Best of 2021: Microsoft Dynamics 365 expert insights
Subject matter experts wrote a range of outstanding articles about the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem this year. The twice-yearly release waves and the packed client engagement schedules of Dynamics professionals provide plenty of worthwhile material to share with the community, but little time in which to write about it, and we on the editorial team are grateful as always to those who worked with us to put out hundreds of articles this year.
Let's look at some of the most popular of those articles on MSDW from 2021. The first four sections below represent individual Dynamics 365 product areas, including the biggest Dynamics 365 ERP and CRM-related applications as well as D365 Project Operations. The final section highlights two of our most popular pieces examining the broader Microsoft commercial ecosystem from both an industry and a horizontal perspective.
Microsoft MVP and entrepreneur James Crowter followed up his 2020 priorities list (meaning the "strategic imperatives" he hopes Microsoft will prioritize) with a new one in May 2021. The list covers a wide range of themes like R&D, branding, channel sales support, data management, and much more. For example, he writes of the transition to using Power Automate for workflow:
I dream of the day when I can easily define a Power Automate workflow to approve any piece of master data, transaction (based on flexible validation criteria), or even security privileges request.
And there is the long-running promise of monetization in AppSource:
…I think Microsoft understand the need but are just serially failing to fix it. I could not leave it off, though, because the list would not be complete without it. I hear that there might be progress, but sorry Mike, if it is not till 2029, that is not funny for those ISVs missing out and will rank as the biggest Microsoft fail since the Nokia acquisition.
To go a step back in history, check out Crowter's review of his 2020 Business Central priorities. He rung up an impressive score, though with a notable miss or two mixed in.
The cost differences between upgrading to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central SaaS and on-premises
The real cost of an upgrade is a difficult number to provide, and Jonas Mikalkėnas of 1ClickFactory helps us understand why. Using an iceberg as a metaphor, he explores the software running costs, the technical upgrade options, and how to make sense of the comparison. Costs can be deceiving if a business looks only at the first year, or even the first two. After three years, SaaS models begin to show their value, and he notes even more savings in upgrades to SaaS over six years.
EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer), should be something easy to set up in Business Central, but that’s not always the case. But with a few key lessons, Cynthia Priebe believes any BC customer can make EFT a reality for their organization. Her lessons cover payment journals, generating EFT files, data exchange definitions, and bank statement file setup.
Cari Corozza's excitement was palpable as she reviewed updates coming to Business Central financial dimensions in 2021 Release Wave 1. For two key tools, she reviews Microsoft's official description, what it means for users, and why it will benefit finance leaders. She encouraged users to read up on the details so they could be ready to promote the upcoming improvements to their teams.
What a great opportunity to make sure you are taking full advantage of the functions and features in the system you already own! My suggestion? Have someone from your team be the point person to review the notes, then share and discuss with the rest of the team.
Finance & Supply Chain Management
Dynamics 365 F&O training expert Elif Item recently concluded a 12-part article and video series on how to train various users on important modules of the systems. In part 11, she explored the challenges related to launching e-Commerce. She stated:
e-Commerce covers a specialized area within D365 including website design, online store management, and the end-to-end online order management process.
e-Commerce training should start after the foundational and sales training. To leverage the integrated data structure and processes, the core team needs to first understand how products, inventory, customers, sales orders, etc. are managed within D365. e-Commerce training can then introduce the online features to the learners. The upfront e-Commerce training is critical to building an attractive and easy-to-use website.
Stay or go? That is the decision that Dynamics AX customers face as their ERPs continue to age. Customers voice a variety of objections to an upgrade, wrote Žydra Tubelyte, with typical themes related to value, price, and past experiences.
For a team championing a move to D365, it is important to address the concerns of individual workers, managers, and executives with the right balance of understanding, expertise, and a realistic plan to move forward. Tubelyte also reviews three of the most common objections and ways to overcome them.
Johan Persson noted that, as D365FO has evolved away from its AX roots, the product team has consistently been moving new and updated feature sets out of the core product and into various external cloud services. He notes some of the first steps that Microsoft in moving features out of core like resource planning and data export services.
Persson believes Microsoft's approach offers several advantages for the product's future and for the well-being of customer systems. For example:
These services can be updated without having to “respect” customizations made by customers and partners outside of Microsoft's control. With just a lightweight interface for all parties to respect, Microsoft is free to iterate even faster than the monthly cadence of One-Version.
Veteran solution architect and MSDW contributor Evert Bos explained in this article that he recently had to try out a very old D365/AX module that a customer was asking for. He knew enough to get started, but as he progressed, he learned more about the setup, the process steps, and the Kanban transfer board. The result of the solution worked perfectly "when combined with a Supplier portal (or Supplier workspace)", he reported.
Rahul Mohta and Yogesh Kasat of Real Dynamics described 2021 Release Wave 1 for D365FO as a "feature powerhouse" across a broad range of functional areas. They look at preview and GA features from Release Wave 1 related to planning optimization, inventory, logistics, advanced warehousing, and even mixed reality.
Following Build 2021, data and analytics expert Kirk Donahoe dug into the importance of Microsoft's preview of Azure Synapse Link for Dataverse. While it may have seemed like a rebrand of the existing "Export to Data Lake," the was in fact more to be excited about, he explained.
The capabilities…add another extremely beneficial layer on top of the previous functionality: the automatic linking of the configured storage account with Azure Synapse Analytics and the creation of T-SQL views in the Serverless endpoint that queries from the data lake. This additional layer greatly simplifies the process of accessing your data to create a Logical Data Warehouse through writing additional SQL Views or through other Azure services including Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services.
Donahoe discusses the ways Azure Synapse Link will modernize data export, lower costs, and become a part of Microsoft's overall strategy for improving and broadening data analysis options in the Microsoft cloud.
My favorite new features coming to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service in 2021 release wave 2
When Microsoft released the Dynamics 365 2021 Release Wave 2 plan document, Microsoft MVP Heidi Neuhauser offered MSDW readers both her overall impression and her favorite features across three key products. With so many new features planned for preview and production, creating "top five" lists was a difficult task. Some of the areas that caught her eye included richer Power Automate integration, new analytical workspaces, and new AI capabilities added to real business scenarios.
Neuhauser also offered a well-received review of release wave 1 earlier in the year that included both D365 and Power Platform services.
Margaret Wise of ClickDimensions advised early in 2021 that marketers working with Dynamics 365 solutions could best serve their organizations by focusing on fundamentals. For example, marketers need to know what tactics are best expanding their audiences. And they must work toward integrating data and systems between sales and marketing. She also advised that marketing managers be aware of the most common pain points like developing the right skills in marketing teams and navigating the transition of resources and time from physical events to virtual.
Rather than letting pain points derail marketing strategies, marketers should take inventory of perceived challenges and work tactically to reduce the strain they cause on the overall team. For example, hold an open dialogue with all levels of the marketing team to assess things that are working well, and areas of improvement.
Microsoft restructured elements of Dynamics 365 Marketing to separate "Real Time Marketing" and "Outbound Marketing". Daniel Norris explained how the an AI-assisted asset library, new push notification capabilities, intelligent segmentation tools, and more can improve channel engagement.
Priyesh Wagh has been watching Microsoft's transition of Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation to the new Project Operations, and in this article he shared his findings on a new feature of PO that wasn't available in PO: Project Buckets.
"Buckets is a new feature which lets you set a status to each task to imply what stage of the project it is in. You can create your Buckets in the Project Operations Project record and name them according to what suits your Project Task," he writes. The article examines the concepts behind the feature, its basic usage, and some customization concepts.
Kuldeep Gupta shares his findings on how to set milestones in your projects in D365 Project Operations. A simple five-step process demonstrates the settings that enable a user to set a task as a milestone.
"While PO does not make these settings obvious in the user interface, they can still be used to set milestones in your WBS for easier project management," he wrote.
Kuldeep also explored the Schedule APIs for Project Operations, a new line of APIs for Dataverse designed to use the new WBS managed by Project for the Web. He reviews the entities the API covers, the operations supported, and offers some final guidance on how to use them properly.
- See also: How to enable the new URS Board (Schedule Board) in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations
The broader Microsoft commercial cloud
Manufacturers have been adopting cloud-based systems over the years to suit various modernization needs. Rob Jolliffe reflects on the history of this journey in areas like ERP, CAD, and desktop virtualization. He then looks at technology that has the potential to provide the next level of benefit to these organizations and why executives should be taking a close look at what is next.
Viva's employee experience tools promise a new way to support learning, performance, knowledge, and communication. Travis Damgaard Campbell looked at Viva Learning and how it might serve organizations as "a content aggregator that uses AI to recommend when employees might want to take training courses and other microlearning content."
Importantly, Viva Learning is built into Teams and is designed to align with lots of learning management systems. If an organization wants its workers to spend more time working in Teams, then it will be important to make their learning content available there – and easy to consume.
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