Dynamics: a pattern or process of change, growth, or activity.
Merriam-Webster.com. 2017. http://www.merriam-webster.com (2 February 2017)
That definition certainly describes Microsoft Dynamics 365. Originally released as Microsoft CRM 1.0 in 2003, its capabilities have expanded tremendously since then. With a combination of shrewd acquisitions and rapid in-house development, Microsoft has invested heavily in the Dynamics product line and the rate of growth continues to accelerate. To paraphrase the Oldsmobile ad, “This is not your father’s CRM.”
Dynamics 365 is the current release and it offers a broad range of features and functions that can be tailored to meet virtually any business requirement. The platform is highly configurable and extensible even without writing any custom code. Its core functions revolve around
- Sales: qualifying leads, pursuing opportunities, generating quotes, delivering orders to fulfillment
- Service: managing service contracts, resolving cases, meeting SLAs, sharing knowledge
- Marketing: conducting marketing campaigns, maintaining marketing lists
These functional areas are supported by automated processes, dashboards, reports, charts and templates. The robust security model provides the tools to control who can see and who can modify different types of information, and any change can be audited to reveal who made the change, when they changed it, and what they changed it from and to.
More recently, Dynamics 365 has introduced new capabilities that show that Microsoft is focused on satisfying an ever-expanding set of real-world business problems. These include:
- Project Service
Developed internally by Microsoft’s dedicated and experienced product team, Project Service is all about planning and executing projects on time and within budget. The process can start with estimating the work during the sales cycle, including the work breakdown structure, the types of resources required to complete each task and dependencies between tasks. Once the work is sold, resources can be assigned based on their availability, skillsets and profitability, or you can opt to allow individuals to find and volunteer for the projects and roles that interest them. Throughout the execution of the project, members of the project team can easily report progress on their tasks and enter time and expenses for billing and reimbursement. Project managers can monitor and report on the overall progress of the project and adjust tasks and assignments as needed. Managers gain insights into critical topics such as availability and utilization, skill development and customer satisfaction, and can address any issues early on.
- Field Service
Field Service grew from Microsoft’s acquisition of FieldOne in 2015. It extends the core customer service functions of Dynamics 365 to manage a mobile work force. Service agreements define the services that each customer has purchased for specific products or assets, including service intervals and locations. Field Service can generate and assign work orders, either manually or automatically, and dispatch resources with the right skills and tools for each job. When the work is complete, Field Service can follow up with the customer to ensure that they are satisfied. If appropriate, the customer can be invoiced for the work performed including parts or other materials used during the service activity.
- Connected Field Service
Using Azure IoT and Power BI, Connected Field Service monitors connected devices to prevent or mitigate problems before they happen. Connected Field Service builds on the components in Field Service to register relevant customer assets, detect conditions that require attention and take the appropriate action. For example, Connected Field Service may receive an alert that a particular device is not functioning correctly. It could send a command to reboot the device or schedule a work order for a qualified technician to service the device on-site. The choice of a technician can consider the technician’s skill set, equipment, available parts and travel time and expense. Alternatively, it may determine that a scheduled service call can be deferred until later because a device is behaving well.
Many organizations still rely on email and phone calls to collaborate among employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders. The problems with those tools are well documented: information is not delivered to those who need it, versions are scattered and unmanaged and historical information is not archived for future use. Portals can overcome these limitations by providing a shared repository of curated content to everyone who needs it. Prior to its acquisition by Microsoft in 2015, Adxstudio had developed a portals solution with a rich feature set to engage employees, customers, partners and other stakeholders in new ways. Since then, Microsoft has built on that foundation to offer templates for common use cases. The deep integration between the portal and Dynamics 365 simplifies the process of configuring and enhancing portals.
The modern workforce is more mobile than ever before so critical business information must be accessible regardless of where you happen to be. And it must not be read-only: it’s unreasonable and unproductive to defer updates until you’re back in the office, an office which for many workers simply does not exist. In light of recent well-publicized data breaches, however, access to information cannot come at the expense of information security. Dynamics 365 provides mobile apps for the leading mobile operating systems on smartphones and tablets. In addition to a rich set of features for online access, these apps allow data to be downloaded and secured on the device itself. This enables information to be read and updated even when disconnected from any network. And administrators can control who can access or download information remotely and how much information they can access.
- Power BI
If you haven’t taken a look at Power BI lately, you should clear your calendar for a refresher. Without requiring any special data modeling skills, Power BI can combine and analyze information from Dynamics 365 and other sources. Power BI delivers rich visualizations of the information to provide insights into where your business is headed and where you need to take action. It takes the charting and visualization features that have traditionally been available in tools like Excel to an entirely new level.
The business unit that released Microsoft CRM 1.0 so long ago was named Microsoft Business Solutions. It described the group’s mandate clearly and succinctly: developing solutions for business problems. When that name was retired, we regretted its passing. But with the accelerating release of new features and functions since then, the Dynamics name is far more apropos.