How to Get Started with Dynamics 365 Web Portals

Web portals are a great way to extend Microsoft Dynamics 365 by sharing selective data with non-CRM users, or provide staff with additional collaborative features.

In all instances, web portals help to increase transparency and provide individuals with greater freedom to choose how they will interact with an organisation.

Launch your own self-service integrated customer portal, or enable a partner portal, that is accessible across desktop and mobile.

Web portals are fully housed, maintained, and integrated with your instance of Dynamics 365. If you are already a Dynamics 365 customer, you’ll automatically have entitlement to deploy one web portal at no additional cost if you have at least 10 full licences (does not include Professional or Team Member licences).

A Customer Engagement Plan Application subscription is required to administer and configure the portal. Each portal may only be associated with one instance. Internal users indirectly accessing Dynamics 365 application data via a portal are required to have the appropriate Dynamics 365 license.

To help you assess how you could benefit from an integrated portal we’ve shared background information together with some examples.

Implementing Portals

Preact offers a fixed price package to implement web portals. 

Please contact us to discuss deploying or customising your own Dynamics 365 integrated portal.

Portal Audience

Firstly, you’ll need to define your audience.

In many instances, businesses deploy a portal for their customers but as mentioned above there are other options.

Another audience could be business partners where a portal will distribute leads and enable partners to easily provide updates on these and access sales resources.

There is also an option for employees to use a web portal. This would be a separate interface from the regular Dynamics UI whereby users can create and share knowledge posts and perhaps engage through moderated forums. Please note, internal portal users still require a D365 user licence.

Other audiences might be broader. A community portal could bring together a mix of customers, prospects, partners and other industry contacts who can access blog posts and other resources, and participate in chat forums. Interactive options to solicit feedback include polls and post ratings.

Dynamics portals include ready-made templates to cover each of these audiences. The custom portal framework is customisable so this can also be adapted to fit bespoke needs.

Portal Fundamentals

Regardless of which portal template is applied, there are considerations for all scenarios.

Firstly, it is important to note that each portal is tied to a single instance of Dynamics 365. This can be changed subsequently but it must remain on the same tenant.

Choose your portal template carefully! One you’ve selected a template and configured a portal, subsequently switching this to another template isn’t recommended as some data loss will likely occur.

Each portal includes entitlement for up 1m page views each month. This is ample for most but for higher volumes, additional capacity can be purchased in 500k increments.

By default, portals are a cloud service and customers are recommended to enable Azure storage.

More recently, Microsoft has released source code to create a framework for on-premise portal deployments - albeit this isn't officially supported by Microsoft.

Customising Portals

Each portal template contains several configurable site settings for various styles to modify visual elements within the site. Defining a theme will include background style, text colour and layout width.

In most instances, an organisation will deploy a single portal. This will be managed in Global Portal Settings while settings for individual portals are applied through Portal Site Settings. Step by step portal customisation instructions and technical detail are shown here.

Portal Users

An authenticated portal user is associated with a Dynamics contact or system user. 

To log in, a user must have the appropriate web authentication information configured. In Dynamics 365, role based security permissions control what type of records each user can access. For portal users, a web role is needed to gain access permissions and different roles can be configured to enable varying access levels to portal pages.

For example, with our own client portal the standard permission enables users to view their own cases, the next tier up also enables users to view cases logged by other individuals at the same company while the highest permission level includes additional usage reports.

Portal authentication allows portal users to sign in with a choice of authentication. Local authentication is the most common process using a contact record for authentication. However, for custom authentication, developers can use the ASP.Net Identity API to create custom login pages. In these instances, account credentials and password management is handled by a third-party identity provider. This includes Windows ID, Google and Facebook.

Portal Functions

Upon log in, the portal functions and accessible data will be determined by the web role which enables portal content to be easily defined and correctly exposed.

Administrators will determine what entities are shown, which fields will be exposed, if these will read-only, or enable read / write permissions and which list views will be shown within the portal interface.

Based on the portals that we have deployed for its clients, the customer portal template is overwhelming the most popular choice. In these scenarios, as referenced above, the cases entity will frequently be shared with portal users.

A list view will typically include the case title, case number, create date and current status which is pulled through from Dynamics:

Portal users can open an individual record to access more information which can include a timeline of important actions specific to this record:

Defining entity forms and custom logic will control what information is pulled from Dynamics and how this record detail is shown in the portal.

In this example, a portal user is able to view and edit essential contact detail via the portal UI. Any updates made via the portal interface will be immediately written back to Dynamics 365.

To better service existing customers, and to seek a competitive advantage over competitors, organisations are increasingly deploying customer portals but these aren't just limited to cases.

Each portal can be configured to show selective data for any standard or custom entity. This can include contracts or agreements which enables portal users to check renewal dates, service entitlements, utilisation detail and remaining time specific to these services.

Portals will also connect with Field Service and Project Service processes. This could include exposing data within the portal from work order records and selective detail from project records. For example, a web portal can be used to capture a digital sign-off following completion of on-site work.

Another tactic for increasing engagement could be to include portal banner ads that will increase awareness of your events, resources and direct portal users to other appropriate content. 

Self-Service

In a service scenario, knowledge base resources are great tactic for dealing with frequently asked questions and service issues.

Using native knowledge capabilities, a library of articles is accessible to customers and other portal users to find solutions and answers.

To deflect new support issues, portals can promote suggested knowledge articles based on the keywords entered – even before a case is submitted:

Further detail can be shared by attaching documents which are associated with individual knowledge articles.

Through varying content access levels, admins can manage knowledge articles that would enable selected users to gain access to a premium tier of content.

Advanced personalisation

Portals use an open source template language called 'Liquid'. In addition to allowing developers to create custom templates this can also be used for extended customisation of portal pages including dynamic content.

By using Liquid, developers can build custom handlers to retrieve Dynamics data with custom data return types, write an API for reading data, display Dynamics charts and build a single page app right within the portal.

Further customisation options include embedding Bing Maps and Calendar controls from Dynamics within portal pages.

Demonstrating Portals

We presented an overview of portal capabilities in one of our public webinars and a recording of this is shown below:

Next Steps

Please get in touch if you'd like to learn more and to find out how a web portal can be implemented to fit your business requirements.

RELATED: How Preact Implement Web Portals


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