What Jumps Out At Me From Dynamics 365: 2021 Release Plan 2

Standard

A new job and a new role (in presales) means a bit more time to get “dirty with the tech” and wading through the 400+ pages of the Wave 2 Release for Dynamics 365 is a good place to start.

I did a review for 2020 Wave 1 in February last year and one thing which has changed from then is the consolidation into one PDF. There is no longer a distinct guide for Power Platform vs Dynamics and this is, of course, indicative of the consolidation into one cohesive ecosystem/platform. Just as CRM and ERP are no longer divided but simply a collection of “First Party Apps”, we now have Power Platform joining the gathering to form one cohesive Business Applications Platform.

This is the future so expect to hear people (especially if they work for Microsoft) talk more about Business Applications (or, if they are spelling it out “Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform”) and less about CE, CRM, and ERP. All your base (products) are belong to BusApps.

So I will now read the guide as I write and call out the sparkly bits which excite me and how they might be important to you, your Business Applications implementation and future strategy with the platform. I will focus on Public Preview (PP) and General Availability (GA) features. Where I do not know a First Party App well enough (or nothing excites me) I will leave it out.

Marketing

Create email content easily and efficiently with AI-based content ideas (PP Oct 2021)

I see adverts online for this kind of thing. Basically, AI recommending marketing copy and, from what I hear, the robots do a pretty good job. Content snippets based on key points which the user selects and massages, as needed.

More and more Microsoft are weaving AI magic into Dynamics First Party Apps and this is a great example. This is where the real value of the First Party Apps resides in my opinion; the linking of Model-Driven Apps with Azure AI to provide an unassailable competitive advantage to Microsoft’s offerings and also to the organisations which employ the technology.

Deliver rich customer experiences across Dynamics 365, Office and other apps by augmenting customer journeys with Power Automate (PP Nov 2021)

Imagine adjusting a customer journey based on the weather, or based on local traffic conditions. This is now possible with the incorporation of Power Automate Flows into customer journeys. A lot of possibilities open up with this.

Create segments for leads and custom entities in the new segmentation builder (PP Dec 2021)

No longer limited to Contacts, we can now use the segmentation builder to create segments for other “person-like” entities tables.

Sales

Lead routing (GA Jan 2022)

Similar to Case routing in Customer Service, this routes Leads based on a rules engine. Historically, this is something we have built using Workflows or Flows (here is one I built ten years ago). Rules can be based on Lead segment, Lead attributes, seller attributes and assigned round robin or by load balancing. Combined with new data hygiene features (GA Jan 2022) this will be a huge boost for organizations which generate opportunities for large Lead lists.

A shedload of Teams integration features (mostly GA Jan 2022)

This blog is going to be long enough as it is so I will not list all the “do this Dynamics thing from Teams” and “do this Teams thing from Dynamics” but suffice to say Microsoft are bringing these products together in a big way. Hint: Expect lots of announcements at Ignite.

Service

Modern control for subject entity (GA Oct 2021)

The Subject tree has not really changed since the days of Microsoft CRM v4 (thank you SeeLogic for this trip down memory lane)

Thankfully, it has now had an upgrade and looks a lot like the asset location tree for those familiar with Field Service. Thank you to Nishant Rana for this review of the new feature and this handy screenshot.

Lots of Omnichannel Voice Features (GA Nov 2021)

Omnichannel is moving towards being a proper call center solution. Outbound calls will be supported, using Azure Communication Services, and Agents will be able to put calls on hold, consult other agents or transfer the call to another agent. Azure Communication Services is now Dynamics’ in-built voice provider as opposed to before where a third party telephony service would need to be stitched in.

Call recording, call transcripts and sentiment analysis, along with reporting analytics will also be available. Again, Microsoft is using their AI services to make their First Party Apps a bit more magical.

Supervisors can also shadow calls and review the live transcript. If required, they can also participate in the call to keep it on course.

Intelligent voice bot via Power Virtual Agents and Microsoft Bot Framework (GA Nov 2021)

I am very excited for this. Power Virtual Agents is a configurable text chatbot and pretty great. This feature gives the chatbot a voice. The bot can answer questions 24-7 and when it fails the Turing Test, can hand over to a human with full transcript and context.

Bring your own data to timeline (GA Oct 2021)

This is a bit of a dark horse of a feature but I can see it being immensely useful. In essence, external data can be exposed on the Timeline (the activity timeline box you see on Accounts, Contacts, etc.) via virtual entities. So, for example, financial time-relevant data could be exposed from Dynamics 365 Finance on the timeline such as when payments were made or when they are due. Similarly, if you could figure out a way to bring the data in as a virtual entity, you could expose a Contact’s LinkedIn job history on the timeline. Lots of opportunities for this one.

Field Service

Enable customers to schedule service visits with a simple web experience (GA Oct 2021)

I assume this is the self-scheduling feature which has been previewed as part of the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare.

The welcome screen on the Contoso Healthcare app on a mobile phone and the screen to schedule a new appointment on a tablet.

I am very happy to see this in General Availability as creating a self-service scheduling feature for Power Apps Portal used to involve a lot of code and a prayer. Dynamics 365 Field Service resource setup is needed to match customers to technicians but it is a small price to pay for such a useful feature.

Finance

Create collections activities based on payment predictions (GA Oct 2021)

This combines the new payment prediction feature with automated collection activity creation. This allows for the optimisation of the efforts to chase payments and potentially could be used to increase cashflow by chasing repeat offenders early.

Forecast bank balance and treasurer workspace (GA Oct 2021)

Microsoft continues to bring predictive and forecasting capabilities into Finance. This feature allows for cash flow forecasting to know how much cash the business will have on hand and when, making the future allocation of funds much easier and more reliable.

Combined with the new Treasurer Workspace, which allows for forecast snapshots for comparison to actuals, businesses are getting some seriously powerful tools for managing their bank balances.

Intelligent budget proposal (GA Oct 2021)

Creating a budget at any level of an organisation is a tedious manual process but it does not need to be. With historical data, this feature puts together a template budget, based on historical spending which can be refined, based on the upcoming needs of the organisation. This feature alone will save organisations a fortune in hours regularly wasted chasing up numbers and making “best guesses”.

Commerce

I simply do not know Commerce well enough to know what is exciting and what is not but the segmentation based on location, device type etc. looks interesting, as does redirection based on geolocation.

Project Operations and Human Resources

Obviously, it is easy to see where Microsoft are making their investments by the sheer volume of features added to a First Party App in a given release. For example, Service had close to 40 pages of new features in the release (10% of the entire document). In contrast, Project Operations and Human Resources have only a few pages. I am not saying these products are going anywhere but either they are already too perfect to improve or it is not at the top of Microsoft’s list for attention. Another litmus for Microsoft’s focus is the number of sessions devoted to a product at events like Microsoft Ignite. My guess is Project Operations and Human Resources sessions will not have too many sessions.

Guides and Remote Assist

Just a handful of pages here as well which is a pity because this is really exciting technology. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future.

Power Apps

Intelligent authoring experience with Power Apps Studio (GA Oct 2021)

A while ago I saw a demonstration where Microsoft had trained an AI to write code using the entire public Github repository. Effectively, you wrote the comment and the AI built the code around it. It was very impressive. This capability is now with Power Apps with the ability to write natural language and have Power Apps Studio generate candidate code for the author. It is a great way to save time and teach novice coders what they should be typing.

You can also provide an example for formatting and Power Apps Studio will create the Power Fx code to enforce this format.

Relevance Search

I would not be a release without a name change. Relevance Search is now Dataverse Search.

Reinvented maker experience for configuring model-driven apps for offline use (GA Dec 2021)

This is very cool. Previously, to enable a model-driven app for offline use you had to activate offline for each table used by the app. Now we can enable it at the app level. One toggle and all relevant tables become offline capable.

Manage everything about solutions and tables in a modern way (GA Oct 2021)

No more Switch to Classic!! The maker portal is getting parity with the classic experience. Goodbye solution explorer, hello new fully-featured maker portal.

Microsoft Dataverse

Microsoft Dataverse search can search through file data type (GA Oct 2021)

The one search to rule them all can now search through files stored in Dataverse much like the SharePoint Enterprise Search of old. This is great and will be really useful at finding records based on attached files.

Microsoft Dataverse data archival (PP Mar 2022)

This is very exciting but still some time away. Arguably a flaw in Dataverse is the lack of proper archiving. In effect, to meet an organisation’s archiving policy, it must be set up with integration and code or some very, very clever Power Automate Flows. If Microsoft build an archiving engine into Dataverse this will save a lot of development and make answering RFPs which ask about archiving a lot easier.

Delete and remove users with disabled status (GA Oct 2021)

I expect quite a few Dynamics administrators will dry tears of joy over this one. No longer are we stuck with useless disabled users in Dataverse. Users can be purged along with the historical records associated with them.

Conclusions

As usual, a wealth of innovation in the new release, even more AI integration and the occasional patching of a hole of missing functionality which probably should never been there in the first place. Overall I am impressed with what has been produced and will look forward to the additional enhancements to be announced at Ignite.

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