Microsoft Dynamics 365 in 2018 - Review of the Year

As near the end of another busy year it's time to look back at the main developments in the world of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement during 2018.

Version 9.0

The early months of the year were dominated by Online upgrades to Dynamics 365 v9.0.

v9.0 featured various enhancements including multi-select option sets, virtual entities and security updates. It also introduced a new Unified Interface (more of which later) and a refreshed web client interface. While most Dynamics 365 customers passed on the initial release of the Unified Interface, upgrading the classic interface was a significant change. 

Where post-update issues were encountered the majority were rooted in the interface change and the impact on customisations and integrations. While there was plenty of feedback for Microsoft, this underlined the importance of using sandbox environments to test updates before deloyment in a production instance, as well as engaging with a partner to carry out code checks and perform other pre-update readiness checks.

Platform Change

Undoubtedly the biggest Dynamics 365 development of the year was the Spring announcement of a critical change to the application platform. Although not visibly different to end users, underneath the surface the framework powering Dynamics underwent a fundamental transformation. 

Firstly, the legacy XRM framework dating back to Dynamics CRM was merged with a new version of the Common Data Service.

The platform that now powers Dynamics 365 business applications is the same one as used by Office 365 and Power BI which is underpinned by the Common Data Service for Apps.  

This has proven to be a game changer in many ways. Not least in how new apps are built and third party solutions are connected through PowerApps and Microsoft Flow delivering no-code / low-code processes. 

In combination, PowerApps, Power BI, Flow and the CDS form the Microsoft Business Application Platform, now commonly refered to as the Microsoft Power platform.

Integrated Web Portals

With many Dynamics customers entitled to deploy a web portal it's no surprise that many of our clients have implemented one. In many instances we are completing this work as a fixed price engagement and we outlined an example of this process.

Throughout 2018, Microsoft announced a series of improvements and new portal capabilities that included: knowledge base searching and integration with Sharepoint and Power BI. A new 'events' portal template was also introduced, though exclusively for the new Dynamics 365 for Marketing app.

We also deployed our own self-service portal for clients to log support issues, check managed service utilisation and access resources. Please get in touch if you aren't already registered! 

Dynamics 365 for Marketing 

The long awaited D365 for Marketing app finally entered production during Microsoft's spring release cycle delivering a new set of embedded marketing automation tools.

Crucially, in comparison to existing marketing automation tools the new app was been built for, and is developed on, the Power platform. As such, it utilises Microsoft's very latest technology.

New capabilities include lead scoring models, customer journeys, audience segments and a dedicated event management module that encompasses participants, sponsorship, event logistics, venue management, post event communications, and an events portal as mentioned above. 

The initial product launch was undermined by a poor licensing model and while this has since been addressed it's fair to say there remain some gaps in the app's functions and performance. That's not uncommon in a brand new product release and early development has been very encouraging. We are looking forward to doing more with this app and seeing further progress in 2019. 

Unified Interface

The Unified Interface was introduced with v9.0 but for much of 2018 it wasn't viable for most existing Dynamics 365 users due to various functionality gaps in comparison to the classic web interface.

Coinciding with the October release cycle, a raft of improvements were made to bridged many of these gaps including advanced find, bulk edits and merging records which has quickened its adoption rate.

Featuring a responsive design, new custom controls and a consistent experience across desktop, mobile, web and Outlook, the Unified Interface is the future of the product. Microsoft’s goal is to make this the only client interface for all Dynamics 365 customer engagement apps. New apps are now provisioned with the Unified Interface by default and Microsoft has repeatedly stated its intention to ultimately migrate across all users from the classic web interface at some future point.

Release Cadence

For several years Microsoft has shipped two major Dynamics 365 updates each calendar year. In 2018 this was redefined with several important developments:

  • Major releases will be timed to arrive in April and October each year  
  • Microsoft will provide early notification about upcoming major releases. An early example of this was the publication of the October 2018 release guide in mid-July while the April 2019 guide will be published on 21 January
  • These are now heavyweight release guides (200+ pages!) packing a lot of detail about the next upcoming major release 
  • These release guides are not purely about Dynamics 365 but cover the wider Business Applications / Power platform so also incorporate: Power BI, Flow and PowerApps 
  • Dynamics 365 Online is moving to a continuous release cycle where all users are on the latest version with effect from the April 2019 release 
  • All users will have immediate access to Dynamics improvements and new features as they are released 
  • Potentially disruptive new features and changes will be disabled by default 
  • Beginning with the April 2019 release, Microsoft announced its upgrade timeline will include the opportunity to preview releases in a sandbox environment before mandatory updates are applied to production instances.
  • To ensure all Online instances are on the same version, production updates will automatically be applied if these have not been previewed and scheduled by admins  
  • Weekly releases are providing bug fixes, performance improvements and introducing minor new features that don't significantly alter the end user experience 

October Update (v9.1)

The release cycle for the most recent v9.1 update is between October 2018 and March 2019. As a result, not every feature announced in this cycle has yet emerged as we close out 2018. Further v9.1 items that we haven't already touched on in this post include:

  • New integration with Microsoft Teams
  • Dependent option sets (for Unified Interface)
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator widgets embedded within process flows
  • Resource scheduling optimisation enhancements
  • Further scheduling capabilities to define crews, resource pools and preferred resources
  • New AI Preview apps for Customer Service and Market Insights, also AI for Sales, though not yet in the UK :(

v9 - On-Premise

The last on-premise edition was released back in 2016 so there were plenty of questions about when a new version would materialise. In the final quarter of 2018, Microsoft answered with the release of v9.0.2 for on-premise.

As well as including various fixes and improvements since the previous v8.2 edition, the new release included selected contents from the v9.0 cloud release featuring the refreshed classic interface, Field Service app and relationship assistant.

Platform Licence

With the arrival of model-driven apps in PowerApps and a new PowerApps P2 licence it is now possible to access Dynamics 365 and the Power platform without needing purchase a first party app such as D365 for Sales or Customer Service.

With PowerApps P2, users get access to the platform, including unrestricted entities such as accounts and contacts as well as functional tools such as activities and dashboards within a model driven app.

This platform licence is designed for user requirements that don't fall into any of the standard first party role based apps. As such, it enables simple, or complex, entities and relationships to be defined within the pre-built (Unified) Dynamics 365 layout.

Users who need to manage processes such as leads, opportunities, cases, work orders or scheduling will continue to need a first party Dynamics 365 app or plan. But for custom requirements that don't fall into one of the defined role based apps, the PowerApps P2 platform licence is an increasingly a cost effective option to extend Dynamics 365 by building your own connected app. 

Changes to Team Member Licensing

As part of the October release, Microsoft announced some important changes to the Team Member licence.

Team licences have proved highly popular in enabling more people within an organisation to read any data stored in Dynamics 365 and carry out basic functions for a low price per user.

In some instances, Team Member licences have been seen as a development licence but with the arrival of PowerApps P2 as covered above, Microsoft has reinforced its definition of the Team Member licence as being for 'light usage' requirements.

As such, new Team Member agreements since 1 October are now subject to a maximum of 15 custom entities (previously unlimited) for create / update / delete rights. For uncapped access to custom entities, users should be licenced with either a full Dynamics 365 licence, or PowerApps P2.

Other Team Member licensing changes include the removal of create, update and delete rights from Account and Knowledge entity records.

Customers with existing Team Member licenses aren't immediately affected by these changes and will be able to renew agreements on the same basis until July 2020.

Pro licences

While on the topic of licensing, we should also mention the arrival of new 'Professional' licence option for the Sales and Customer Service Dynamics 365 apps. Designed for organisations with less complex requirements, each licence offers core sales / customer service capabilities but with some functions limited while other features and entitlements only available with the full Enterprise app.

New Admin Centre

In October, Microsoft also unveiled the preview of a new unified Power platform admin area.

As well as bringing together the administration of PowerApps, Power BI and Flow within a single hub, the new centre will be the future home for managing Dynamics 365 instances.

While the preview is currently limited, more functionality will be added to make this the go-to resource for completing admin tasks related to Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform.

GDPR

Preparations for the General Data Protection Regulation were at times frenetic ahead of its introduction in May. Microsoft released numerous resources to help businesses prepare while many of our partners, including ClickDimensions, Scribe Software and Data8, introduced new products, updates and shared further resources. 

Our team were extremely busy helping many clients with customisations to their Dynamics 365 system and implementing new solutions to support better management of personal data and demonstrate GDPR compliance.

Outlook Integration

Early in the year, Microsoft reversed its decision to deprecate the Dynamics 365 add-in for Outlook announcing that it would continue to fully support this in current and future versions of Dynamics 365. 

Many celebrated the news including users concerned that functionality might be lost by moving to the Dynamics 365 app for Outlook. Subsequent improvements have been made to the newer app for Outlook but users remain able to choose between this or the legacy add-in to connect Outlook with Dynamics 365.

Dynamics Storage

Azure Storage costs are significantly less in comparison to purchasing additional Dynamics 365 cloud storage. To reduce, or avoid, Dynamics 365 storage costs we saw an increased trend during 2018 in clients utilising Azure Blob storage to handle Dynamics attachment data. Using the Attachment Management add-on feature, notes and email attachments are stored in Azure Blob rather than the D365 tenant, and can be instantly retrieved within D365. 

Preact's Year

Our 25th year of trading has been a memorable one with many landmark achievements achieved by our team. 

For the first time, Preact was named to Microsoft's Inner Circle for Dynamics 365 which places us in the top 1% of Microsoft partner's worldwide.  This affords us ongoing executive sponsorship and privileged support from Microsoft so we are incredibly proud to join this prestigous group.

Our team worked incredibly hard during the year to extend or update their Microsoft professional certifications. As a result, Preact became one of the first organisations to achieve Gold partner status for Microsoft's new Cloud Business Applications competency.

Throughout the year we have continued to invest in the development of our team to ensure that we are meeting our service commitments. As we end 2018, we are finalizing the creation of an inspiring new workspace that will create additional capacity, increase collaboration and reflect our wellbeing philosophy. 

We are incredibly thankful for the continued loyalty of our clients who have been crucial in driving our growth and we're greatly excited about the future for Dynamics 365 and the Power platform. Bring on 2019!


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