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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!

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.

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8 Essential Skype for Business Hacks free e-book

I would never have guessed that I’d be announcing the release of my new e-book about Skype for Business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used it as my primary workplace communication platform and online meeting service for the last 5+ years (dating back before Lync was rebranded as Skype for Business). Still, I’m surprised and excited to share my e-book with you. You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

The early days of Skype for Business were pretty painful. There were compatibility, connectivity, and general usability issues that I’d run into for even the simplest of meetings. I also quickly learned that I wasn’t the only person with these problems (and also that it wasn’t just limited to my company’s use of Skype for Business). Over time, though, something happened.

Skype for Business became a viable option that competes with the other online meeting and voice over IP options

In my line of work, I find myself having to use different screen share/online meeting services. GoToMeeting, WebEx, Join.me, and others (even one called Blue Jeans). For a long time, Skype for Business was simply not on par with the other options. On paper it could check the boxes–sure–but there were lots of little nuances that “you need to get used to.”

Behind the scenes, though, so many Skype for Business users would grumble about features not working how you expect, compatibility issues, and a lack of trust.

In 2015 and 2016 there were many improvements made to the platform, the desktop client, and the phone apps, which have resulted in positive improvements in stability and usability.

These improvement in the Skype for Business platform, in concert with it being included with most Office 365 subscriptions, more and more organizations are using it as their online meeting solution.

With great knowledge comes great responsibility

As a long-time user, I’ve seen and helped people with the most common issues they run into when they start with Skype for Business. Several co-workers of mine have asked me for the last year or so when my “Skype book” would come out. I can finally tell them that the wait is over!

In this e-book, I’m sharing a collection of these Skype for Business essential tips, which fall into four categories:

  • Joining meetings from the desktop app – for internal team members
  • Joining meetings from a web browser – for external parties who don’t use Skype
  • Leading meetings – for scheduling and starting meetings
  • Recording meetings – for capturing meeting audio & shared content

You can get your free downloadable copy by clicking here.

Do you use Skype for Business? Are there any tips or tricks that you’d be willing to share with others? If so, sound off 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.

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Evernote – The first freemium service I paid for (and still do)

If you’re anything like me, you process a ton of information throughout the day. I used to find that a lot of that stuff went in one ear and out the other. I was (and am still) pretty good at remembering the important stuff, and frankly some of the not-so-important stuff too, but there’s just way too much out there to remember all of the details after a quick glance. This is when I turn to Evernote.

Evernote is software that helps me capture notes (text, recorded audio, photos/scans, documents, web pages, etc.) and provides a service that lets me access them from any device using a great text search. It’s easy to capture notes and just as easy to find them later.

Every note sits in a “notebook” which is kind of like a simple folder that the notes sit in. Evernote lets you have as many notebooks as you want.

I started using Evernote as a free app back in the late 2000’s, then in 2010 I made the decision to start paying for their premium version to get a few more features. It’s the first time I was wooed by a freemium service and I have been extremely happy with my investment!

Evernote is the first app I install on my mobile devices

That's my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

That’s my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

Yup–the very first one. Before anything else. Not only that, but on my Android phone I set up their little widget so I can launch the app, capture a note, capture an image, or record some audio each with only a single click.

It’s a tool that frees me from having to carry a bunch of extra stuff around. I don’t have to save some little scrap of paper that I (or that a friend) scribbled an idea on. I don’t have to tear that ad or article out of a magazine. I don’t have to send an email to myself with that web page or quote I want to reference later. Instead I can send it to Evernote (when I’m on my phone or tablet) or use the desktop app or “web clipper” (when I’m in a browser on my laptop).

Evernote did a good complete reworking of their mobile apps a year or two ago which got rid of a lot of the issues that plague older apps.

The app itself is snappy even on older devices. I have an old phone from a few generations ago that I keep around as a media player and note-taking device which still does just fine running Evernote.

One thing that does cause me occasional issues is that, because I have so many notes in there, space can become an issue. While the app is smart enough to only download the contents of my notes when I need them, the amount of storage space used on the device grows as more and more notes are opened. I’ve dealt with this by clearing the downloaded files, but it’s something I’d like to see be a little more user friendly.

I’m a huge user of Microsoft OneNote, and yes I still use Evernote

It feels important to call this out. I’ve been a OneNote user since Office 2003 (embarrassingly long since it wasn’t that great in 2003). I use OneNote nearly every day and yes I use Evernote just as often. They both work well for different purposes, largely because of the way they are architected.

There are plenty of blog posts out there comparing the two services so I won’t bother with that here. Instead, I want to comment on a couple of the reasons that Evernote continues to be worth the investment even when compared to OneNote which wouldn’t have an incremental cost.

  1. Evernote notes are fantastic containers for all sorts of information. Evernote acts as a simple database for me, but it allows for unstructured data to live inside of these notes, as well as a limited amount of structured metadata like the title, dates, URL (source of a clipping) notebook, and tags.
  2. Evernote provides a more consistent experience across the various platforms (desktop, web, mobile). There’s a trade-off that both Microsoft and Evernote make when it comes to how rich the text/photos and complexity of the way they’re laid out in a note. Microsoft provides a richer experience on the desktop, but those don’t translate as well to a mobile device or to a pure web version. Evernote’s approach, while more limited in the layout features, provides a consistency that I really appreciate.

I got started with the free version, and you can too

I wrote a blog post back in 2010 where I talked about how they had a very compelling offering even with the free version. It wasn’t a crippled version of their product–in fact at the time they included just about every feature, but limited the total upload storage space I could consume each month.

The big feature I wanted when I started subscribing to the premium version was to be able to extend the search to return results inside of attachments like PDF files and pictures. So when I wanted to find a PDF file and the only thing I can remember is that Boba Fett was mentioned in it, I can search for his name and it’ll find the note and the PDF.

Since I became a user, they’ve added a ton of features to the premium offering, but the basic service still lets you create, save, and search notes from the web, a mobile device, or your desktop. When I tell friends/co-workers/random people about Evernote, I usually suggest they just try it out since the free version is so representative of what you get with the paid services.

evernoteversions-2016I grabbed a screenshot of their free vs. paid models. They’ve added a middle tier into the mix as well. The most important reasons I see for the paid versions are:

  • Text search inside of images (plus) and PDFs (premium) — like I said before, it’s a big part of what got me to move
  • Offline notebooks on mobile devices (plus or premium) — There are only a few notebooks I keep offline, but but when I do need it it’s invaluable.
  • Sync with more than 2 devices (plus or premium) — I have too many devices.
  • Remove upload limit of 60MB/mo. (1GB/mo plus, 10GB/mo premium)– This was a thing for me back in 2010 (when the free cap was an at-the-time-generous 40MB). 60MB will probably suit you just fine for text notes and the occasional web page or picture, consider that snapping a quick picture will take up 4MB…yeah that cap is just itching to come off

I could go on and on about how I use it…

…but I don’t want to bury my more detailed stories inside of this post (which feels kind of like unpaid advertising, but I really can’t say enough good things about their service).

In short, I’ve been using the premium subscription for over 6 years and I’m as satisfied now as I was when I started. There aren’t many services I’ve been that happy with–especially when it includes desktop apps, a cloud app, mobile apps, all connected with a cloud-based service. Seriously, when I think of how many freemium services have seemed great and then faded with subsequent releases, I’m really glad they’ve been such a solid team.

Do you use Evernote or perhaps know of something else that’s better? (I question whether the latter is possible…but I am curious) Leave a comment and let me know.

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

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Microsoft Announces CRM 2015 Details

Hot off the presses, Microsoft has announced Dynamics CRM 2015 and posted some pre-release information out to their CRM customer center website. This includes updates to both Dynamics CRM as well as Dynamics Marketing.

Here are some particulars of note:

  • A specific release date has not been described, however they have specified “before the end of this calendar year”
  • CRM Online customers will be able to drive the specific timing of the upgrade for their organization. This is similar to the 2013 update for SP1 and they point toward the same technet article on how this works
  • CRM On-premise customers will be able to apply the update as they normally would (assuming they have software assurance)
  • Dynamics CRM functionality updates hit the sales process, mobile (tablet) experience, product detail, case management, Outlook, and the help system
  • Dynamics Marketing functionality updates will provide several updates around what will be a more collaborative experience for users

As a partner and member of the CRM community, I’d like to offer this reminder to folks: back when MS announced the CRM 2013 Service Pack 1 (Spring 14 release) they also mentioned that there will be several changes in what the platform supports “for the next release” which they were terming the Fall Release, but is now (which is now called CRM 2015). Read the details over on the Dynamics CRM Blog to make sure you’re aware of some prep-work that may need to take place before upgrading to CRM 2015.

Spring 14 Update is here

Microsoft has released the Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update (AKA Dynamics CRM 2013 Service Pack 1) and my team has been playing stump-the-chump with each other on all of the new features. PS, there’s a lot of them.

In a previous blog I covered the Microsoft increased focus on the CMO. Dynamics Marketing and Social Listening both drop with this release, but it doesn’t stop there. Below are a few other teasers of the new functionality.

Timers

There have been many situations, particularly in a customer service setting, where we need robust timers that can help manage expectations and highlight the good, bad, and sometimes ugly situations caused by delays.

The great part is that timers can be used all over the place. A couple of sales examples include managing response time and escalation for reseller quote requests or deal registration.

Customer Service Functionality

Microsoft isn’t banking on Parature for all of their Customer Service workload improvement. Far from it. The offering that comes with the spring update brings several key features that have required customization and configuration in the past:

  • Entitlements-This is the logical replacement of “Contracts” in Dynamics CRM (though Contracts haven’t disappeared) that I like to refer to as “Contracts on steroids”
  • SLAs-Set SLAs based on factors such as issue type and time zones
  • Timers-covered above 🙂
  • Routing Rules-Escalation/workflow based on entitlements, timers, and SLAs. Dynamics CRM now builds the workflow automatically!
  • Personal Queues

Other Tidbits

Plenty of detail on Microsoft’s CRM updates website, which I must say has been much improved over the course of the last year or so. A couple of nuggets are the improved integration of the InsideView product (now renamed “Insights” for Dynamics CRM Online customers) and the updated Solution file versioning.

Additionally, Microsoft has released Unified Service Desk, which is a companion to Dynamics CRM to help in specific customer service settings.

Very cool stuff and I’m excited for more.

Microsoft Announces: Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update is coming

Just a couple of days ago, while many Dynamics CRM customers getting ready for Microsoft Convergence in Atlanta, Microsoft dropped a press release as well as a Bob Stutz blog post about some forthcoming functionality in the Dynamics CRM Spring release. Microsoft is making good on their more frequent release cadence for Dynamics CRM 2013.

Highlights include:

  • Increased focus on the marketing side of CRM, targeting the CMO (strong message in Bob’s blog post)
  • Marketing enhancements via the Dynamics Marketing product (next step after the Marketing Pilot acquisition last year)
  • Social listening capability native in Dynamics CRM, which will be at no additional cost to CRM Online customers similar to the strategy with InsideView Social Insights functinoality
  • Customer care improvements…separate from the recent Parature acquisition announcement

I’ll be curious to get a pulse on the reaction of folks at Convergence, but at face value this is going to be a great update.