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The truth is out there. “There” meaning the social networks in this case. Unlike with previous beta programs (TAP’s or whatever they used to be called), the July 2017 release of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (in short, “CRM”) was announced to the world in a three day event called Preview Executive Briefing that didn’t come with any NDA ties. As a result, the content from the live stream of these 37 sessions presented to us by the product team PM’s was free to be tweeted out into the world.
That’s exactly what happened then. Community members like #CCOGNETTABOT didn’t settle for only capturing screenshots from the sessions into their own OneNotes but also shared it with the world under the #MSDyn365 hashtag. As the amount of information was approaching Big Data, I in turn tried my best to capture the most relevant pieces of the social stream and compile it into Storify. Not only did we end up getting a “best of” from the slides and live demos, also the most interesting Q&A responses from the product team were recorded here.
Below is a link to each individual Storify collection, as well as the embedded story for a preview (ha!) of the content included there (if you’re viewing this on survivingcrm.com and not Dynamics Community).
Day 1, 2017-06-20
Topics included Unified Interface (earlier names “Unified Client” or UCI), mobile, field service, Unified Resource Scheduling (URS), CafeX, Social Engagement (MSE).
Day 2, 2017-06-21
Business Edition for sales & marketing (i.e. differences compared to Enterprise Edition), event management, LinkedIn, portals, USD, App Modules, Virtual Entity.
Day 3, 2017-06-22
Customer Insights, Organization Insights, Relationship Insights (notice a pattern here?), business process automation (BPF, MS Flow), multi-select option sets, security and compliance, Web UI refresh (for Enterprise Edition), Application/Platform separation (“solutionizing CRM”), Power BI, Data Export Service (DES), Common Data Service (CDS).
This v9.0 is a major release, not just by the version number but by the sheer amount changes happening in the platform, the client, the apps and the services connected to Dynamics 365. Most of this will NOT arrive in July, instead it’ll be rolled out via Private Preview and Preview programs towards the eventual GA. I believe it’s definitely the right thing to do, seeing the number of moving parts involved here. Also, the investments made to the platform are specifically designed to make it more modular and less of a monolith that you have to upgrade in one big bang. Oh, and v9.0 is online only, with on-prem updates coming for the applicable areas after these things are tested in the cloud.
You can still sign up for the preview program here. In fact, if any of this Dynamics 365 stuff is of interest, you MUST sign up, or risk being left seriously behind. After three long nights of watching the non-stop live stream from the Preview Executive Briefing of v9.0, at least I feel like I’m now just starting to know what I don’t know. No single developer ninja or superhero consultant can grasp all of this, so it’s important that you also make it a team effort and spread out the responsibility of keeping yourselves educated. My advice would be for everyone to review these summaries from the three days, let people pick out the areas that seem most interesting/relevant for their current and potential projects, then agree to start poking around with the preview environments and reading the related documentation as soon as they become available. And most importantly: share with the world what you have learned!
The recent Business Forward event with a keynote from Satya Nadella served as the launch event for the Spring 2017 wave of Dynamics 365 product functionality. If you didn’t catch the live stream, you can see the recordings of the various presentations here. Of if you just wants some snacks from the event, why not take a look at my Storify collection of tweets shared on the event backchannel:
Let’s explore some of the most exciting pieces of news that we know about the upcoming release.
I’d Like To Add You To My Professional Network on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is naturally a big focus for Microsoft, after paying some seriously big money for the network. The first commercial offering from MS on the sales side seems like more of an evolutionary step in bringing the LinkedIn Sales Navigator product closer to Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. The familiar iFrames will still be how LinkedIn content is displayed in the context of accounts and opportunities, but now also the activities from LinkedIn will show up on the standard Social Pane of Dynamics 365 entities.
If you think of the old “democratizing social” message we’ve heard with capabilities like Microsoft Social Engagement offered at no extra charge, LinkedIn won’t follow exactly the same pattern. The bundle of Sales Navigator + Dynamics 365 Sales App (not Plan) now called Microsoft Relationship Sales solution still comes with a price tag that will not lead into everyone having unlocked LinkedIn tools and network data at their disposal. Not a huge surprise, since why would you give away this “new oil” for free to customers who’ve just bought the car from you? Those target groups who see value in these sales acceleration tools may still find this to be a better deal than the earlier offers.
The other new product seems to be a bigger step forward as MS enters the Human Capital Management (HCM) game with their Dynamics 365 for Talent app. Again, the foundation here is sure to have a lot of the LinkedIn recruiter functionality covered in a new coat of Dynamics paint, but at least based on the Business Forward live demo this looks like quite a thorough paint job. The sales guys will apparently still be kept largely in the familiar LinkedIn territory in terms of the user experience, but Talent seems like an “authentic” MS app following their design language.
There probably won’t be so much beef in Talent for the XRM people, but the ERP integration with existing AX/Operations HR features surely has great potential.
It’s The Insight That Counts
Talking about other Dynamics products outside of the XRM platform, one new entrant into the scene that has been popping up quite frequently on the recent slides is Dynamics 365 Customer Insights. Judging by what MS showed to the industry analysts at the BF event, there will be some UI changes from the current Preview that will bring this closer to Dynamics and further away from the initial “Azure Customer Insights” version that we saw last fall.
It’s been a bit difficult to evaluate the true capabilities of the Customer Insights application up until now, since actually connecting it with Dynamics 365 data hasn’t been possible earlier. Once all the Azure Data Lake and other elements that this application depends on are fully available across different regions, perhaps we’ll soon get some hands-on experience to contrast with all the big words that have been associated with Customer Insights so far. At least all the segmentation and visualization features appear to be much more targeted towards real life CRM scenarios than some of the more generic analytics capabilities in products like Power BI.
Speaking of which: I almost missed this announcement, but Power BI now as a connector to Customer Insights, which opens up some new scenarios. If the various analytics options didn’t have your head spinning yet, then the new Power BI Premium with on-prem server deployment options might just do the trick.
What About XRM?
Looks like there are shiny new applications coming for the Dynamics 365 product portfolio, some of which are leveraging the Common Data Service (CDS) as the backbone. It makes a whole lot of sense to use the latest technology for brand new apps, but that doesn’t mean the XRM platform would have been forgotten. To get a glimpse of what the Spring release will be introducing on this front, you can head over to the Dynamics 365 Roadmap site and pick an XRM based app like Sales, then see the “In Development” lane. Below are a few examples of the items currently listed:
- Virtual Entities. “With Virtual Entities, System Customizers and Developer have the power to build complex business applications to view external data in Dynamics 365 at runtime without having to make multiple copies of the data.”
- Portal interaction tracking. “Track your customer’s interactions with your Portal and funnel it to Dynamics 365 Customer Intelligence to plot a 360 view.”
- Support Azure AD-B2C for Portal authentication using a single sign-on (SSO) configuration.
- Source code for Portals. “A one time release of Portals code will be released to the Microsoft Download Center under MIT license for developers to download. This feature enables Portals to be deployed to Dynamics 365 on-premise environments, and allows developers to customize the code to suit their specific business needs.”
Expect to see the list grow as we move closer to the planned release date. A lot of great features have already been presented in MS events, like in-context Flows in Dynamics 365, or improvements to the user experience. If you want to be the first to gain access to the upcoming features, then be sure to check out the recently announced Dynamics 365 Insider Program.
Last year when Microsoft officially launched their Dynamics 365 commercial offering, it marked the end of the Dynamics CRM brand. Initially launched as “Microsoft CRM” in 2003 and then rebranded as “Microsoft Dynamics CRM” in 2005 (see the first 10 years of the platform’s history in this blog post), the acronym “CRM” had become a big part of the identity for the ecosystem surrounding the software product. Nevertheless, there were fair arguments for why those three letters had gradually become a bit of a liability for the rapidly expanding cloud business applications platform that now reaches far beyond the familiar CRM grounds. My point of view can be found from the post “The End of CRM as (Microsoft) Software”, which turned out to be one of my most popular writings in 2016.
So, out with Dynamics CRM and in with Dynamics 365. Problem solved! Except that this time around the rebranding had a bit wider reaching impact, due to the fact that it covered not only CRM but also the ERP side of the house. And not just one but two ERP’s: AX and NAV. With the catchy names “Microsoft Dynamics 365, Business edition” and “Microsoft Dynamics 365, Enterprise edition”, MS has almost managed to hide the fact that each of the editions consists of two completely separate application platforms. A bit like what they did with Office 365, which seemed to have worked out very well for MS, so not a surprise we’re seeing the same playbook in action again.
In this new world, we now have the concept of an “App”. You could, for example, license just “Dynamics 365 for Sales, Enterprise edition” if you don’t want to manage cases, or “Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, Enterprise Edition” if leads and opportunities are not on your radar. Financially the incentives for buying the complete “Plan 1” with all the Apps is quite strong, though, so the App model may not become a big part of the conversation after the customer has made the license acquisition and the real fun begins – as us “consultants formerly known as CRM consultants” surely are well aware of.
The real question that remains is: what exactly do you have once you’ve bought the software license? Unless you opted for the full suite of Plan 2 and also acquired the ERP application called Operations (in the Enterprise edition), you’re dealing with a subset of Dynamics 365 that does not have any name. If you go XRM and create custom entities, they do not exist inside the walls of “Sales” or “Customer Service” specifically. They’re in “CRM”, just like 90% of the platform functionality exists across all the Apps.
Why using the generic Dynamics 365 name can become confusing is that you can’t assume any text containing it to be about the ex-CRM part of it. It might as well be about ex-AX or ex-NAV. If you go and look at the SDK documentation on MSDN or the newer site at docs.microsoft.com, all they talk about is “Microsoft Dynamics 365”.
As long as you have a long history of working with any of the three platforms, you’ll probably be able to identify what the text you’re reading refers to after a while. But what about all the newcomers that the Dynamics ecosystem needs to attract, in order to continue on its growth trajectory? How will they know what applies to which platform? As an example, here’s what the new MB2-715 certification exam page originally looked like:
“Microsoft Dynamics 365 Online Deployment”. Mmm, yeah, so will this cover both CRM and AX? If you would ignore the CRM old logo with the “Sails” that have actually been discontinued since WPC 2015 announcement already (and can still found in some Microsoft sites & services), the actual description text of the exam never once mentions if its about CRM or ERP. By scanning through the related course material on Dynamics Learning Portal, the word “CRM” is completely avoided in every place – even though it’s obviously all about our beloved platform. The reason of course being that there hasn’t been anything sensible available to replace CRM with, if you stick to the official MS branding guidance.
This is just silly, and being the brutally honest consultant that I am, I also voiced my concern over on Twitter about this. In fact, there was already an earlier discussion I had with some of the community members about this lack of proper product names for us to use. Nick Doelman wrote a great blog post about this, so go and check it out for context. Yesterday, when I was again browsing through a list of the latest DLP materials, though, I came across a term that I had been expecting to see in public facing Microsoft sites for quite some time now. Here it is:
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. There we have it, folks! The MB2-715 exam description was updated not just with the new logo but also a name that properly describes which particular platform the exam is about. I’ve seen this term being unofficially used among MSFT personnel, but now we get a search engine hit for it that’s not just partner content.
What do I think of the name? I believe it’s the right compromise to make, given that CRM must go and XRM is too technical for the wider audience. It’s most likely not a brand that Microsoft is too thrilled about promoting, but it’s a name that must exists – because there aren’t really any other good options around. The way I see it, Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement isn’t so much the result of a grand vision but rather it has been born out of necessity. And I for one am perfectly happy with starting to use it, if indeed this becomes the third name for the XRM platform. Not the Apps, but the thing that was MS CRM and Dynamics CRM back in the days.
So, should I now rush out to buy a suitable domain name for “Surviving Customer Engagement”? Hmm, I think I’ll hold off from any rash decisions, since the kind of changes that we saw with the Dynamics 365 launch last year are maybe good for grabbing media attention but not the optimal approach if you just want to get your message across to the Dynamics community. CRM will be around for a while, even though we may gradually need to shift towards using a bit different vocabulary when talking about the business application platforms that we work with.