Last week has been a particularly busy one for all things Microsoft concerned. Future Decoded 2016 came and went, with a whole range of interesting announcements and presentations from those within the industry. And, of course, we saw the release of Dynamics 365 for Enterprise on Tuesday, an event which I discussed more closely as part of last week’s blog post. There’s a lot about Dynamics 365 which is going to take some time to fully understand, and also a lot of features which are not yet fully available. I have been hearing rumours that there will be a December update, targeted at existing CRM Online users who wish to make the jump across, that will unwrap a couple of features that are currently disabled within Dynamics 365. Chief among these looks to be the App Builder and also what looks like some kind of sitemap editor tool! :O In the meantime, there a lot of changes that need digesting, and I wanted to focus this week on a particular group of new features/changes relating to Processes. For the uninitiated, processes is a broad term to describe a group of different Dynamics 365 for Enterprise (D365E) components that can be created within the system- namely, Workflows, Dialogs, Actions, Business Process Flows and Business Rules. Whilst not all of these have received attention as part of the new release, the ones that have definitely look to be in a much more enhanced and polished position compared to Dynamics CRM 2016 Update 1. Let’s take a look at some of these changes in more detail:

Process Designer

The introduction of the Process Designer for Business Rules, Business Process Flows and Task Flows is perhaps the most noticeable and welcome enhancement to processes. Now, instead of linearly attempting to visualise how your processes operate, you can very quickly grasp how they look via the visual designer. What’s more, you have the ability to drag and drop your components quickly and easily, re-ordering them accordingly and seeing clearly how each step flows into the other:


Out with the old…


…and in with the new!

What’s also welcoming about this is that, for those who prefer a more “old school” approach to seeing how a Business Rule is structured, the Text View window provides a means of accommodating this. A nice and welcome touch!

Business Rule Recommendations

I really like this next new feature 🙂 When it comes to data inputting, one of the major challenges you face is ensuring that the data is entered correctly. These problems can be compounded in situations where data needs to conform to specific rules – for example, if Field A and Field B equal ‘ABC’, then set Field C to ‘DEF’; otherwise, set to ‘GHI’. The common solution to this problem in the past is to look at programmatic means of ensuring data is entered correctly – generally via a Business Rule or a form-level JScript function. Whilst these generally are effective at addressing the problem, they could be prone to errors and can be seen as being too absolute a solution, that doesn’t address what could be an underlying problem within a business; namely, a lack of understanding of business processes and how things should be done.

The new Recommendation Action as part of Business Rules would appear to seek towards addressing this gap, by providing an unobtrusive way of alerting users that there is a problem with the data they have entered onto a form and giving them an opportunity to correct their mistake. In the process of doing this, you can provide contextual information that explains why the data needs to be changed – increasing transparency and understanding from end users of the application. Setting them up is very straight-forward – just setup your Condition and then you can drag and drop the new Recommendation component onto the designer screen. To see how this works in practice, let’s look at an example on the Contact form – we want to ensure that if the Spouse/Partner Name field contains a value, that the user is prompted to update the Marital Status field accordingly. First, we build our condition as we would normally in a Business Rule:


Next, we hook up our Recommendation component and configure it accordingly – setting the Recommendation properties and then our Set Field Value action

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Your Business Rule should look like the below when ready:


When activated and then, upon navigation to the Contact form, we can see it in action; when the Spouse/Partner Name field is changed, a blue exclamation mark appears next to the Marital Status field. Once clicked, we get some guidance information and the ability to update the field:


Et voila! The introduction of this new feature is a welcome surprise on my part. One limitation currently is that only one type of Action is supported with a Recommendation – Set Field Value. Here’s hoping that this is expanded as part of a future version of D365E to include additional Actions.

Validation for Business Rules

Previously, when building a Business Rule, the only way you could effectively determine that there were logic problems in your Business Rules is by activating them and testing them yourself on the form level. This is a potentially torturous process that could very well result in errors seeping through unintentionally. Now, as part of the new visual designer, the logic can be validated at any point and is also validated upon save. If unsuccessful, you are alerted to this fact and given some guidance on what is wrong so you can look at fixing the issue:

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Hopefully, having this built in now will help avoid some of the most obvious mistakes that can sometimes seep through when building a Business Rule.


Often, when you are attempting to document a system, you will want to include some kind of pictorial representation of the system – a process map, diagram or something similar. Now, with the updates made to Business Rules and Business Process Flows, you have the ability to obtain screenshot of the designer window – all through the click of the Snapshot button:




Pressing this will download a .png image of the Process, that you can very easily include as part of existing documentation relating to your system:


This is a very handy new feature that will no doubt save a lot of time in the future! One thing to remember is that, if you wish to include all Components underneath the Details section, then you will need to expand it first before pressing the Snapshot button.

Task Flows

Having come out of Preview from Dynamics CRM 2016 Update 1, Tasks Flows are still very much in their infancy and something which I am still trying to get my head around fully. My understanding is that they are essentially a combination of Workflows and Dialogs, but designed solely for the Dynamics CRM/365 for Tablets Mobile Application. From the mobile app, they are accessible from the new Summary area that appears when the app first launches (and where the heavily touted Relationship Assistant will reside once released). Taking the example After Meeting Task Flow, we can see how this looks in the mobile app. First, we launch the app and navigate to Summary area:


From there, we can see along the bottom of the tab all available Task Flows that can be launched based on the clipboard task list icon:

13Clicking this then launches a New Appointment record screen and then the first Page of the Task Flow which, once completed, will then execute the custom logic in the background:


Task Flows look very versatile and powerful, but I think will require some closer testing and experience before I’m able to comment further… :S

All in all, Processes seem to have received a lot of love and attention as part of the initial Dynamics 365 for Enterprise release. Microsoft has set the bar at the right level in creating the process designer, and the hope is that this is eventually rolled out for Workflows and other processes as well. Workflows, in particular, can benefit greatly from having a more visually accessible appearance, especially given the complexity that these can have when used to their fullest potential.

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 🙂

Anyone working within the CRM space will have already soaked up the news regarding Dynamics 365. Jujhar Singh’s announcement just a week before WPC 2016 helped to set the stage for Dynamics 365 & AppSource to steal the show as part of the conference, no doubt pleasing Dynamics professionals the world over. This is a major step forward for Microsoft, as they seek to quash the dominance of Salesforce, SAP & Oracle within the CRM/ERP space; having long been the underdog within this sector, Dynamics 365 could be what Microsoft needs to tip the scales in their favour.

So, if you are working with CRM closely at the moment, what does the above announcement mean for you? Is CRM still relevant or is it time to pivot across to some of the new offerings within Dynamics 365? In this week’s blog post, I take a closer look at what has emerged from the above announcement thus far, to see where the future may lie for CRM:

Is CRM now an Enterprise-level product?

At this stage, Microsoft are speaking in very high-level terms in respect to how the Dynamics 365 product will be licensed. But I was interested to see the following slide on show at WPC (picture courtesy of Peter Cutts):

Taking the above at face-value, Microsoft are now classifying CRM as an Enterprise-only product, a potentially concerning development. Some implications of this decision could be:

  • Price rise on all CRM licensing plans as part of Dynamics 365: I think in the short-term, it is incredibly unlikely that we will see a major jump in price (in order to help drive early adoption), but since CRM is now classed as an enterprise level product, it would be very surprising if pricing is not eventually adjusted, in order to take this into account.
  • Rise in minimum license purchase for CRM Online: This is currently set to 5 Professional licenses, whereas the above slide indicates a minimum seat purchase of 20 users. If we assume the same price under Dynamics 365, the minimum monthly cost to start using CRM Online rises up to £810 ex. VAT, which equates to a whopping rise of £607.50 per month! [UPDATE: Since this post, I have had it confirmed that CRM Online minimum seat purchase will not be affected by Dynamics 365. More info can be found here. Big thanks to CRM MVP Jukka Niiranen for pointing this out!]
  • The future of CRM within SMB’s: I am hoping that some further detail will help to clarify the position of CRM within the overall offer, but one of my major concerns at this juncture is the future position of CRM Online within small to medium size businesses. One of the huge benefits of the current structure is that is tailored for both extremes; a major shift of the CRM product towards an enterprise-only approach (i.e. in the sense that the price point precludes any other, smaller organisation from justifying the cost of adopting CRM) could spell the end of CRM within the small business. One would assume that Project ‘Madeira’ would be the alternative offer for SMB’s in this instance; but the challenge would be in convincing these organisations to migrate across to this.

Looking at this another way, Microsoft have promised that the Dynamics 365 offering will be flexible and adaptable for any kind of business. So it may well be the case that we see no major changes to how the CRM Online product is offered, something that I would welcome.

Time to say goodbye to CRM On-Premise?

One of the persistent questions, considering the increased focus on CRM Online in recent years and the Dynamics 365 announcement as a whole, is just where does On-Premise CRM sit in Microsoft’s long-term plans. Some colleagues I have spoken to recently have predicted that Dynamics 365 is the nail in the coffin for CRM On-Premise. I take a slightly more pessimistic view. With many large-scale organisations within the public/private sector still requiring the ability to literally point to a server rack in a data centre and say “This is where our data is stored!”, it will be difficult for Microsoft to convince them to migrate across to the Office 365/Azure platform, when such requirements may prove difficult to match. The UK is currently an excellent case in point, as we are still waiting on the promised arrival of UK based Azure data centres. Until Microsoft are in a position to offer commitments to every country in the world that they have data centres based within the country in question (or, in the case of Europe, within the European Economic Area), CRM On-Premise will continue to have a market for organisations who need specific assurances in regards to data storage and location.

The future of XRM

The XRM framework is a developers skeleton key, in terms of unlocking further potential from CRM and extending it to suit specific business requirements. So does the Dynamics 365 announcement mean that this key is now useless? Microsoft have provided some re-assurance that XRM is not going away anytime soon…

To extend the functionality of individual Dynamics 365 apps, partners may continue to use native application extensibility frameworks built-in to the CRM and the AX platforms.

But they have also indicated that there is a new sheriff in town…

The common data model is a cloud-resident business database, built on years of experience with our enterprise customers. It will come with hundreds of standard business entities spanning both business process (Dynamics 365) and productivity (Office 365). The standardization and consistency of schema enables partners to build innovative applications and to automate business processes spanning the entire business process spectrum with confidence their solutions can be easily deployed and used across Microsoft’s entire customer base.


Clearly, the new “common data model” is something that CRM professionals are going to have to familiarise themselves with, as well having a general awareness of the other products sitting within Dynamics 365. One good thing to note, according to this blog post, is that there is some familiar terminology! I potentially see this as a positive step forward, particularly if your organisation is developing ISV solutions that sit within CRM and the constraints of CRM Solutions mean that you cannot leverage the desired functionality from the application.

A Fork in the Road – How Dynamics 365 could lead to CRM Specialist Roles

The Dynamics 365 announcement would also look to confirm that the Sales and Service side of CRM are starting to be treated as separate offerings, within one common environment. We’ve already seen that Microsoft have segregated out the Sales and Service side of CRM into different exams, and also that, when requesting a CRM demo, you can choose to have a Sales or Service focused trial experience. I can foresee a scenario where existing CRM professionals are having to “evolve” into one of three types of roles:

  • CRM Service Specialists
  • CRM Sales Specialists
  • Dynamics 365 Specialists

Without wishing to continue the references to Pokemon much further, we can then see situations where businesses are saying, for example, “CRM Service Specialist, I choose you!” for a particular project. Having focused roles along the lines of the above will undoubtedly lead to greater specialist knowledge of certain aspects of CRM, but could mean that professionals are no longer getting a good look over the garden fence at what’s going on within Dynamics 365 or within CRM itself.

Always Look on the Bright Side: Why Dynamics 365 could be awesome

Dynamics 365 can be seen as yet another gesture of love and attention towards the Dynamics CRM product. CRM has developed in leaps and bounds in recent history; this announcement would appear to be the cherry on the cake, designed to convince organisations across the globe that having CRM within their business can precipitate major benefits and return on investment. Dynamics 365 also gives those working with CRM an excellent excuse to start familiarising themselves with the other products in the Dynamics family. Typically, despite the shared name, these products have stood in distinct isolation from each other. Bringing them together as part of Dynamics 365 will hopefully lead to greater shared knowledge and awareness of what products, such as NAV, can deliver. Finally, the common data model, if designed correctly, could offer a much effective and less restrictive means of configuring CRM to interact with other products/systems.

There will no doubt be more news on Dynamics 365 in the months ahead, culminating with its release as part of Summit 2016 in October. For now, we will have to wait patiently, but I am eager to get my hands on it, as Dynamics 365 will undoubtedly be an important string on the bow of CRM professionals in the years ahead.