Ask the expert: The top-rated skills you need in Dynamics 365
Over the past decade, Dynamics 365 has evolved from a small and medium-sized business offering to a top-shelf enterprise product. What used to be called Dynamics CRM is now being referred to as PowerApps and CDS.
With PowerApps, Flows, and Power BI in its armory, Dynamics 365 is now a force to be reckoned with. As a consultant who’s been working with Dynamics 365 for the last 10 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the evolution of the product, which has been nothing short of a spectacle.
As the product evolved, so arose the need for consultants to stay relevant in this ever-changing Dynamics world. A great product demands great consultants: gone are the days when a CRM consultant simply needed to know about the product and map it to client requirements.
Today’s customers are more familiar with product roadmaps, and their requirements are much more diversified. More often than not, a Dynamics 365 consultant needs to step outside the boundaries of the product and get their hands dirty to gain an understanding of other lines of business applications that customers have.
This extracurricular knowledge allows consultants to guide customers towards an optimal approach to building integration of Dynamics 365 with these applications.
Dynamics 365 consultants are no longer rated on their core product skills alone. Their knowledge of how Dynamics 365 can integrate with other products within and outside the Microsoft Stack, and to provide a holistic solution for integrations or reporting purposes, is also crucial.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on core technical and functional skills, and the certifications you need to compete as a Dynamics 365 consultant to stay relevant in the Dynamics world.
From my experience working with multiple customers and Dynamics 365 projects across various domains, these are the skills that I continually see being looked for in a Dynamics 365 consultant.
I’ll start with technical skills, before moving on to the functional expertise you need to add to your locker. Whether you’re a consultant, an architect or administrator, acquiring these skills will add great value.
Dynamics 365 core product functionalities
Never forget the basics: that applies to whatever technology you’re in. The Dynamics 365 core product platform has undergone a transformational change in terms of functionality offering, platform architecture, scalability, and performance.
With every release in its six-month cycle, Microsoft adds or modifies the features in the product, and many of the features which we needed to do “custom” are now available out-of-the-box.
As a Dynamics 365 consultant, you should be completely aware of all of the latest features introduced in the platform, features that have been depreciated, and upcoming features as highlighted in the Dynamics product roadmap.
As a Dynamics developer, you need to be constantly aware of the APIs that have deprecated, the new API endpoints recommended for usage, and follow best patterns and practices for development as per Microsoft guidelines.
After all, your customer is first and foremost looking for an expert in the Dynamics 365 product before they focus on the other skillsets you have.
Power Platform and CDS
Whether you’ve been working in an admin role with Dynamics 365 for some time, or you’re a newbie to Dynamics 365 planning to move into an admin role, there’s no better time to be in the job.
Being a Dynamics 365 administrator or consultant, you must be aware of the various features introduced in Power Platform, and the concepts of the Common Data Service (CDS) and the Common Data Model (CDM).
You should be fully aware of the various admin portals available, such as the Power Platform admin center, PowerApps admin portal, and Dynamics 365 admin portal.
With Microsoft’s vision of providing a single, unified portal for all administrative purposes, knowledge of administering and managing power platforms and instances will certainly be a useful skill to possess in the years to come.
Putting Microsoft Flow as a separate skill may raise certain eyebrows, and why not? After all, no matter what role you’re in, if you’re working with Dynamics 365 you must be aware of flows.
It deserves a separate place in this list because flows are enterprise-level workflow automation platforms by Microsoft. As a Dynamics 365 consultant, you must be aware of flows as a separate skill set that’s not just about connecting and working with Dynamics 365 or CDS instances.
Microsoft is no longer going to invest in classic Dynamics 365 workflows or, as Microsoft terms it, “CDS workflows.” Instead, Microsoft’s focus area will be flows in the years ahead.
As a Dynamics 365 pro, your focus should be on gaining expertise in flow framework in general, how to fine-tune your flows, how to programmatically interact with flows, using advanced expressions and building custom connectors, and integrating with top logic apps.
What is today a good skill to have is almost certainly going to be a sought after talent for a Dynamics 365 consultant in as soon as a few months’ time.
If you’re working in Dynamics 365, more often than not you’re working with model-driven apps. Model-driven apps have solved the problem of cross-device compatibility, with users now getting a unified experience across web browsers and mobile platforms.
However, today’s customers are exposed to a wide variety of applications and have become accustomed to the rich UI experience on mobile platforms. With canvas apps, which are specially designed for mobile platforms, you can design rich UI experiences for end-users with advanced controls like cameras and barcode scanners, with little to no code.
Irrespective of whether you’re an administrator or a developer, canvas apps are a level playing field. Even if you’re what Microsoft calls a “citizen developer”—a functional consultant with little or no past experience in programming—you can build rich UI for mobile interfaces with simple drag-and-drop on a web-based designer.
When you’re working for enterprise customers, more often than not your final UI would be a blend of canvas apps hosted within model-driven apps. If you’re Dynamics 365 consultant, building applications using canvas apps is something you must be able to do.
If you’re a developer, you can dive a little deeper by integrating canvas apps and flows. This is a must-have skill set for consultants, developers, architects, and even administrators.
PowerApps component framework (PCF)
This one deserves a special mention and should probably be much higher up the list, but I wanted to list the skills in order of technical expertise and complexity. We started with generic ones, so we now move on to the more specialized skills.
For a long time, customers and consultants alike demanded a framework to build UI which perfectly blended with out-of-the-box CRM UI.
While CRM had web resources using embed feature-rich HTML controls on the forms, they were visually distinguishable from the CRM controls rendered on the form. Also, interacting with the controls of the web resource based on form events was never easy.
The introduction of PCF has not only resolved the technical and functional problems, but, in my opinion, it has paved the way for developers who, with vast experience in client-side development frameworks like angular, react, and typescript, can step into the world of Dynamics.
This has certainly been a shot in the arm for the Dynamics 365 developer community. If you’re a Dynamics 365 developer or planning to move into the role, developing custom controls using PCF is a must-have skill.
With Microsoft opening the door for developers in general with PCF, the competition is real, and this skill might just help you stay afloat in the market.
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Needless to say, Microsoft’s cloud platform is the base of their online offering, and if you’re a cloud consultant, you should have at-least L200 knowledge in Azure, regardless of the cloud technology you are working with.
Azure has SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS on offer, but from my experience of working on multiple projects dealing with Azure and Dynamics integration, more often than not I end up using Azure’s PaaS offerings.
Azure blob storage and Azure web apps are some of the components you should pay special attention to if you’re a Dynamics 365 consultant. As we’re working with cloud more than ever before, learning cloud skills with which we can integrate Dynamics is certainly a great addition to your knowledge base.
SQL Server integration services (SSIS)
Migration projects are on the rise, be it migration from on-premise CRM systems to Dynamics 365, or from other CRM systems like Salesforce or Siebel CRM to Dynamics 365.
One of the core tasks involved in any migration or upgrade project is data migration. While there are some excellent ISV products available to help you with data migration through UI based interfaces, more often than not, you would end up writing your own data migration scripts for enterprise customers.
If you’re a Dynamics developer and have expertise in SSIS, you’re likely to be the go-to person for migration or upgrade projects. For these scenarios, this is one of the top skills to possess.
I’m putting Power BI last as I believe it’s still a good skill to have, but perhaps not a must for a Dynamics 365 consultant.
While it’s a great technology and the future of Microsoft cloud reporting, almost every company I’ve implemented Dynamics 365 for has in-house Power BI experts who can efficiently collaborate with the Dynamics 365 team to build intuitive analytics.
Nonetheless, having this in your tool bag puts you a touch above the rest in the Dynamics 365 market.
Over the past few years, Microsoft has moved away from technical certifications to role-based certifications, not only for Dynamics 365 but for all cloud technologies in the Microsoft stack.
If you’re a Dynamics 365 consultant, it is mandatory for you to be certified. The diagram below indicates the certification path for Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement.
As you can see, there are four role-based certification paths you can choose from to gain certification, depending on your role.
First of all, you can start with Dynamics 365 Fundamentals (MB-900), which is kind of optional but good to have. The certification that you must add to your resume, irrespective of the role you are working in, is MB-200 – Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Core, which tests you on the core platform concepts of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement.
You can then choose the desired role-based certification depending on the modules you are or will be working on. For example, if you are mostly implementing Dynamics 365 for Sales and Customer Service for your customers, you’d go for MB-210 – Dynamics 365 for Sales and MB-230 – Dynamics 365 for Customer Service.
If you’re an architect, you should plan to complete Azure-based certifications like AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals & 70-487 – Developing Microsoft Azure and Web services, alongside the above role-based certifications.
If you’re working in Dynamics 365 and your role demands you to be present in customer workshops, gathering client requirements, and mapping them to the Dynamics 365 product, it’s almost mandatory for you to acquire specific domain knowledge.
While your projects can vary across multiple domains—be it healthcare, manufacturing, automobiles, or finance—sound knowledge of domains is almost an essential skill to have, especially if you’re in a client-facing role.
It’s improbable for a single person to possess domain knowledge in all sectors, but sound knowledge in major industries is certainly a glorious feather to have in your CRM cap.
Migration and competitor CRM systems knowledge
Last but not least, experience in Dynamics migration is one of the key skillsets desired in the current climate.
With Microsoft focusing more and more on cloud technologies and customers migrating their on-premise systems to the cloud, demand for consultants with migration experience currently exists in almost one-in-three projects.
This doesn’t just include migration from on-premise to online versions; an increasing number of customers are moving from other CRM systems such as Salesforce, Siebel, and Oracle CRM to Dynamics online.
With Microsoft investing heavily in cloud infrastructure, there’s expected to be an influx of customers moving away from other CRM systems to Dynamics 365.
As such, the demand for consultants with cross-CRM expertise and experience in migration and upgrading is higher than ever. This trend will certainly continue to rise in the coming months.
Irrespective of your role in Dynamics 365, it’s imperative that you align your knowledge with Microsoft’s vision of the product. To stay afloat in the industry, we need to continually upgrade ourselves and move with the latest trends within the technology.
With frequent platform updates, there is an ever-increasing need for consultants to improve, and while it’s unrealistic for anyone to develop all of the skills mentioned here, you should ideally choose from this bucket and aim at becoming a pro in your particular field.
As you pick up more skills, you’ll become a better value proposition in the Dynamics market and be able to make insightful decisions for customer projects.
Finally, before I sign off, I would strongly recommend reading Nigel Frank’s Microsoft Dynamics Salary Survey. It highlights trends within the Dynamics 365 industry, the skillsets that are on the rise, and how remunerations stack up against in each role across industries and regions.
There’s also some insightful information on how are you are placed in the current Dynamics market across the globe.
Debajit Dutta is a Microsoft Business Solutions MVP and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) with 12 years of experience working with Dynamics CRM platform and its related technologies.
Using his experience delivering complex CRM implementations for Microsoft, PwC, SanDisk, and Western Digital, Debajit runs CRM consulting firm XrmForYou and leads its product development and consulting streams. He also has extensive experience in training, and has delivered numerous corporate training sessions and Microsoft workshops.
Debajit is a huge contributor to the CRM community. He runs a popular blog, packed with information about Dynamics 365 Portals, Azure Integration, Microsoft flows, PowerApps and SharePoint, and also regularly shares advice on platforms such as Dynamics 365 Facebook and LinkedIn groups.