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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!

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.

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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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.

Eating our own dog food – Microsoft Cloud Services

I’ve been with Hitachi Solutions America for the last two years and we’ve been through rapid change and growth during that time.  As a professional services organization, we needed to re-situate our infrastructure to be more flexible for our remote teams and expanding global workforce.

Microsoft posted a video yesterday that highlights our success in consolidating on Microsoft Dynamics cloud solutions (Dynamics CRM Online, Office 365, SharePoint Online).  It’s been a team effort but the transition was pretty smooth (as smooth as any core IT change can be).  I tip my cap to all of the people who have helped get us where we are!

CRM 2013 Launch Event

Yesterday Microsoft hosted their official CRM 2013 launch event.  Very well orchestrated, it was a combination of live professional video, prerecorded footage, and Skype calls between satellite events and viewing parties.  

Screen shot of the live video.

Honestly it was one of the best productions I’ve seen by them in quite a few years.  I was reminded of the old Microsoft Extreme events around the turn of the century.  They’d broadcast video feeds live to movie theaters across the country to show previews of their upcoming products (one of those was Office 2003 to set the time frame).

The CRM 2013 launch event revived that concept and took it to the next level.  With Microsoft Studios in Redmond, the event at Convergence in Barcelona, and satellite events in NYC and Anaheim (at the CRM Extreme event, not related to MS Extreme referenced above).  Microsoft showcased their offices, partners, and most of all their Dynamics customers who are excited about the new release…and spent quite a bit of time reminding folks to use their #CRM2013 hash tag (which has had some decent usage over the last 24 hours).

Content

Microsoft kept the session very high level.  They didn’t do feature/function demos or hype the technical capabilities of the system.  Instead they focused on the experience–both for a CRM user as well as the customer.  The consistent theme that was emphasized was that CRM can help “Make Happy”.  While I’m not sure the slogan will resonate in any board meetings, the underlying message is critical and a key benefit of using the Dynamics CRM product.

Very excited for what’s to come!

4 things I hope the Dynamics CRM Orion release holds for the Outlook Client

With the relatively recent release of the “Polaris” release of Dynamics CRM Online, I couldn’t help but start to wonder what the new design direction might have in store for the Outlook Client.  I’m psyched about the spiffier look of CRM, I see it as an important baby step, but what’s not clear is what this means for the ever popular Outlook experience.

Orion

Photo Credit: DJMcCrady

The Microsoft CRM team highlights “…integration of key CRM information across Microsoft Office Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint” as part of the improved productivity experience in their published Statement of Direction.  We can assume that means a boatload of new functionality to Office/Dynamics CRM are part of the release plan…but what specifically will the Orion release mean for the Outlook experience?  Below are 4 things that would be great additions:

1. Less window switching

It’s pretty clear that this is a key aspect of the new design direction…and it will be ideal for this to follow through into the Outlook interface as well.

2. More flexible synchronization

Today there’s an automatic synchronization that happens on a periodic basis, comparing the local versions of records with the ones on the server.  This can be initiated manually as well by either “going offline” or using the File->synchronize option.  While that’s great, there are often times where users don’t remember that the appointment they just created in CRM hasn’t pushed to their local calendar yet (the one they created using the web form).  The Orion release timeframe would be a great opportunity to address this.

3. Less intimidating navigation for new users

For those who are familiar with the Outlook plug-in, it makes judicious use of the left-hand navigation in Outlook as well as the context-sensitive ribbon.  Even to an existing Office user, the sheer volume and variability in this setup can make the initial learning experience a bit challenging.  Seeing this carry through to Outlook would be a huge win.

4. More seamless record interaction experience

This is the most nebulous item on my list…but follow my explanation.  Let’s say you’re working with an Opportunity in CRM that you accessed via the Outlook interface.  When you want to collaborate with a team member, you end up sending them a hyperlink to the record which results in a pop-up window (which makes sense, it is a web app at its core).  But wouldn’t it be cool if instead that Opportunity record could take over the preview pane?  You could work with the record, then move on to the next email.

Orion in Outlook Mock-Up

Wouldn’t it be great to click on a link to an Opportunity record and have it show up in the reading pane?  In this example, the user clicked a link inside of an email, opening the Opportunity record that is displayed.

This Opportunity scenario is just one example of many, and perhaps I’ll expand on some other possibilities like this that I see in another blog post, but for now I’ll leave it at the tip of this iceberg.

To Conclude

Sure, there’s a ton more that they’re probably packing into the upcoming releases  but these are a few that I think most of them would line up well with the design direction of the product.  Keep in mind, these are hopes, not predictions.  A boy can dream… 🙂

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks since convergence…

If you’re like me, you didn’t have the chance to attend Convergence in New Orleans last month.  While I may have missed this chance to see the Big Easy again, at least I can get some of the juicy conference details!  Interested in digesting some of this information yourself?  Read on!

Virtual Convergence – Microsoft

Convergence Logo

  • You can still watch the virtual replay of the keynote and general sessions
  • Sure, you have to give them an email address to register but let’s face it, if you’re reading this MS has probably sent you marketing materials before 🙂

Convergence 2013 Recap: Review by a CRM MVP – Christopher Cognetta, CRM MVP

  • Christopher posted a slide deck containing key information that was discussed at Convergence
  • Expect to see a mix of photos, MS content, and a good look at some of the (not-so-distant) future releases of CRM

The Next Dynamics CRM User Experience: Orion – Jukka Niiranen

  • Jukka has a series of screenshots and explanation about the Orion UX
  • This is a detailed blog post with lots of information packed into it

Forbes: Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Strategy and Roadmap Evident at Convergence 2013 – Louis Columbus

  • While this article was published shortly after Convergence kicked off, its focus is on the overall Dynamics strategy rather than detailing the event itself.  That said, it’s no less interesting and is definitely worth a read
  • They also give a mention to Scribe software, in a nod to the improvements to their service offering and their role in supporting Microsoft Dynamics

Information Week: Microsoft Gains Enterprise Clout With ERP, CRM – Doug Henschen

  • Don’t let the fluffy title fool you, this is a quick read that hits some good highlights
  • Of all of the articles here, this one paints the most different picture of Marketing Pilot

Customer Excellence Awards at Convergence 2013 – Matthew C. Anderson

  • Yeah, this is a link to my own blog…I need to brag about the awesome team that I work with 🙂
  • Hitachi Solutions clients were well represented with 10 finalists and 4 winners of Customer Excellence awards!!
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