At GlobalCon5 – Microsoft 365 Virtual Summit, we’re proud to be running 2 full days dedicated to Dynamics 365. Before we get into full swing organising it, I wanted to put together a post that talks to 2 groups of people:
Group #1: The “SharePoint People”
I know many of you reading this will more than likely have originated from a SharePoint background, then become familiar with Microsoft Teams and probably also got pretty good at using services such as Power BI, Power Apps, and Power Automate (aka “Power Platform”).
When it comes to “Dynamics” you’re probably thinking “I’ve heard some chatter about CDS (and now Dataverse), but I have no real idea what it is”
Group #2: The “Power Platform” people
If you went straight into the Power Platform but also are confused about what Dynamics 365 is, then this for you too.
I am in Group #1 so here’s how I wrote this post…
I am one of the ones who has come up through the ranks of SharePoint. I’ve dabbled with Power Apps and Power Automate but in all honesty, I don’t know a lot about Dynamics 365! Due to this, I headed over to Fiverr and found Peter who has used it since it was released. I also asked Peter to share his opinion on the state of the market and also share some tips for people like us.
So let’s get started. The post is a combination of Pete’s thoughts with my commentary, hope you enjoy it.
If you read this and would like to learn Dynamics 365 then don’t forget to register for, and attend GlobalCon5!
What is Dynamics 365?
Dynamics 365 is a cloud-based enterprise solution platform comprising a comprehensive CRM system, powerful reporting tools through Power BI, and a host of applications specifically designed to streamline business processes.
Dynamics 365 was introduced in 2016 as a modular set of applications, allowing you to license only those you need. Keeping Dynamics 365 modular prevents it from becoming too large and over-complicated, allowing for much easier adoption and maintenance.
Hosted in Azure…
Dynamics 365 is an azure-based solution hosted in data centres worldwide, which means there will always be a hosted data centre solution close to you. Being hosted in the Cloud means that Dynamics 365 is accessed via a web browser and purpose-built mobile app. Dynamics also has an offline capability for some of its applications. As you’d expect from any Software-as-a-Service platform, Dynamics 365 is updated automatically, bug fixed and security patched by Microsoft.
Connectors and integrations make it awesome…
As Dynamics 365 is built by Microsoft, there are many off-the-shelf integrations with other Microsoft products such as Microsoft 365, Outlook, SharePoint, and many others. These integrations are all easy to work with and are continually improved. Microsoft also provides many third-party connectors to enable you to connect Dynamics 365 to a vast array of enterprise applications. Furthermore, Dynamics 365 offers a comprehensive API and an SDK to create custom integrations by developers.
Dynamics 365 from the perspective of a “user” is essentially a web-based application where data is segmented into a relational database as “entities”. Dynamics 365 ships with many predefined entities, but as you’d expect, custom ones can also be created that also enjoy the same capabilities as the out of the box entities. If desired the various applications allow entities to be hidden from the user. The navigation is entirely customisable to ensure that users are not presented with a complicated system with data that may be irrelevant or confusing to them.
If you are familiar with other Microsoft services such as SharePoint or the Power Platform, then Dynamics 365 will be an easy solution for you to learn. Power Platform users may be interested to know that Dynamics 365 is a Model-driven app (a complete version of a canvas app).
What benefits can Dynamics 365 provide to you and your organization?
Simplistic Customer-Centric Experience
One of the main benefits of Dynamics 365 is the simplicity of the applications within it. The user interface is straightforward to navigate and is powerful because it’s simple to pull up a detailed overview of a specific customer showing how they have interacted with your business.
The image below illustrates what an “out of the box” contact record looks like in Dynamics 365. After using Dynamics 365 for a while, you will notice that all entities follow the same layout (albeit the forms are customisable). This uniformity gives you a real sense of continuity and familiarity throughout the application. Forms can be as straightforward or as complex as you like, showing large amounts of data or a simple high-level overview. Being built upon a relational database allows for links between records to be created quickly and be visible on the record.
For Maria Campbell (in the example below), a user can see at a glance that she works for Fabrikam Inc and has an “Opportunity” record linked to her for a sale of a specific product. The middle of a form will show any interactions with that individual such as emails, phone calls, or notes with relevant information. The customisation aspects will allow you to develop workflows that could be used to prompt interaction with a contact or an account, based upon specific triggers, such as they have recently attended an event or a certain amount of time has elapsed since the last communication with them. All these features enable you to develop a strong relationship with your customer base with minimal effort from a user.
Multitude of available applications
Dynamics 365 is what Microsoft describes as a Model-Driven App, that is to say, your data set defines the application you will use. For example, if you were to use “Dynamics for Sales” you will be provided with a set of entities relating to invoices, products, orders and quotes and entities such as Events and Social Posts won’t be available in that particular application. Microsoft provide a whole host of application suites that you can subscribe to, these include:
- Dynamics 365 Sales
- Dynamics 365 Customer Service
- Dynamics 365 Finance
- Dynamics 365 Marketing
- Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management
And many, many more.
Want to learn more? If you purchased an All-Access Pass for GlobalCon4 then Clarissa Gillingham presented a wonderful session explaining “How to transition from SharePoint to CDS – getting into a data-first mindset“,
As a business you can subscribe to one or multiple applications provided by Microsoft; alternatively, you can build your own suite of applications with custom entities so that they can be completely bespoke to your business. This means that as a CRM system Dynamics 365 is not a generic system trying to fit multiple business needs but it is a combination of targeting pre-built applications with a high level of extensibility, and complete bespoke and unique applications, thus allowing the system to satisfy any business requirement.
After implementing Dynamics for an array of businesses over the last ten years, one of the biggest concerns for them has always been the data’s security. Not necessarily in terms of cyber-attacks or where the data is stored (generally because the Microsoft data centres are incredibly secure and there are many of them all over the world), but in terms of who in the business can see certain parts of the system. Often systems provide blanket security settings which don’t allow for individual customisations. This is where Dynamics 365 can shine; there are several ways within Dynamics to set security.
Within Dynamics 365, there is the concept of a security role. A security role can be applied to any number of Users or Teams (a team being a collection of users). There are several out of the box security roles, but custom ones can also be created, the roles offer a very granular set of rules at an entity level. Every security role can set specific permissions for every entity in the system, including any custom entities. The permissions that can be edited are Create, Read, Write, Delete, Append, Append To, Assign, and Share. These permissions can be extended even further in terms of the levels. Each permission can be given a level of Organisation, Parent: Child Business Units, Business Unit, User or None.
The security can go even further and be implemented at a field level. Specific field security profiles can be created and assigned to users or teams, allowing certain users to view or edit certain fields within Dynamics. So there is a complete security model that will support any business need.
Custom Connectors and Integrations
As I mentioned, one of the enormous advantages of Dynamics 365 is its ability to integrate with a near enough infinite amount of external systems. There are standard integrations that come out of the box with Dynamics 365 such as an Outlook integration or SharePoint Integration, but Microsoft also provides a massive list of Connectors that enable integrations between several Microsoft Products and a comprehensive list of third-party applications. These connectors are available to use in the Power Platform through Power Automate or Canvas Power Apps. They can provide an excellent data flow between Dynamics 365 and any other system you may use.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Microsoft has also provided the capability to create Custom Connectors, so providing the system you are looking to integrate with has an API that can be consumed. A Connector can be created. Connectors can use a full list of API functions by importing a JSON API file, or you can selectively create particular API methods as needed.
Though there is some developer knowledge required to create the connectors, users without any development knowledge will be able to consume and use the connectors within their Power Apps and Power Automate. These systems offer a simple low code drag and drop interface.
SharePoint vs Dynamics 365
Many organisations have been using SharePoint Lists as software to establish their data model. SharePoint Lists do have several benefits, the main one being the pricing – free (providing you have a Microsoft 365 subscription). SharePoint is very simple to use to set up your data lists with some limited functionality around lookup columns and some data validation.
However, there are some downsides, often the search functionality in SharePoint is challenging to use. A recent report from AIIM found that two-thirds of organisations with SharePoint blame a low adoption rate on inadequate user training and the difficulty in using the platform. With businesses now wanting to focus on the customer, engagement with SharePoint is hugely lacking, with social elements being primarily built as an information repository.
Relationships between entities are easy to model…
Because Dynamics 365 is built upon Microsoft’s Dataverse (formerly Common Data Service) this offers a considerable benefit over SharePoint lists in the form of relationships. Entities within Dynamics 365 and the Dataverse can have multiple kinds of relationships; 1:1, 1:N, N:N allowing for a parent-child relationship, sub-grids, and other connections. These are not impossible to achieve in SharePoint but are stretching the use case of lists.
Dynamics 365 can run workflows (separate from Power Automate) as either a real-time, background or an on-demand process. The workflows can be run on triggers such as field updates, record creation and status changes, allowing user processes to be automated. Server-side plugins can also be created using the C# language and deployed within a Dynamics 365 solution allowing for even further customisation of the system.
Dynamics 365 has more granular security…
Using Dynamics 365 allows for a more granular approach to security. Whereas SharePoint security restrictions limit the user to either edit an entire form or have the whole form restricted, Dynamics 365 allows for field-level security, so specific fields on forms can be restricted with either Create, Update or Read-Only and pushed at a user level.
But! Why should I know Dynamics 365 as well?
If you are familiar with the Power Platform and SharePoint, you may be wondering “Why should I know Dynamics 365 as well?”. Dynamics is fast becoming a solution for nearly every need. In most cases, it will add a tremendous amount of functionality to any business, especially businesses that are currently using SharePoint. In some cases, Dynamics will remove the need for SharePoint altogether only due to the plethora of applications available coupled with the incredible amount of functionality it provides.
If you are able to develop Power Apps, you will find the move to a Dynamics Model-Driven App approach quick and easy. From an employment perspective, learning Dynamics 365 will open up many more doors than if you only know Power Automate or Power Apps. Businesses will always hire someone who can build the entire application rather than small pieces of it.
Want to learn more? If you purchased an All-Access Pass for GlobalCon4 then you have to check out the session by Marco Amoedo called “Deep dive into the common data service (CDS)“
Power Automate and Power Apps
If you’re wondering how your Power Platform knowledge will help you when moving to a Dynamics 365 world, I thought it useful to list some of the work I’ve completed over the last couple of years.
Example #1: An event registration check-in App
In this piece of work, I developed a Power App to run online and offline in order to check attendees into an event and update a corresponding record in Dynamics. Within Dynamics, there were entities such as Event, Contact, and Event Booking all with relationships between them. The App would pull a list of Attendees from Dynamics and allow the event coordinators to scan an attendees QR code to set their status to attended. When offline the data was all cached and then pushed to Dynamics when a connection could be established so no data was lost.
Example #2: A Flow to generate a PDF document based upon a word template by merging fields from a Dynamics 365 Record.
This Power Automate Flow was designed using a CDS trigger (e.g a record was updated in the Common Data Service via Dynamics) specifically targeted at an event management solution. When an event booking record was marked as attended then the flow would run to pull a specific word template, merge fields from Dynamics into the template and then generate a pdf. The PDF was then saved to the record in Dynamics, and a further flow would generate an email of thanks to the attendee and the PDF will be emailed out to them.
Above is just one example of how Power Automate and Power Apps can work together with Dynamics 365 to gather information and engage with customers. By holding all this data centrally in Dynamics any User could then pull reports to gain some insight into how certain Campaigns or Events were doing.
Early on in my career as a developer, I was working with multiple CRM systems; LexisNexis Interaction, SalesForce, SalesLogix, and Microsoft Dynamics. It quickly became apparent from a development perspective that Dynamics was the superior system in terms of development. When Microsoft was striding forward, creating their online version of Dynamics that was soon to become Dynamics 365, more and more of my clients were moving to use Dynamics. I lost count of the number of consultancies that were popping up offering a Dynamics 365 implementation service.
I began looking into potential jobs specialising in Dynamics, and I was staggered by the response from recruiters. I was inundated with job postings ranging from small start-up consultancies to giant multi-national corporations. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the offerings from companies, being relatively new to development I found myself wondering how I would cope and learn in a position based around Dynamics, but companies were offering full learning on the job as well as providing the opportunity to take courses with Microsoft to complete the certifications, so naturally, I jumped straight into it and have never looked back.
The Dynamics 365 market is still booming!
10 years later and the market is still booming with Dynamics jobs, I have changed jobs four times in the last ten years and haven’t had to look for more than two weeks before landing a new position with very enticing salary increases each time. Whether you are looking to work for a large company or a small one the competitive salary, abundance of jobs and lack of Dynamics developers to fill them will mean you always have a vast choice to find the right fit for you.
Make yourself more marketable by adding Dynamics 365 to your Power Platform skills.
Sound good? Now let’s learn Dynamics 365 together.
If you’re someone who is wanting to “at least” see what Dynamics 365 can do for you then don’t hesitate to book your spot at GlobalCon5 – Microsoft 365 Virtual Summit, where we’re proud to be running 2 full days dedicated to Dynamics 365.