What Jumps Out From the October 18 Release

Standard

The release for the next major release of Dynamics is out and it is over 200 pages long. The document covers what Microsoft are going to bring out for Dynamics from October 2018 up until March 2019.

I will ignore the Finance and Operations/Business Central/Project Service/Field Service/Talent/Retail stuff (because I do not know them well enough to know what is worth getting excited about). Also, anything that is Public Preview (as this is often not available in Australia and is, essentially, a beta release) I will also skip over but anything else is fair game. Here are the things which jump out and get me excited in v10.

Dynamics 365 For Marketing

Account-Based Marketing

Microsoft released Dynamics 365 For Marketing quite early in its development. What I mean by this is there is some basic functionality there but there is plenty of room for improvement. One such improvement is Account-Based Marketing. Until now, the mass communication tools of ‘Marketing’ were for Contacts only. No Lead marketing in the Dynamics sense and no Account marketing. This now appears to have changed. This allows Microsoft to claim Marketing is for B2C and B2B scenarios, which is good. Excitement may be too strong a word to describe my feelings but it is a step in the right direction.

Social Listening For Campaigns

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Being able to add hashtags/phrases to Campaigns and then actively monitor the online response to the Campaign from within Dynamics is great. In the Social Engagement section it reveals that this is, essentially, embedding Social Engagement into Marketing. The release does not talk about actioning the social responses but for now, we can add hashtags and see if they light up. We can measure more than the traditional email clicks and opens.

Sales

Build Intelligent Sales Applications and Business Processes Powered by LinkedIn Insight

I thought LinkedIn Sales Navigator already brought Account and Contact information into Dynamics but perhaps this is not the case. The release talks about bringing in:

  • Company data such as size, industry, and location
  • People data such as name, company, position, and years of experience
  • Icebreakers and conversation starters
  • Warm introduction connections
  • Recommendations of similar leads in an organization (presumably to circumvent blockers)

This is where the Dynamics – LinkedIn story begins to take shape. For those using LinkedIn you will have already seen enhancements since Microsoft took it over e.g. email prompts to read up on people you are meeting with. Bringing similar insights into Dynamics is a game changer in terms of efficiency. For the savvy user this information was always available. The integration brings it together and makes all users work more efficiently and effectively.

Increase Sales Conversions with Predictive Lead Scoring (Public Preview)

OK, this is in Public Preview but is probably the stand-out most exciting thing for me in the release document. Finally, the app I predicted six years ago is a reality. Well almost. Predictive Lead Scoring rates Leads in terms of their likelihood of turning into Opportunities, based on their attributes (my post from six years ago applied the idea to closing Opportunities).

This is a big deal and is a glimpse into the future of decision making. Lead scoring will tell you which Leads to focus on i.e. the ones most likely to convert. Remember Glengarry Glen Ross where Jack Lemmon laments that the stack of lead cards he is given are useless? In the modern world, Dynamics will reorder the stack to put the best on top.

No one enjoys cold calling. With predictive analytics we can put the ‘hot’ leads with the humans and spare them the cold ones by using AI or automated channels to field interest. Users become more engaged and, again, more efficient and effective (of course in the future, two of the four salesmen from Glengarry Glen Ross will be bots).

Service

Suggest Similar Cases

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Another great example of providing available information to the user, as they need it. You can get halfway to this in v8/9 using Knowledge Articles but it still up to the user to enter keywords to search for. Using the Microsoft Text Analytics APIs automates this step.

Imagine a user who is new to the job being asked to solve a complex but common problem. They now have the wealth of experience within the organization a click away. Better service, more productive, less frustration and confusion. Everyone wins.

Dynamics 365 Portals

The release says they have overhauled the platform to make it more reliable and ‘performant’. I have experienced some of the scalability issues of the Portal firsthand so I welcome any improvement in this area.

Integration with other Microsoft services

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In this case it is SharePoint document libraries (great if you are storing your Dynamics attachments in SharePoint) and Power BI. Apparently it will be possible to embed Power BI dashboards and reports via liquid script on the Portal web page. Power BI, in the right hands, is crazy-powerful so having this easily surfaced in Portals is very exciting.

Configuration Migration

Moving Portal configuration between environments is not simple. As configuration is held in records, it amounts to a data migration exercise. We still cannot move data via solutions (please make this happen Microsoft!! Saleslogix had this 15 years ago for goodness sake!!) so a data migration tool is needed.

One such tool is the Configuration Migration SDK. My personal experience with it has been problematic. Specifically, if two Web Form Metadata records reference the same attribute, only one comes across with the tool. Microsoft claim they have created a schema for the Configuration Migration SDK which works. I am looking forward to trying it.

PowerApps

There is a LOT in the PowerApps section. Here are the Dynamics nuggets worthy of mention.

Extend Dynamics 365 Entity Forms with Embedded Canvas Apps

This is probably second in my list of exciting things in the release. We can embed PowerApps Canvas Apps within Dynamics Forms. A big strength of Dynamics Forms is their ease of use but this comes at the price of configurability. We only have so much control on field and section layout, for example. This now changes with the ability to embed Canvas Apps.

Moreover, the Canvas App can link to anything we like via the Connectors. The key question for me is whether we can use code to pass information between the Dynamics Form and the Canvas App. If we can, this will be very powerful. Imagine having a Canvas App for adding metadata to an attachment added to SharePoint via the Dynamics forms? Alternatively, we can have a USD-like query form to use in the context of the record we are on. Perhaps we need to query SAP or an Oracle database as part of a Dynamics process but do not want to go through the trouble of bringing the data into Dynamics. We now have a quick way to make this happen.

Native Support for Common Data Service Data Types in Canvas Apps

Option Sets and GUIDs have always been tricky to manage in PowerApps. Interacting with these, took PowerApps from no-code to low-code. This has now been tidied up and the release claims “native (CDS) support for Option Sets (sic) and GUIDs and improving the time zone handling for date/time values”.

Faster Load Times with Parallel Data Loading in Canvas Apps

Tables and entities can now be loaded in parallel, rather than sequentially which has the potential to speed things up. Given one of the biggest gripes about PowerApps is the speed to load, this cannot be a bad thing.

Set Regarding Lookup Enhancements in Common Data Service

It will now be possible to filter the list of entities you can set the Regarding to. This is a big plus for users who, otherwise, have to wade through a giant list of, mostly irrelevant, entities to get to the handful they desire.

Control Availability of User Experiences on Unified Interface

As many of us know who have tinkered with the new Unified Interface (UI), there are some things missing. Here are some they are fixing in v10:

  • Advanced Find
  • Merge Records
  • Record Sharing
  • Bulk Edit
  • Run Workflow

Advanced Find, in many cases, was a show-stopper for clients moving to the new client. Fixing these up will go a long way to bringing users to the new Dynamics world.

Microsoft Flow

The release talks about the ‘citizen developer’. Personally, I detest the term ‘citizen developer’ because self-righteous coders use it as a term of derision. Either you develop (through configuration and code) or you do not. If you do, then regardless of the configuration/code mix, you should be subject to the same discipline in regards to maintenance and governance. In my mind there are simply good developers and bad developers. I know some excellent ‘citizen developers’ and some lousy coders but I digress…

Design flows in Visio

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Flows can now be designed and published from Visio. Very cool from a system documentation perspective.

Custom Controls in Business Process Flows

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Custom controls in Business Process Flows in Dynamics are now supported for both the UI and Web Client (yes, the Web Client too!). This means we get a lot more flexibility in the look of the Business Process Flows, making them a lot more useful.

Power BI

Not a lot to report in this section of the release other than Power BI dashboards and reports can now be embedded in Dynamics Forms, as mentioned earlier.

Data Integration

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If you are not familiar with the new way of doing things in Dynamics, here it is and this is, by far, the biggest change to Dynamics in years. CDS for Apps is the new Dynamics platform. CRM no longer exists and has been broken into Apps (Sales, Marketing, Customer Care etc.) on top of a ‘Core’ Dynamics layer containing just the essentials e.g. Users, Teams, Accounts, Contacts, Activities etc.

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While a bit of a simplification, Data Integration is the Flow Connectors, linking Dynamics (or, rather, CDS for Apps) to hundreds of web services. To be more accurate, the Connectors are not strictly specific to Flow; this is just where many of us have seen them. A Connector can be used in Flow, PowerApps, Logic Apps (why does this have a space and PowerApps does not!!), and Power Query (the new data querying tool being pushed in this release).

Conclusions

So there you have it. All the juicy bits that keep me excited about the future of Dynamics/PowerApps/CDS for Apps.

What really excites me is that it is clear that Microsoft continues to improve the product but, more importantly, they are being a lot smarter about it than they have in the past. Instead of developing in parallel to other areas of Microsoft, the ecosystem is coming together. There is no longer Dynamics development running parallel to Power BI development and PowerApps development; they are all part of the same platform, working together. This is a clear, unique advantage to the Microsoft offering, compared to competitors who still deliver disjointed point solution offerings. Very exciting times and a very promising future for the product/platform/ecosystem.

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