Microsoft Dynamics 365 in 2019 - Review of the Year

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In one of our final posts of the year, we look back at a selection of the main developments across Microsoft Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform in 2019.

Unified Interface

Microsoft had long signalled its intention to make the responsive Unified Interface its only UI and in September it duly deprecated the legacy web interface. Many of our clients have now transitioned to the new interface and subsequently cited frequent improvements to the user experience. These have included: replacing legacy HTML with embedded Power Apps, simplifying data entry through custom controls, easier navigation of records and faster loading of forms and grids.

The legacy UI will no longer be available from October 2020 and Microsoft has now begun scheduling dates to automatically transition environments to the new experience.

Storage Changes

A new cloud storage model for Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform was unveiled in March. This replaced a single tenant-wide storage capacity with three capacities to cover all data held in the Common Data Service for database, file and log capacities. The new model also made it easier for additional capacity to be accrued by applying this on a per user basis for database and file storage capacities.

A further change saw the removal of additional costs, or eligibility criteria, for additional non-production / production environments. The new model enables administrators to deploy multiple environments, subject to available database storage capacity.

Sales Enhancements

One of the most impactful, and most requested, enhancements was introduction of a new opportunity close dialog box enabling more data to be captured. As a result, added custom fields can now be added to track additional detail about these outcomes, such as profit margin on a deal, or a competitor product.

Sales users can also apply greater control when qualifying each lead to determine what type of record(s) will be created across opportunities, contacts and accounts. Long-standing Dynamics users might recognise this as the re-introduction of the qualify lead dialog box - last seen in CRM 2011!

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Web Portals

With the launch of Power Apps Portals, Microsoft addressed another frequent request by enabling Power Apps to be shared with external users. This also saw Dynamics 365 portals being merged with the new offering which introduced a simpler portal editor.

A new portal licensing model was introduced removing the need for organisations to have a minimum number of users before qualifying for a portal instance, or paying per portal. Also, unlimited production and sandbox portals can now be deployed, subject to available storage capacity, at no additional cost. Revised portal licensing is now metered based on the total authenticated user logins each month and anonymous portal page views per month.

Power Apps

Aside from portals, Power Apps are being increasingly deployed to extend Dynamics 365, address functionality gaps and handle specific processes. In 2019, this was driven by the introduction of the Power Apps Component Framework (PCF) and increase adoption of the Unified Interface. By embedded controls within the UI that create a more flexible and visually better user experience, Dynamics customers are breaking free from legacy IFRAMEs and HTML web resources. Popular examples of apps our team has built include an opportunity grid accelerator enabling sales teams to quickly add multiple products to a quote, a neglected contacts solution, mapping displays and filter controls.

See examples of the types of apps and controls that can be created with PCF in this gallery.

Among the mobile Power Apps we developed in 2019, examples included an app to replace visitor sign-in books and a mobile app to handle expenses logging and approvals.

In October, Microsoft revamped its platform licensing with the introduction of Power Apps Plans for individual or unlimited apps. With many Dynamics 365 capabilities now available within Power Apps environments including the App for Outlook and web portals, it is increasingly possible to deploy apps that do not need to be licensed with a traditional Dynamics 365 licence.

Forms Pro

Following the general availability of Forms Pro, this is now an entitlement with Dynamics 365 Enterprise apps for Sales, Customer Service and Field Service. This enables surveys to be distributed to contacts manually, or triggered by Dynamics 365 events, such as a resolved case. Survey data is stored in the Common Data Service and responses are automatically shown in the activity timeline for the associated Dynamics 365 record.

During the year we helped several clients transition from Voice of the Customer (deprecated since July 2019) to the simpler interface of Forms Pro and use its advanced features including branching logic, personalising surveys with dynamic data and sharing surveys using a QR code.

Consumption Based Licensing

A shift towards consumption based licensing was a noticeable trend in 2019 with a series of licensing changes where prices are directly related to usage. This included new API call limits as well as limits for portal page views / logins, Form Pro surveys and the new cloud storage model already covered here. The removal of the Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Plan was further evidence of Microsoft's shift from an 'all-you-can-eat' buffet style of licensing to one increasingly metered by usage.

Dynamics 365 Marketing

As one of the newer apps in the Dynamics family, the Marketing app saw a high proportion of new features and updates during the year. Notable updates announced during 2019 included split A/B testing, simplified on-boarding, quick-send capability, layout editor enhancements, social posting and marketing approval processes using Flow / Power Automate.

Power Platform

The Power Platform on which Dynamics is built saw tremendous momentum in 2019 as organisations are increasingly using this to quickly build apps, automate processes and gain data insights. We've already featured Power Apps here, but to briefly recap the other services:

Power Automate (renamed from Microsoft Flow) increased to 275+ pre-built connectors and custom connectors enabling workflows to be automated across apps and services. Recent updates have included flow checker repair tips, authoring improvements and capability to run automations from Microsoft Teams.

Among the continual stream of Power BI updates during 2019, popular enhancements included: embedding reports in portals, Power BI data flows, custom branding controls, Q&A improvements, and a new Power Automate action to trigger the refresh of Power BI datasets.

AI Capabilities

New Artificial Intelligence capabilities were a consistent theme in the two major release plans published during 2019 which saw a series of 'Insights' apps released, in preview or entering general availability. These include Customer Service Insights to help service managers gain insights from cases, analyse performance and increase satisfaction. Sales Insights was also released to provide AI-powered insights including: predictive lead scoring, sentiment analysis and call analysis. More sales-focused AI capabilities were announced included using optical character recognition to convert handwritten notes, business card reader to create new contacts and a sales assistant offering next-best-action recommendations.

Other releases in the 'Insights' family included: Market Insights, Fraud Protection and Connected Store. Also, Product Insights and Customer Insights positioned to create a customer data platform that will unify and understand data to personalise experiences.

In addition to these pre-packaged AI apps, Power Apps AI builder was released enabling organisation to apply extended AI capabilities to any app or service. This includes pre-built models for sentiment analysis, language detection and text recognition as well as custom models for object detection, form processing and text classification.

Microsoft Social Engagement Withdrawal

At the start of the year, Microsoft Social Engagement (MSE) was deprecated and will be withdrawn in January 2020. Initially, it seemed many of these capabilities would be rolled into the new Market Insights AI service (currently in preview). Ultimately, Market Insights is no longer intended to be a successor to MSE and since this announcement, Preact has partnered with Orlo so we can continue to offer a social engagement solution that works with Dynamics 365.

Preact's Year

As always we are incredibly grateful for the continued support of our clients. We were especially pleased to publish a selection of case studies and success stories during the year that showcase examples of the powerful outcomes that are being achieved with Dynamics 365.

In July, we were thrilled to be named to Microsoft's Inner Circle for the second consecutive year. As well as ranking Preact in the top 1% of partners worldwide, this continues to provide us with privileged access to support and executive sponsorship from Microsoft.

We were also honoured to receive a new Gold Competency for Application Development, reflecting the great work that our build team is doing to help our clients leverage the Power Platform.

Another highlight was the completion of our new office space to increase our capacity and create an inspiring working environment for our UK team.

On behalf of everyone at Preact, we wish you a Happy Christmas and our very best wishes for a prosperous New Year!

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