How to Get Started with Dynamics 365 Web Portals

Microsoft Dynamics 365 / CRM

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

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

Available in more than 40 languages, 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 5 ‘full’ licences.

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

Preact offers a fixed price package to implement a web portal. Please contact us if you require any help in deploying or customising your own web portal.

Your portal audience

Firstly, you’ll need to define your audience.

In many instances, businesses deploy a D365 portal for their customers to use but as mentioned above there are other options.

Another audience could be business partners whereby a portal is used to  distribute leads and remove barriers by enabling 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 365 UI whereby users can create and share knowledge posts and perhaps engage through moderated forums. Please note, internal portal users 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 extensible and customisable so this can also be adapted to fit bespoke needs.

Portal fundamentals

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

Firstly, it is important to note that each portal will be tied to a single instance of D365. 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 needs 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 for this.

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 color, and layout width.

In most instances, an organisation will deploy only one 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 either 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.

Portal authentication allows portal users to sign in with a choice of a 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

Once users log in, the portal functions and the data they can access will be determined by their web role which enables portal content to be easily defined and correctly exposed.

Administrators will determine which entities are shown and which list views will be replicated within the portal interface.

Based on the portals that Preact has deployed for its clients, the customer portal template is overwhelming the most popular choice.

In these scenarios, the Cases entity will frequently be shared with portal users.

As shown below, a list view would 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 define 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. Updates will be immediately saved to D365.

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

Each portal can be configured to show selective data for any standard or custom entity managed in Dynamics.

This can include contracts or agreements. This enables portal users to 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.

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

To further increase engagement and be responsive, integrated web chat capabilities offered by Live Assist can be applied through custom javascript.

Another tactic to increase engagement could be to include portal banner ads. Not external ads but your own banners that promote 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 content access levels, admins can manage knowledge articles whereby selected users would 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 CRM 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

Preact has demonstrated an introduction to the portal solution for Dynamics and recording of this webinar is shown below.

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.

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