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Solicitations for Cloud Computing Need to Reflect Cloud Reality

For several years the information technology industry has been migrating from traditional on premises deployment of software in the data center to cloud computing hosted by industry leaders such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.  Solicitations for new software often fail to reflect the reality of cloud computing.Here are some of the ways that solicitations (also called tenders and requests for proposals) miss the mark:Asking for hardware requirements.  Cloud solutions do not require server hardware, but often the solicitation includes hardware questions and specifications. Unrealistic availability goals. Availability of servers is usually stated in terms of the percentage of uptime. Some solicitations call for 99.999% uptime.  This amounts to a bit over 5 minutes downtime in a year.  The total availability of a system is calculated as the product of all the availability service level agreements (SLAs) of its constituent elements.  AWS and Microsoft offer different SLAs for t…

Personalize Your Sales Process with CRM

Sales force automation is one of the most popular apps of customer relationship management (CRM).  Whether you choose Microsoft Dynamics 365, Salesforce, or another CRM product, sales is likely near the top of your priorities. What makes a sales organization successful, however, varies significantly from one company to another based on the targeted sales segments and the position of the company within its industry.  Companies that sell direct to consumers online may receive a large number of leads through search ads or email marketing campaigns, and deals may be closed without labor-extensive interactions such as phone calls or meetings which may be appropriate for large-ticket items such as finding commercial real estate or purchasing expensive information technology solutions.   Large companies with dominant positions in their industry may take a different sales approach than startups trying to break into a new market. 
The differences in sales processes mean that optimizing your CRM …

Energize your Intranet with Microsoft Power Apps and Customer Voice

This is a followup to my earlier post "Replacing Microsoft InfoPath with Power Apps" which discussed the discontinuation of the InfoPath form tool which was previously used in conjunction with SharePoint for many internal corporate applications typical on an intranet. Since then, Microsoft renamed the Forms Pro product Dynamics 365 Customer Voice. This is not to be confused with Microsoft's Voice of the Customer product which was deprecated in July 2020 to be replaced by Forms Pro. Power Apps is the platform on which Microsoft Dynamics 365 apps, at least those apps derived from what was formerly called Dynamics CRM, are built.  You can use Power Apps to create two types of apps -- canvas apps which are designed in a drag-and-drop fashion for relatively simple standalone needs and model-driven apps which are based on the Dynamics 365 Unified Interface and which can support sophisticated workflows in the same way that they are handled by Dynamics 365. I feel that intranets…

InfoStrat Wins SAVIN Contract with State of Iowa

InfoStrat, a division of Serenic Software,is pleased to announce that it has entered into a contract with the State of Iowa Department of Justice, specifically its Crime Victim Assistance Division ("Iowa"), to implement and fully support its SAVIN 360 victim notification solution. The contract lasts through June 2024, and may be extended for up to two additional three-year terms at Iowa's option.Information Strategies Inc. ("InfoStrat"), which Sylogist acquired in April 2020, has developed the SAVIN 360 solution as a modern and extensible system for victim services, to help correction agencies manage contacts and alerts when offenders are to be transferred or released. SAVIN is built on the proven Microsoft Dynamics 365 and SharePoint platforms, which provide flexibility, scalability, integration capabilities, and powerful workflow features.Jim Wilson, President and CEO of Sylogist commented, "This is a significant achievement for Sylogist. Our SAVIN solut…

Grant Management Implications of New Accounting Requirements for GAAP - ASU No. 2018-08

While grant management may seem like a simple, mature process to the outsider, it is constantly changing to meet new regulatory requirements. Nonprofit organizations are implementing changes to Generally Acceptable Accounting Practices (GAAP) for gifts and donations which were originally released in June 2018 by the Financial Accounting Standards Board as Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2018-08
The central topic of this update is to provide guidance on recognizing contributions made and contributions received.  Implementing the standard may require organizations that receive grants to track information they may not have tracked in the past, and to be clear about any contributions which carry conditions.  These conditions affect when the revenue is recognized, delaying recognition until conditions are met rather than recognizing immediately as would be the case with an unconditional gift.
The standards apply to private organizations including non-profits that receive and make contrib…

Microsoft Introduces Project Oakdale to improve the Microsoft Power Platform integration with Microsoft Teams

Yesterday at the Inspire event Microsoft announced a new product called Dataflex, subsequently renamed  Project Oakdale which is build on the Power Apps Common Data Service.   Project Oakdalesimplifies building and deploying apps and intelligent chatbots in Teams with Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Power Virtual Agents.  
The rapid expansion of remote working during the COVID-19 crisis has fueled adoption of Microsoft Teams.  Project Oakdale adds features to make Teams more competitive to products such as Slack.  The new functionality of Project Oakdale allows apps and bots to be created from inside Microsoft Teams. This means that organizations can access more data without leaving Teams for other apps. 


Adoption of Teams strengthens the appeal of Office 356.  Some companies that rarely used Teams or even maintained subscriptions to online meeting products such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and Webex have come to appreciate Teams for internal and external collaboration.  The enhanced securit…

Data and Documents for Grant Management

Managing government and non-profit grants usually requires a combination of structured data along with documents to track all the information required for applications, review, award and post-award reporting.  One of the more important design decisions you can make in implementing grant management software is to determine the proper place for structured data and documents, that is which information is stored where. By a structured database, I mean data that is divided into fields and records which is typically stored in a database.  Structured data lends itself to validation, such as restricting entry to defined data types, making fields required, or checking the data entered against a rule such as minimum and maximum values.
Documents are sometimes needed to capture less structured narrative such as a project description, or to print a well formatted paper document for a signature.  Online documents can have some validation rules themselves, and even some logic such as fields that are …

Understanding Microsoft Dynamics Products

One of Microsoft's growth engines is the Dynamics family of products.  These are business software applications that include enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, finance, operations, human resources, customer relationship management (CRM) and even mixed reality and artificial intelligence. In contrast to operating systems and general purpose applications such as Office 365, Word, PowerPoint, and Teams, Dynamics 365 products are for businesses rather than personal use.  In fact, the Dynamics group was formerly called Microsoft Business Systems. Every week I get questions from customers about Dynamics 365, so I thought some background in a post like this might be helpful for those who are considering Dynamics products.  

Here is Microsoft's list of application categories for Dynamics:


As the figure above illustrates, there are many product categories and Dynamics products, and Microsoft is adding new ones each year. The Dynamics 365 products have evolved as three groups:…

CPA Practice Advisor 2020 Review of Serenic Navigator for NPO

The latest review of Serenic’s comprehensive ERP solution for non-profit organizations, Serenic Navigator for NPO, is featured in CPA Practice Advisor. The review describes the requirements of non-profit organizations, such as accounting, management and administrative needs and how they can meet their needs from a single solution – Serenic Navigator for NPO.  The Serenic Navigator for NPO includes Accounting and Financial Management, Award Management, Budgeting and Expense Tracking, Payroll & Human Resources, and Analytics and Reporting. Optional modules including Deposits and Loans, Field Connect, and Donor Management with DonorDirect are also available. In addition, as an embedded Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central solution, complete integration with Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, is available as well. CPA Practice Advisor rated Serenic Navigator for NPO a 5-star rating based on the completeness of its functions, the grant management capability an…

NaviPayroll from Serenic Software Now Available on Microsoft AppSource

Serenic Software is now offering it NaviPayroll on Microsoft AppSource. NaviPayroll is an integrated payroll and HR solution and the most widely used add-in for businesses using Microsoft Dynamics™ 365 Business Central. By using NaviPayroll as part of Dynamics 365 Business Central, organizations maintain full control of their most sensitive employee data. 
NaviPayroll provides a range of functions for all types of organizations, including: Complete Payroll ProcessingDefine an unlimited number of pay controlsDefine pay cycles to suit the businessSupport multiple business locations and job typesCustomizable earnings distributionsEnter, track and report pay by hour, pay cycle, and sourceCalculate commissions and track and post expenses, automatically calculate taxes, print checksCreate direct deposits and automatically export direct deposit filesAutomatic postings to General Ledger, Accounts PayableMass updates and automatic accrualsTax & Regulatory Updates for U.S. and CanadaHuman Res…

COVID-19 Crisis Highlights Need for Online Presence for Businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people and businesses to adjust to social distancing with new behaviors. 
Many businesses such as retail and restaurants have had their physical locations closed and forced to conduct all their transactions online.  Some of these businesses already had web infrastructure and delivery capabilities in place.  Others scrambled to create new ways to place orders and pay for products and services online.

These challenges have underscored the need for flexibility in your web presence.  For those who are active on social media, these platforms have been valuable to share updates on the status of institutions.  Churches have broadcast online with Facebook, and Twitter is a great source for sharing breaking news.  LinkedIn provides similar capabilities for businesses to maintain contact with customers and suppliers. 
One of the lessons for bricks and mortar companies may be to develop online alternatives to deliver their products and services.  I, for one, may be…

Victim Offender Mediation Tracking

InfoStrat's SAVIN 360 solution provides comprehensive victim notifications for prisons and jails, and that is not all.  The victim and offender data required for victim notification may be used for related solutions, such as victim grants, case work, and more, as part of a wholistic approach to victim offender services.

Victim-offender mediation (VOM) or victim-offender dialogue (VOD) is a process that provides interested victims (primarily those of property crimes and minor assaults) the opportunity to meet their offenders in a safe and structured setting. The goal is to hold offenders directly accountable while providing important support and assistance to victims.

The non-profit Just Alternatives provides an excellent overview of VOD programs https://justalternatives.org/research-project-work/vod-guide-to-best-practices/ showing the steady adoption of VOD/VOM by many states over the last 30 years. The approaches taken by states such as Texas, New York, Iowa, Wisconsin, Louisian…

InfoStrat Case Study: Victim Notification for State of Texas

InfoStrat, a division of Serenic, specializes in government software solutions. Some of these solutions are for applications you may not have thought of, such as victim notification.  The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Victim Services Division provides notifications to victims of crimes and their supporters about changes in offender custody and status. 
Business Situation TDCJ called for a state of the art information management system to administer accurate, personalized and timely alerts to keep registrants informed of the Department's offender decisions.  In addition, the system needed to provide easy access to client service information in order to demonstrate the fulfillment of grant funding organization requirements.
Solution InfoStrat implemented the SAVIN360 solution based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly CRM) in conjunction with an integrated portal for alert registration.  TDCJ IVSS uses cloud-based call center services, email notification, text message, text…

Serenic Software Acquires InfoStrat

This week marks the biggest news ever for InfoStrat – the company that I founded 33 years ago.
We are pleased to announce that InfoStrat was acquired by Serenic Software, through its parent, Sylogist Ltd. We are excited to join an organization who offers complementary solutions for key markets including public sector, nonprofit and NGO organizations. This is a significant investment and another example of Serenic’s dedication to service and growth in its key markets. Sylogist’s stock is traded on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol SYZ.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to this company and to reach a larger and broader customer audience in the United States, Canada, and Europe. We will continue to create and deliver successful software implementations in our key markets delivering solutions that meet customer requirements and exceed their expectations.

Congratulate Jimmy Kuo for 20 Years at InfoStrat

I am happy to congratulate Jimmy Kuo on his 20th work anniversary at InfoStrat.  Jimmy has served as our chief technology officer and director of the InfoStrat Azure and SharePoint practices. 

More than that, Jimmy has exemplified that can do attitude and continuous learning that InfoStrat seeks in its consultants.  He is one of the few people I have known who are both developers and infrastructure experts.  For this reason, our consultants contact him with the most challenging issues. 

Jimmy lead InfoStrat in developing our hosting and cloud strategies.  He has maintained InfoStrat infrastructure even while being fully engaged in client projects.  In the face of all the challenges we have thrown at him, Jimmy maintains a great sense of humor and devotes himself to his family. 

We are lucky to have Jimmy in the InfoStrat leadership team.

InfoStrat's Robert Shurtleff Named as Microsoft Dynamics 365 FastTrack Recognized Solution Architect

Congratulations to InfoStrat Senior Solution Architect Robert Shurtleff as one of the 36 elite 2020 FastTrack Recognized Solution Architects for Dynamics 365.

FastTrack Recognized Solution Architect is a recognition conferred by the Dynamics 365 product engineering team upon a practicing solution architect, for consistently exhibiting deep architecture expertise and creating high quality solutions for customers during Dynamics 365 FastTrack governed engagements. A FastTrack Recognized Solution Architect typically works for a system integrator partner with a Dynamics 365 practice. Read about the architects who have achieved this distinction below.

Learn more about the elite pool of solution architects at aka.ms/D365FTRSA

User Stories for Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors

[COVID-19 Note: When the COVID-19 crisis took hold over the United States, I stopped blogging.  Now that we have become more accustomed to our current social distancing and have a clearer forecast of the end of the crisis, I am back.]

One of our most popular InfoStrat solutions is Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors.  At some point, most government contractors reach a point where they are no longer content to track their sales pipeline in a spreadsheet and the adopt a customer relationship management (CRM) product to manage the capture process.

Unfortunately, the most popular CRM products such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 do not contain the opportunity fields, capture processes or reporting that a government contractor needs. They do not reflect all the stages for a government sale such as presolicitation, request for information, request for quote, best and final offer, oral presentations, downselecting and more.

User stories which describe your sales processes are e…

Building a Team for a Dynamics 365 (formerly CRM) Implementation

For most organizations, implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) is a team effort.  The size and composition of the team will depend on the scope of the implementation, the timetable, and related efforts such as data migration and integrations.

Here are the roles that my company InfoStrat typically sees for a medium-sized implementation project:

Project Manager. The PM and the technical lead are the most critical roles on the project.  A large project may also include a deputy project manager to cover when the PM is not available.  Prior experience with Dynamics 365 is valuable to understand how an off-the-shelf implementation is different from a custom software development project.  Most of our projects follow an Agile development methodology, so this post assumes Agile in describing the roles of the team members.  Technical Lead.  The tech lead is the senior technical team member and provides technical direction to the team.  Prior Dynamics 365 implementation is m…

InfoStrat Grants Manager Plus Overview

Grants Manager Plus is one of InfoStrat's most popular software solutions. We developed Grants Manager Plus to help grantor organizations streamline their grant processes.We've built Grant Management Solutions for public sector since the late 1990s.  We developed Stimulus 360 for Microsoft in 2009 to help state and local government track stimulus funding.  Grants Manager Plus was introduced in 2010.  The solution is based on Microsoft Dynamics 365, the product formerly called Dynamics CRM.   InfoStrat maintains Grants Manager Plus to take advantage of new features in Dynamics 365 as well as follow our product roadmap of new grant features. 
The overarching goal of Grants Manager Plus is to capture the entire grant life cycle, starting with establishing funding sources, accepting applications, online review, scoring, award, and post-award reporting all the way to close out. Grants Manager Plus provides a portal user interface for grantees to interact with the system as well as a…

Elaborating Dynamics 365 Requirements

When implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM), one of the early steps in the process is to elaborate requirements so they can be mapped to Dynamics features or to configurations or customizations needed to fulfill the requirements.

Many customer requirements start off as rather vague, and require further investigation before they can be the solid basis of the project.  Let's take a look at some CRM requirements and how to explore them.

Requirement: Ability to identify and assign roles to office staff members
Analysis Questions

Who are the users of the system?What user roles will be needed?Should all users of the same user role have the same access to all records? Or does access depend on the organizational hierarchy or record ownership?Who will administer your Dynamics users?What about external users?  Is this covered in another requirement?
Requirement: Track all customers Analysis Questions Who are customers?  Individuals (Contacts) or organizations (Accounts)?…

Dynamics 365 Upgrades: Migration, Refactoring and Rewriting

Microsoft, like other cloud software providers, ensures that you will be using the latest version of software such as Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics 365.  Enhancements are continuously released and major upgrades take place more frequently than they did when most organizations ran their software on their own servers.

Many of InfoStrat's government clients are at last moving their Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) solutions to the Microsoft cloud.  Moving them offers many choices for customers about their approach.  Here are some alternatives:

Lift and shift. Some organizations want to move their workloads to the cloud and decommission their servers and on premises computing facilities.  The least ambitious approach is to move from on premises hardware or virtual servers to cloud servers.  If you are already running virtual servers, the move is less dramatic.  If not, this effort will allow you to re-architect your server infrastructure and consider cloud service such as SQL …

Replacing Microsoft InfoPath with Power Apps

Microsoft has offered a number of forms automation products over the years, and the most long running was InfoPath which was released as part of Office 2003.  InfoPath is a powerful and flexible product that stores user data in XML while offering form features such as rules, data validation, scripting, and integration with SharePoint.  The popularity of SharePoint resulted in many organizations standardizing on InfoPath for forms, especially internal forms which are hosted on an intranet such as employee reviews, leave and payment requests, and human resources forms.

Microsoft has discontinued InfoPath, with mainstream support ending July 13th, 2021, and extended support ending July 14th, 2026.

Microsoft has named Power Apps as the successor to InfoPath.  Power Apps has much in common with InfoPath.  Both products include integration with SharePoint.  Both are geared toward the citizen developer and do not require advanced developer skills in order to accomplish many functions.  Both…