Exams are always something that you end up worrying about to an obsessive degree. The thought of being placed on the spot and expected to demonstrate your knowledge in a particular subject can be daunting to even the most knowledgeable individuals. Technology exams, such as Microsoft certification, can arguably be the worst of all; the level of detailed technical knowledge that you are expected to know off the top of your head can seem almost impossible, particularly for those are heavily reliant on our friend of old, like me! The pace of technological advancement only complicates this further and, when you are working with solutions as fast-paced as Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E), the pace is almost marathon like. New features are added regularly to the application and this invariably leads to new exam content and accreditations to match. The introduction of an MCSA and MCSE for D365E is, arguably, one of the more welcome of recent changes made, and gives those looking to showcase their knowledge a more enhanced way of doing so.

I have previously reviewed the new exams in more detail on the blog and, after having been through the process and successfully obtained my MCSA and MCSE, I can speak generally about the experience and hopefully guide those who are looking at sitting the exams in the near future. This week’s post will provide some general guidance on how you can best prepare for the exams, an overview of the new badge sharing platform, Acclaim, and my general thoughts on the whole experience.

Disclaimer

Per the terms of the Exam NDA, this post will not make reference to any specific exam content; rather, it will discuss broadly what areas you should focus on to get that passing grade. Any discussion or question relating to exam content will be deleted from the comments section.

The journey to Accreditation may seem somewhat upside down

To achieve your MCSA, and eventually MCSE, Microsoft recommends that you follow a suggested route to attain your certification. Although you are free to pass the exams in any order you wish, it is perhaps strange that, if you follow the prescribed route, you will learn/be tested on how to customise, configure and manage Dynamics 365 before discovering what the application can offer natively. Many of the features available in D365E may very well speed along a deployment, and it is important to always remember the plethora of existing functionality available within the application and not accidentally over-customise when there is no need to.

Don’t underestimate the need to revise…

As with any new exam, the Skills Measured list is updated to reflect features freshly introduced as part of the exams targeted release. If you have not yet had experience with how these work, then I would highly recommend working through the e-learning courses available on the Dynamics Learning Portal in the first instance (some of which, incidentally, are also available on Imagine Academy), targeting yourself towards a) new features and b) functionality that you have the least experience in. With regards to “What’s New” with D365E, I would recommend brushing up on the following subjects as part of your revision:

There’s a good chance, based on each exams specification, that questions on all the above topics could appear on multiple exams, so be sure to prepare yourself for this.

…but realise that hands-on experience is the best route towards passing an exam.

Simply watching the e-learning courses or reading about new functionality is never sufficient when revising. You should ideally have a D365E tenant available to you as part of your revision (trials can be set up in a pinch) and be working through features of the application as you are learning. The above e-learning courses include labs, which is an excellent starting point; from there, you should very much work through setting up features from scratch, navigating around the interface and understanding what various buttons/actions do. You may surprise yourself and discover something about the application that you previously overlooked; something which happens to me all the time!

Be sure to setup your Acclaim account after passing

One of the nifty new perks of passing an exam this year is the introduction of Acclaim, which aims to provide a simplified mechanism of collating together your various accreditations across multiple vendors in a fun way. Upon passing your first exam, you will be sent an email within 24 hours of passing to let you know your badge is waiting to be claimed:

To accept the badge, you will need to setup an account with Acclaim. After this, all subsequent achievements will be saved to the same account, enabling you to build up your “Acclaim transcript” as you pass more exams. The social features of the application are varied and quite nice, meaning that you can quickly share the news of your exam pass with friends, colleagues and family members at the click of a button. Currently, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are supported at the time of writing. Finally, you can download images of your badges and include them as part of job applications/C.V’s, helping them stand out more visually.

If you are interested in finding out more about Acclaim, then you can check out my profile to get a feel for what it can offer you. Suffice it to say, having a straightforward means of sending potential customers/employers a website link to my Acclaim profile as opposed to an entire Microsoft transcript would undoubtedly simplify things. Now, if only you could get physical badges that you could stick on your bag… 🙂

Conclusions or Wot I Think

My own personal journey towards obtaining my first MCSA and MCSE has been challenging and rewarding in equal measure. It feels really good to know that D365E has a proper set of accreditations that individuals can aspire towards obtaining and which exemplify the position of the application alongside other, well-known Microsoft solutions. That is not to say that exams are a definitive means of judging your expertise with a particular product, and an exam fail may indicate a spur of the moment, misjudged answer or a lack of revision for a particular new feature. This post may put people off from trying for an exam, due to the effort involved, but it’s important that you are not daunted in any way. I would readily encourage people who have a passion for D365E to put aside any concerns and not delay in working towards passing each of the exams. By doing so, you can proactively demonstrate your commitment towards D365E and the zeal that you have for it, giving those around you the confidence that you not just talk the talk, but can walk the walk as well.

I did a blog post a few weeks ago discussing the new Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E) exams that have been steadily coming out since the start of the year. At the time, I mused that there may be more to expect in the future exam-wise:

I would hope that these exams are a stop-gap for a completely new range of exams that will be released in the future, that place the D365E application front and centre with the other much-loved favourites in the Microsoft “family”.

At the time of writing this, I had very much intended “future” to be a long time away – certainly 2018 at the earliest. With this being said, it was therefore incredibly surprising/pleasing to find out earlier this week of the introduction of two new certification types for D365E: The Microsoft Dynamics 365 MCSA and the Business Applications MCSE:

Big thanks to CRM trainer extraordinaire, Julian Sharp, for posting about the release and bringing it to everyone’s attention. AX fans can also rejoice, as an MCSA has also been released that covers the new version of this application, rebranded as Dynamics 365 for Operations. Previously, AX was in the same boat as Dynamics CRM in being restricted to Specialist-level exams only.

How To Get the New Certifications

Both the MCSA and MCSE are designed to fit around the current exam lists that have been released for Dynamics 365, specifically all of the ones that I have looked at previously on the blog. This means that, in practice, there is nothing additional or special that you need to prepare for; and, to be honest with you, CRM exam veterans should find little difficulty in obtaining the certifications. Here’s why, as I summarise what you need to do get each respective certification:

So it might very well be the case that, if you have passed any or all of the above exams already, then there will be something new and shiny on your exam transcript from Microsoft 🙂

How the certifications stack up against other MCSA’s/MCSE’s

Looking at how the MCSA compares with some of the other ones out there, there is definitely less exam content that you need to thoroughly learn before sitting the exams. That being said, the Dynamics 365 MCSA is very much geared to the types of skills that are measured as part of other MCSA’s – namely, how to setup the application in question and how to manage it. It is only when you start to get into the upper echelons of the MCSE that you start to see specialisation in specific application areas. This is similar to how SQL Server Reporting Services is treated, as there is very little exam material covering this at SQL Server MCSA level. For D365E, this is a very good approach to take, as a lot of the information that you will need to learn as part of customizing CRM/D365E in the past is instantly applicable to the Sales/Case Management exams, and even gives you a head-start in making assumptions about how these system entities operate.

When I look at the requirements needed for the MCSE, I can’t help but feel that the exam requirements are somewhat simple (without wanting to be too glib, given that I have yet to sit either exam!). Having said that, it does seem that the requirements for MCSE’s have been relaxed across the board and the re-certification requirements have also been overhauled to take into account the increased frequency of releases across the Microsoft range of products.

Why their introduction is so important

The success of D365E and, indeed, the entire rebranding of the range of Dynamics applications depends solely on how the range of applications are perceived within the range of other products in the “Microsoft family”. If there is an imbalance at all anywhere in the chain, then customers who are evaluating the product are not going to take a second look at it. Because, let’s face it – if the organisation that is selling the product does not seem to care about it, why should you?

I think back to a recent evaluation that I did of an anti-virus and device endpoint encryption product from one of the largest computer technology companies in the world. The product in question was acquired a few years back by the company and, when evaluating it, it was indeed an excellent and perhaps greatly innovative solution to have in place within an organisation. Our interest was killed quickly by the following factors:

  • It took weeks to arrange a demo. As we found out after the fact, the demo request went through the corporate maze, as no one could figure out who was responsible for carrying out pre-sales demos.
  • After the demo was scheduled and completed, attempting to obtain pricing information was nigh on impossible; again, it went through the corporate maze and we gave up in the end due to the delay.
  • The product itself was not mentioned in great detail on the organisation’s website, only a token page or 2 outlining what it is and what it does (in a very poor manner)

All of the above stems from the fact the organisation was not actively behind the product at every single opportunity; even a weakness in one of these areas could make or break the success of a product when presented to potential customers.

Education and certification is an important element of this, as organisations can take comfort that a product has a range of effective and recognisable certifications that demonstrate an individuals or organisations competency in delivering solutions utilising it. From a Microsoft standpoint, the MCSA and MCSE are the gold standard of accreditations. If a Microsoft product does not have a corresponding MCSA at the very least, you can bet that it is not a great product or has not been given the love and attention needed to bring it to the forefront as part of potential sales opportunities. Now that we finally have MCSA and MCSE qualifications for D365E, we can now start to say definitively that this is the time for Dynamics 365. No longer is the product just the black horse contender for CRM/ERP king amongst the likes of SalesForce and Oracle; it is an established presence and very much here to stay.

In the world of Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E), the start of the year generally means the introduction of new exams in line with the latest version of the product. 2017 is no exception to this rule and, at the time of writing, there are 4 new D365E exams that you can start to get your teeth into:

Microsoft appears to be drip feeding the current wave of exams this time around: the first exam to popup was MB2-716 at the start of February, with the remaining exams cropping up over the last week or so. What’s also worth noting is that the current exam list for D365E is only viewable via the US Microsoft Learning site; if you are UK based like me, then the current Dynamics certification page makes no mention of the new exams…yet. I seem to remember this being a problem last year as well and, like back then, you can still book your exam and sit it in your country of choice by simply going through the US Microsoft Learning Website.

Exams present a good opportunity to re-familiarise yourself with areas of a particular product that you have not had much exposure to previously, as well as introducing you to anything new that has been introduced over the past year. In this week’s blog post, I will take a closer look at the new exams and the differences that new and previous candidates should make note of before preparing to revise.

Customer Organizational Structure: What It Is and Why You Shouldn’t Worry

Both the MB20715 and MB2-717 dedicate a significant percentage of exam performance on a candidate’s ability to ‘Create a Customer Organizational Structure‘. Exam veterans may initially be put off by this terminology, as it is not something that has ever been referenced previously. Upon closer inspection of both exams, the skills measured differs, compounding any potential confusion. Fortunately, the top-level terminology is more confusing than what is underneath. To simplify things for those who may be still scratching their heads, here is a breakdown for each exam of what you will need to focus on:

  • MB2-715
    • Support the Microsoft Dynamics 365 client environment: This covers things such as knowing which browsers are compatible with D365E, which mobile devices/operating systems that the mobile app support and also minimum software/hardware requirements for the D365E App for Outlook (Note: this is NOT the same as the Dynamics 365 for Outlook).
    • Deploy Microsoft Dynamics: This will likely cover what license types are available, what permissions they grant across the application and also what features you get as part of a subscription. For example, remember that subscriptions now include a free sandbox and 10GB database storage.
    • Import Data into the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Environment: This will cover the Data Import Wizard and all its subtle nuances, as well as the new Data Loader service (surprising, given that it is still in preview apparently).
    • Manage the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Environment: This is likely to cover all of the Office 365 “soft skills” that are required as part of managing D365E Online and, rather interestingly, Single Sign-On (SSO) via Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) – something that has only ever come up as part of On-Premise exams previously.
  • MB2-717
    • Manage Customer Records: This will include topics covering your “basic” record types and how they behave (Accounts, Contacts etc.), as well as having to demonstrate knowledge of Business Units and how to structure the application to match a business hierarchy.
    • Manage the Sales Process: This will cover your full sales qualification process – Lead to Opportunity to Quote to Order to Invoice – and how these record types interact, the unique behaviours of each and potentially some stuff covering Business Process Flows.
    • Manage Customer Communication: Same as the above, this will be focused towards knowledge of Opportunity and Lead records. There may also be a sneaky question or 2 about Social Engagement chucked in, based on the terminology used.
    • Manage sales literature and competitors: This will include working with document templates, the Competitor record type and potentially some questions regarding Connections and Connection Roles.

So on balance, nothing too scary as part of the above for those who have sat previous exams. That’s why it’s always important to dig deeper behind a headline to get the true story underneath!

And It’s Goodnight From Me: Saying Farewell to the On-Premise Exam

One notable absentee from the list of new exams is the On-Premise Installation exam. The previous exam for 2016, MB2-711, demonstrates a candidate’s proficiency in installing and administrating the On-Premise version of Dynamics 2016; something which, based solely on my own experience managing an on-premise lab environment, is no small feat. Now it very much looks if this exam has gone the way of the Dodo. As highlighted by legendary CRM/D365E MVP Mark Smith, there is currently no content on the Dynamics Learning Portal/Imagine Academy that covers On-Premise installation of D365E.

Although the retirement of this exam type (if true) does come with some drawbacks for those who may be tasked with supporting on-premise versions of the application in the near future, it is perhaps not surprising. The key thing that Microsoft have been trying to highlight as part of the D365E release is the clear benefit of the cloud version of the product over its companion, self-hosted versions. This is why Microsoft have been offering incentivised upgrade pathways, sprinkled with a generous helping of price reductions, to motivate organisations to move to the Online version of the product. Whilst On-Premise D365E will continue to have a role to play in the months and years ahead – which is why Microsoft offer Dual Use Rights with online subscriptions (see below) – its role will be relegated to merely providing organisations with an offline mechanism for deploying development/test environments within their own infrastructure.

Excerpt from the Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition Licensing Guide. Click on the image to download the full guide.

With regards to some of the topic areas covered by the former On-Premise Installation exam – such as Server-Side-Synchronisation and CRM for Outlook – you can be assured/annoyed at the fact that these topics are picked up within the new MB2-715 exam instead. So don’t take these subjects too lightly when revising 🙂

Missed Opportunities

As we welcome the new exams and what they can offer, they also present an opportunity to evaluate what is missing and what could be improved upon in the future. With this in mind, here are a few things that are a shame to be have been missed as part of this wave of exam releases:

  • With the retirement of MB2-701: Extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 at the end of the last year, the death knell was signalled for Developer CRM/D365E certifications. With no current exam on the horizon to replace MB2-701, this presents a major missed opportunity. Familiar readers of the blog will know that I have railed against this in the past, chiefly for the reason is that it creates a lack of incentivisation for existing functional CRM consultants or developers new to the product to take a dive and learn what is possible via the platform through coding. I hope that this is eventually addressed and that we see an Extending Dynamics 365 exam or similar released in future.
  • I did a post last year discussing the possible imminence of a CRM Portal exam, based on evidence garnered from the Adxstudio website. CRM Portals is such a huge product in of itself, that presents its own unique blend of learning curves and challenges when coming from a purely CRM-focused background. Having an exam dedicated solely to this presents, in my view, the surest way pathway for those interested in implementing the product as part of future projects to get running with it. This being the case, it is a shame that a Portal Exam has not yet been included as part of the above list.
  • I did hear some rumours last year that Microsoft was planning on “resetting” the current state of affairs regarding CRM/D365E exams and their status within the Microsoft certification hierarchy. Unlike the “big hitters” in the Microsoft range of products, such as Azure and Office 365, which have MCSA/MCSE level qualifications, CRM/D365E have continually been relegated to Microsoft Specialist level for each of the exams passed; something which, I have to admit, does not look as snazzy on your C.V. 🙁 I was hoping that with the love and attention shown to CRM last year as part of the D365E rebranding, that we would see a brand new D365E MCSA released. Perhaps this may happen in the future, as I believe this is one of the ways that Microsoft can clearly signal the importance of D365E moving forward.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

I have yet to sit any of the new exams, although it is something that I am tentatively planning for over the next couple of months. It will be interesting to see how the experience differs compared to previous exams, if at all. Despite the rebranding, the content of these exams feels to be very safe on balance; i.e. the structure is largely identical compared to their equivalent 2016 version, with some slight peppering of new content to cover some of the muted new features within the product. Some new features appear to have been left out altogether – for example, there is no specific mention of some of the new Process updates or even the new built-in Sitemap editor. I would hope that these exams are a stop-gap for a completely new range of exams that will be released in the future, that place the D365E application front and centre with the other much-loved favourites in the Microsoft “family.” This would also have the added benefit of providing candidates with the opportunity to more clearly specialise within non-traditional areas of the application.

In anticipation of the Spring Wave release of CRM (which I am really excited about), I have been doing some research into ADXstudio and CRM Portals. As you may already know, Microsoft bought ADXstudio last year and aims to tightly integrate the product under new branding, as an add-on for existing CRM Online customers and a volume license product for on-premise CRM deployments. CRM Portals are shortly going to become more and more relevant in the months ahead, to the point of which they will be crucial for any serious CRM developer/consultant; my principal aim of the above is to get a flavour relating to the products background and Microsoft’s long term direction resulting from the acquisition.

Whilst reading the Microsoft Acquisition FAQ on the Adxstudio website, I stumbled upon this rather interesting Q&A:

9. Are there plans for an Adxstudio certification program?

Adxstudio certification will be a module that CRM Partners will certify on as part as an all-inclusive Dynamics Service Certification (Target launch July 2016)

Although vague in nature, there is enough detail there for us to assume that there will be some changes to the existing exams currently covering the CRM product this year – either modifications to an existing exam, an exam overhaul/replacement or even a brand new exam altogether. Here’s why I think it is incredibly likely to expect at least 1 new CRM exam before the end of the summer, and why this is, arguably, a good thing:

  • I don’t speak with much authority on this first point unfortunately, but taking a cursory glance over the ADXStudio product suggests that there is a lot to learn and cover in order to implement and maintain a portal for your CRM instance. I therefore think it would prove difficult to incorporate the entire lifecycle of CRM Portals as part of an existing exam; indeed, the trend seems to suggest a move towards more specialised exams, given that the MB2-704 exam was, effectively, split into 2 new exams as part of the CRM 2016 release. Having a singular exam that does not distract itself with the breadth of other features within CRM would seem to be the best approach to ensure that professionals fully understand how to use the product.
  • Having a dedicated exam, plus an accompanying Microsoft Learning course, for CRM Portals makes sense as it not necessarily a foregone conclusion that everything will currently be using ADXstudio as part of their CRM deployment. Granted, it has been incredibly popular amongst CRM Partners across the globe. But it is still likely that most CRM professionals would have only at least heard of ADXstudio previously, having no direct experience using the product. By putting in place an exam and Microsoft Learning course for the product, Microsoft will enable those people to dive into the product quickly and effectively and, by association, drive sales of the product in the years ahead.
  • Microsoft have recently announced a price hike for all Microsoft Certification exams, which is expected to take effect for any exam booked globally after June 30th. It might just be a coincidence, but I can see the sense of holding off on releasing any significant new exams until the price hike takes effect. It’s just good business after all 🙂
  • To the chagrin of some within the CRM Community, there has been no new updated exam to replace the MB2-701 Extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 (although, strangely, updated Microsoft curriculum was released to Microsoft training providers for CRM 2015). This is something which I have been hotly anticipating myself for the past 6 months, given the number of changes involved as part of 2015’s Update 1. One would hope that, in line with Spring Wave release, an Extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 exam hits in the near future, so that CRM developers can demonstrate their competencies in the latest release(s) of CRM.

Perhaps I am being overly hopeful in anticipating a new exam; it could just be that the existing MB2-714 exam is simply updated to incorporate new content relating to CRM Portal. I think this could be a damaging oversight though, and could have long-term implications in regards to driving adoption of the product. It is incredibly important (one would assume) that Microsoft is able to record as many CRM Portal subscription add-on/volume license purchases, as quickly as possible, for the new product; putting out an olive branch to those within the CRM community who have not yet taken the dive with ADXStudio is an important consideration that can only help achieve the assumed aims of Microsoft’s acquisition last year.

Microsoft have recently released four new exams for Dynamics CRM 2016. The first thing to point out is that these exams do not replace/supersede the exams for 2015, which are likely to stay around for at least another 2-3 years. Therefore, passing these exams should be a definite goal for anyone who works extensively with CRM or is planning on upgrading to 2016 in the near future. The four new exams are as follows:

There’s some interesting things to point out here. Microsoft have chosen not to provide an updated exam for MB2-708: Microsoft Dynamics CRM Installation, which focuses on On-Premise CRM installation and configuration. I’ve not yet been through a Dynamics CRM 2016 Server installation, so I would assume that not much has changed on this side of things. This would appear to be match up with the look and feel of CRM 2016, which is very much the same at first glance to CRM 2015 Update 1. No major changes must mean no new exam, in which case.

On first glance, the new CRM Online Deployment exam looks exactly the same – even down to the title! Look more closely however and you will see there are some major differences in the learning objectives. This bit in particular stuck out for me:

Manage related services (10% – 15%)

  • Describe related services
    • Identify related online services; integrate Microsoft Social Engagement with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online; manage campaigns with Microsoft Dynamics Marketing
  • Integrate Yammer and SharePoint Online
    • Describe Yammer and SharePoint Online; identify SharePoint Online integration types; describe the integration process

Integrate OneNote, Skype, Skype for Business, Office 365 Groups, and OneDrive for Business

  • Compare Dynamics CRM Notes and OneNote; identify storage location for OneNote notebooks; configure OneNote integration; integrate Skype and Skype for Business; identify limitations for Skype and Skype for Business; describe Office 365 Groups; identify requirements for Office 365 Groups; integrate Office 365 Groups with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

As well as some of the expected mentioned platforms such as Yammer and SharePoint, the relatively recent Office 365 Groups also makes an appearance. Suffice to say, the integration element with other Microsoft applications plays a much bigger role this time around, fitting in with the general strategy behind CRM Online/Office 365. That’s great news if you are familiar with the Office 365 platform, but this may present a challenge for those who primarily have CRM On-Premise experience and are looking to make the jump onto CRM Online. Fortunately, Microsoft offers free trials of both Office 365 and CRM Online, so you can quite easily spin up a CRM Online instance and Exchange Online, SharePoint etc. so you can get up to speed.

Lastly, something which I’m disappointed about, there is no updated version of MB2-701: Extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 AKA the CRM Developers exam. The name of the exam tells you everything you need to know, it’s for CRM 2013! Whaaaaat!?! Unfortunately, CRM developers don’t seem to be getting much love these days… 🙁 Admittedly, from a developers point of view, there hasn’t been too much that has changed, however CRM 2015 Update 1 rather sneakily altered some of the supported methods for form level JScript. This has caused some issues with coding that was written pre-update 1. On the balance of things therefore, an updated Developers exam is definitely something that would be great to see and I was very much looking forward to seeing this as part of the new refreshed exam list. Looks like I will have to attempt to sit MB2-701 at some point this year instead.

I’ve already been able to sit and successfully pass MB2-712, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that I will be able to pass all three of other exams too. Better start hitting the books soon!

Do you have any advice or tips for these exams?

Due to Microsoft’s NDA relating to each of the exams, I cannot disclose any details relating to the exam and its contents (as a result, any discussion in the comments that are in breach of this will be promptly removed). My best advice is to really focus on the learning objectives for each exam and, ideally, have a CRM instance open whilst you are revising so you can get some practice as you learn new concepts. PartnerSource has some great resources to download and test your knowledge on, or you could look at attending one of the many training courses out there from Microsoft Training Providers. Those of you who have passed previous exams shouldn’t have any major trouble, but it’s always good to refresh your memory or go over things within CRM that you don’t use that often.

Good luck to anyone who is sitting these exams – particularly if it’s you first time sitting them. Let me know how you get on in the comments below.