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5 Pitfalls in Choosing Cloud Business Software Such as CRM

Choosing a business software package such as Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, SAP or Oracle is a daunting task, and the process can lead you astray in making the best decision for your organization.

There is no shortcut to finding the right product.  Choosing the best selling or fastest growing software product does not guarantee you will be successful in your company with that product.

Software categories are complex, and many products are geared toward specific industries or to companies of a certain size.  If a small company tried to implement a product such as SAP enterprise resource planning which is successful with large global companies, it could easily find itself overwhelmed and the implementation price could exceed annual company revenue.  On the other hand, a large company with global subsidiaries, complex tax rules, and high number of users and transactions would not likely be successful with QuickBooks.

One of the approaches to choosing software is to create a list of des…

MVP is Not Just for Startups

One of the key goals for startups is to release their products quickly, which has lead to a minimum viable product (MVP) approach.  Speed to market is so important that it's better to release a product before all the desired features are present so you can capture market share and use customer feedback to help you prioritize the introduction of new features.

The challenge of the MVP approach is to determine what "viable" means.  If you launch without sufficient features, your product may fail to attract any customers, or disappoint your first customers. But if you wait, competitors are likely to step in with their own offerings.

The MVP concept is not only applicable to startups and commercial companies that are selling products, but also to internal software projects for companies, government agencies, and non-profits.  Too often I have seen scope creep add to the feature list of a software product and delay launch dates for weeks or months.

Using MVP principles, your …

Enhanced Support for Microsoft Dynamics 365

Microsoft offers customers a range of support services, from standard support included with software licenses and subscriptions, to Premier support which can included dedicated onsite staff. 

Dynamics 365 customers can also purchase something in-between - Enhanced Support for Dynamics 365, geared toward small businesses who do not purchase Premier support.  This support offering provides many support and training benefits as listed below:


The price is only $5/user/month which makes it one of Microsoft's most affordable plans. 

You can order Enhanced Support for Dynamics 365 on the Office 365 admin portal.  Full instructions on ordering subscriptions are available here.

New InfoStrat Blog Launches

InfoStrat has launched a new blog devoted to technical answers and tips.  These will be on software topics including custom development, CRM, Dynamics 365, Azure, Adobe, Sitecore, SharePoint and other products. 

Stay tuned for frequent additions to the new InfoStrat blog. 

I will continue to post my observations and insights on software and related topics on this blog.

Azure Service Fabric: Understanding Microservices

Microsoft Azure Service Fabric helps developers build applications based on microservices to allow better scalability, faster deployment and upgrades, reduced resource costs and enhanced management capabilities.

Microservices is the latest stage of the trend to divide applications into component parts.  This trend leads to separation of the user interface, business logic, storage and other elements that make up an application.  It has been manifest in shared libraries and technology layers, and created greater mobility and scalability of applications.

A monolithic approach to application development contains all its functionality and is typically scaled by adding more instances of physical or virtual services.


Microservices take this logic much further.  They ideally are autonomous and interact with each other through well defined protocols.  Microservices may be developed in many programming languages and run in many environments, but they are compatible with each other because of s…

User Stories for Grants Manager Plus

My company InfoStrat offers government software solutions, and our most popular has been Microsoft Grants Manager Plus, based on Dynamics 365.  I receive inquiries on this solution from around the world, and the most common questions include how long it will take to implement and how much will it cost.

User stories which describe your grant program and business processes are essential to determine the scope of the project and create accurate estimates for an implementation.  User stories are descriptions of a process from the point of view of a user role.  They do not include technical details of the implementation but they capture business rules and data elements that are tracked for a specific scenario.

To create user stories for Grants Manager Plus, first identify how many grant programs you offer.  Do different programs have distinct business processes or track different data?  If they use the same processes and data, you can create fewer user stories.  Often our clients have som…

Microsoft Azure for Recovery Sites and Failover

Whether you are operating your servers on premises or in the cloud, a cloud service like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform are ideal for supporting recovery of sites in case of hardware or communications failures.  If your servers are primarily at your data center, having additional servers at that facility may not help your users if access is cut off due to a natural disaster or other event.  Recent floods in North Carolina and South Carolina remind us of how infrastructure can be vulnerable to weather. 

Microsoft Azure provides you a resource for building failover and maintenance sites which will be up and running even when your data center cannot be.   Microsoft offers technical documentation and videos that take you through the steps of establishing recovery sites.


These techniques are based on several failover scenarios, including these:

FailoverSourceTargetAzure to AzureAzure regionAzure regionVMware to AzureConfiguration serverAzurePhysical machines t…

DevOps for Microsoft Dynamics

Much has been written about how Microsoft Dynamics may be used to create software solutions using configuration to replace extensive coding needed for traditional software development.  This "low code" approach can save time and reduce costs for building and implementing business solutions for some scenarios.

At the same time, development tools and processes for "low code" are not as mature as those for most software development, especially for large and complex projects with multiple developers.  The tools are catching up and Dynamics implementers and administrators are adopting best practices for rolling out Dynamics solutions.  One of the most important of these approaches is DevOps. The goal of DevOps is to shorten the time between software iterations by integrating development and operations processes.  One of the chief ways to accomplish this goal is through automation of the software build and deployment processes.

Last weekend I attended a session on DevOp…

Microsoft Dynamics Customer Service Best Practices

By Ayesha Mirza, senior consultant at InfoStrat
One of the key initiatives of customer service is to make tasks easier for both the customer and customer service agents. Customers want to find information and customer service agents have the need to process, absorb and promote information requests in order to provide an adequate customer experience.
Streamlining this flow of information requires planning and a robust platform such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 to bridge the gap between the customer experience and agent activities.
This post describes our approach and best practices to consider while implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service. ·         Strategy – Plan out your implementation from the start. Define purpose, scale, budget, baselines, promotion, delivery, maintenance and escalation methods prior to kick-off. This will aid in clarifying internal and business expectations and help keep costs and schedule as projected. The approach can be defined …

Learning About Microsoft Azure: What is Azure?

Microsoft Azure is one of the big three cloud computing services (along with Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform ) and has been growing rapidly for many years.  The following highlights key concepts for those who may be new to Azure.  These topics are geared toward a CIO or CTO rather than a network expert or developer who may be researching more advanced topics.

Many of the cloud computing concepts explored here apply to Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform as well.
What is Azure? Azure is the Microsoft brand for cloud computing services.  Some, but not all Microsoft Cloud products are purchased and managed through Azure.  The largest exception is Microsoft Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft Office which is sold under its own brand and managed from its own console.  Similarly, Dynamics 365 runs in the Microsoft cloud but is not managed from Azure but rather from Office 365. Azure and Office 365 do overlap and interact to the extent that Azure offers…

Capture Management in CRM for Government IDIQ and BPAs

Government agencies often create blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) and indefinite date indefinite quantity (IDIQ) orders in order to simplify procurement, so that they can have a smaller number of bidders respond to requirements and to set prices for products and services that they know they will need in the future.

Tracking these BPA and IDIQ opportunities in your customer relationship management (CRM) system is a bit different from tracking an individual contract opportunity.  While many of the data elements you track will be the same, you do not know the dollar value of the contract until orders are subsequently submitted.

One decision for you to make in your reporting is to decide whether to include an estimated value for the BPA or to count it as zero dollars and assign the dollar value only to task orders.  If you choose to give the BPA a value and also each task order, some reports will end up double-counting the revenue because only won orders generate revenue.

You may also …

The Story of InfoStrat and Grant Management

I am often asked how InfoStrat became involved in grants management and why Microsoft chose InfoStrat to develop its grant management solutions Stimulus360 and Grants Manager Plus.

Since the late 1990s, InfoStrat has been working in grants management for state, local, and federal agencies.  In 2009, we were contracted by Microsoft to build the Microsoft Stimulus360 ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) Grant Management system which we deployed in the states of California, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, cities including Chicago and Seattle and counties such as Harris County, Texas, Los Angeles County, California and Cook County, Illinois.

Since then Grants Manager Plus has been adopted by grantors in many countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

In January of 2011, InfoStrat worked with Microsoft to launch the next version of Stimulus360 as the Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Accelerator. It was initially called Grants360.  We continue to maint…

Getting the Most Out of Dynamics 365 Upgrades

Microsoft has settled into a schedule of providing significant enhancements to Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) every six months, so all of us who use the product must adapt to being in a constant state of adopting new features and preparing for the next upgrade.  Microsoft is investing heavily in development of Dynamics, and pouring the fruits of research and development such as artificial intelligence and analytics into the product.

The question for my clients is how to get the most out of this cycle of constant integration.  They want to know how much an upgrade will cost and how long it will take.  Here are some considerations that may help you make the best trade-offs for your organization.

I divide upgrades into three types of changes.   The easiest are improvements in performance or changes in the user interface that require no action on our part.  If forms or reports run faster, or Microsoft adds a new item to a toolbar, these improve the product without asking for a trad…

Alternative Interfaces for Dynamics 365 (formerly CRM)

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a leading CRM package, and its web interface packs a great deal of power and flexibility.  But what if you don't like they way that it looks, or you want to streamline it a bit for some users or functions?
Although it may not be apparent to first time users, there are several interfaces to Dynamics 365 at your fingertips that do not require any coding or development.
Using the form editor, you can create form variations. This allows users to see only fields that they need and to change the field order where appropriate.  You can do this for mobile forms as well as forms to be accessed with a PC or Mac. If you don't like the way that Dynamics dashboards look, PowerBI dashboards provides quite different dashboard experience which may be desirable for some users https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7AAujMPEcwMicrosoft offers several mobile apps for Dynamics, all of which are available at no extra charge.  https://www.youtub…

Mining Your CRM Data Using Artificial Intelligence and Analytics

One of the hottest topics in information technology today is using artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics tools to help you identify patterns which can guide you in digital transformation efforts.

To make these efforts fruitful, your first hurdle is to identify data worth mining.  For many organizations, your CRM system is a great place to start.  If you have used CRM such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM), Salesforce, Oracle, Adobe, SAP or Siebel for several years, you are likely to have built up a repository of data which reflects your organization's customers, vendors, and stakeholders as well as your interactions with them through customer service, sales and marketing efforts.

The leading CRM vendors are in a race to add AI and machine learning to their products.  Microsoft claims that over 682,000 developers are using their Azure Cognitive ServicesAI features in CRM include automated responses to customer inquiries, alerts to sales staff, and segmentat…