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Dynamics 365 Roadmap: Why You Should Care About the Dynamics 365 Release Cycle

The Microsoft Dynamics platform has seen rapid innovation over the past few years. Since 2013, Dynamics CRM has followed a twice yearly release cycle, plus multiple other capabilities added via acquisitions and culminating with the rebranding of the platform as Dynamics 365.

It may feel to the casual observer that this rapid current of change has grown to a roaring current, and that it is very difficult to know where to focus or how to keep up. So why should you try to keep up with the Dynamics 365 roadmap, and all the changes that the roadmap entails?

Agility

Changes to functionality in Dynamics 365 are now evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Five years ago, changes to CRM were rare, and when there was a new release, it would significantly change the user experience, and when new functionality was released, clients could not expect that there would be enhancements to that functionality in a timely manner.

Now, new functionality initially is released as a preview feature with limited functionality, and then quickly enhanced in an agile manner in subsequent releases. Microsoft now has a proven track record of functionality that was originally very limited, but now is very mature and fully featured. This includes features such as business rules, business process flows, server side synchronization, Outlook app, and mobile. Each update introduces solid improvement to these areas.

By keeping up with the Dynamics release cycle, you can plan effectively for deployment of new features. While they may not be a good fit for you initially, Dynamics functionality should be re-evaluated with each subsequent release to assess fit for your business.

This also means that if you elect to skip releases and stay on an old version of Dynamics, you are choosing to lock in to limited functionality, and may miss the efficiencies of subsequent enhancements. For example, the experience of companies using Dynamics CRM 2013 with mobile and server side synchronization will not be as positive an experience as users on CRM 2016 or later, as this functionality has been significantly improved in the subsequent four releases.

Companies with existing Dynamics CRM deployments should follow the release cycle of the Dynamics 365 roadmap to evaluate how functionality improvements in Dynamics impact their current deployment choices.

Simplicity

Dynamics CRM has been widely adopted in part due to its flexibility as a business application platform which can be easily extended to handle virtually any line of business application. This is commonly referred to as “XRM” (anything relationship management). Traditionally, where a feature has not been available via standard configuration methods, Microsoft partners and clients have extended the platform via custom developed plugins, scripts, and utilities.

While Dynamics 365 is more extensible than ever, Microsoft has also continued to enhance the platform, making many of the most common cases for custom development a standard configuration option. Examples of this include rollup fields, calculated fields, business rules, real-time workflows, and editable grids.

While the need to do advanced customization will never go away completely, Dynamics deployments today typically have less custom code than deployments five years ago as a result of these improvements. Reducing the amount of custom developed code results in a simpler configuration, which generally leads to improved system performance, and less complex and costly upgrades.

Companies with existing Dynamics CRM deployments should follow the Dynamics 365 release cycle and look for ways to replace custom code with simpler standard application functionality.

Mobility

Chances are your employees are not working the same way they did ten years ago. One of the biggest reasons for this is the explosion of mobile technology in business. And Dynamics has grown to accept and even advance this trend.

When the Dynamics CRM mobile app was initially released, it had some major limitations. Many system entities were not available on mobile, and there were some standard features, such as filtered lookup fields, that did not work on mobile. I wrote about these limitations in The CRM Mobile Survival Guide.

In subsequent releases, Microsoft quickly reduced the number of missing entities and fixed many of the functionality gaps. However, they didn’t stop there. They also introduced some visual controls that streamline the mobile user experience, and can, for some users, make mobile the best user interface for Dynamics. Want to see your team’s appointments in a calendar view? You can do that in mobile, but not in the web client.

If your company has a percentage of users who frequently travel or work remotely, deploying Dynamics 365 mobile will increase your user adoption by making the application available from where your users live.

Companies with existing Dynamics CRM deployments with mobile users should follow the Dynamics 365 release cycle to make Dynamics accessible for users and optimize the mobile user experience.

Collaboration

One of the most surprising things to a Dynamics CRM user who went to sleep in 2011 and suddenly woke up in 2017 would be how connected Dynamics has become to other services and applications. While the introduction of SharePoint integration in CRM 2011 was a big first step, the original grid control-based integration was limited to only documents in a single location (SharePoint), and only available from PC (not from mobile). Integration with the rest of the Office stack was limited and, in some cases (mail merge), outdated.

Server-side SharePoint integration enables a much deeper integration with SharePoint and is foundational to newer collaboration functionality, such as OneNote integration, related document suggestions, and accessing documents via the Dynamics mobile app. It also enables document integration with multiple other sources, including OneDrive for Business for private documents, and Office Groups for documents shared between teams.

Microsoft has also improved the integration with the Office. Document templates provide modern document generation capabilities, Excel export has removed the format and size limitations of the legacy export feature, Excel Online provides users with immersive Excel functionality directly from inside the application, and Excel templates provide rich formatted Excel worksheet reports, and the Dynamics 365 Outlook App modernizes the Outlook integration, makes it available from mobile, and improves Outlook performance.

Companies with existing Dynamics CRM deployments should follow the Dynamics 365 release cycle and look for ways to enable Dynamics users to collaborate more effectively from where they are (such as mobile) in ways that they like to work (such as One Note, OneDrive, Word, and groups).

Conclusion

In this post I’ve covered some of the most compelling reasons why companies with Dynamics CRM/Dynamics 365 should follow the release cycle of the Dynamics 365 roadmap. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should deploy every single update or feature that is introduced; however, you should dedicate at least a minimum amount of time every 6-8 months to review the new product roadmap, evaluate enhancements to existing functionality, and determine the impact on your deployment plan and timelines.

For questions on how to incorporate the Dynamics 365 roadmap into your deployment strategy, please contact Hitachi Solutions today.

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