Monday, February 27, 2017

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Social Selling Assistant: Finding Content to Share on Social Media

Microsoft recently released a new app for Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) called Social Selling Assistant, to help sales and marketing professionals find and share content on social media.  The product is a free download from Microsoft Appsource and installs in your instance of Dynamics 365 Sales.

Once you install Social Selling Assistant,  you configure your social media accounts and then search for content to share.  By consistently sharing content in your industry, you can build your following by attracting new followers as well as keep your followers engaged with fresh content.

I have not used the system long enough to determine the quality of the content or compare it to the results I would achieve using a search engine to find interesting news.  The advantage over posting manually is to have all your social outlets connected to simplify posting.

Microsoft Social Selling Assistant adjusts search results based on which articles you choose and reject over time.

Other products such as Buzzsumo, Klout and Hootsuite offer similar capabilities in free or paid versions, so Microsoft is entering a crowded marketplace.  For Microsoft Dynamics 365 users, having content sharing inside their Office 365 experience will be an advantage.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Microsoft SharePoint

I have been working with SharePoint since it was Microsoft Tahoe Server in 2001, and I have a soft spot in my heart for this software.  My company InfoStrat has been a Microsoft SharePoint Gold Partner, and we have implemented SharePoint at small companies, large federal agencies, and many clients in between.  I even wrote a book on SharePoint a long time ago.

SharePoint has risen in popularity over the years and may be more popular than ever today, even as its relevance and importance to Microsoft are declining.  Few products have endured as long as SharePoint, or had so many facets.  SharePoint is so many things -- document management, records management, portal, intranet, collaboration, workflow, search engine, business forms processing, even private social network, business data catalog and business intelligence tool.

Some of these have been quite successful and relatively stable throughout the life of the product. Others have come and gone, or been re-architected. Let's take a closer look at where they stand and how we arrived here:

These are bread and butter SharePoint features that Microsoft has not shifted to another product.

  • document management. Probably the steadiest capability in the product.  For lightweight doc management, including version control, approval workflows, and check-in, check-out capability, SharePoint meets the needs of the majority of businesses.  More intensive document management users will look elsewhere. 
  • intranet. SharePoint provides a quick, easy and inexpensive way to create an intranet.  To the extent that document management is handy along with content management, this is a compelling combination. 

These are viable and important features, but are shifting to Office 365.

  • collaboration. Since SharePoint was released, expectations for collaboration have changed. SharePoint excels for certain types of collaboration, particularly around document creation, but Microsoft is moving collaboration to Office 365 rather than in the confines of SharePoint. Microsoft also created a competitor to Slack called Microsoft Teams which is part of Office 365. 
  • workflow. As I wrote elsewhere, Microsoft has revamped its workflow automation strategy with Microsoft Flow, Azure Logic Apps, and PowerApps, taking a less parochial strategy which includes integration with Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, MailChimp and other products. 
  • portal. When SharePoint was released, portals were a hot product category that has subsequently faded.  Back then portals were a way to integrate data from multiple, heterogeneous sources into a single web page.  Microsoft used a technology called web parts to accomplish this.  Today Microsoft would like you to make Office 365 the center of your workday, arguably becoming a portal itself. 
  • document storage. In response to DropBox, Microsoft created SkyDrive which was later renamed OneDrive.  Free and paid storage plans are available, and OneDrive is included in Office 365.  If you don't need version control or authoring features of SharePoint, OneDrive is more convenient.  

Nice Try
All these capabilities have been included at one time or another in SharePoint, but are distant followers of competitive products.

  • search engine. Microsoft acquired the FAST search engine for $1.2 billion in 2008 which was added to SharePoint 2010 as a separate enterprise search option.  It was later integrated into SharePoint 2013.  
  • content management. When SharePoint first shipped, Microsoft offered Content Management Server (CMS) as its content management product (nice product name, eh?) for building websites.  When CMS as discontinued, users were advised that some of its features were incorporated in SharePoint, but SharePoint never became a competitive CMS for building your external-facing websites. 
  • records management.  Records management is a specialized form of document management which enforces policies for document retention.  It became more prominent because of provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which called for reforms in corporate accountability. Microsoft left full records management capability to third party SharePoint add-ins. 
  • business forms processing. Microsoft made several runs at creating electronic forms, the most well know of which in SharePoint was InfoPath, an XML-based form tool for creation and processing of rich, formatted documents with sophisticated validation.  InfoPath was discontinued after the 2013 version but still supported in SharePoint and Office 365. 
  • private social network. Microsoft acquired Yammer for $1.2 billion (same price as FAST) in 2012, and quickly created a plan for integration or at least co-existence of Yammer and SharePoint 2013.  Yammer is a Facebook clone for restricted audiences such as your company to share posts and other content. 
  • business data catalog. Because SharePoint data is stored in SQL Server, SharePoint could be used as a simpler front end to corporate data and a way to standardize your data model.  This approach has not gained traction, and Microsoft is promoting PowerBI to connect to your data whenerever it may be. 
  • business intelligence tool. SharePoint overlapped with the capabilities now available in PowerBI for dashboards and analysis.  

I don't blame Microsoft for continuing to evolve, or even for shifting its sales emphasis among products in its portfolio. It would have been nice to have a smoother migration path among product versions, but perhaps it was impractical given the amount of refactoring going on under the hood.

As of this writing, Office 365 is the center of the Microsoft business software universe.  SharePoint still lives on in Office 365, but some of its features such as workflow, application integration, and collaboration are shifting away from SharePoint per se. SharePoint may continue in one form or another into the next decade.

Finally, SharePoint is one of the best Microsoft product names ever.  It is unique, memorable, and possible to find meaningful web search results.  Try that with product names such as Team, Sales and Marketing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dynamics 365 and the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM)

My company InfoStrat has developed a number of public sector solutions which include case management for justice and public safety as well as social services, such as SAVIN360 victim notification.  We have adopted a reference model for the data elements called the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM).  This standard helps software architects standardize their data definitions so that they use a common language to track the people, things, cases, and other actions which are central to their automated systems.

NIEM is a useful companion to Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) because Dynamics 365 make it simple to standardize your data model and to rename objects such as entities, attributes, and field labels without programming.  By using Dynamics 365, you have a mechanism to efficiently enforce naming conventions and update your data model as your solution evolves.

NIEM is available in XSD and Microsoft Excel formats, as well as in Unified Modeling Language (UML) tools. You can learn more about the NIEM model here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

6 Tips on Getting the Most from Microsoft Consulting Services

Microsoft offers a range of professional services to help enterprise organizations with their implementation of Microsoft products and technologies. This organization is called Microsoft Services, and consists of a support organization as well as a professional services consulting organization.  The services arm was formerly called Microsoft Consulting Services and is still often referred to as MCS so I will use that shorthand in this blog post as well.

MCS has grown to the point that consultants outnumber other staff in the field sales offices in many locations. Microsoft has global reach, so you can find MCS people around the world.

Except for this article in Redmond Channel Partner, not much is written about MCS.  Therefore I am sharing my experiences and feedback I have received from customers on how to get the most out of MCS for your implementation.

Here are six tips:

  1. Use MCS when you need "reachback" to the product team.  MCS offers a unique value due to the close ties between consultants and the product organizations.  If you are making a big bet on a new Microsoft product and want to quickly resolve issues or even introduce suggestions on new enhancements or fixes, hiring MCS can be helpful.
  2. Architectural planning or validation.  Historically, MCS has been particularly strong on infrastructure and has been involved in planning the largest Active Directory networks in the world such as the U.S. Army.  Microsoft has developed best practices and network planning tools that will save you time.  Some of these are also available outside of an MCS services engagement.
  3. As part of a hybrid team.  Because MCS billing rates are more expensive than most Microsoft service provider companies, you may want to use MCS resources as part of an integrated team which also includes your employees and other Microsoft partners.  
  4. To jumpstart a project. If you don't have enough resources to get started or need training for your team, MCS can give you an initial boost to get the project underway.  Most of the time MCS does not prefer to stay for the long term because of demands from other clients, but Microsoft Premier Support services (part of Microsoft Services) are suitable for dedicated support personnel. 
  5. When your solution is pure Microsoft. Perhaps this tip is obvious, but although Microsoft consultants have broad backgrounds, they do not try to cover the entire spectrum of products so other resources may be better suited for non-Microsoft work.  
  6. Training on Microsoft methodologies. Microsoft has developed planning and implementation methodologies and can provide training to your team if you are implementing these. 

Microsoft Premiere Support for Enterprise is available to enterprise class Microsoft customers and offers a wide range of support services.  Notably, Premier Support representatives are assigned to your account and learn the details of your infrastructure and business solutions for a highly customized response to technical problems.  Other forms of Premier Support are available to Microsoft Partners and developers.

My company InfoStrat has subcontracted project work to MCS and acted as a subcontractor to MCS. We even include their services pricing on our GSA Schedule 70.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

As creators of Microsoft Grants Manager Plus for Dynamics 365, we receive many questions on the solution.  Here are some of those we receive most frequently:
  1. Does Grants Manager Plus work on my version of Dynamics CRM or Dynamics 365? Yes, the solution has been available since version 4.0 and we publish new versions on CodePlex for each new version of the product as they are released by Microsoft. 
  2. Does the Grants Manager Plus solution include a portal for grantees? No, the solution files do not include the portal as you have several options for the portal depending on your preferences for features and the deployment model.  This blog post has more information. InfoStrat also offers an optional portal:  
  3. Is there a video demonstration I can watch?  Check out the Grants Manager Plus channel on YouTube. 
  4. How much does Grants Manager Plus cost?  The solution is a free download, but you will need Microsoft Dynamics to run it.  InfoStrat has a cost calculator for Dynamics 365
  5. How can I integrate with my accounting system?  Grants Manager Plus includes integration points which can be customized and extended to meet your integration needs.  Out of the box, the integration points were built for Dynamics AX (Dynamics 365 Operations). 
  6. How does Grants Manager Plus handle documents such as attachments to the grant application? Dynamics 365 supports file attachments in Notes and also includes integration with SharePoint, either in Office 365 or deployed on premises. 
  7. What is the security model for Grants Manager Plus? Microsoft Grants Manager Plus is built on the Microsoft platform, including Dynamics 365 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. 
  8. Can I customize Grants Manager Plus for the specific requirements of my agency?  Yes, you can make customizations such as adding fields, reports, views, and workflows to the solution.
  9. Can Grants Manager Plus support multilingual grant applications? Yes, Microsoft supports localization and stores data in unicode so that you can tailor the solution for multiple target languages. 
  10. How can I learn more?  I have posted additional links in this blog post. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

InfoStrat's Quick Start for Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors (GovCon)

My company InfoStrat offers a special version of the Quick Start for Dynamics 365 service to help government contractors get up and running with the InfoStrat Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors (GovCon).  The service is completed in one week to help companies gain initial operating capability for their government capture management system.

We install the InfoStrat Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors (GovCon) solution in your instance of Dynamics 365.

Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors simplifies the capture process by allowing users to follow opportunities through the sales process from proposal and review phases to the final award phase. Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform to facilitate integration with ERP, accounting, and document management (SharePoint and Office 365).

The Quick Start includes initial customization and training to get you going with your capture process.  We have found that one of the benefits of conducting the Quick Start in only one week is that it engages users and business leaders so they make commitments to automation priorities rather than postpone their evaluation and miss out on some beneficial new features and performance.

For more of my posts on Dynamics 365:

Dynamics 365 Shows Microsoft's Bold Vision

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Pricing: 6 Reasons Not to Panic

Dynamics 365 and xRM: What Comes Next?

Understanding Microsoft AppSource and Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Team Members Subscriptions

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Microsoft FastTrack for Dynamics 365 for Sales, Field Service, Customer Service, and Project Service Automation

Dynamics 365 introduced a number of new Microsoft products as well as new subscription bundles which combine Dynamics 365 apps for Sales, Field Service, Customer Service and Project Service.   Microsoft has expanded its successful FastTrack program for Office 365 to include Dynamics 365.  Qualified customers can receive Microsoft Dynamics 365 onboarding services, consisting of workshops and tech talks to learn more about the power of Dynamics 365 and how it fits with the business requirements of your organization.

Source: Microsoft
Microsoft engages with customers throughout the migration and adoption process to increase the success of Dynamics 365.

Here are the eligibility guidelines for this program:

If you don't meet the FastTrack minimum seats to qualify, consider InfoStrat's QuickStart services for Dynamics 365.

Dynamics 365 FastTrack services include:

  • Initiation Services
  • Getting the Most from Dynamics Services
  • Tenant Administration & Operations Services
  • Federation Services
  • Performance Optimization Services
  • Solution Development Services
  • Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) Services
  • Data Migration Services
For more information on the FastTrack program, see the Microsoft Dynamics 365 FastTrack FAQ

For more on Dynamics 365, see the posts on the InfoStrat blog:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Customer Experience - Nurture Marketing Campaigns

If you have been in the market for a new car or a mortgage or even some electronics products, you have likely experienced nurture marketing - an automated set of processes to provide information at each step in your journey as a customer. For instance, when you search on a car website, such as or, you will start receiving emails based on your searches.  After you test drive a car, the dealer will follow up with emails or text (based on your communication preference) with special offers and car availability.

According to lead nurture software company Marketo:
  • On average, 50% of the leads in any system are not yet ready to buy (Marketo).
  • Almost 80% of new leads never become sales (MarketingSherpa).
  • Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at a 33% lower cost (Marketo).
  • Nurtured leads makes 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads (The Annuitas Group).

Setting up a nurture campaign is usually centered around a customer relationship management system (CRM) where all data on customers and prospects is stored. The nurture process specifies a series of communication steps and branches based on the behavior of the prospective customer.

For instance, my company InfoStrat might have a nurture campaign for our IT services that looks something like this:

  1. Customers who download a whitepaper on CRM later receive an email invitation to a webinar on the same topic.
  2. If that person signs up for a webinar, they receive a series of confirmations and reminders, and followup communications after the event takes place.
  3. The nurture campaign triggers an activity for a phone call to be placed to the prospect who shows high interest.
  4. A prospect whose interest drops may be contacted to opt in to the company email newsletter. 
Here is how the nurture looks in ClickDimensions:

Sample Nurture Campaign

This approach is much simpler through automation than to manually create all these communications and remember who is at what stage of their buying process. ClickDimensions is integrated into Microsoft Dynamics 365

As you learn more about your customers, you can refine how you communicate with them throughout the process, starting earlier with customized web content and extending to other channels such as social media. For instance, the Thunderhead ONE Engagement Hub allows you to customize your website so that it shows content which is more relevant in response to visitor behavior.  If I am looking at small SUVs, relevant content can be promoted to a more prominent position on the page, such as leasing deals or option packages. 

Many types of business can benefit from nurture marketing, not just those that target consumers.  As the desire of customers for information and buying research continues to grow, the relevance of digital transformation efforts such as nurture marketing will grow along with it.