I did a blog post a few weeks ago discussing the new Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E) exams that have been steadily coming out since the start of the year. At the time, I mused that there may be more to expect in the future exam-wise:

I would hope that these exams are a stop-gap for a completely new range of exams that will be released in the future, that place the D365E application front and centre with the other much-loved favourites in the Microsoft “family”.

At the time of writing this, I had very much intended “future” to be a long time away – certainly 2018 at the earliest. With this being said, it was therefore incredibly surprising/pleasing to find out earlier this week of the introduction of two new certification types for D365E: The Microsoft Dynamics 365 MCSA and the Business Applications MCSE:

Big thanks to CRM trainer extraordinaire, Julian Sharp, for posting about the release and bringing it to everyone’s attention. AX fans can also rejoice, as an MCSA has also been released that covers the new version of this application, rebranded as Dynamics 365 for Operations. Previously, AX was in the same boat as Dynamics CRM in being restricted to Specialist-level exams only.

How To Get the New Certifications

Both the MCSA and MCSE are designed to fit around the current exam lists that have been released for Dynamics 365, specifically all of the ones that I have looked at previously on the blog. This means that, in practice, there is nothing additional or special that you need to prepare for; and, to be honest with you, CRM exam veterans should find little difficulty in obtaining the certifications. Here’s why, as I summarise what you need to do get each respective certification:

So it might very well be the case that, if you have passed any or all of the above exams already, then there will be something new and shiny on your exam transcript from Microsoft 🙂

How the certifications stack up against other MCSA’s/MCSE’s

Looking at how the MCSA compares with some of the other ones out there, there is definitely less exam content that you need to thoroughly learn before sitting the exams. That being said, the Dynamics 365 MCSA is very much geared to the types of skills that are measured as part of other MCSA’s – namely, how to setup the application in question and how to manage it. It is only when you start to get into the upper echelons of the MCSE that you start to see specialisation in specific application areas. This is similar to how SQL Server Reporting Services is treated, as there is very little exam material covering this at SQL Server MCSA level. For D365E, this is a very good approach to take, as a lot of the information that you will need to learn as part of customizing CRM/D365E in the past is instantly applicable to the Sales/Case Management exams, and even gives you a head-start in making assumptions about how these system entities operate.

When I look at the requirements needed for the MCSE, I can’t help but feel that the exam requirements are somewhat simple (without wanting to be too glib, given that I have yet to sit either exam!). Having said that, it does seem that the requirements for MCSE’s have been relaxed across the board and the re-certification requirements have also been overhauled to take into account the increased frequency of releases across the Microsoft range of products.

Why their introduction is so important

The success of D365E and, indeed, the entire rebranding of the range of Dynamics applications depends solely on how the range of applications are perceived within the range of other products in the “Microsoft family”. If there is an imbalance at all anywhere in the chain, then customers who are evaluating the product are not going to take a second look at it. Because, let’s face it – if the organisation that is selling the product does not seem to care about it, why should you?

I think back to a recent evaluation that I did of an anti-virus and device endpoint encryption product from one of the largest computer technology companies in the world. The product in question was acquired a few years back by the company and, when evaluating it, it was indeed an excellent and perhaps greatly innovative solution to have in place within an organisation. Our interest was killed quickly by the following factors:

  • It took weeks to arrange a demo. As we found out after the fact, the demo request went through the corporate maze, as no one could figure out who was responsible for carrying out pre-sales demos.
  • After the demo was scheduled and completed, attempting to obtain pricing information was nigh on impossible; again, it went through the corporate maze and we gave up in the end due to the delay.
  • The product itself was not mentioned in great detail on the organisation’s website, only a token page or 2 outlining what it is and what it does (in a very poor manner)

All of the above stems from the fact the organisation was not actively behind the product at every single opportunity; even a weakness in one of these areas could make or break the success of a product when presented to potential customers.

Education and certification is an important element of this, as organisations can take comfort that a product has a range of effective and recognisable certifications that demonstrate an individuals or organisations competency in delivering solutions utilising it. From a Microsoft standpoint, the MCSA and MCSE are the gold standard of accreditations. If a Microsoft product does not have a corresponding MCSA at the very least, you can bet that it is not a great product or has not been given the love and attention needed to bring it to the forefront as part of potential sales opportunities. Now that we finally have MCSA and MCSE qualifications for D365E, we can now start to say definitively that this is the time for Dynamics 365. No longer is the product just the black horse contender for CRM/ERP king amongst the likes of SalesForce and Oracle; it is an established presence and very much here to stay.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of news arising from the detail behind the Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E) announcement was the introduction of a number of freebies that are included as part of any subscription. Previously, under CRM Online licensing, you would have to purchase a number of Professional licenses before getting any free items. Now, regardless of the number of user licenses in your subscription, new and existing customers get all of the following at no additional charge:

  • 10GB of total database storage across all of your instances (Production/Sandbox)
  • Free Sandbox instance
  • Free Portal
  • Add-on services, such as Microsoft Flow and Project Online.

Given that the monthly cost for most of the above previously amounted to a significant figure in the hundreds of £’s, it is good to now see that arguably essential subscription elements (for example, Sandbox instances, to ensure a separate development/testing environment for customisations) are included at no additional charge. The question of whether or not this is value for money, however, is something that will likely depend on the size of your D365E deployment and the number/type of user licenses involved.

With this in mind, there is doubtless a high amount of impetus to encourage organisations who are currently on Dynamics CRM 2016 Update 1 or earlier and/or are still on the “old” Office 365 SKUs for CRM Online to start migrating across to one of the new plans – either Enterprise Plan 1, Dynamics 365 for Sales/Field Service etc. or Team Members. Organisations who are still on CRM Online plans can choose to either upgrade now or when their plan retires, in addition being able to take advantage of transition upgrade pricing. In some cases, this can amount to an average reduction in monthly prices of up to 20%. Therefore, if you are currently paying for excess storage at £7.50 per GB per month, additional sandbox instances at £113.10 per month and a Portal instance at a whopping £377 per month, then there may be a good business case for not waiting until renewal and to upgrade straight away to the new D365E SKU’s.

This was certainly the case with an organisation I was working with previously. The deployment was rather small in nature, approximately 60-70 users in total. The majority of licenses were allocated towards Basic and Essential license types. As such, the organisation was unable to benefit from the previous offer of a free sandbox instance with 25 CRM Professional licenses and additional, free database storage with more Professional users; meaning that they had to buy 2 additional sandbox instances and a large amount of additional storage to cover their requirements as part of the solution. The organisation was, therefore, an excellent candidate to transition across their CRM Online Professional to Plan 1 Enterprise license types.

With the above TechnNet article open and during an appropriate out of hours timeslot, I was then tasked with carrying out the license migration. I was relieved that the process went largely to plan, with no major hiccups. I was able to confirm successfully that the free sandbox instance appeared within the Dynamics 365 Administration centre after purchasing the new plans and did not vanish when cancelling the CRM Online Professional subscription. However, the same could not be said for the free storage. In the past, myself and colleagues have observed that purchasing additional storage can take some time to appear on the Dynamics 365 Administration Centre – sometimes up to an hour or more. After noting no change in the storage count after waiting this long, it definitely looked as if something had gone wrong as part of the upgrade. : /

After temporarily adding on some additional storage to cover the amount that we expected to gain as part of the transition and waiting until the next weekday, I opened a support ticket with Microsoft to clarify the situation regarding the additional 5GB of free storage we were expecting to receive and to determine whether something had in fact gone wrong. In good time, I was duly informed the following by a Microsoft support representative:

We informed you that “to get 5gb free storage for their organisation, update of CRM organisation to 8.2 is recommended and you will receive this free storage whenever your organization will be updated”.

At this juncture, it should be noted that one crucial piece of information has been left out as part of the above 🙂 All of the organisations CRM instances were at version 8.1. According to the above then, one (or all) of the organisations Dynamics CRM 2016 Update 1 instances need to be upgraded to D365E to take advantage of the free storage offer.

Since the above incident, we have scheduled in all of the organisations instances to be upgraded to 8.2 i.e. to D365E. I will report back after this upgrade has been completed to confirm the presence (or lack thereof) of the additional 5GB storage. Why the scepticism? I find it rather strange that you have to upgrade all of your instances to the latest version to take advantage of the new storage offer. I was always under the impression that the storage “layer” of your CRM/D365E instances are separate from the instances themselves. This being the case, I had therefore assumed that the SKU change would have been the flag to tell Administration Centre to add on an additional 5GB storage. This would appear to be how the additional Sandbox instance worked because, as demonstrated above, the free instance updated into Administration Centre without issue. The world of CRM/D365E can always throw up interesting and bizarre behaviours, so I won’t rule anything out at this stage. Stay tuned…

UPDATE (28/03/2017): Well, I can confirm that the support engineer is correct and at least one of your instances as part of your subscription needs to be running 8.2 for the free additional storage to appear on the portal. So if you have a spare instance and are itching to get your hands on additional database space, then I would recommend that you reset one of your spare sandbox instances to the latest version via the Administration Centre.

In the world of Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E), the start of the year generally means the introduction of new exams in line with the latest version of the product. 2017 is no exception to this rule and, at the time of writing, there are 4 new D365E exams that you can start to get your teeth into:

Microsoft appears to be drip feeding the current wave of exams this time around: the first exam to popup was MB2-716 at the start of February, with the remaining exams cropping up over the last week or so. What’s also worth noting is that the current exam list for D365E is only viewable via the US Microsoft Learning site; if you are UK based like me, then the current Dynamics certification page makes no mention of the new exams…yet. I seem to remember this being a problem last year as well and, like back then, you can still book your exam and sit it in your country of choice by simply going through the US Microsoft Learning Website.

Exams present a good opportunity to re-familiarise yourself with areas of a particular product that you have not had much exposure to previously, as well as introducing you to anything new that has been introduced over the past year. In this week’s blog post, I will take a closer look at the new exams and the differences that new and previous candidates should make note of before preparing to revise.

Customer Organizational Structure: What It Is and Why You Shouldn’t Worry

Both the MB20715 and MB2-717 dedicate a significant percentage of exam performance on a candidate’s ability to ‘Create a Customer Organizational Structure‘. Exam veterans may initially be put off by this terminology, as it is not something that has ever been referenced previously. Upon closer inspection of both exams, the skills measured differs, compounding any potential confusion. Fortunately, the top-level terminology is more confusing than what is underneath. To simplify things for those who may be still scratching their heads, here is a breakdown for each exam of what you will need to focus on:

  • MB2-715
    • Support the Microsoft Dynamics 365 client environment: This covers things such as knowing which browsers are compatible with D365E, which mobile devices/operating systems that the mobile app support and also minimum software/hardware requirements for the D365E App for Outlook (Note: this is NOT the same as the Dynamics 365 for Outlook).
    • Deploy Microsoft Dynamics: This will likely cover what license types are available, what permissions they grant across the application and also what features you get as part of a subscription. For example, remember that subscriptions now include a free sandbox and 10GB database storage.
    • Import Data into the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Environment: This will cover the Data Import Wizard and all its subtle nuances, as well as the new Data Loader service (surprising, given that it is still in preview apparently).
    • Manage the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Environment: This is likely to cover all of the Office 365 “soft skills” that are required as part of managing D365E Online and, rather interestingly, Single Sign-On (SSO) via Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) – something that has only ever come up as part of On-Premise exams previously.
  • MB2-717
    • Manage Customer Records: This will include topics covering your “basic” record types and how they behave (Accounts, Contacts etc.), as well as having to demonstrate knowledge of Business Units and how to structure the application to match a business hierarchy.
    • Manage the Sales Process: This will cover your full sales qualification process – Lead to Opportunity to Quote to Order to Invoice – and how these record types interact, the unique behaviours of each and potentially some stuff covering Business Process Flows.
    • Manage Customer Communication: Same as the above, this will be focused towards knowledge of Opportunity and Lead records. There may also be a sneaky question or 2 about Social Engagement chucked in, based on the terminology used.
    • Manage sales literature and competitors: This will include working with document templates, the Competitor record type and potentially some questions regarding Connections and Connection Roles.

So on balance, nothing too scary as part of the above for those who have sat previous exams. That’s why it’s always important to dig deeper behind a headline to get the true story underneath!

And It’s Goodnight From Me: Saying Farewell to the On-Premise Exam

One notable absentee from the list of new exams is the On-Premise Installation exam. The previous exam for 2016, MB2-711, demonstrates a candidate’s proficiency in installing and administrating the On-Premise version of Dynamics 2016; something which, based solely on my own experience managing an on-premise lab environment, is no small feat. Now it very much looks if this exam has gone the way of the Dodo. As highlighted by legendary CRM/D365E MVP Mark Smith, there is currently no content on the Dynamics Learning Portal/Imagine Academy that covers On-Premise installation of D365E.

Although the retirement of this exam type (if true) does come with some drawbacks for those who may be tasked with supporting on-premise versions of the application in the near future, it is perhaps not surprising. The key thing that Microsoft have been trying to highlight as part of the D365E release is the clear benefit of the cloud version of the product over its companion, self-hosted versions. This is why Microsoft have been offering incentivised upgrade pathways, sprinkled with a generous helping of price reductions, to motivate organisations to move to the Online version of the product. Whilst On-Premise D365E will continue to have a role to play in the months and years ahead – which is why Microsoft offer Dual Use Rights with online subscriptions (see below) – its role will be relegated to merely providing organisations with an offline mechanism for deploying development/test environments within their own infrastructure.

Excerpt from the Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition Licensing Guide. Click on the image to download the full guide.

With regards to some of the topic areas covered by the former On-Premise Installation exam – such as Server-Side-Synchronisation and CRM for Outlook – you can be assured/annoyed at the fact that these topics are picked up within the new MB2-715 exam instead. So don’t take these subjects too lightly when revising 🙂

Missed Opportunities

As we welcome the new exams and what they can offer, they also present an opportunity to evaluate what is missing and what could be improved upon in the future. With this in mind, here are a few things that are a shame to be have been missed as part of this wave of exam releases:

  • With the retirement of MB2-701: Extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 at the end of the last year, the death knell was signalled for Developer CRM/D365E certifications. With no current exam on the horizon to replace MB2-701, this presents a major missed opportunity. Familiar readers of the blog will know that I have railed against this in the past, chiefly for the reason is that it creates a lack of incentivisation for existing functional CRM consultants or developers new to the product to take a dive and learn what is possible via the platform through coding. I hope that this is eventually addressed and that we see an Extending Dynamics 365 exam or similar released in future.
  • I did a post last year discussing the possible imminence of a CRM Portal exam, based on evidence garnered from the Adxstudio website. CRM Portals is such a huge product in of itself, that presents its own unique blend of learning curves and challenges when coming from a purely CRM-focused background. Having an exam dedicated solely to this presents, in my view, the surest way pathway for those interested in implementing the product as part of future projects to get running with it. This being the case, it is a shame that a Portal Exam has not yet been included as part of the above list.
  • I did hear some rumours last year that Microsoft was planning on “resetting” the current state of affairs regarding CRM/D365E exams and their status within the Microsoft certification hierarchy. Unlike the “big hitters” in the Microsoft range of products, such as Azure and Office 365, which have MCSA/MCSE level qualifications, CRM/D365E have continually been relegated to Microsoft Specialist level for each of the exams passed; something which, I have to admit, does not look as snazzy on your C.V. 🙁 I was hoping that with the love and attention shown to CRM last year as part of the D365E rebranding, that we would see a brand new D365E MCSA released. Perhaps this may happen in the future, as I believe this is one of the ways that Microsoft can clearly signal the importance of D365E moving forward.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

I have yet to sit any of the new exams, although it is something that I am tentatively planning for over the next couple of months. It will be interesting to see how the experience differs compared to previous exams, if at all. Despite the rebranding, the content of these exams feels to be very safe on balance; i.e. the structure is largely identical compared to their equivalent 2016 version, with some slight peppering of new content to cover some of the muted new features within the product. Some new features appear to have been left out altogether – for example, there is no specific mention of some of the new Process updates or even the new built-in Sitemap editor. I would hope that these exams are a stop-gap for a completely new range of exams that will be released in the future, that place the D365E application front and centre with the other much-loved favourites in the Microsoft “family.” This would also have the added benefit of providing candidates with the opportunity to more clearly specialise within non-traditional areas of the application.

November 1st, 2016 is looming closer and closer, and anyone who is working with Dynamics CRM should be aware of the importance of this date. Dynamics 365 Enterprise will be officially released on this day, replacing all existing Dynamics CRM Online pricing/licensing offers for new customers. Existing Dynamics CRM customers & partners are starting to get a clear vision of what the product offering looks like, from a licensing and pricing structure. I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands of a trial instance of Dynamics 365 so that I can take it for a whirl. But for now, I wanted to publish a post that takes a look at the most interesting aspects of Dynamics 365 Enterprise, its release and my general thoughts on what we can hope to expect in the months ahead:

Tiered Pricing

The new tiered pricing structure of Dynamics 365 presents one of the major areas where Microsoft can challenge their competitors in the marketplace, as well as driving high volume license sales for their Dynamics 365 Enterprise plans. How it basically works is that the more licenses you consume for a particular plan, the cheaper each license in that plan will become. The following image from this really interesting article from ZDNet provides an excellent summary of how this will work:


Those who currently subscribe to a high number of Basic, Essential & Professional licenses for CRM Online will, therefore, benefit greatly from moving across to Dynamics 365 as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of the very high levels of price reduction – in particular, for Team Member and Enterprise Plan 1 licenses.

Team Members

Under Dynamics 365, the previous “light-use” Essential & Basic licenses have been replaced with the new Team Members license, that provides a standard set of user rights across the entire range of Dynamics 365 apps. They come in at about £10 less per month compared to the current £18.70 for Basic Licenses, potentially going down as low as approx. £3, thanks to tiered pricing. In terms of what they provide from a user access point of view, functionality appears to sum up as Essential + Basic = Team Members, covering typical record access requirements for most users in an organisation.

Free Portal and Non-Production instances!

Previously, you would have to purchase at least 25 Professional CRM licenses to get a Sandbox (i.e. Non-Production) instance of CRM for free, or alternatively, cough up £93.50 per month for a Sandbox. Portals, introduced earlier this year, have also been a paid add-on until now, for a significantly higher price of £311.60 per month!! With Dynamics 365 Plan 1 subscriptions and higher, your subscription will automatically include the following alongside your Production instance:

  • 1 Sandbox Instance
  • 1 Portal Instance

Given that there is no minimum seat requirement for Enterprise 1 plans, the above could represent a significant saving on average, particularly when you take into account tiered pricing. It also presents a major opportunity to drive increased adoption towards CRM Portals in the months and years ahead.

More database storage

It is pleasing to see the minimum database storage rise to 10GB as opposed to 5GB. One of the (potentially) hidden problems over time as part of any CRM deployment is storage being slowly eaten away by entity record types. I have blogged previously about one of these entities in question, and it is something that customisers and administrators need to be acutely aware of when designing and planning the system. The increase in storage goes some way towards mitigating this, but I would question whether a further increase could be warranted; particularly given the cost of storage on Azure for SQL databases being so much cheaper in comparison.

And it’s goodnight from MDM…and Parature

Perhaps the most significant announcement as part of the above is that Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM) and Parature will no longer be sold to new customers from November 1st, 2016 onwards. Microsoft has already announced that Adobe Marketing Cloud will become Dynamics 365 for Enterprise’s preferred marketing solution, but this has been confused further by an additional follow-up announcement regarding the Dynamics 365 Marketing App for Business, coming up Spring 2017. For Parature, no successor product to has been announced, indicating that existing Parature users will eventually need to migrate across to some of the recently acquired service-focused modules within Dynamics 365, such as Customer Service, Field Service and Project Service Automation. I am unsure of the exact, specific numbers when it comes to Parature and MDM sales, but the above demonstrates clearly that not all Microsoft acquisitions are destined for success and products that are perceived to be “too different” from the core CRM/Dynamics 365 experience can and will be dropped. I cannot speak for Parature, but I have had some experience with MDM in the past and, although it does provide some useful and effective campaign automation tools, seems to be too bloated as a product, desperately trying to do everything but not in a particularly effective way. Microsoft’s mixed messaging in regards to what can be considered MDM’s true successor product means that it is prudent to perhaps wait before upgrading or moving away from MDM immediately. Hopefully, by Spring 2017, we will be able to see how both offers compare from an integration point of view with Dynamics 365 Enterprise.

Generous upgrade pathways for existing CRM customers

Up to 47% discounts when upgrading to Dynamics 365 from Dynamics CRM Online. Microsoft has already published a list of promo codes that can be used for early adopters, so if you are itching to move across to Dynamics 365 next week, you can very quickly get upgraded.

Is Dynamics 365 Enterprise actually a “major” release?

Looking carefully through the following TechnNet article on how to access the new Dynamics 365 apps, and I noticed the following tidbit:

What is “Dynamics 365 – custom”?

“Dynamics 365 – custom” is the app name for all online organizations with a version 8.1 and lower as well as the default app on 8.2. The name for the 8.2 default app can be changed by the administrator.

My reading of this is that the version number of Dynamics 365 Enterprise is 8.2, as opposed to 9.0. This is a minor thing, but interesting that Microsoft does not consider the Dynamics 365 Enterprise release to be a “major” one. This potentially raises the prospect for a further release in 2017 that adds in a plethora of new features – something that ties in well with the expected release of the Dynamics 365 for Business in Spring 2017.

Conclusions or Wot I Think

The Dynamics 365 release looks to be a major reset of a number of base assumptions surrounding Dynamics CRM – including, most crucially, the price. Some of the very early scenarios I have seen from a migration point of view look to point to a very definite price rise for those moving across to Dynamics 365 (assuming you follow Microsoft’s recommended migration pathway). This is mitigated somewhat if you have a high number of licenses, thanks to tiered pricing, but I am troubled about where this leaves small to medium size businesses who currently use CRM Online. I have highlighted previously my worries and concerns that Dynamics 365 for Enterprise could be seen as an adoption barrier for these type of businesses, so the reaction to these businesses to the new pricing will be an important bellwether for Dynamics 365 Enterprise – and whether businesses decide to just ditch it altogether when it comes to the eventual, forcible upgrade to the new plans; or look at moving across to Dynamics 365 for Business instead. The sooner we get some clarity on what this offering looks like, the better.

Something else to add into the mix, solely for UK-based customers, is the announcement that Microsoft’s cloud services prices will rise significantly in the new year, in a move that has been linked to the current state of Pound Sterling following the Brexit vote. To my knowledge, exact pricing for UK customers of the new Dynamics 365 plans have not been released (although we can do a rough currency conversion from US Dollars), so we are unable to exactly determine at this stage what the prices will look like at launch and whether they take into account the above price rises. If not, then it would add a degree of urgency towards migrating across to Dynamics 365 sooner rather than later, in order to lock in your prices for another 12 months.

All said and done, Dynamics 365 presents some interesting opportunities and challenges for organisations who work with the product – lets hope that it’s weighed more towards the latter in the months ahead 🙂