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Showing posts from 2019

Navigating through Complex Cloud Computing Choices

By now most organizations are familiar with the benefits of moving their computing to the cloud, such as scalability, reliability, security and elimination of hardware costs.  What may be less clear is that for all this to work as advertised, a business process or application needs to be designed properly to work in the cloud.

Cloud computing presents information technology departments with a large number of competing services, architectures and deployment patterns.  Many of these options can be successfully implemented for a given business problem, so one of the challenges is to choose.

Your first choice might be among the cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, the Google Cloud Platform and Oracle.  Microsoft Azure offers hundreds of different services that provide overlapping features, not only including Microsoft operating systems but also open source leaders such as Linux.

Most custom cloud solutions require multiple services including authentication,…

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Community Business Development

Local governments agencies such as the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in my hometown of Washington, DC, - work on behalf of residents to improve living conditions, create economic opportunities and jobs by attracting businesses and helping businesses thrive. A customer relationship management system is key to work in community business development.  If you are a Microsoft customer, which apps in Dynamics 365 should you use for business development?
Core functions - All the Dynamics 365 modules track accounts (companies) and contacts (individuals) as well as activities such as phone calls, emails, letters, and meetings. Sales - Dynamics 365 for Sales provides the ability to track opportunities to attract startup businesses or businesses that are relocating from another area. Sales includes functions for qualify opportunities and working through all the steps in your workflow through a successful win.  You can ascribe dollars to opportunities as well as…

Key Concepts for Microsoft Dynamics 365: Entities and Attributes

To understand Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM and Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement), you need to learn some new terms and concepts that may be a bit different from what you know from databases and solutions that are hosted on premises. This is the second post in a series, and covers entities and attributes.

Entities are the most fundamental part of Dynamics 365 in terms of storing your business data.  They are similar in concept to database tables, and the relate to one another like tables in a relational database. For instance, Dynamics 365 has an entity called Contacts that stores data such as name, address, and email address of people that you track.   Accounts is a related entity that describes the organizations to which Contacts may belong.

Although they are similar to database tables, Dynamics entities allow you to do some customizations that are not possible in a standard database table.  Field labels, for instance, are part of an entity, and they may differ from …

PowerApps Portal: The Successor to Microsoft Dynamics Portal

In case you have been reviewing Microsoft's new pricing for its Dynamics products which was released this month and have been unable to find Dynamics Portal, it has been rebranded as PowerApps Portal and shifted to the PowerApps side of the Microsoft product family.


Rebranding the portal product underscores the importance of app scenarios involving external users such as customers and suppliers.  It also provides a simpler interface than Dynamics 365 for occasional users.

The new portal pricing is based on the number of unique users who log into the portal each month (for authenticated users) and on the number of page views for anonymous users.  "A login provides an external authenticated user access to a single portal for up to 24 hours. Multiple logins during the 24-hour period count as 1 billable login. Internal users can be licensed either by the PowerApps per app or per users plans, or a qualifying Dynamics 365 subscription."

Pricing starts at $200/mo. for 100 dail…

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Pricing: October 2019 Update

This month Microsoft announced new pricing for its Dynamics 365 family of products. This is the first major change in pricing since October 2017, when Dynamics CRM and Dynamics ERP products were rebranded, and several new apps were released.

The current major Dynamics 365 apps are:

Category Apps Marketing Marketing Customer Insights Sales Sales Microsoft Relationship Sales Sales Insights Customer Service Customer Service Customer Service Insights Field Service Field Service Customer Insights Remote Assist Guides Finance Finance Business Central Operations Supply Chain Management Project Service Automation Layout Business Central Retail Retail Fraud Protection Customer Insights Talent Talent Guides

For Low Code Software, Keep Requirements Low

According to industry analyst companies such as Gartner and Forrester, enterprise customers are increasingly turning to no code and low code platforms as an alternative to traditional custom development (now called hand-coded to evoke a feeling of labor intensity) in order to increase their agility and reduce expense and personnel.

According to Gartner, Microsoft is a leader in enterprise low-code platforms. Microsoft embodies many of the characteristics that organizations seek in adopting a low code approach:
Tools that employ a drag-and-drop approach well-suited for citizen developers and business developers. A broad platform of tools for many kinds of business applications. Standardization of tools across products. Innovative features like AI and Azure services such as a low-code AI Builder for including machine learning and vision AI capabilities in applications and workflows.Integration of the platform with Dynamics 365 which provides common business functions for sales, customer…

Key Concepts for Microsoft Dynamics 365: Tenant, Instance, App and Solution

To understand Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM), you need to learn some new terms and concepts that may be a bit different from what you know from databases and solutions that are hosted on premises.

This post introduces some of the key terms and how these concepts are important for planning your implementation.

While Dynamics 365 is available on premises, it is most commonly deployed on the Microsoft cloud.  This blog post discusses only cloud implementations. Microsoft has multiple clouds such as commercial and government community clouds.

We start with a Microsoft tenant.  A tenant is the account you create in the Microsoft Online Services environment (such as Office 365) when you sign up for a subscription. A tenant contains uniquely identified domains, users, security groups, and subscriptions.  Your tenant has a domain name of .onmicrosoft.com such as acme.onmicrosoft.com. 

User accounts belong to a tenant, and subscriptions are assigned to user accounts within a s…

Evaluate Dynamics 365 with a Proof of Concept

Choosing software is a big commitment, and you want to be sure that you don't regret your choice later.  One of the best ways to evaluate Microsoft Dynamics 365 and apps built on the Dynamics platform is to conduct a proof of concept.

Here are some of the keys to make your proof of concept (POC) successful:

Set a schedule and stick to it. You need a predefined beginning and end to the proof of concept.  One month has been good for InfoStrat clients, allowing for requirements gathering, training users and tackling key functional challenges.  Don't let it drag out beyond the deadline.  Involve the right users. Find users who are willing to devote the necessary time to participate.  Consider who your key stakeholders are and make sure they are represented.Provide training and support for users. Don't turn users loose on a system without providing orientation, training and support during the POC.  Most business software is sufficiently complex that it is not reasonable to expe…

Tracking Feature Deprecations in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement

Cloud solution providers such as Microsoft have stepped up the pace of innovation, and are releasing features continuously rather than their traditional pattern of major releases every year or two.  This fast innovation means that users see new features and enhancements often, and you must account for how to train them to take advantage of them.

It also means that some old features are eliminated or replaced - this is called deprecation.  Microsoft publishes deprecation plans to alert administrators and developers so they can make timely changes to their solutions before a new version makes a feature break.

The typical pattern is to announce a feature deprecation more than one version in advance, sometimes supporting the old feature and the new feature, then issuing an update which eliminates the old feature.

Deprecation affects many aspects of Dynamics 365:

Apps or plug-ins may be deprecated, such as the Outlook Add-in for Dynamics which was replaced with the Outlook Dynamics App, or…

Use Azure Machine Learning for Spam Detection in Email to Case process in Dynamics 365

The following is a guest post from InfoStrat's Dmitri Riz which is also available on the InfoStrat Tech Blog.

Major software platforms like Microsoft Azure are rapidly developing toolkits that simplify access to AI or Machine Learning technologies, making them available to a wider group of developers. This article shows how the new AI Builder tool on Microsoft Azure PowerApps allows for a quick development of a text classifier model and easy integration of the trained model in Dynamics 365 data processing.

I'll use the Dynamics 365 Email to Case process as a use case. Several of our clients are using this process to generate vast amount of customer support cases from incoming emails. Many of spam emails clear regular email filters and end up as cases in Dynamics, forcing Customer Service Reps to manually tag them as spam and close them.

The resulting set of spam cases represents a perfect training set for a binary text classifier model where feature text is represented by the…

Be Careful Deleting Users in Microsoft Dynamics 365

Deleting users and reassigning licenses in Microsoft Dynamics 365 requires some planning and consideration.  Otherwise, you may experience undesired consequences.  Deleting and deactivating users can be complex and involve multiple administrators.

For Dynamics 365 deployed on premises, you can disable a user, but online you need to remove the license to disable.

Here are some top considerations: Reassign records in CRM. Do you want to reassign record ownership for cases, opportunities, accounts, contacts and other entities?  If so, deleting a user will not do this automatically so you should update with Advanced Find or another approach. Does the user own workflows?  If so, new system jobs will fail when you disable or delete the user.  This is a good reason to use system accounts that are not subject to change as the owner for these processes. Deleting users in Dynamics is not the same as deleting them in Office 365.   Some organizations have different administrators for Dynamics and …

Automating Your GovCon Wins in CRM

Microsoft is rolling out a series of enhancements to the Dynamics 365 for Sales app which will make government contractors happy and which InfoStrat is incorporating into its Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors solution.

One of the best new features is customization of the Opportunity Close dialog box. Microsoft is opening up this feature so developers can treat it more like other CRM forms. 

Today, the options for what happens when an opportunity is closed (won, lost or cancelled) are limited.  You can create workarounds, but Microsoft's new approach makes it more straightforward. Here are some of the things you may want to automate at the time you close an opportunity:


Add new fields to provide insights on wins and losses.  At the time the opportunity is closed you may have information from the customer that will help you improve your sales strategy in the future.  You can capture these insights when the opportunity is closed.  This complements the opportunity scoring in the…

7 Factors in Choosing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Package

Many business reach a point in their growth when they consider implementing their first customer relationship management system (CRM).  Some of them start by using Excel or SharePoint for tracking customer data, then reach a point when they need functions that these tools do not easily provide, such as reports and dashboards or integration with other systems.

There is a wealth of online information available to companies shopping for CRM, so this blog post provides a starting point on some key factors to consider:
Write down your requirements. A list of business needs will help you evaluate CRM options.  For instance, a requirement might be to allow customers to submit customer service cases online, or for sales people to track their performance for commissions. Find something geared toward your industry. Not all businesses are the same, and many CRM systems are available which are tailored to your specific vertical (industry). For instance, you can find a CRM for insurance sales, hea…

Microsoft to Change Dynamics 365 Subscription Plans

According to an article on ZDNetlast week and an earlier article in MSDynamicsWorld, Microsoft is planning to change the pricing and package of Dynamics 365 apps.  At present customers can purchase apps a la carte or buy a bundle or suite of apps.  For instance, the Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Plan is listed for US$115/user/mo. and includes 5 apps which each are priced at $95/user/mo.

Microsoft may change their plans between now and October 1 when these changes were likely to go into effect.  Many customers only use one or two apps, and their pricing would not change under the new scheme.  You may want to keep an eye on the Dynamics pricing page for changes if you are planning on purchasing new subscriptions soon.


When is a Sales Opportunity an Opportunity in Your CRM?

Sales force automation is one of the three biggest reasons to implement a customer relationship management system, but some of the business rules for tracking sales are not universal to all businesses.  For instance, CRM products such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce center on tracking sales opportunities.  How you define opportunities for your business may be different from how other companies track their sales.

A person or company alone is not an opportunity.  They might be a prospect for you, but to be an opportunity you must define what it is that they might purchase. 

Some companies do not enter opportunities into their CRM until they are qualified.  Qualification means determining a basis for projecting that something will be sold.  Usually it requires that you determine what will be sold, its value and the timeframe for the purchase.  Other CRM users enter opportunities before they are qualified and leave the estimated value and project close date blank until the oppor…

Gap Analysis for Dynamics 365 (CRM) Implementations

Gap analysis explores the differences between your software requirements and the as-is features of an off-the-shelf product such as Microsoft Dynamics 365. It is one of the most useful techniques in a customer relationship management implementation.

Determining software requirements is a challenging process, and requires guidance and facilitation to help end user identify their needs and priorities.  If you start virtually with a blank sheet of paper, as is typical in custom software development, it is hard to know where to begin.  Users can easily go astray in coming up with software requirements.

Gap analysis starts with a working system, and focuses on the changes that are necessary to make the system meet the functional and performance goals of users.  For instance, here are some gaps that we explore in implementing a sales force management solution with Microsoft Dynamics 365:

Look at the account form.  Analyze each field and determine whether you track this information.  Are the…

Grants Manager Plus for Victim Assistance Grants

InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus supports the full lifecycle of grants for victim assistance, such as those under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), the The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and state victim assistance programs.

The goals of grants for victim assistance are to prevent violent crime, respond to the needs of crime victims, and educate the public on crime and victim issues.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA; Title IV of P.L. 103-322) was originally enacted in
1994. It addressed congressional concerns about violent crime, and violence against women in
particular, in several ways. It allowed for enhanced sentencing of repeat federal sex offenders;
mandated restitution to victims of specified federal sex offenses; and authorized grants to state,
local, and tribal law enforcement entities to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women, among other things. through a collaborative effort by the criminal justice system, social service agencies, research organiz…

Low Code Solutions Require High Knowledge

Low code solutions such as Microsoft Flow and PowerApps offer faster development of some types of software solutions.  These products allow non-developers to create solutions or apps for functions such as approvals, routing or even integrating data for multiple systems.

Writing successful solutions, even without coding, requires quite a bit of knowledge and experience.  Here are some of the fundamental areas which are prerequisites:


Understanding business processes. If you do not understand your business process, you cannot automate it.  This means a solid grasp of the data, the steps in the process, and how exceptions and errors are handled.  Normally this knowledge is in the domain of a business analyst.  Understanding data modeling. Most solutions involve some data storage, so you must understand field types, relationships, and concepts such as normalization to come up with an efficient data model. Mastering the low code tool. You must thoroughly understand the product you are usin…

InfoStrat Releases New Videos for Grants Manager Plus

Grants Manager Plus is one of InfoStrat's most popular solutions and is geared toward the needs of grantor organizations.  InfoStrat recently released a new version and also new editions.

Last week two new videos were published to help customers understand how Grants Manager Plus works. The first is background information on the concepts and design goals behind Grants Manager Plus, as well as the architecture of the solution:



The second is a demonstration of the grantee portal in action, explaining key functions and features used by grant applicants and grantees.


For more information on Grants Manager Plus, see my blog posts including these:

5 Ways to Ensure Compliance with Your Grant Management System
6 Things to Look for in Grant Management Software
Estimating the Cost of a Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Implementation
Extending Grants Manager Plus
Flexible Grant Management Software: Long Term Considerations
Grant Management for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
Grant Management…

InfoStrat Earns Microsoft Gold DevOps Competency

InfoStrat has earned the new Microsoft Gold Competency for DevOps as part of the Microsoft Partner Program.  DevOps is a key part of cloud computing, and helps organizations close the gap between software development (Dev) and operations (Ops).

The DevOps Gold Competency shows a commitment to mastering cloud tools for DevOps which relate to Microsoft Azure, not only Microsoft products such as Service Fabric, Visual Studio, Teams and GitHub, but products from other vendors such as Slack, Kubernetes, Jenkins, Chef, Terraform and others.

InfoStrat's clients are moving toward DevOps along with the transition to Agile software development methodologies.  Microsoft has not only maintained a position of leadership with its own offerings, but the openness of Microsoft to other vendors is fostering a strong DevOps ecosystem throughout the industry.

Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Flow Licensing for Beginners

Next month marks two years since Microsoft announced the preview of its Flow workflow automation product.  Since then, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow have been gaining in popularity.

We at InfoStrat are receiving more questions from customers on how PowerApps and Flow are licensed by Microsoft.  This is a brief overview with links to authoritative Microsoft resources with all the details.

What are PowerApps and Flow? Microsoft PowerApps is a framework derived from Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) that allow you to build apps either with or without a form interface.  PowerApps works with Microsoft Flow.

Microsoft Flow is is a cloud software tool to build automated workflows that connect to many Microsoft and non-Microsoft systems and services.  For instance, you could write a workflow which would create a record in Dynamics 365 whenever a new file is dropped in a SharePoint folder, or create a contact in Salesforce based on an email sent to your sales alias.

Both PowerApps and Flow a…