Dynamics 365 Portals: A brief introduction to a brave new world

With the advent of Dynamics 365 and the acquisition of ADX Portals, Microsoft have introduced Dynamics Portals to the already bulging feature set, but what can you currently achieve using the release version?

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to you. As we enter the new year the world of Dynamics 365 has begun to open up new opportunities and also a whole stack of new questions for clients and partners alike as to what the new capabilities can bring to the table, one of which is Dynamics 365 Portals.

Dynamics 365 Portals allows external users access to CRM/Dynamics 365 content via a contact record and allows specific content to be accessed based on their web role(s). The solution enables the CRM Administrator to use CMS style functionality from with the Dynamics application.

In the course of investigating the suitability of the solution for a proposed client delivery I have collated some information on a number of key areas, which I have detailed below;

Supported Deployments

Dynamics 365 Portals should be available for organisations with subscriptions to Dynamics 365 (Fall Wave) and MS Dynamics CRM 2016 Online Update 1 (Spring Wave).

Dynamics 365 Portals is not compatible with MS Dynamics CRM 2013 or 2015 (on premise or online) or Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 (on premise and online).

Though it should be possible to add Dynamics 365 Portals as a subscription for MS Dynamics CRM 2016 Online Update 1, you may have a little difficulty – i.e. the solution is not displayed as a preferred solution, especially when working with a licensing provider/enterprise licensing. If so contact your CSP or MS Support.

For more information on preferred solutions see; https://technet.microsoft.com/library/dn878909.aspx

Dynamics 365 comes with 1 portal and you can purchase more portals as an when needed.

What Can I Achieve Using a Trial?

If you have not upgraded to the latest release (Dynamics 365) and still want to check out the Dynamics 365 Portal solution then you can add the preferred solution to a D365 Trial with access to the full product suite. I added this to a non-customised version so I was able to work with configuration items easily.

By default your portal is made available against the “microsoftcrmportals.com” domain.

Authentication for Dynamics 365 Portals

D365 Portals provides authentication built on the ASP.Net Identity API. Users will require a username and password to sign-in and it is possible to have two-factor authentication using email or SMS. Non-D365 users are associated with a Contact and it is possible to send an invitation to contacts previously created in the system to allow them to register.

dyn365portals_access

Tiered Access for Customer Users

Not all users are created equal, and nor should they be. As part of the security access configuration for Dynamics 365 Portals you can set up different web roles. These web roles are applied to a Contact (the primary record for your portal user) and can allow them to perform specific actions or access restricted content. Default web roles can be created. You can get more details on web roles in the link; https://community.adxstudio.com/products/adxstudio-portals/documentation/configuration-guide/content-authorization/web-roles/

A Rose by Any Other Name; Differences in Features

It is important to remember that as things stand Dynamics 365 Portals is not ADXstudio Portals, though they are built on a similar framework there are differences in the features and deployment methods.

This means we cannot assume that because a feature was supported using ADX v7 that it will be supported by Dynamics 365 Portals (v8.x). Adoxio Business Solutions (which continues to function after the Microsoft purchase of ADXstudio) published a feature comparison table here; https://www.adoxio.com/crm-portals-and-crm-portals-feature-comparison/

Some of the notable omissions from Dynamics 365 Portals are; Issues from the “Communities” feature set, Conference/Events management from the “Marketing” features and E-commerce – when compared to ADX v7. Which leads me on to the next point…

SharePoint Integration

The comparison table provided by Adoxio includes the item “SharePoint Integration” under integrations, and then supplements this with “leverage SharePoint’s secure document management”.

After unsuccessfully attempting to get this up an running in a trial version of Dynamics 365 and using this walk-through; https://community.dynamics.com/crm/b/microsoftdynamicscrmsolutions/archive/2016/08/17/crm-portal-and-sharepoint-integration

I encountered this alert when accessing my portal page;

dyn365portals_sperror

So, I put the question to a Senior Partner Consultant over at Microsoft and the response I received was that the product team confirmed that the SharePoint integration does not work with CRM Portals (v8.x).

They did mention that it’s in the roadmap for a future release, but there is no confirmed release date yet. It is tentatively expected in the Spring Release in 2017, but not firmed up at this point in time.

So it would appear that for now there is no SharePoint capability, if this is important, especially for external parties such as customers or partners then you may be able to implement a custom web component to handle the display of documents in the portal.

However, for your specific deal requirements involve just uploading files, Dynamics 365 Portals also supports Azure storage, which can be a better alternate solution to SharePoint for file storage (upload etc.).

Templates

There is no need to start your portal adventure with a blank canvas, you can leverage some of the ready made templates to act as the basic structure for your portal – including pages and page templates, for instance the Customer Service Portal.

They key benefits of starting with the Customer Service Portal are that by default you can access the following features;

  • Portal Dependencies
  • Portal Base
  • Portal Workflows
  • Web Notifications
  • Microsoft Identity
  • Identity Workflows
  • Web Forms
  • Feedback
  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Forums Workflows
  • Portal Timeline
  • Customer Service
  • Knowledge Management
  • Microsoft Get Record ID Workflow Helper
  • Bing Maps Helper

After that you can configure the additional elements you need, or disable items as you see fit by creating supplemental web roles, pages and web files. Access to elements such as “Contact Us” and “Submit a Case” are already provided.

Migrating a Portal Instance

It is possible to migrate the configuration made in sandbox instance to production instance using Configuration Migration Utility which comes with Dynamics 365 SDK.

Custom Domains

As mentioned earlier Dynamics 365 Portals can be hosted in the MS domain, however it is also possible to use a custom Domain Name for your portal, for example; “myaccount.company.com”. To do so you will need enter the domain and provide an SSL certificate for the HOSTNAME in the settings/admin area for the portal solution which is accessed via Applications associated with your D365 instance in Office 365.

On Brand; Customise the “Look and Feel”

Your D365 Portal can be tailored to meet your branding requirements using CSS/Bootstrap added as a web file.

It is pretty impressive what can be achieved with the first iteration of Dynamics 365 Portals, users of the existing ADX product may decide to wait for a future release to migrate. It is also unclear at this point how easy it will be to move to D365 Portals for existing ADX customers – if you have any information to share please enter a comment and let me know. It appears to me that these are the first steps into a brave new world. and I will keenly await the announcements for the coming releases and to see how the functionality is dove-tailed by Power Apps.

There is an intro to the configuration of D365 Portals here. Give it a read and spin up a trial, it is well worth a play.

Happy CRM’ing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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