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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 organiza…

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…

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…