Everything you ever wanted to know about Dynamics CRM

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Thinking about implementing Dynamics CRM in your business?

Deciding on a CRM vendor can be tricky; it gets even trickier when you’re sizing up Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with its recent rebrand and multitude of licensing and deployment options.

So, if you’ve got questions about Dynamics CRM, we’ve got the answers. Check out our Dynamics CRM FAQ to get the skinny on this leading customer relationship software.

Dynamics CRM: the basics

What is Dynamics CRM?

Dynamics CRM is a piece of business software, made by Microsoft. It’s a customer relationship management software that helps businesses manage their customer database, generate new leads, engage with their customers, and resolve customer service issues.

At its most basic level, it’s a database which helps businesses to organize and manage their customer and lead data. Through the software, users can contact customers and leads, which records and tracks every customer interaction. This allows a business to build a complete picture of its relationship with its customers so that the customer journey can be personalized.

Dynamics AX is part of the Microsoft Dynamics suite, which contains both ERP and CRM software (which Microsoft now refers to as “apps”).

Originally launched in 2003, the Dynamics suite was made up of five products: Dynamics NAV, Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP, and Dynamics SL, all ERP software; and Dynamics CRM.

How does it relate to Dynamics 365?

In November 2016, Microsoft rebranded its Dynamics suite, rolling all of its CRM and ERP products into one umbrella product; Dynamics 365.

Dynamics GP and Dynamics SL remain standalone products, but the other software was renamed and rolled into Dynamics 365. Dynamics AX became Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Dynamics CRM became Dynamics 365 for Sales, and Dynamics NAV was revamped as Dynamics 365 Business Central. Some of the apps’ functionality was spun off into smaller, modular software, so businesses can pick and choose the features they want.

Within Dynamics 365 there are nine major apps, some CRM and some ERP. What was previously sold as Dynamics CRM has now been split into four apps; Dynamics 365 for Sales, Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, Dynamics 365 for Field Service, and Dynamics 365 for Project Service Automation.

For brevity, the rest of this FAQ will refer to these CRM apps collectively as Dynamics 365.

Who uses Dynamics 365 and why?

Today, customer data is a company’s most valuable asset, and businesses are increasingly turning to technology to help them get more out of their data.

Dynamics 365’s CRM apps have millions of users worldwide; the official figure in 2015 was 4.4m. The majority of businesses who use Dynamics 365 are SMBs who sell products or services, though recent product developments and the appeal of Microsoft’s Azure cloud service are attracting larger businesses in increasing numbers.

Aside from its many cutting-edge features, many customers are attracted to Dynamics 365 due to its easy integration with other widely used Microsoft business products such as Outlook, Power BI, and Office. In addition, Dynamics 365 features a range of other business management products, such as ERP and marketing apps, making it a tempting option for businesses who want to overhaul processes across the board or create a single digital platform for their all their operations.

Its familiar, user-friendly interface is also a plus for many businesses, and can help increase user adoption due to its similarity with other Microsoft products.

How can it help businesses grow?

Dynamics 365 brings all sales and customer data together into one system, offering users a single source of truth. This gives users a complete picture of their customers’ journey, helping them track customer journeys, generate and assess leads, and seize opportunities.

By helping users connect with their customers and offer better, faster service, the app can help boost customer satisfaction at all points of the sales funnel, and improve long-term brand loyalty. By automating certain aspects of the sales and marketing process, businesses can operate more efficiently by reaching more customers while saving time and money.

Mobile capabilities and apps like Field Service make it easier to offer great customer service from anywhere, allowing businesses to go where the opportunities are.

The app’s in-depth analytical and reporting capabilities also help organizations to get more out of their businesses data, respond to changes faster, and make more-informed decisions that will help their business grow.

Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 apps

What does Dynamics 365 for Sales offer?

Dynamics 365 for Sales allows users to manage their sales processes from beginning to end, from lead generation and pipeline management, to account management and reporting. The app centralizes all an organization’s sales leads into one place, helps collect data, and automates repetitive areas of the cycle, so salespeople can focus on building relationships and nurturing opportunities.

The system can automatically score, qualify, and assign leads, and provides real-time analysis at every stage of the process to help users focus their efforts in the most profitable areas. All sales and marketing activity is logged in a single view, so salespeople get a complete picture of their organization’s relationship and previous contact with a customer, making it easier to deliver great service, and spot up- and cross-selling opportunities.

The app can also issue intelligent, automated reminders and actions to keep leads moving through the pipeline and make sure no customer falls through the cracks. Extensive, AI-infused reporting capabilities help highlight successes and opportunities, and with the in-built gamification feature, organizations can encourage productivity, user adoption, and boost employee engagement.

One of the features that marks Dynamics 365 out from other leading CRMs is its native integration with LinkedIn. Since its purchase of the networking platform in 2016, Microsoft has been working to integrate LinkedIn user data with its products, and for salespeople using Dynamics 365, having access to information on the site’s 500m users and their connections is a massive boon.

Users told Gartner that Dynamics 365’s strengths include the ability to customize its application with custom fields, custom objects, workflows and a customized user interface, and the quality of its customer engagement processes. Users also commented on how valuable Microsoft Dynamics’ integration with other products—such as Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, SharePoint, Azure Machine Learning, and Power BI— has proved.

What does Dynamics 365 for Customer Service offer?

Dynamics 365 for Customer Service helps businesses better manage customer issues, and help customers find answers to their queries fast. Features like automated chatbots and self-service portals let customers do more without having to contact customer service agents, freeing agents up to deal with more complex cases, and helping close cases more quickly.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service aims to help users deliver personalized customer service to their customers, at any time, on any channel. Offering a mixture of assisted service management, and self-service opportunities such as customer portals and peer-to-peer support, Customer Service provides agents with the tools and resources they need to add value to their customer interactions, no matter what medium they’re working through.

Through a centralized interface, Customer Service enables agents to create cases, record all customer interactions, and solve queries through the customer’s preferred channel. Shared knowledge bases within the app mean agents are always clued up on customer case histories and preferences and can offer accurate information on company policy and entitlements.

What does Dynamics 365 for Field Service offer?

Dynamics 365 for Field Service enables users to manage work orders, scheduling, and assignment of resources for service agents who work outside of the user’s office.

The app also provides a central, accessible repository for resources such as manuals, documentation, and training materials.

Work orders can be generated from customer services cases, through customer portals, or emails, and assets, inventory, and equipment can be managed and re-ordered in real-time. The app also helps users keep on top of preventative maintenance by automatically generating recurring work orders.

The app gives field agents a channel through which they can access all the information they need when out on a job, and lets them communicate and collaborate with both their customer service colleagues and customers themselves.

It also enables users to assign jobs based on employee skill and experience levels and optimizes routes to maximize efficiency and reduce travel time for field agents, improving efficiency for the business, and giving customers a better experience.

Like all apps in the Dynamics 365 family, Field Service is highly mobile-friendly, with mobile and tablet apps available across Android, iOS, and Windows devices.

What does Dynamics 365 for Project Service Automation offer?

Project Service Automation is an app built to help project-based organizations deliver on time and on budget with a series of tools to plan, resource, and execute billable work, and help keep all of those plates spinning.

The app covers the entire span of the project lifecycle, centralizing teams and offering features to optimize opportunity management, project planning, resource management, time and expensing, team collaboration, customer billing and collection, and includes thorough analytical dashboards to help businesses further improve their processes.

Building on the foundation of Microsoft’s work breakdown structure planning software, Microsoft Project, Dynamics 365 for Project Service Automation ties together all aspects of project delivery, looping in other crucial aspects of the business such as salespeople.

Its project-based contracting feature helps generate accurate quotations, based on real-time information from across the business such as project plans, financial estimates, and labor pricing, and considers factors like profitability and feasibility.

Project Service Automation also comes with the Project Resource Hub app, which allows field workers access to all the information they need, and gives them a channel through which to effectively collaborate with colleagues on any device.

Built-in intelligence automates key processes such as assigning tasks based on skills, availability, and forecasting metrics. The results and financial impacts of all projects — such as costs, unbilled revenue, and invoices — are fed back into the app’s analytics, and shared with the business’s financial systems and ERP software.

Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365: the technical stuff

What releases are currently available?

Now that Dynamics CRM has now been retired in name, new customers who want to purchase Dynamics CRM will now purchase Dynamics 365. The most recent release is known as Dynamics 365 Version 9.0.

Some existing customers who have not yet updated their software to the newest version will still be running Dynamics CRM. This is especially likely if the customer is using a local, or on-premise, version of the software, as opposed to a cloud-based version.

Previous versions (before the branding change to Dynamics 365) include: Microsoft Dynamics 3.0, Microsoft Dynamics 4.0 (though support has now ended for both of these versions), Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016.

What are the system requirements for Dynamics 365?

System requirements for Dynamics 365 will depend on how the software is deployed.

One of the benefits of using a SaaS instance of Dynamics 365 is that the software doesn’t need to be installed on the user’s own device or devices, so implementation is generally simpler and faster, and there are much fewer system requirements. This makes a cloud-based option particularly appealing to smaller businesses who would otherwise be priced out by the cost of extensive hardware outlays and upkeep.

To run a cloud-based version of Dynamics 365, all customers need is an up-to-date version of either Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, or Apple Safari, using an operating system no older than Windows 7 for PCs, or 10.10 for Apple devices.

Dynamics 365 comes with no hardware requirements as the software itself is not installed on local computers, but on the host’s own servers—though of course the more memory a device has, the more quickly and reliably it will be able to run web browsers.

For on-premise deployments have more complex requirements. Microsoft recommends that your hardware meets the following requirements to run Dynamics 365 on-premise efficiently:

  • Processor — x64 architecture or compatible dual-core 1.5 GHz processor minimum. Quad-core x64 architecture 2 GHz CPU or higher such as AMD Opteron or Intel Xeon systems recommended
  • Memory — 4-GB RAM minimum, 8-GB RAM or more recommended
  • Hard disk — 10 GB of available hard disk space minimum, 40 GB or more of available hard disk space recommended

Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365: pricing, licensing, and deployment

How is Dynamics 365 licensed?

New Dynamics customers wishing to purchase CRM software have three options:

  • Purchase apps individually, for example, licensing only the Sales and Customer Service apps if those are the only ones a business needs at present.
  • Purchase the Customer Engagement Plan, which includes the four core CRM apps, as well as a social media management app called Microsoft Social Engagement.
  • Purchase the Dynamics 365 plan, which includes both CRM apps and ERP apps.

However customers choose to buy Dynamics 365, it is purchased by “seat.” A seat is an individual license that gives access to the software to one, named user. So, rather than purchasing the software as a whole and having unlimited access to it, customers purchase access on a user-by-user basis. These licenses are priced monthly.

There are two types of seat when it comes to Dynamics 365. Customers can either purchase a Full User license, with gives users access to all the functions and features of the app, or a Team Member license, which gives the license holder limited read/write access to certain basic areas. Customers can mix and match these license types to suit their users and their required levels of access.

For example, if a business decides on the Customer Engagement plan, they might purchase 10 Full User seats, and an extra 15 Team Member seats. This means that the ten people given Full User seats will be able to use all of the features of all of the apps included within the plan. The people given Team Member licenses will also be able to access all of the included apps, but they will only be able to use certain features, such as accessing schedules, recording time and expenses, and submit reports.

How much does it cost?

Purchased individually, each of Dynamics 365’s CRM apps—Sales, Customer Service, Field Service, and Project Service Automation—cost USD $95 per month for each Full User license, and USD $8 per month for each Team Member license.

Licensing the apps through the Customer Engagement Plan costs USD $115 per month for each Full User license, and USD $8 per month for each Team Member license. (There are also tiered pricing options for organizations purchasing a large number of licenses.)

The Dynamics 365 plan costs USD $210 per month for each Full User license, and USD $8 per month for each Team Member license.

How is Dynamics 365 deployed?

Customers can opt to deploy Dynamics 365 in one of three ways:

Cloud

Software that is not installed on a user’s own device, and instead accesses through logging into the software a web browser, is known as SaaS, or software as a service. Customers opting for this deployment route will use a version of Dynamics which is hosted in the cloud—meaning it is installed on the vendor’s own servers and accessed remotely via the internet. SaaS instances of Dynamics 365 are hosted either Microsoft’s public Azure cloud or on a managed Azure service provided by Microsoft partners.

This option allows users to take advantage of cloud-only features like integration with other programs, and smart reporting functions powered by machine learning. Using Dynamics 365 in the cloud also removes the need for hardware and in-house data storage, and means users don’t need to install or manually update the software, as it is all managed from the vendor’s end.

As the data is stored on the vendor’s hardware, users may need to pay to “rent” extra space for their data when using a SaaS product.

On-premise

Known as Local Business Data deployment, this is the “traditional” way to deploy software and allows users to host their Dynamics 365 software either on their own servers or those of an IT partner. Businesses using Dynamics 365 on-premise will install the software on their devices and store all the data on their own hardware.

On-premise instances of Dynamics 365 may be a good choice for businesses who need to host their own data due to data regulation, or do not have a stable enough internet connection to reliably access a SaaS version of the software.

Hybrid

Also known as Cloud and Edge, hybrid deployments are fully integrated with the Microsoft cloud, but transactions and data are stored locally on the users’ own data center and synced as and when needed.

The ability to use the system offline can be useful to industries in which business continuity is especially important, such as retail or manufacturing. Cloud and Edge deployment allow customers to run their Point of Sale operations regardless of connectivity so that users can capture data and perform transactions whatever their internet status. Any data obtained offline can later be synced to the cloud for business intelligence or reporting purposes at a later date.

What differences in features are there between a cloud deployment of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations and an on-premise deployment?

Users who employ the SaaS model of Dynamics 365 can access expansive and continually evolving business intelligence tools. The cloud not only stores and processes your data, but it also learns from it. Microsoft has invested enormously in machine learning in recent years, and cloud users are beginning to reap the benefits. Dynamics 365 offers a real-time, 360-degree view of performance, and can help visualize business data using intuitive, customizable reports and dashboards.

With a financially backed, 99.9% uptime guarantee, users can also be safe in the knowledge that Microsoft has them covered should any kind of disaster recovery be necessary. In the event services are interrupted, Dynamics 365 includes some of the most robust disaster recovery features on the business application market. Built to help organizations bounce back from both planned and unexpected service outages, Microsoft’s recovery protocols include keeping a synchronized, duplicate copy of a company’s data on a second server, allowing users to continue their operations with minimal disruption.

This recovery procedure is executed either through network load balancing, which evenly channels traffic through multiple servers, and redistributes the load should a server be compromised. Backup servers can also be employed to ensure operations continue should the primary server fail. Dynamics 365 offers SQL mirroring, in which a copy of your database is hosted on an alternative server that can be brought online in the event of a disaster.

Backing up data should be second nature to all businesses, but it’s one of those tasks that often gets pushed down the agenda. Cloud deployment gives users peace of mind by not only removing the need to safeguard their own servers, but also automatically backing up data, so no information will ever slip through the cracks.

Cloud users can scale the size and scope of their Dynamics 365 solution up or down at any time. With on-premise software, facilitating business growth often means investment in new servers and processors to cope with increased demand. With cloud-based software, customers are paying for the ability to use the software, and not the computing power or space to run it, so adding or removing users, or even apps, is as simple as issuing a service request.

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The Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 ecosystem

What certifications are available for Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365?

Under Microsoft’s new certification structure, those wanting to get certified in Microsoft Dynamics CRM would do so by taking the Business Solutions certification track. This track involves first achieving the MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 certification and then achieving the higher-level MSCE: Business Applications.

Entrants must pass two exams to attain an MCSA, and a further one exam to attain an MSCE. There are a number of exam options available at MSCE level, and entrants may choose the exam which best suits their experience and career path. Three of these exam options cover aspects of Dynamics 365’s CRM capabilities, with exams focusing on Sales, Customer Service, and Field Service available.

Each exam costs USD $165 per attempt, so attaining an MSCA would cost USD $330, and an MSCE a further USD $165. This cost is for a single attempt, and retakes must be paid for again.

What kind of jobs are there in Dynamics 365:

There are two main categories of CRM-based Dynamics 365 roles; those who work on implementations, setting up and configuring the software before it’s rolled out, and those who work on the day-to-day running and maintenance of the software.

During a Dynamics 365 implementation, you’re likely to come across the following roles:

Business Analyst/Solution Architect

A solution architect’s job is to examine user plans, assess needs, and help customers work out what the new solution should look like and what it has to deliver. They’ll be on hand to gather requirements, consult on the design, implementation, upgrade, and necessary extension of the user’s Dynamics 365 solution, using their experience and product expertise to visualize the end goal.

Functional Consultant/Application Consultant

The functional consultant will have a strong knowledge of the Dynamics platform being implemented, and how its capabilities can be configured to meet user needs. They’ll take all the prerequisites worked out earlier, map those against the functionality of the solution, and work out a practical plan of action. They might also draw up documentation for the project, like solution design plans, functional requirement documents, customization specs, test plans, and user guides.

Technical Consultant

A good Dynamics technical consultant will possess both technical and functional knowledge of the application, and know the development languages used for that specific product inside out.  They’ll collaborate with solution architects and functional consultants to work out what tinkering has to be done within a Dynamics solution, customize the system, and develop new ways of meeting these needs.

After implementation, businesses may recruit for the below roles to maintain and support the system:

Administrator

A CRM administrator is the bridge between the system and the people who use it. Administrators will keep the system running at an optimal level, help users access the data they need, and act as the first line of support for technical issues. Typical tasks include assigning security roles, data analysis, basic training, customization of forms and user interface, and creation of out of the box reports.

Developer

A CRM developer will work to customize the solution to help it better meet the changing needs of the business. Developers should have a range of skills such as .NET, C#, ASP.NET, and JavaScript programming, web services, and web API applications, and SQL Server.

Their tasks will likely include developing plug-ins and workflows, customizing forms, views, business rules, reports, and dashboards.

Trainer

A CRM solution is only as good as the people who use it, so often businesses will hire trainers to bring users up to speed and help them get the most out of their software.

On smaller projects, or in SMB organizations, some of these roles may overlap or be rolled together.

Dynamics 365 market information

The CRM market is led by the Big Four; Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft. Salesforce has held the top spot for the past few years, with around an 18% market share. Microsoft’s market share for CRM is estimated at around 4%, but that share is likely to rise in the near future, as Dynamics 365 continues to innovate and grow, while SAP and Oracle have both seen a steady decline in market share.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales is positioned in the Leaders section of Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant for Sales Force Automation. Only Salesforce remains ahead in terms of market leadership, and product vision.

In the report, Gartner praised Microsoft’s deep understanding of the market, supported by a consistent marketing strategy and market responsiveness. Microsoft continues to increase its SFA customer base and is appealing to more enterprise-level organizations than ever before.

What is the difference between Dynamics 365 and Salesforce?

Dynamics 365 and Salesforce are both intelligent, modern CRMs, which are generally accessed through a web browser (though Dynamics can be implemented on-premise if needed, unlike Salesforce). Both offers sales force automation, customer service, and marketing functionality.

The main differences between Dynamics 356’s CRM offerings and Salesforce are in the accessibility of the respective products. Dynamics 365 tends to be cheaper than Salesforce, and more flexible in its licensing. As a result, Dynamics appeals more to SMBs and smaller enterprise businesses, while Salesforce is often utilized by much larger organizations.

Dynamics 365’s native integration with other business management apps, and Microsoft products commonly used by businesses, also sets it apart from Salesforce. Salesforce is a standalone CRM and can be challenging to connect to other non-Salesforce services such as ERP systems.

The Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365: upgrades and implementation

How long does Dynamics 365 take to implement?

How long a Dynamics 365 implementation will take depends on a near-endless collection of business-specific factors. How many apps are you implementing? How large is the customer business? How many users do they have? Is it an upgrade, or a completely new solution? Is the user moving from on-premise to the cloud? Is there a lot of legacy data to be migrated? How much development work is necessary to make the solution meet the users’ needs?

Some Dynamics partners offer “quick start” services which promise to implement Dynamics 365 is less than a month, but typically, a fairly straightforward, out-of-the-box instance of Dynamics 365, with minimal customizations and little data to migrate, might take around three months to implement for relatively small businesses.

A large business with many users, and a lot of development required, may expect an implementation to take six months to a year.

Implementing in the cloud is generally quicker than implementing on-premise, as it does not have to be installed on individual devices.

 Can you upgrade to Dynamics 365 from an older version of Dynamics CRM?

If customers are already using Dynamics CRM, they can upgrade to Dynamics 365. Users of cloud-ready CRM Online have the option to upgrade when their licenses are up for renewal. On-premise users will need to decide when is the right time for them to switch to the cloud as it is a more manual process.

Users can only upgrade to Dynamics 365 from the most recent version of their current software; users can’t skip over versions and hop straight to the cloud. If a Dynamics customer is using Dynamics CRM and wants to upgrade to Dynamics 365’s CRM apps, they need to be running the most recent version of Dynamics CRM to bridge over to Dynamics 365. So, if they’re currently using Dynamics CRM 2011, they’ll need to update to CRM 2013, then 2013 SP1, then 2015, and finally to 2016, before they can make the final jump to Dynamics 365.

To transition to new Dynamics 365 licenses, existing Dynamics customers have two options.

With the cloud add-ons option, users purchase a “top up” license for a low cost, which allows them to use Dynamics 365 in the cloud while maintaining their existing software plan. They can then drop their current plan when their renewal date arrives. Cloud add-ons can be purchased at any time.

The other option is to obtain “from SA” transition licenses and move all users to Dynamics 365 in one fell swoop, dropping any existing Software Agreement or Enhancement Plans in the process. This option is only available when an SA or Enhancement Plan customer’s perpetual license plan reaches its renewal date and is paid up in full. Subscription customers need to have at least three years of investment behind them to use this option.

How often is Dynamics 365 updated?

Cloud-based instances of Dynamics 365 are regularly updated. Service updates, which introduce new features, are rolled out every three months. Update rollups, which address any bugs or issues within the app, are released more frequently, typically every eight weeks. Update rollups are implemented automatically for cloud customers.

Cloud users have the choice of whether or not to accept these updates and can test them in their development sandbox instance to ensure compatibility before implementing them. This little-and-often approach means users are always at the forefront of any new developments with the software and negates the need for time-consuming installations of new product versions.

Users of Dynamics 365 in the cloud receive updates sooner and more often than on-premise users. In fact, many features and updates included in the cloud version are never extended to on-premise.

On-premise Dynamics CRM customers only receive one service update per year.

Auxiliary Dynamics services

What is Microsoft AppSource, and what does it mean for Dynamics 365 users?

If users need to integrate their Dynamics 365 system with any other programs or services, or want to find a way to add extra functionality not native to the solution, there’s AppSource.

AppSource is Microsoft’s online store for third-party bolt-ons and integrations. Microsoft cloud service users can visit AppSource to purchase apps that help their software do more. If users want to connect MailChimp to Dynamics 365, for example, add maps, enable speech-to-text functions, there’s an app for that.

There are currently over 500 apps and add-ons available to Dynamics 365 users, with more added every day. These apps can be added to Dynamics 365 in an instant, with no coding or customization necessary. With AppSource, Dynamics 365 cloud users have almost limitless opportunity to modify and extend the functionality of their solution, without having to involve developers or ISVs.

What is the Common Data Service for Apps and how does it affect Dynamics developers?

The Common Data Service (CDS) for Apps is a back-end platform that allows users to quickly integrate programs, build new custom applications, and create automated workflows. It does this by providing a secure, centralized, repository for data management templates, which allow data from any source can be used by other applications.

The CDS for Apps provides a digital space in which data from previously disparate applications can be stored and standardized, meaning information can be unified across a number of programs. It’s this service which allows apps to “communicate” and share information, even if those apps record and process data differently, removing incompatibility issues and breaking down silos.

The CDS makes it easier for developers to set up new tools, and administrators and so-called citizen developers without coding experience can use it to create workflows and integrations without the need for custom development.

Though it goes a long way to making integration simpler, the CDS is not a replacement for xRM development platform. It certainly doesn’t render CRM developers obsolete; rather it frees them up from building the same integrations repeatedly, allowing them to focus on developing and upgrading more high-level, sophisticated integrations that the CDS can’t process.

What is the Common Data Service for Analytics?

The Common Data Service for Analytics is a new service that aims to help businesses gather, digest, and utilize the data that they generate and manage every day. The service will make it easier for organizations to derive insights from data found across their apps and other sources, giving them a centralized, comprehensive picture of their business to analyze.

Like the CDS for Apps, the CDS for Analytics will provide users with a connective pool of standardized data pulled from multiple sources to draw on, and allow Power BI to more easily connect to and share data with third-party apps.

These analytical solutions will be set up to read and report on these standardized batches of data to provide comprehensive and consistent analysis. Power BI Sales Insights, for example, will amalgamate sales data and offer coherent, comparable insights — such as which leads and opportunities are at risk, and where salespeople could better spend their time — no matter where the data it’s scrutinizing was originally pulled from.

Power BI Insights for Sales and Power BI Insights for Service, the first apps to utilize the CDS for Analytics, are now live. More Power BI Insights apps tailored to areas such as marketing, operations, finance, and talent are scheduled to follow soon.

What is Microsoft PowerApps?

Powered by Dynamics 365’s Common Data Service for Apps, PowerApps allows organizations to create their own responsive business applications with the click of a button. Employee engagement surveys, cost estimators, budget trackers, to-do lists, booking apps; these can all be created for web and mobile without the need for coding knowledge or input from developers.

PowerApps’ drag-and-drop interface enables anyone to build and launch richly functional, professional apps without writing a single line of code. The apps can be easily integrated with Office 365 and Dynamics 365 to gather and utilize business data and help engage customers.

What is Microsoft Flow?

A sister-service to PowerApps, Microsoft Flow uses the same Common Data Service for Apps to help users build automated workflows that take care of repetitive administrative tasks.

There are already thousands of ready-made workflows — digital sequences that trigger predefined actions when certain activities occur —  for users to take advantage of, from creating CRM leads when someone tweets a particular word or phrase, or tracking Outlook emails in an Excel spreadsheet, to sending an email to a group when a data alert is triggered in your analytics.

These workflows can be used to connect your Microsoft services to third-party apps and programs, without the need for complex custom integrations.

Where is Dynamics 365 data stored and who can access it?

All of Microsoft’s cloud products, including cloud-based deployments of Dynamics 365, are hosted on the company’s own cloud platform, Azure. Azure is operated from Microsoft data centers located all over the world; which data center an organization’s data is physically housed in will depend on where the organization is based, and the product it is using.

Although Microsoft acts essentially as custodians of users’ cloud data, the customer will still be the sole owner and administrator of that data.

Microsoft was the first cloud provider to adhere to ISO 27018, a code of practice that ensures:

  • Customers know where their data is stored
  • Customer data won’t be used for marketing or advertising without explicit consent
  • Customers can demand the return, transfer, and secure disposal of personal information within a reasonable period
  • Microsoft will only disclose customer data when legally obliged to do so

Microsoft’s cloud services are also subject to scrutiny under ISO 27001, which contains hundreds of guidelines on how a CSP should manage its infrastructure to keep its customer data secure. Microsoft is regularly audited by the ISO to confirm its continued compliance with its rules and regulations.

When necessary, Microsoft personnel or its subcontractors may also access user data. Under the terms and conditions of the customer’s subscription to Microsoft’s business services, users can access and extract their data at any time, for any reason, without the need to notify or involve Microsoft. If users ever cancel their subscription, their data will be kept for 90 days to allow them to export. After that period expires, Microsoft will delete the data, including any cached or backup copies.

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