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Dynamics 365 Business Edition: What’s in store?

It’s not often that Microsoft holds a webinar where they cover so many upcoming Microsoft Dynamics 365 features that are in preview (unless it is shown under the cover of a nondisclosure agreement). But in late June, it was like Dynamics Festivus came early.

There were many exciting details shared during the June “Executive Briefing” from Microsoft…but it also left some questions.

What’s the big deal?

With the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 (9.0) there will be two different flavors of Dynamics 365

  • Dynamics 365 Business Edition
    Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition

(If you’re using Dynamics 365 today–July 2017–you have Enterprise Edition)

Okay, that might not seem like that big of a deal, so allow me to elaborate. The Business Edition will be released with a greatly improved user experience (called the “unified client”) for web, phone, and tablet which comes with a grip of improvements over the current experience. There are many more features that will be available for Business Edition customers when it is released.

What’s the catch?

If you’re on Enterprise Edition today, you can’t just switch to Business Edition. This means that some new features will be immediately available to Enterprise Edition clients (including notable things like the unified client.

You might not want to anyway (even if it were allowed) because there will be some limits imposed in the Business Edition. Things like a limit of the total number of Users, Account records, and custom entities (with specific details to come).

The custom entity limit is a bit misleading, though, since it appears that the entities in apps available through AppSource will not count against this total. Effectively, this message is to look for a chance to buy an app instead of rolling-your-own when it comes to meeting your requirements.

Should my organization be thinking about Business Edition?

If you’re an existing Enterprise Edition client…there’s a pretty good possibility the answer is “no”. Plenty of clients may have a low number of users, but the record limits and custom entity limits will likely cut down the number of people who would even be able to consider the change. Not to mention that it would be a separate instance of Dynamics that would need to be configured and have data migrated to it.

Instead, I think most Enterprise Edition customers should look forward to getting features as they’re made available (and keep your eyes and ears open for the Private and Public Previews that Microsoft mentioned).

If you’re still considering the Dynamics platform–then the Business Edition will have a lot to offer as you get rolling (and an upgrade path to Enterprise in the future).

Are you considering Dynamics 365 Business Edition in your organization? Share what you’re most excited about in the comments!

Don’t Let Automation Destroy Your Authenticity

One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.

There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.

Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.

That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.

This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.

Be careful which kinds of human interaction you automate

Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?

I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.

I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.

Set appropriate expectations to maintain your authenticity

Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.

However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?

Expectations changed.

They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.

Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).

In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.

Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.

The AppSource Experience for Dynamics 365

Last year, Microsoft introduced a new app store for Dynamics 365: AppSource. In fact, AppSource also boasted apps for AX and other Dynamics products, and has since added Power BI, Office 365, and Azure into the catalog.
I’ve tried installing apps into trial Dynamics organizations as a way to get familiar with the store, search, installation, and the overall experience. I was pleasantly surprised by how usable it is even with how fresh it is.

AppSource as a great end-user experience

I had a chance at the CRMUG Summit conference last fall to chat with a program manager involved with the AppSource program. Specifically, I asked about some of the important considerations for what is a good fit for AppSource as a partner who is considering submissions of industry-specific apps.
The suggestion that stood out the most to me was the end user experience (when they install the app and start trying to use it). This is definitely an area that has been tough for the previous “app stores” for Dynamics. With AppSource, it should be a small solution file (so it installs quickly), include any required sample data, and give some direction for how they can start trying it out right away (e.g. don’t send someone off to a separate website to figure it out or, worse yet, don’t leave them having to simply guess what is important).
It’s such a straightforward concept, however, it wasn’t a requirement when submitting solutions to previous Dynamics app stores.

Taking some user experience cues from the Xbox Marketplace

It wasn’t long ago that buying a new video game meant you either had to read the manual to understand what you could do (or start button-mashing and hope you pick things up quickly). For some people, this approach is/was fine, but it has the potential to turn many people off who may otherwise really enjoy the game.
Nowadays we’re able to download a game and as soon as it’s finished installing you can start playing. The first 5-10 minutes includes a very guided experience that shows the basics of playing without having to study, guess, or flounder.
I imagine a future where starting to use a Dynamics app (or a Power BI, Office 365, or Azure app) is this simple to get started with.
That’s not a bad thing either, even for those who could figure it out on their own. After all, the beginning of Skyrim is filled with hand-holding to get acquainted…but it sets a solid foundation for all players from casual or the most hardcore gamers.

Server Side Sync in Dynamics 365 isn’t required for Relationship Assistant

With the Dynamics 365 update late last year, I’ve seen some clients who are making timing and priority decisions for the visual update as well as what new functionality to test out. One (preview) feature that has been the center of attention for several of those conversations is the Relationship Assistant.
If you’re not already familiar, the Relationship Assistant basically provides reminders, suggestions, and insights about your relationships–based on information that you have in Dynamics 365 and Office 365. The feature uses Microsoft Azure to analyze activities and other record types to:
  • Remind you about upcoming due dates / close dates
  • Suggest activity if you haven’t been active with a customer or prospect
  • Offer external information like stock prices or recent news (without having to go look for it)
When I first started chatting with folks about the Relationship Assistant, there was a common misconception that came up again and again: people seem to think that relationship assistant requires Server Side Sync to be enabled. While this is true for some of the relationship cards, some can be used regardless of the Server Side Sync feature. These cards fall into several categories, but only two of them (Email Cards from Exchange and Email Engagement Cards).

There is real value if you use Server Side Sync

All of that said, I’m certainly not recommending against some of the cool stuff that comes with Server Side Sync. What’s most significant here is that emails in your personal inbox can be displayed in Dynamics without the user having to physically click a “track” button. Literally, email that they may not have even seen in their inbox could be displayed in the context of an Opportunity record with that same contact.
This is the kind of feature that provides value back to users without them having to put a bunch of up-front effort in.
I’m hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how to train some of these email cards from exchange, though. Some of the cards like “Stakeholder Recommendation” that will suggest (or automatically add) a stakeholder into Dynamics if they aren’t already in the system. Being able to train this model for industry-specific keywords will make it more versatile. Maybe this is something we’ll see when it’s out of preview (I can dream, right?)

Final thoughts

I know this isn’t a hidden feature or anything fancy like that, but it’s important for Dynamics administrators to know the tools that are available to them and their user community. While it’s not hidden, it is a Preview feature, which you’ll want to keep in mind as it doesn’t come with any official support.
Are you considering the Relationship Assistant or have you already enabled this in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Identify Duplicate Column Names in Dynamics 365 Using Excel

Here’s a little how-to video that helps how to use Excel to solve the otherwise monotonous process of identifying duplicate column headers in Dynamics 365 / Dynamics CRM (or in any table on a web page). This addresses the underlying issue of the Failed to Generate Excel error message that shows up when clicking Export to Excel.

Background: Failed to Generate Excel

Microsoft Dynamics CRM (now Dynamics 365) has a great feature that lets you export to Excel very easily to use either Excel Online or Desktop edition to play with the data.. Unfortunately, it sometimes gives a nondescript error when exporting “Failed to Generate Excel”, which appears if two column titles (fields) in the export have the exact same name.

failed-to-generate-excel-error-duplicate-column-names

Seems a bit over-the-top for an issue with duplicate column names, doesn’t it?

This could be an issue if your organization has a custom field with the same name as an out-of-the-box field and both are included in the view.

The Problem:

Manually identifying duplicate column names is an annoying and often slow process unless the columns happen to be in alphabetical order (and they never are). It would be easy to sort in Excel though…

My Solution:

  • Take advantage of the fact that under the pretty interface, the grid is actually just a table
  • Click-and-drag the text to highlight the column headers in the web page.
  • Copy to clipboard, then paste into Excel.
  • Copy and “Paste Special”–making sure to “Transpose” (rotate) data from columns to rows in Excel
  • Sort this list alphabetically and review for duplicates, then remove duplicates from the CRM view

Note, this is something I use a lot for one-off applications–but there are better ways to do this for the same page on a frequent basis.

5 Tips for using Excel Templates in Dynamics 365

Now that the Excel templates for Dynamics 365 have been released and in the wild for several months, it seems an appropriate time to share some tips for getting the most out of them (even if you’re just getting started).

The following items are focused on general user experience rather than advanced Excel functionality. (Crawl. Walk. Run. We’re crawling :))

1) Make sure you don’t have duplicate column names in your view

When first testing the capabilities of Excel template functionality I ran into a generic “Failed to Generate Excel” error message when downloading the baseline excel file. After some searching I discovered that the error was thrown because my view had two columns with the same name listed. With a little re-work of the view I was able to consolidate the columns listed and successfully download the file.

The easiest way to avoid this is to be intentional with which fields are added to the excel template download. I had checked the box to select “all” fields for the opportunity entity, and there were some duplicates four out of the box vs. custom fields with the same name. In a real world use case it is important to make sure that the proper field has been selected. So I recommend taking the extra time to validate specifically which fields have been added to the view (and understand why each field is being included).

2) Set PivotTables to automatically refresh data

By default, PivotTables are not set up to automatically refresh based on the new data in the CRM Data table, forcing you to right click on each pivot table and click refresh after opening the template. This hassle is completely avoidable and very simple to fix when setting up the excel template.

xl pivot options

Steps:

  • Right click on the PivotTable->PivotTable Options
  • Select the Data tab
  • Check refresh data when opening file

BONUS TIP: Uncheck the save data option to make sure the exported CRM data is not stored with the template you’re building.

3) Use Multiple sheets in the workbook

In the examples provided by Microsoft, they have inserted their charts and tables above the data set (by adding blank rows above the CRM data table). This approach is valid and is certainly a simple way to get started, however, using additional worksheets inside of the excel workbook allows greater control over formatting and can help keep the report looking nice and clean. Using this multi sheet approach will also save you from headaches when adding in pivot tables as the number of rows and columns will be variable in many common use cases.

Doing this is simple. At the bottom of the excel window find the list of tabs (those are the sheets) and click the plus arrow to add a new one. As a best practice, remember to give good names to each sheet.

xl add tab

BONUS TIP: You CAN rename the tab that has the dynamic data table from CRM. Doing this doesn’t cause problems when people use the templates.

4) Choose the default Sheet a user will open to

This tip is all about the user experience (even if you’re the only person who will use it :)). If you have multiple sheets there’s probably one that makes sense to have open first. There’s a very simple and low-tech way to do this:

When you save the final excel template for uploading, make sure the “landing page” worksheet is active-at-that-exact-moment-of-the-final-clicking-of-the-save-button. This worksheet will now be the one that will be active when a user opens it in Excel (via download or in Excel Online). In this way you can guide their experience to the appropriate sheet without forcing them to click another tab.

5) For Excel Dashboards, consider hiding the “data” worksheet

Sometimes it’s important to see all the details of the records behind your charts graphs and analysis, but other times all you need is the summary. You can help further improve the user experience by hiding the worksheet with the CRM data table.

XL Hide Tab

Doing so will not cause issues when using the final uploaded template. Additionally, for users who do want to see this data they could still unhide that tab if they’re feeling curious.

Final Thoughts

The utility of the Excel Templates functionality opens doors to many quick-wins in CRM 2016 (online, cloud-hosted, or internally-hosted). These tips are a few of the basics to keep in mind when getting started, but we’ve barely scratched the surface with what we can do.

Matthew’s post originally appeared on the Hitachi Solutions blog.

CRM 2015 – Quick Public Service Announcement For Administrators

Microsoft has released CRM 2015! In related news I thought I was losing my mind while I was setting up a test organization. I couldn’t find the User administration section. It’s been under Settings->Administration for quite a few releases now, but with 2015 it’s no longer there.

CRM2015Admin

Instead, take a look at the Settings->Security section where you will find Users along with some other items that moved: Teams, Security Roles, Business Units, Field Security, and Access Team Templates. Some new features can be found here as well, including Hierarchy Security and Positions. Both of these will come in handy for better accommodating things like selective access for regional or departmental management teams.

CRM2015Security

You can use the following link to sign up for a CRM 2015 online trial today:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics/crm-free-trial-overview.aspx

You can download the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Server 2015 files here:

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=45012

Three ways Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting

During my time in sales operations, a constant frustration is that quoting can be a real hassle inside of any CRM system. There are some great tools that help with making certain aspects like configuration much easier, but at the end of the day this is an area that can always be improved (both as the person doing the quoting as well as the person managing what can be quoted).

The recent announcement of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015, which is scheduled to come out in December 2014, comes with exciting updates to quoting products or services. I’ve submitted a blog post Three Ways Dynamics CRM 2015 Will Speed Up Quoting to the Hitachi Solutions CRM blog.

I recently learned that reposting the same article content to multiple blogs can actually hurt your search engine rankings, so you’ll have to jump to the full article via the link (re-linked here) 🙂

Dynamics CRM 2015 Preview: Sales Process Enhancements

Anyone who has talked to me about the last two releases of Dynamics CRM knows that I am a huge believer in the Sales Process functionality that Microsoft has developed. I think back to my Sales Operations days and can only shake my head at how much screwing around could have been avoided if this toolset was available today (for sales reps and for my team).

The picture doesn't do justice to the concept...

The picture doesn’t do justice to the concept…but you can click to enlarge the image which will help a little bit.

The CRM 2015 release preview brings even more excitement, as there are even more strides in the ability to guide users through a business process flow. In the last release, we were still limited to a very linear process flow. If there were indicators on an Opportunity that certain stages should be skipped or handled in a different order, it took lots of time for a clever BA or some custom development from an IT pro to make that happen. If the business wasn’t willing to invest in that, then the burden fell to the salesperson to “just know” what was relevant (which meant some people filled in everything while others filled out nothing…garbage data).

Soon, a simple configuration will allow conditional branching to stages based on criteria specified by the process. This capability will be baked right into the 2015 process flow designer, To the right I’ve included an image from the preview guide showing this conditional branching, which should layer very nicely with the existing Business Rules to show/hide relevant fields..

What this means is an even more intuitive experience for the business development team. Fewer refreshes and flickers on the page. Ask only for what’s needed…automate the rest. Get the management team the detail they need for forecasting and decisions, without burdening the sales organization with a bunch of busywork. This is useful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Handling variations for different types of sales (inside sales, add-ons, contract renewals, etc.)
  • Time to productivity when onboarding new salespeople
  • Managing sales cycles that vary if they have a short-fuse or time-based incentives

Keep it coming Microsoft Dynamics CRM Team!

Note: In this post I discuss future products and features that have been announced publicly but it is always important to remember that this is subject to change with the final release

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