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