital.gov https://www.digitalgov.gov/2015/01/16/how-to-run-an-agile-project-in-government/ 

    The most popular software development methodology today is called Agile, and is based on short, iterations called sprints which are designed to quickly produce results. The software in progress is used to get further input from users. Agile is designed to meet customer requirements more quickly than approaches which emphasized production of documents which would only become working software month or years later.

    Nearly everyone claims their approach to software development is Agile, and formal solicitations from government and commercial customers often ask for promises to use Agile as well as industry certifications for project personnel such as "scrum masters" who lead the sprints.

    Just because software developers say they are using Agile does not make it so.  My company InfoStrat is often called in to rescue projects that are supposedly Agile but are running behind or heading in the wrong direction.  Here are some warning signs that we look for to find out that a project has departed from Agile principles:

    1. There is nothing to demo. In an Agile project, each sprint results in deliverables which should work even if they are not functionally complete.  If you ask for a demo and there is nothing to show, be suspicious. 
    2. Form is valued over function.  In Agile, the goal is working software, but some projects are more focused on creating documentation than making a system work.
    3. Users are nowhere to be seen. Agile cannot work without input and feedback from users.  If you attend meetings to discuss a project and notice that users are missing, this could mean they are being kept at arms length from the project.
    4. People and teams disappear from time to time. A common feature of Agile is a short, daily meeting called a stand-up in which project participants provide updates.  Frequent in-person or online meetings are common in Agile development. 
    5. The development team is not motivated. Software development depends on people, not just their individual skills but also the way they work together as a group.  This is true for any software development methodology, but in Agile personnel weaknesses are hard to hide. 

    If your software project shows any of these symptoms, you could be in big trouble. Good development teams take take for introspection and improving their processes, so you can encourage them to remedy these symptoms and refocus on what really matters for your project.

    Although we work with technology, software development is a people business.  There are many ways to stifle performance of your team, or to create a team that does not work well together. I will explore some of the solutions to these problems in future blog posts.