Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

Top 3 Takeaways from D365 July 2017 Executive Update – Day 1

Today's blog post was written by Aaron Robinson, Solutions Architect at Sonoma Partners.

It’s that time of year again – time for hitting the beach, firing up the grill, and listening to 9 hours of content from Microsoft on what’s coming to Microsoft Dynamics CRM in the upcoming release. Truth be told, I didn’t have the patience to watch it live, but thankfully Microsoft recorded all the sessions for you (or me) to watch at leisure. And since we are having a rain storm this very moment, what a perfect time to watch and share with you my top 3 takeaways from day one of the executive briefing.

Before we get going, I want to emphasize that the content discussed during these demos are for pre-release features. While it’s great to get excited about what they are presenting, its best to keep a level head about it. Features are likely to change while in development or testing, or shifted to a later time frame due to release schedules. So, don’t base your purchasing decisions on the content you see here, but rather what is available at the time you are buying. You’ve been warned.

#1 – A True Unified Client

If you are a current user of Dynamics CRM – both the web and mobile app, this is going to make a lot of sense to you. Otherwise just take our word for it. This is a big deal! The web app offers one experience – which saw its last major update in 2013, and was coined the modern experience. It was a dramatic shift from previous versions, but generally accepted as a good change. What was missing in 2013 was a consistent mobile experience across platforms, but that was added in the last 24 months. Today what we have is a full web experience, and a different (but similar across device platforms) mobile experience.

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Microsoft’s new direction is to unify the experience across all modes and devices regardless of how the user interacts with D365. The inference I’m drawing here is that this isn’t the proverbial lipstick on a pig, or reskinning of the interface to simply “look” similar.  A quick side note: In the slide above, I thought it was very interesting to pick out that all the devices represented are form factors for Apple devices. There was a time where that was very taboo, but not at Satya’s Microsoft.

Microsoft is reviewing the way all controls in the application are written, consolidating controls where there may be multiple ways of viewing the same data, so that a single control can be used.  There is also a significant push to make sure the interface meets accessibility standards from Microsoft, to ensure that the product is available to everyone.

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A great example they used was the concept of grids. They are consolidating the different types of grids (search, sub, associated, even web and mobile) into a single grid control that can adapt to all of these modes.  This allows the system admin to use a single control and configure once across the interfaces, and the control will intelligently handle the presentation and interaction of data, something the presenter refers to as reflow. The benefits they are billing here is faster development, single deployment, and interface consistency. While they didn’t show this live, the screenshots provided showed a visually pleasing interface, addressing some of the most common issues like uniformity of font, elimination of extra white space, and better text wrapping (hallelujah!). I really like the subtle shading of headers both on the record form and the individual sections, as well as the use of borders around sections. It gives a sense of order to the application, something that was severely missing in the current styling of the interface. For the most part I think everyone will really welcome the UI improvements across the application.

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#2 – Seriously Seamless Offline

As a partner that has a mobility practice and understands what it takes to build a full offline client, take my word for it that offline capability is critically important to a mobile deployment.  In fact, for the custom apps we build for our clients, we strongly recommend and convey as a best practice the need for offline in a mobile client.  Our clients use cases range from airports to hospitals to large warehouses, and from urban areas to very rural communities.  You can’t always count on a connection, even in the US where we generally have good cellular coverage.

The Dynamics mobile app recently had been very limited for offline – both for read and create operations. What is coming is a significant overhaul to offline mode, something dubbed as the “seamless sync” client. The most significant part of this functionality is the addition of an Azure middleware component which orchestrates the sync process for the client and the core application. Since the work here of dealing with conflict resolution and incremental sync is pushed to the cloud, it should provide for a much better user experience in terms of a lighter weight and better performing client.  Additionally, the promise of a unified experience carries across to the offline experience. Expect the user interface to be identical in form and functional regardless of connectivity, aside from a status indicator for the user as to which mode they are in.  Also, the existing app should upgrade seamlessly to the new client when available.

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Feature-wise they are covering many of the bases related to offline access, including background sync, data download scope based on profile, conflict management, simplified setup, and online provisioning/deprovisioning.  One important item to note about the new mobile offline framework is we are hearing that this will only be available in production level instances only.  You will not be able to setup offline sync with a developer instance because of the Azure resource component.  Keep this in mind when determining your supporting environments for development, testing, and production, as you may need to license a production level instance of Dynamics 365 for development or user acceptance testing scenarios.

#3 – Putting the Dash in Dashboards

I know, that heading was a really bad pun.  But the time savings improvements to be introduced for dashboards are the complete opposite of bad.  In fact, they are pretty great. Dashboards are probably the most universally used reporting aspect of D365, and have now been around since the 2011 product version. There has been some minimal improvement, such as making dashboard security profile aware.  With this release, we will have some major enhancements which have been needed for quite a while.

The first major improvement, while not necessarily a dashboard improvement in itself, is the addition of more types of charts.  While charts have long supported editing the XML to change the look and interactions of the chart far beyond what the GUI allows you to set, these new chart types are a welcome change. Some of the chart types appear to come from the Interactive Service Hub (ISH) which was previous available in D365.

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The second major improvement, and arguably where current and future D365 customers will gain the most benefits, is also a borrowed concept from ISH.  This was referred to in a couple of different ways on the call such as a “bonded” or “filtered” dashboards.  The concept here is that in the definition of a dashboard, you can define global criteria which will allow you to filter all of the components on the dashboard using that filter criteria.  The potential I’m drawing here is best represented in a scenario. A manager can have a single dashboard with multiple components, and be able to select a user that reports to him/her and have the individual components on the dashboard filter down to that selected user.  Currently that same manager would have to create individual dashboards with personal views, which for six direct reports means creating 6 copies of the views, charts, and dashboard.  The new model will allow the manager to have a single dashboard for all six reports.  For organizations with hundreds or even thousands of users, this is a major savings in time and effort to manage.

Bonus: Multi-select option sets (picklists)

I’m not sure I need to really explain this one, but Dynamics admins and users around the world will rejoice at the addition of this feature.  On the Salesforce side, this has long be available, and I can’t tell you the man hours that have been spent over the years on creating solutions to emulate the multi-select option set.  It will be interesting to see Microsoft’s approach and the affect it have to related features like the quick find view and advanced find.  Regardless its nice to see this feature finally making its way into product development and out for public release.

There were other topics covered on the call as well, such as the significant updates to ISH, enhanced email editing, field service enhancements for scheduling, service improvements for chat and bot integration, social engagement and social selling. You can enjoy all of the day one CRM goodness by watching the full video.  Time to get a little more summer fun in before the full release! Cheers!

Topics: Microsoft Dynamics 365