I took some time out this week to head down to Microsoft’s Reading offices for the November CRMUG meeting. There is often a whole host of reasons that can be conjured up to excuse yourself from events like this - “I’m too busy at work!”, “It’s such a long way away!” etc. - but, ultimately, it’s always best to make the effort and get involved. The theme of the day was around Awareness of your CRM system, which was neatly kicked off by a short presentation from Microsoft on the current roadmap for Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement (D365CE). There was a clear emphasis towards GDPR on some of the available presentation tracks, a topic that regular readers of the blog should be well prepared for I hope. :) Another key aspect of the day was networking, with ample opportunities to meet new people and to understand their current journey involving CRM/D365CE. Here are my thoughts on the sessions I attended, along with some closing remarks on why these types of events are always beneficial.
Accelerate GDPR with Microsoft Cloud
The first talk I attended was all about GDPR from Microsoft’s perspective. The session was co-led by David Hirst and David Reid from Microsoft and did a really good job in setting out the GDPR stall for the uninitiated, as well as offering some pointers towards Microsoft solutions/technologies that may prove beneficial towards achieving compliance. There were also some fascinating anecdotal pieces, such as, for example, the story of a UK based pub chain who has decided to completely remove all customer email address data from their systems, presumably with GDPR in mind. An extreme, but arguably pragmatic, approach.
The talk came across as refreshingly candid, with a real demonstrable attempt of portraying a concerted effort behind the scenes at Microsoft to ensure that they - and their entire product range - are prepared for GDPR. Microsoft is not just talking the talk when it comes to GDPR (which, to be frank, can often result in a lot of scaremongering by other companies), but are instead providing current and new customers with the tools and information they need to streamline their route towards compliance. The key takeaway from the session, which was borne out by some of the Q&A’s at the end, is that it’s naive to assume that technology companies like Microsoft can provide a “silver bullet” solution to deal with all of your GDPR woes. Organisations need to go away and do a lot of the hard work when it comes to determining the type of data they hold across the entire organisation, whether the source of consent for this could be considered risky and to implement the appropriate business processes and technological helper tools to make dealing with things such as subject access requests as simple as possible.
What is GDPR and how it impacts your business and your Dynamics 365 solutions, Get Ready for your new legal obligations.
The next talk was (again!) on GDPR and was presented by CRM MVP, Mohamed Mostafa, and was specifically focused on GDPR in the context of D365CE. Mohamed’s talk was very focused, assisted by some great visual aids, and he also presented some interesting examples on how you can leverage existing application features to help you towards GDPR compliance. Plenty of food for thought!
One area mentioned by Mohamed in his presentation which I perhaps disagree with him on (sorry!) is the emphasis placed on the massive fine figures that are often quoted when it comes to GDPR. A heavy focus towards this does, in my view, present a degree of scaremongering. This is confirmed by the fact that Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, has gone public herself on the whole issue and cautions businesses to be wary of the “massive fines” narrative. I agree with her assessment, and that fines should always be considered a “last resort” in targeting organisations that have demonstrated a willful disregard for their obligations in handling personal data. My experience with the ICO on a personal level backs this up, and I have always found them to be fair and proportional when dealing with organisations who are trying to do the best they can. GDPR presents a real opportunity for organisations to get to grips with how they handle their personal data, and I encourage everyone to embrace it and to make the necessary changes to accommodate. But, by the same token, organisations should not be panic-stricken into a narrative that causes them to adopt unnecessary technologies under the whole “silver bullet” pretence.
What’s new in Dynamics 365 9.0
To date, I have not had much of a chance to play around in detail with version 9.0 of D365CE. For this reason, MVP Sarah Critchley’s talk ranked highly on the agenda for me. Sarah’s enthusiasm for the application is infectious, and she covered a wide breadth of the more significant new features that can be found in the new version of the application, including (but not limited to):
- Presentation changes to the Sitemap
- Introduction to Virtual Entities and how to set them up
- Changes to the mobile application
Sarah framed all of the changes with a before/after comparison to version 8.2 of the application, thereby allowing the audience to contextualise the changes a lot better. The best thing that I liked about the whole presentation is that it scratched beneath the surface to highlight less noticeable changes that may have a huge impact for end-users of the application. Attention was paid to the fact that the web application refresh is now a fully mobile responsive template, meaning that it adjusts automatically to suit a mobile or tablet device screen size. Another thing which I didn’t know about the new Virtual Entities feature is that they can be used as Lookup fields on related entities. This immediately expands their versatility, and I am looking forward to seeing how the feature develops in the future.
Implementing a Continuous Integration Strategy with Dynamics 365
I’ll admit that I went into the final talk of the day with Ben Walker not 100% sure what to expect, but walked away satisfied that it was perhaps the most underrated session of the day :) Ben took us through his journey of implementing a continuous integration strategy (translation: testing through the development process and automating the deployment process) for CRM 2015 in his current role, and he should be proud of what he has achieved in this respect. Ben showed the room a number of incredibly useful developer tidbits, such as:
- The ability to export CRM/D365CE solution information into Visual Studio and then sync up to a Git repository.
- Deep integrating of unit testing, via the FakeXrmEasy framework.
- The ability to trigger automated builds in TFS after a code check-in, which can then be used to push out solution updates into a dev/test environment automatically. With the additional option of allowing somebody else to approve the deployment before it starts.
All of the above Ben has been able to build together as an end to end process which looks almost effortless in its construction. The benefit - and main caveat from the whole session, it has to be said - is that Ben is primarily working within an on-premise CRM environment and is using tools which may not be fully supported with online versions of the application. For example, the ability to deploy Solution updates via PowerShell is definitely not supported by D365CE online. Despite this, Ben’s presentation should have left everyone in the room with enough things to go away with, research and implement to make their CRM/D365CE development more of a breeze in future.
Conclusions or Wot I Think
This was my first time attending a CRMUG meeting, and I am glad that I finally found the time to do so. As Sarah highlighted at the start of the day, the key benefit of the whole event is the opportunity to network, and I had ample opportunity to meet face-to-face some of my CRM heroes, as well as others working in the industry. It can often feel like a lonely journey working with applications like CRM/D365CE, particularly if you are working as part of a small team within your business. Events such as these very much bring you together with other like-minded individuals, who will happily talk to you non-stop about their passion for the application and technology. And, because the events are closely supported by Microsoft, it means that Tuesday’s meeting allowed for lots of authoritative information to come to fore throughout the entire day. I am very much looking forward to attending my next CRMUG meeting in the future and would urge anyone with at least a passing interest in the world of CRM/D365CE to consider attending their next local meeting.