How CIOs can make their Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation a winner


The role of the CIO is changing.

Thanks to the advent of cloud computing and SaaS software, the responsibilities of the CIO—hardware maintenance, software installation, managing security, and databases—have transformed. Some of the tasks that previously sat with the CIO have become obsolete or been “outsourced” to software vendors.

Modern businesses rely on information technology more than ever, and though the job description of the CIO may have shifted, the demands upon them have only increased. With so many options available to cloud users, and the host of new challenges those options bring, a CIO must now more than ever take on a leading role. They need to be a conductor, a unifier and a change manager, ensuring new tools are rolled out effectively and deliver a measurable ROI.

Nowhere is this more applicable than in the implementation of a new business software platform. As the most senior information technology representative in an organization, the CIO should be deeply involved in any decisions about digital transformation.

CIOs already have their fingers in a lot of pies, acting both as a high-level executive and keeping abreast of the technical goings-on in the IT department. While the CIO may seem the obvious choice to take on the mantle of Executive Sponsor, that shouldn’t always be the default move. There might be people better suited to the role. It’s essential to gauge your internal resources using a talent gap analysis before you assemble your team.

Whatever additional positions a CIO may or may not take on during an implementation though, they’ll inevitably be heavily involved. From selection to execution and long-term maintenance of the new software project, the role of CIO is a crucial one when in any CRM or ERP implementation.

The role of a CIO during a Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation

There’s no single implementation strategy that’ll suit every business. It’s a complex and challenging undertaking, and there’s no cookie-cutter plan of attack. What a CIO wants to achieve from a new software system will depend on their organization’s specific pain points.

That said, there are some aspects of implementation that the CIO should lead on regardless of the finer details. These are aspects that will help ensure the continuing success and sustainability of the new system.

Before the Dynamics 365 implementation

Many of the biggest risks in implementing business software can be offset (if not wholly mitigated) by sound planning. Work to shape the milestones, goals and long-term vision of the project as early as possible.

Liaise with both decision-makers and users

Implementation project teams tend to consist of two equally important sides of the same coin. The executive team considers the broader role that the new solution will play within the business, and the project team deals with the technical ins and outs of the implementation hands-on.

Having a foot in both boats is vital for a CIO and puts them in a unique position at this crucial juncture. Being both technically savvy and business-minded allows CIOs to attain a functional knowledge of the new system, while also keeping the bigger picture in sight.

A CIO should be able to map the platform’s capabilities to their company’s business strategy and make sure the solution meets the organization’s needs. For that reason, the CIO should take pains to document the current business processes of each department who’ll use the new system—and that means actual processes. Not the processes mapped out way back when (the average shelf life of an ERP system is ten to 15 years…), and not the processes that the C-suite says should be in place—the actual, day-to-day operations of the end-users. How do they use the software at their disposal now? What’s missing? What would make their jobs easier?

Plot your targets

Elaborate projects like implementation often lack a clear “finish line”. It’s likely that configuration, development and other tweaks will be ongoing after the system goes live, as practical, real-time usage highlights areas for improvement.

Nevertheless, a CIO should start measuring and evaluating the solution’s performance right out of the gate. After all, they’ll be expected to make sure the new software is generating a return for the business. It can be months or even years before a company starts to see an ROI from a CRM or ERP system, but you should at least know whether or not you’re on the right track and what you can do about it if you’re not.

At this stage, you’ll have already outlined your pain points and what you want to achieve from your new system. You might’ve detailed this in your business case, or hashed out some objectives with your implementation partner or vendor. Either way, now’s the time to take those aims and use them to create KPIs. What does success look like for this project? How will it be measured?

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Plan for a thorough data scrub

Where hardware may once have been a critical company asset, data is now the lifeblood of not only the IT department, but the organization as a whole. Generating, managing and protecting business and customer data is of critical importance to modern companies.

Today, businesses are taking increasing advantage of machine learning and AI to help drive more profit from their data. Never before has the adage “garbage in, garbage out” been more pertinent. Cutting-edge CRM and ERP systems can help companies process and learn from their business data, but only if that data is of good quality.

Dynamics 365 can help companies pan gold from their lakes of data, but it’s software, not alchemy. If you put worthless or incomplete data into your system, don’t expect treasure to come out of the other end.

Migrating legacy data to a new system is a perfect opportunity to make sure your data meets the standard required to be useful in its new home.

Setting time aside ahead of the implementation to cleanse your data means that data will be up to scratch when you load it into the new system. It also cuts down on the sheer quantity of data that will need to be migrated and mapped. Bad data can derail a new solution—the more time you spend fixing incomplete data before migration, the better it’ll perform and the more value it’ll offer.

During the Dynamics 365 implementation

There’s a tremendous amount of work involved for the CIO before the organization even lands on its chosen vendor, from examining processes and translating business requirements to building a business case and deciding on a deployment option. But a CIO’s work is never done. Once your chosen solution is locked down and you’re ready to implement it, there’s still a way to go before you can start to reap the benefits.

During the practical implementation phase, and right through to the post-implementation analysis, a CIO should remain intimately involved in the rollout.

Offer direction

You should have a full timeline plotted well before you start your implementation. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men—you’ll inevitably hit snags along the way; strategies will need to be adjusted and plans altered.

When these operational hiccups occur, the project will need someone with both technical and high-level business knowledge to help right the ship. It’s a good idea to set up regular meetings throughout the implementation with leadership figures such as CIOs, executive sponsors and project managers. These catch-ups will help you hash out any issues, make sure things are on track and avoid the dreaded “scope creep”.

Provide access to the coffers

The path to a fully functional, comprehensive software solution is rarely straight. There’ll likely be occasions where resources need to be redistributed, additional works carried out or further funds released. Being able to get sign-off on these extra resources quickly will ensure the project keeps moving ahead.

Keep other C-level executives in the loop

The most successful implementations will have the organization’s top-level executives on board from the start, but as CIO, you should keep them engaged once things are in motion. Any project as complex and wide-ranging as a software implementation will require frequent re-evaluations throughout.

After the Dynamics 365 implementation

Once you’ve cut the ribbon on your new Dynamics 365 solution, a new set of challenges begin. Essential tasks must be carried out to make sure your organization is getting everything it should be from its new software.

Promote user adoption

User adoption is one of the main issues that can derail a new business solution. Even after a successful rollout, end-users across the business must invest in the platform. To promote user adoption, the CIO should work to champion the project at all levels, at every stage of the project.

Before you even begin your implementation, you should liaise with everyone who’ll use the new system to get their input. The more involved and informed users are about changes ahead of time, the less resistance they’re likely to have when the system goes live.

During implementation, CIOs should speak to every department that’ll have contact with the system. Explain why it’s being implemented and how it will make their jobs easier in the long run. Once the new solution is live, it’s time to double down on pushing user adoption. Have a thorough adoption plan in place and make it as engaging as possible; Dynamics 365 has gamification features to help motivate teams. You should also make sure you have a properly structured feedback system so that users know their comments are being heard.

Organize training

A massive part of ensuring wide-spread user adoption is excellent training. There’s something of a chicken and egg situation at play when it comes to new software; if people can’t use it, they won’t want to. And if they don’t use it, they won’t learn anything.

Training should come in two stages. First, familiarize users with the system as a whole, giving them a high-level overview of how it works, how it connects departments and the benefits it’ll bring to the business. Secondly, you need to develop a tailored, role-specific training program for each group of users. This customized training should aim to give users in-depth instruction on the functions and features they’ll be using daily.

Set clear goals for training, and incentivize early adoption and eagerness to learn if possible. Have a plan in place to address any opposition with additional support and training too. During the training process, you should also be able to identify a few clued-up super users who can help advocate for the system within their teams.

Assess, analyze and evaluate

Success looks different to different people. If you asked ten people how well your Dynamics 365 platform was performing, you’d likely get ten different answers. If you don’t measure it, you won’t achieve it. If you don’t carefully and regularly examine how well your solution is performing, you won’t know which areas need more attention and which processes need tweaking.

To get a full and accurate picture of the continuing success of your solution, you need to look past the quantitative, hard and fast measurables. You also need to consider the broader, more qualitative goals that aren’t so easy to nail down but are just as important.

The most apparent KPI of a successful Dynamics implementation is whether or not the solution is generating ROI. Return isn’t something you’ll be able to estimate overnight though; generating ROI on business software such as CRM and ERP can take years. Your new process need a chance to take effect. You need to leave space for patterns to appear. Dynamics 365 needs time to learn from the data within it before it can produce truly valuable reports. You should continue to review the objectives you set in the planning stages, and revisit the results every few months to track progress.

But ROI shouldn’t be the only gauge of success. Though it might feel like a crucial aspect of your evaluation, there’s more to a Dynamics implementation post-mortem than counting dollars and cents. There are plenty of ways you can weigh up the solution’s impact while you’re determining potential returns.

The aims and objectives you laid out at the beginning of the project come in really handy here. Keeping an eye on these business goals will help you fathom whether or not your new solution is bringing your organization closer to its strategic vision. These operational and performance-related targets can show how Dynamics 365 is boosting productivity, streamlining inefficient processes or improving your service.

If you’re using CRM apps, these KPIs could be things like improving conversion rates, shortening the average time spent on customer service cases or an increase in customer retention. For an ERP platform, those goals could be cutting delivery times, making manufacturing processes leaner or automating specific processes.

You should also look to gather “intangible” evidence, such as user feedback. Though more anecdotal than the hard metrics of reporting, you should aim to collect input from all users and address any issues that may be hampering user productivity. By engaging with users who work with every branch of the software, you’ll find out how the solution is impacting each department in a real way.

There are a vast number of cogs at work within the Dynamics implementation machine, and if a roll-out is going to be successful, these cogs need work in perfect harmony. With their unique dual focus, the CIO is indispensable in making sure that both the technical and commercial goals are realized, and their organization’s new Dynamics 365 solution fulfills its enormous potential.

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