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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:

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
6 Things to Look for in Grant Management Software
Estimating the Cost of a Microsoft Grants Manager Plus Implementation
Grants Manager Plus: Theme and Variations
Microsoft Grants Manager Plus
Online Resources for Microsoft Grants Manager Plus
Portal Options for Microsoft Grants Manager
Sta…

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…

Don't Fight the User Interface - It Usually Wins

Businesses and government have adopted off-the-shelf software, especially cloud software products, to avoid the cost and technical risk which have often accompanied custom software development.  This means that software vendors control the user experience such as navigation, menus, colors, fonts, and all other aspects of the products. Faced with rapid innovation and competition, cloud software vendors are introducing updates at an increasingly rapid pace, forcing users to relearn on the fly.  Browser-based solutions also embody the behavior of the specific browser each user chooses, such as Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

In some cases, you may not like the most recent version, or an update may be disruptive to your user community. Should you write code to recreate the previous interface? Or circumvent the default behavior of the browser or the app?

My experience is that resistance to the user interface of a commercial product is largely futile. Accepting changes introduced by the vendor i…

Government Budget Management with Dynamics 365

Government budgeting requires more than just accounting.  It also entails complex business processes to prepare and approve budgets.

InfoStrat has been using Microsoft Dynamics 365 for government budgeting solutions for over ten years.  Dynamics 365 includes several features which enable budget tracking:

Business process flows which automate approval processesAbility to store chart of accounts informationIntegration points for financial management systems to pass transactions and look up information from other systemsAbility to store multiple versions of budget itemsData auditing to show who changed what data, and whenRollups of financial information according to the budget hierarchyDashboards for graphical representation of financial information The Grants Manager Plus solution includes a budgeting module for grant managers to establish program budgets.  Grant applicants enter their project budgets using Dynamics Portal, and the budgets can be compared to actual expenditures.
Some go…

Update Policies for Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement

Customers of Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement have been notified in recent weeks of new policies for updates.  Customer Engagement refers to the traditional core components of what was formerly Dynamics CRM (sales, marketing, and customer service) as well as newer apps for Project Service and Field Service which have been added to the Customer Engagement subscription bundle.

The updates only apply to customers hosted in the Microsoft commercial cloud and not for on premises deployments which are managed by customer organizations. So far, the Microsoft government clouds for the United States and Germany are also operating on their own update schedules in order to maintain compliance with government security and privacy regulations.

I will not restate all the details which you can review at FAQ for Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement apps Update Policiesas well as Previewing April 2019 release functionalities and updates for Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement.

Here are …

Dynamics 365 for Auditing Activities

Many government and commercial organizations are responsible for conducting audits of financial and other performance in order to ensure compliance with regulations.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 offers a rich platform for automating auditing activities.  Here are some of the key functions that Dynamics 365 and Office 365 can perform for auditors:


Schedule visits. The Field Service app for Dynamics 365 includes a dispatcher console, and a module to assign auditors and schedule their visits or inspections.  It can also track other resources such as equipment which is used for field audits. Manage documents.  Dynamics 365 is integrated with SharePoint and also Azure Blob Storage.  This means that files may be associated with audit records, and searched using Microsoft search technologies which index full text and metadata. Generate notifications. Alerts via email or other communication channels (such as text messages) may be generated with Dynamics 365 automated workflows.  The messages are bas…

Standards and Interoperability for CRM

Tomorrow I will be presenting on "Standards and Interoperability for CRM" at the CRM Evolution Conference in Washington, DC.  Standards are important for many technologies, but in business software standards are often sacrificed as companies compete with one another for a share of the market.

Customer relationship management (CRM) has not been known as a field which fosters cooperation among competitors such as Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft, and others. But at the same time, standards can benefit organizations that rely on CRM for engaging with customers.  Privacy regulations such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compel compel companies to treat customer data with greater care than ever before, and privacy breaches have become routine and costly.

Acceptance of CRM standards for data make it easier to share data among applications and build data warehouses or data lakes which bring together many sources of data into one pool for discernin…

Getting the Most Out of GovCon CRM - Sales Force Automation for Government Contractors

Selling to government agencies requires a different approach from most sales processes, and therefore a customer relationship management (CRM) system bust reflect the way that your company behaves as a government contractor in order to get the most from your software investment.

InfoStrat's Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors is one of our most popular solutions, and it continues to evolve in order to suit our large and small government contractor customers. 
Here are some top hints on how to get the most of our your CRM which are embodies in InfoStrat's Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors: Integrate with government contract information services. There are many subscription data services for GovCon which cater to specific industries and to target customers.  Deltek GovWin has been the leader in U.S. Federal opportunity data, and Onvia (owned by Deltek) has been the leader in state and local contracting opportunities.  Integrating with these services can save you time b…

Understanding Budget, Payments and Milestones in Grants Manager Plus

Managing finances is at the core of InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus software for grantors to manage the full lifecycle of a grant.  This post explains key concepts for understanding how budgets, payments and milestones are managed in the solution.

Grants Manager Plus may be configured to your business rules, so your implementation may differ from the scenarios described here.  Many of the functions and workflows are nearly universal for grant management, such as having an approval routing workflow or checking the amount requested against budgets and remaining funds.

When a grant manager creates a grant program, it will contain related budget codes, budget line items, and optional budget gates and milestones.  The budget codes are used by grantees to provide their proposed budgets, and hence to roll up totals for reporting.  Budget gates are thresholds which are tied to project (grant) progress which is measured by milestones.  In a building project, for instance, a payment may be…

Dynamics 365 Power Apps: When You Want CRM Power without Sales, Customer Service or Marketing

My company InfoStrat has been working with Dynamics 365 for over 13 years since version 3.0 of Dynamics CRM was released.  For more than half of our customers, we have been using Dynamics for line of business solutions which are not the typical sales, customer service and marketing applications that make up customer relationship management (CRM).

Microsoft offers a subscription for these users who do not need sales, customer service or support.  This subscription is called Power Apps, and provides the same user interface, platform and development tools as are used for the CRM apps.

Power Apps offers significant savings -- the U.S. list price is $40/user/month compared to $95/user/month for each of the sales and customer service apps or $115/user/month for the Customer Engagement bundle which includes sales, customer service, project service and field service.

Another way that customers can save is through combining the subscription types so that users are only paying for the services…

InfoStrat Grants Manager Plus Review on FinanceOnline

Understanding Programs in Grants Manager Plus

InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus solution helps grantor agencies with the full lifecycle of a grant.  This blog post focuses on setting up grant programs.

A grant program allows you to establish rules that govern applications, scoring, and reporting for a set of applications.  For instance, a grant program is of a specified type, has dates that relate to it, and draws funding from one or more funding sources.  Applications for a specific program have questions and metrics that may be different from one program to another but are consistent across applications for that grant program.  Reporting is often tied to a specific program, such as budgets and spending.

One of the design goals of Grants Manager Plus was to allow a single system to be used for an extended period rather than creating a new system each time a new program is established.

Creating a new program involves defining all the attributes of the program, such as:

Start and end dates for the grantsDeadlinesReporting schedu…

Victim Notification Software: InfoStrat SAVIN360

InfoStrat developed the SAVIN360 Victim Notification System to help agencies manage contacts and alerts when offenders are transferred or released. State departments of correction and county jails and related public safety agencies must deploy a system for notifying victims, constituents, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders when an offender’s custody status changes.

Today three states rely on the SAVIN360 solution, with another statewide implementation going live later in 2019.  SAVIN360 provides many options for notification, including notification by event type.  It uses a web portal powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365 for registration and management of notification preferences. InfoStrat implemented SAVIN360 for all interfaces, which include Court, Prosecutor, Law Enforcement, Jail and Corrections data sources. This provides a single code base for all exchanges, enabling the application of both source specific and global business rules for all incoming data. This also m…

Understanding Grant Management Data: CDBG-DR Programs

InfoStrat Grants Manager Plus is used for tracking many types of grants because the data model may be extended with new fields and entities.  For tracking Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the system tracks grants in ways that are different from typical grants.

CDBG-DR grants flow from a federal grant to a state, where they are broken into multiple grants to local entities which in turn are used to fund individual grants for such activities as housing repairs, infrastructure projects and remediation of damage such as erosion.

The grant management system must track funding at all stages of the grant life cycle.  As shown above, a CDBG-DR grant recipient develops action plans along with associated budgets and metrics.  Sub-recipients such as local government agencies apply for grants which ultimately become contracts when awarded.

After award, as projects are completed, grantees submit pay…

Coming Soon: April 2019 Release of Microsoft Dynamics 365

It is still winter in Washington, DC, but spring is just around the corner.  We can look forward to cherry blossoms, the Potomac shad run, and Microsoft's next release of Dynamics 365.

Microsoft has published the release notes for April '19 and there are many highlights.

Artificial Intelligence is still one of the hottest trends, and Microsoft has a steady stream of new AI features of Dynamics, such as

Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service provides AI-powered chat bots to optimize the customer experience.Dynamics 365 Customer Insights enables every organization to unify and understand their customer data to harness it for intelligent insights and actions.Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection enables the e-commerce merchants to drive down fraud loss, increase bank acceptance rates to yield higher revenue, and improve the online shopping experience.
Alysa Taylor, Corporate Vice President, Business Applications & Industry at Microsoft has written a blog post with more infor…

Handy CRM Views and Graphs for Government Contractors (GovCon)

If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) system for tracking government contracts, you will find yourself using some views, reports and graphs more frequently than others.

Here are some favorites from my experience and from users of the InfoStrat Dynamics 365 for Government Contractors solution.

The most fundamental chart is the sales pipeline funnel.  This is broken into the sales stages of your business process flow, such as unqualified, qualified, RFI, RFP, proposed and others.



The view that I use most often is Open Opportunities by Owner.  This is the view that helps coordinate sales meetings when you are reviewing open opportunities with your business development team.  Adding the Opportunity Owner to the standard Open Opportunities view makes it easier to sort the opportunities during the course of the discussion.  I like keeping the opportunity owner as the rightmost field in the view.

Using the Opportunities with Proposals Due view helps you focus on outstanding pr…

Microsoft Ignite: The Tour Visits Washington, DC

This week Microsoft took its tour of the Ignite conference to Washington, DC.  The initial Ignite conference was held in Las Vegas, Nevada, but the tour brings much of the content to a broader audience. 

You can access recordings of the sessions online. Because there were over 100 sessions and workshops in two days, it was impossible to attend all of them.  Here are the learning paths from the event:



For me, the most important overall message was the blurring of lines between Microsoft cloud products and the continual expansion and opening of the Microsoft platform. Cloud computing has allowed Microsoft and other vendors to introduce new products and product versions more quickly.  For Dynamics 365, Microsoft introduces continuous small fixes and significant versions every six months.  This is much faster than the product cycle ten years ago which offered major versions every two or three years.

The pace of innovation creates challenges for customers to keep up, so events like this a…

Export Reports from Dynamics 365 to PowerPoint

Microsoft Dynamics 365 now offers an option to export reports to PowerPoint in addition to the formats such as Excel, PDF and other file formats which have been supported for several versions.  Here is how the Export menu looks on a report:


The output of the report is converted into pages which become pages in the PowerPoint file.  By default the pages do not fit in a standard PowerPoint size, so the images are divided in two and placed on two pages:



The pages contain images of the report contents like this sample from the Account Overview Standard report:



Because they are images, you cannot edit them in PowerPoint beyond image editing tools.  To make them more attractive in PowerPoint, you can change the format of the Dynamics 365 report so it will fit better in the targeted PowerPoint format.
If you what you want is to render data from Dynamics 365 in a pre-built PowerPoint template, you may want to export the data from Dynamics 365 to Excel and use Mail Merge with a third party too…

5 Best Things about the Unified Interface for Microsoft Dynamics 365

The latest version of Microsoft Dynamics 365 moves most of the core functionality of sales and customer service to a new user interface - The Unified Interface client.  This user interface is not completely new as it was gradually introduced for the Hub features such as the Customer Service Hub in recent versions of the product.

The new interface is quite different from the previous interface which was used from Dynamics CRM 2013 to 2018 with a few incremental changes. 

This is the Unified Interface, using a form from InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus Solution.



Here is the same record shown in the previous interface which Microsoft calls Classic.



Here are the top 5 features that I like best about the Unified Interface:

Better menus and navigation. The sitemap on the left is more helpful than the classic menus for larger, more complex solution. Lefthand menu shortcuts are a great use of space and help users access the most popular areas. Better subgrids.  Subgrids are important for en…

Extending Grants Manager Plus

Grants Manager Plus provides grantors with an all-in-one, integrated solution that simplifies the grants process from initial solicitation through review, scoring, award, payment processing and post award. InfoStrat designed the solution to allow it to be extended and customized to meet the needs of specific grant programs.

Grant programs may be quite different from one another, and adopting grant management software for your grantor agencies requires flexibility and rapid development of solutions to meet program demands.  For instance, Grants Manager Plus is being used by local government for small grants of less than $1,000 to individuals for public safety initiatives and also large state grants for disaster recovery managed through sub-recipients. Some grant programs call for detailed invoicing on a monthly basis, with payments tied to achievement of milestones and performance metrics.

Grants Manager Plus may be viewed as a layered solution, as shown in this figure:


Grants Manager …