November 1st, 2016 is looming closer and closer, and anyone who is working with Dynamics CRM should be aware of the importance of this date. Dynamics 365 Enterprise will be officially released on this day, replacing all existing Dynamics CRM Online pricing/licensing offers for new customers. Existing Dynamics CRM customers & partners are starting to get a clear vision of what the product offering looks like, from a licensing and pricing structure. I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands of a trial instance of Dynamics 365 so that I can take it for a whirl. But for now, I wanted to publish a post that takes a look at the most interesting aspects of Dynamics 365 Enterprise, its release and my general thoughts on what we can hope to expect in the months ahead:

Tiered Pricing

The new tiered pricing structure of Dynamics 365 presents one of the major areas where Microsoft can challenge their competitors in the marketplace, as well as driving high volume license sales for their Dynamics 365 Enterprise plans. How it basically works is that the more licenses you consume for a particular plan, the cheaper each license in that plan will become. The following image from this really interesting article from ZDNet provides an excellent summary of how this will work:


Those who currently subscribe to a high number of Basic, Essential & Professional licenses for CRM Online will, therefore, benefit greatly from moving across to Dynamics 365 as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of the very high levels of price reduction – in particular, for Team Member and Enterprise Plan 1 licenses.

Team Members

Under Dynamics 365, the previous “light-use” Essential & Basic licenses have been replaced with the new Team Members license, that provides a standard set of user rights across the entire range of Dynamics 365 apps. They come in at about £10 less per month compared to the current £18.70 for Basic Licenses, potentially going down as low as approx. £3, thanks to tiered pricing. In terms of what they provide from a user access point of view, functionality appears to sum up as Essential + Basic = Team Members, covering typical record access requirements for most users in an organisation.

Free Portal and Non-Production instances!

Previously, you would have to purchase at least 25 Professional CRM licenses to get a Sandbox (i.e. Non-Production) instance of CRM for free, or alternatively, cough up £93.50 per month for a Sandbox. Portals, introduced earlier this year, have also been a paid add-on until now, for a significantly higher price of £311.60 per month!! With Dynamics 365 Plan 1 subscriptions and higher, your subscription will automatically include the following alongside your Production instance:

  • 1 Sandbox Instance
  • 1 Portal Instance

Given that there is no minimum seat requirement for Enterprise 1 plans, the above could represent a significant saving on average, particularly when you take into account tiered pricing. It also presents a major opportunity to drive increased adoption towards CRM Portals in the months and years ahead.

More database storage

It is pleasing to see the minimum database storage rise to 10GB as opposed to 5GB. One of the (potentially) hidden problems over time as part of any CRM deployment is storage being slowly eaten away by entity record types. I have blogged previously about one of these entities in question, and it is something that customisers and administrators need to be acutely aware of when designing and planning the system. The increase in storage goes some way towards mitigating this, but I would question whether a further increase could be warranted; particularly given the cost of storage on Azure for SQL databases being so much cheaper in comparison.

And it’s goodnight from MDM…and Parature

Perhaps the most significant announcement as part of the above is that Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM) and Parature will no longer be sold to new customers from November 1st, 2016 onwards. Microsoft has already announced that Adobe Marketing Cloud will become Dynamics 365 for Enterprise’s preferred marketing solution, but this has been confused further by an additional follow-up announcement regarding the Dynamics 365 Marketing App for Business, coming up Spring 2017. For Parature, no successor product to has been announced, indicating that existing Parature users will eventually need to migrate across to some of the recently acquired service-focused modules within Dynamics 365, such as Customer Service, Field Service and Project Service Automation. I am unsure of the exact, specific numbers when it comes to Parature and MDM sales, but the above demonstrates clearly that not all Microsoft acquisitions are destined for success and products that are perceived to be “too different” from the core CRM/Dynamics 365 experience can and will be dropped. I cannot speak for Parature, but I have had some experience with MDM in the past and, although it does provide some useful and effective campaign automation tools, seems to be too bloated as a product, desperately trying to do everything but not in a particularly effective way. Microsoft’s mixed messaging in regards to what can be considered MDM’s true successor product means that it is prudent to perhaps wait before upgrading or moving away from MDM immediately. Hopefully, by Spring 2017, we will be able to see how both offers compare from an integration point of view with Dynamics 365 Enterprise.

Generous upgrade pathways for existing CRM customers

Up to 47% discounts when upgrading to Dynamics 365 from Dynamics CRM Online. Microsoft has already published a list of promo codes that can be used for early adopters, so if you are itching to move across to Dynamics 365 next week, you can very quickly get upgraded.

Is Dynamics 365 Enterprise actually a “major” release?

Looking carefully through the following TechnNet article on how to access the new Dynamics 365 apps, and I noticed the following tidbit:

What is “Dynamics 365 – custom”?

“Dynamics 365 – custom” is the app name for all online organizations with a version 8.1 and lower as well as the default app on 8.2. The name for the 8.2 default app can be changed by the administrator.

My reading of this is that the version number of Dynamics 365 Enterprise is 8.2, as opposed to 9.0. This is a minor thing, but interesting that Microsoft does not consider the Dynamics 365 Enterprise release to be a “major” one. This potentially raises the prospect for a further release in 2017 that adds in a plethora of new features – something that ties in well with the expected release of the Dynamics 365 for Business in Spring 2017.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

The Dynamics 365 release looks to be a major reset of a number of base assumptions surrounding Dynamics CRM – including, most crucially, the price. Some of the very early scenarios I have seen from a migration point of view look to point to a very definite price rise for those moving across to Dynamics 365 (assuming you follow Microsoft’s recommended migration pathway). This is mitigated somewhat if you have a high number of licenses, thanks to tiered pricing, but I am troubled about where this leaves small to medium size businesses who currently use CRM Online. I have highlighted previously my worries and concerns that Dynamics 365 for Enterprise could be seen as an adoption barrier for these type of businesses, so the reaction to these businesses to the new pricing will be an important bellwether for Dynamics 365 Enterprise – and whether businesses decide to just ditch it altogether when it comes to the eventual, forcible upgrade to the new plans; or look at moving across to Dynamics 365 for Business instead. The sooner we get some clarity on what this offering looks like, the better.

Something else to add into the mix, solely for UK-based customers, is the announcement that Microsoft’s cloud services prices will rise significantly in the new year, in a move that has been linked to the current state of Pound Sterling following the Brexit vote. To my knowledge, exact pricing for UK customers of the new Dynamics 365 plans have not been released (although we can do a rough currency conversion from US Dollars), so we are unable to exactly determine at this stage what the prices will look like at launch and whether they take into account the above price rises. If not, then it would add a degree of urgency towards migrating across to Dynamics 365 sooner rather than later, in order to lock in your prices for another 12 months.

All said and done, Dynamics 365 presents some interesting opportunities and challenges for organisations who work with the product – lets hope that it’s weighed more towards the latter in the months ahead 🙂

Change control and management are important considerations for any IT system – and CRM is no different in this respect. Business processes are often subject to change at the drop of a hat, and organisations should ensure that they have robust, effective and, most of all, efficient processes in place for change management. Often these changes may preclude the removal of a particular aspect of a system – in CRM’s case, this could be a Form, a View or even an Entity field. You may often just decide to take the “easy” way out and not remove these components at all, choosing instead to hide or obscure them. Whilst this is fine in the immediate to short term, you are storing up problems long-term if you do not have a robust process in place to ensure these unnecessary or legacy components are eventually removed. The problem is, though, depending on your customisation deployment method – either as part of managed or unmanaged solution – your options in this regard could be hampered. It is, therefore, important to be aware of what the potential limitations are to both types of solutions so that you can structure your customisations in the most appropriate way. In this week’s blog post, we will take a closer look at some of the for and against arguments when it comes to removing solution components from your production CRM system, the behaviour of solution files and how they can assist and even impede a change management process.

So why should you ensure that unnecessary/legacy components are removed from your Production system? And is there a case to not remove them at all?

  • Components can potentially take up unnecessary space within your solution, leading to delays in performing solution updates. If you also have entity fields in your CRM that are no longer in use but are still storing data, then this could have adverse effects on your database storage levels – an important and essential consideration for CRM Online deployments in particular.
  • Clarity and simplicity are hallmarks of a well managed and maintained system. Being in a situation where you have components in your system, that could easily be interpreted as being still in use or active, could lead to hours, if not days, of confusion and wasted time.

Clearly, there are practical, if not somewhat idealistic, arguments in favour of the above. So what are the arguments against?

  • Removing a component almost straightaway could present problems if, for example, it turns out that the reasons for its removal were mistaken. You would potentially create more work for yourself in having to re-create a particular customisation when keeping it could have saved considerable effort and time.
  • The above can be compounded further if it turns out that crucial business information was stored in, for example, a field that is deleted. Keeping the field intact can ensure that these potential situations are avoided.

Let’s see now things look in practice when we attempt to emulate a change process within CRM

For testing purposes, we have created a custom entity – Test Solution Entity – which contains 2 custom Forms, Views and Fields:

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This entity has been moved into an unmanaged solution, which will be exported as unmanaged and managed and then deployed into a separate CRM environment. We will then observe what happens when we push out an update to the solution, that has had certain components removed – in this case, the following components:

  • Test Form 1
  • Test View 1
  • Test Date Field

Unmanaged

Updating an unmanaged solution will do nothing to existing components that have been deleted – even if you specifically delete them from the solution in your development system. Therefore, as a best practice, any component that you choose to specifically delete from your unmanaged solution will need to be noted down and included as part of your release notes for your solution update. Once the update has been completed, you will then need to go into your production system and proceed with removing these components. Regardless of the type of customisation, you should encounter no problems deleting them – in most cases, all required dependencies for the component will have been removed as part of your solution update and the components themselves will be in an unmanaged state, meaning you are unrestricted in what you can do with them.

Managed

You may assume that a Managed solution update would differ from an unmanaged in behaviour. In fact, for this example at least, when we import our updated managed solution, then the components we deleted are persisted in the solution. What’s worse, because these components are in a managed state, the steps involved in removing them may be complicated significantly. Fortunately, for Forms and Views, there is a Managed Property that can be configured to allow us to delete a Form/View if it is in a managed state:

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These settings always default to True, so you do not need to specifically remember to set them.

There is some bad news, however – there is no such setting available for entity fields:

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In addition, the following customisation components can not be set to Can be Deleted whilst in a managed state:

  • Entity Relationships
  • Business Rules
  • Global Option Sets
  • Web Resources
  • Processes (Workflows, Dialogs etc.)
  • Reports
  • Connection Roles
  • Templates (Article, Email etc.)
  • Security Roles

This can present a problem over time if we assume that over the lifecycle of your solution, you need to remove redundant fields – these will be maintained and will only be removed if you choose to completely uninstall and re-install your solution. Depending on the nature of your solution, this could cause the following problems:

  • Uninstalling the solution will delete all entity records from the system, as all components in the solution will be deleted.
  • There could be significant time and effort involved in the re-installation process – most likely this will need to be done out of hours, given that everything within your solution will not be available for the duration of the re-install.
  • If you have other unmanaged/managed solutions that have dependencies on components within your managed solution, then this could cause issues with these customisations; and could even mean that you have to re-install these solutions as well.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

The above examples have looked at situations purely where you are making bespoke customisations to CRM. Sometimes deleting components may not be possible at all, particularly if you are using “out of the box” (OOB) components included with CRM. In these cases, you have no choice but to obfuscate these parts of the CRM systems as part of the customisations you make to the system – either through a well-defined security structure or by simply not exposing such elements of the system via the sitemap, for example. Putting OOB components aside, if we are to look at purely bespoke customisation elements of a CRM deployment, I would argue that striking a balance between the two extremes – leaving components that are no longer required in your system compared with deleting them at the first available opportunity – is often the best way to proceed. For example, having an internal process in place that ensures removal requests are signed off by a senior member of the business or by having a “grace period”, where customisations are flagged for deletion but not actioned until a set amount of time has expired. Tied up as part of this, you can very straightforwardly perform backups of your CRM data via the Export to Excel feature. Given how easy and accessible this feature is, there really is no excuse not to perform backups of fields that you intend to delete; then, if the worse happens and you need to restore customisations at a later date (which, on a separate note, should be straightforward so long as you keeping regular backups of your CRM solution files!), you can very quickly restore the data within these fields.

No matter which approach you take, I would argue that it is ultimately preferable to ensure that your CRM solutions are kept in a tidy, current and clear state at all times. You are doing a huge disservice to your current and future colleagues within your business by not following this mantra. In the process as well, you take a rather cavalier approach to what I would hope would be(!) one of your businesses most important assets.

Did you know that the CRM SDK contains a WebsiteCopy tool, that can be used to backup/migrate your CRM portal website? I was surprised actually, as there is no page on the CRM Setup & Administration website that refers to it. When I initially started looking more closely at the CRM portals release as part of the Spring Wave update, one of my first questions was “OK, portals are great! But how can I deploy my development portal site out to a production system when it’s ready?”. As a best practice approach, you will always want to ensure that you have distinctly separate development and production environments for any system that your business is using, and portals are no different in this regard. At first, I was concerned that there did not appear to be any “supported” mechanism for migrating development portal content into production environments; utilising the WebsiteCopy tool helps to overcome this issue and saves you from having to manually re-create records within your production CRM environment. Let’s take a closer look at how to get the tool, use it in practice and also review some of the supported scenarios that it can potentially assist with.

How to obtain the WebsiteCopy tool

In a rather counter-intuitive step, you will need to download the Dynamics CRM 2015 SDK. This is because the tool is not available whatsoever within the 2016 SDK. This seems like a rather strange oversight, so I would expect this to eventually be addressed as part of a future SDK release. Indeed, even the official MSDN page for this tool is listed as being only applicable to CRM 2011, 2013 & 2015. The 2015 SDK can be downloaded from here. Once you’ve got it and extracted it successfully, the tool can be found in the Bin folder in the root directory:

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It is also worth pointing out that this tool is an exact copy of the Website Copy Tool provided by Adxstudio, which is obtainable via an installation of Adxstudio portals. Users of this tool should, therefore, face no challenge using the SDK version of the tool.

Using the tool

Due to simplistic nature of the wizard tool (and the fact that there are already well-documented walkthroughs available for both import and export scenarios), I will not go into detail documenting the entire process from start to finish. However, it is worthwhile pointing out the following:

  • There appears to be a bug on the Connect to Server screen where, after specifying your credentials and hitting Enter on your keyboard, the application thinks that you are pressing the ‘Go‘ button as opposed to ‘Next‘; clearing the credentials you have entered in the process and essentially going back a step: 5 6 7It took me a good half an hour or so before I figured this out, so make sure you hit the correct button!
  • When prompted to provide a Name value when importing your portal, the value can be anything you want it to be – the Website record’s Name field will be populated with this value in CRM on import.
  • I would generally recommend exporting to XML first, and then running the wizard again to import your newly created XML That way, you can double-check to ensure that you have run the initial export correctly and obtain a backup of your entire website in the process.
  • Exporting the cmd script at the end of the wizard is recommended if you intend to run the same export/import process frequently. For example, if you are running daily backups of your in-development website, then running the script instead of the wizard each day can save you some time.
  • Be prepared to put the kettle on as the import/export process can take some time.

Now that the website and all associated records are in CRM, how do you set this as your live website?

You will need to go to the configuration page for your CRM portal, and change your website record to point to your newly imported website. This is the same page you see when you first setup your portal, and can be accessed from the CRM Online Administration Center -> Applications and then Manage from your Portal Add-On subscription:

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Then select your newly imported website from the Update Portal Binding drop-down:

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Note that your changes may not take effect immediately after saving and that you will likely need to attempt the old “turning it off and back on again” trick using the Change Portal State dropdown:

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As an additional bonus, the tool can also be used in the following scenarios:

  • Backup an Adxstudio website to a CRM Online portal deployment
  • Backup a CRM Online portal to an Adxstudio website (On-Premise/Online CRM)

To prove this, I did a test importing the ghastly looking portal, previously created as part of a previous post on Bootstrap templates. This was originally created using Adxstudio and I was able to successfully import this into CRM portals, in all its horrid glory 🙂

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By covering both of the above scenarios, the tool instantly becomes a lot more powerful and versatile – enabling you to very quickly get your existing Adxstudio website setup as a CRM portal site. It also gives portal developers the flexibility to setup their own development Adxstudio environment, safe in the knowledge that they can straightforwardly migrate these across to CRM portals when they are production ready. Note that the above test does not confirm whether or not bespoke Adxstudio customisations via custom generated ASP.NET pages etc. will definitely migrate across 100% to CRM portals and that the steps involved in changing/modifying the bindings for Adxstudio differ significantly from CRM portals.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

CRM portals, as a product offering, is still in its early life cycle stages. As such, it is reasonable to expect that clear and broad documentation that covers the types of scenarios discussed in this blog post (e.g. managing CRM portal development environments) is not yet forthcoming and that some trial and error may be involved in figuring what to do (it wouldn’t be fun otherwise 🙂 ). What is good to know is that Microsoft has not made a conscious decision to restrict or remove some of the existing tools available for Adxstudio and that they “just work” with CRM portals. This is perhaps a rather obvious assumption, given that both products are technically identical. Nevertheless, it is good to know that those who are venturing into CRM portals for the first time can very easily get running with tools, like the WebsiteCopy Tool, when planning, developing and rolling out solutions for businesses who have taken the plunge early on with CRM portals.

Another big Microsoft conference can only mean another swathe of new announcements relating to Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 🙂 . Admittedly, compared to the bombshells that dropped before and during WPC 2016, there is relatively little this time around that can match the scale and excitement of Dynamics 365. Nevertheless, there are still a number of things that CRM professionals need to keenly take note of and prepare themselves for in the future. I’ve gone through all of the major announcements during Ignite, and below is my pick of the most significant and major ones. If anyone thinks I’ve missed anything, then please let me know in the comments below!

A new Personal Assistant for your Sales Team: The Relationship Assistant

As reported by VentureBeat, Satya Nadella’s keynote speech made a brief reference to a new “relationship assistant”, that will be incorporated as part of Dynamics CRM/365’s mobile experience. Interestingly, it will initially only be offered as part of the Dynamics 365 Sales “module” only; Microsoft no doubt understand the challenges that organisations can sometimes face when colleagues in the Sales team do not always update their CRM records correctly, so targeting this demographic first will provide an excellent proving ground to determine whether artificial intelligence can overcome this hurdle.

The announcement lacks some of the detail you would expect and, as highlighted by Jordan on VentureBeat, the timing is not just mere coincidence:

The news is notable because it comes just one week after Salesforce, the biggest player in the CRM business, announced that it was bringing artificial intelligence capability — called Einstein — into its Sales Cloud. Einstein recommendations in Sales Cloud are similar to the cards that appear in Dynamics CRM’s “relationship assistant.”

One wonders whether the above was casually slipped into Satya’s keynote speech as a warning shot across to Salesforce. It is also unclear whether or not this tool will be released in tandem with Dynamics 365’s launch later this year, adding further weight to the argument that this was a last minute addition to the speech. Fingers crossed that we will see something more fleshed out sooner rather than later.

Adobe/Microsoft Partnership & the future of Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM)

On first glance, the announcement concerning closer collaboration between Adobe & Microsoft seems rather innocuous, as it mostly concerns Adobe offering some of its more high-profile cloud offerings as part of the Azure/Office 365 “family” of products. However, this announcement comes with the following bombshell that organisations who use Dynamics Marketing, or are contemplating adopting it in the near future, need to urgently take note of:

Microsoft will make Adobe Marketing Cloud its preferred marketing service for Dynamics 365 Enterprise edition, giving customers a powerful, comprehensive marketing service for Microsoft’s next generation of intelligent business applications.

Now I preface this by saying that there is no explicit statement as part of the above that proclaims “Dynamics Marketing will no longer be available to buy as an Office 365 subscription”, but the writing is clearly on the wall for Dynamics Marketing. This being the case, there are few worthwhile things to point out:

  • Clearly, not all Microsoft acquisitions are destined for instant or long-term success. Microsoft has clearly weighed up their options and decided that Adobe Marketing Cloud is a safer bet long term compared to Dynamics Marketing. I have taken a look previously at the history behind the MDM product, and the main thing I would highlight from this is that, from the outside, Dynamics Marketing definitely looks similar to CRM; but underneath the hood, there are a number of key and jarring differences that can make it difficult to become a Dynamics Marketing master in a short space of time.
  • Adobe already look to have a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Connector that can be used to link across Marketing Cloud with CRM – having not used the tool myself, I cannot comment on its usability, but the key litmus test for the above announcement is how well this tool operates compared to the existing Dynamics Marketing CRM Connector. This tool I have found to be relatively straightforward and simple to configure and maintain. The success of how Adobe Cloud Marketing integrates with CRM/Dynamics 365 will be pivotal in determining whether this new partnership blossoms or wilts.
  • Adobe presents an interesting choice for partnering, with some of the commentary surrounding the announcement pitching this as an epic battle between Microsoft/Adobe on one side versus Salesforce/Oracle on the other. If asked what Adobe is best known for, generally you would mention one of its many design or productivity products, not their solutions for Marketing. The areas where Adobe Marketing Cloud can win over Dynamics Marketing will be crucial, particularly in terms of campaign automation, email design and lead generation. If Marketing Cloud can take the best of these features from Dynamics Marketing, sprinkled with some of the design & productivity elements that are well-known from their other products, then the product could succeed significantly compared with Dynamics Marketing.

We are still another month or so away from the official release of Dynamics 365, so I am eagerly awaiting further detail on this key announcement – and in hopefully being able to set up a self-managed trial of Adobe Marketing Cloud and see what it can do in tandem with CRM.

And the rest…

Here’s my pick of other interesting announcements made during Ignite, that may have some bearing on CRM/Dynamics 365 in the near future:

  • Windows Server 2016 finally has a somewhat definitive release date of “mid-October 2016”, and it is great to finally see that this will be released before the year is out. I have always found Windows Server 2012 to be somewhat strange to use, thanks in part to Windows 8 inspired Start Menu. Having a desktop experience that is virtually identical to Windows 10 will be a breath of fresh air. A new Server operating system will therefore likely mean that the next major version of On-Premise Dynamics CRM/365 will support this operating system, so getting up to speed with the new Server OS will be essential for those who intend to adopt the next, major version in the near future. There has been no news or confirmation from Microsoft whether existing or previous versions of On-Premise CRM will be updated to support Windows Server 2016, so those looking for a quick upgrade of their Server 2012’s should hold off until (and if) this becomes apparent.
  • There was some interesting news and developments relating to SharePoint/OneDrive, that I am really looking forward to. For example, the ability to sync SharePoint libraries as part of the new next-generation client, push notifications to mobile devices and the ability to download multiple files to a .zip file. Because SharePoint, and now OneDrive, can be integrated closely within CRM, any developments that improve the experience and usability of working with your CRM documents will hopefully drive organisations towards utilising these services for their CRM document management, as opposed to just using the “out of the box” solution.
  • The rebranding of Enterprise Mobility Suite, and the introduction of the new EMS E5 plan, can only mean good things for Microsoft’s cloud services generally, and in particular CRM Online; organisations can very quickly and confidently set up advanced and highly secure environments for their online identities, and in the process take full advantage of the full suite of Microsoft’s cloud offerings within Office 365 and, eventually, Dynamics 365.