What’s the Hub-bub? Create Dynamics 365 Apps for your business

One of the most exciting updates to the latest version of Dynamics 365 has been the ability to define Custom Apps for your solutions. But what are they and what can they do for you?

For those who have been involved in the implementation of Dynamics solutions for a while, a bug bear of many an end user is the quality of the user experience and functions exposed to the web user interface. Previously we could tinker with the site map and add custom web resources to try and present a pretty face, but the advent of Dynamics 365 Apps gives the functionality available a much needed shot in the arm.

What is a Dynamics 365 App?

In Dynamics 365 we can add custom business apps that involve solution components such as entities, dashboards, forms, views, charts and business process flows. The use of these components are defined within the App Designer as is the sitemap for the App itself with “artifacts” such as; entities, dashboards and business process flows defined with their related “assets” – forms, views etc.

An App can be accessed using the traditional web client or using a unified interface (or hub).

AppDesigner01

What is a Hub?

Some of the key functionality available in Dynamics 365 have been packaged up in some pre-defined apps called “Hubs”, the hubs available depend on your subscriptions however the following are available at the time of writing;

  • Customer Service Hub
  • Sales Hub
  • Field Resource Hub
  • Project Resource Hub

A Hub can be accessed for the web – directly from the Dynamics 365 homepage of Office 365 and the content can also be accessed as part of the new mobile and tablet experience for Dynamics 365 v9.

Utilizing the unified interface hubs give a fresh and focused experience to your Dynamics solution.

ServiceHub

What can I do with them?

It is possible to both configure the existing apps/hubs out of the box and also create your own to suit your organizational needs. Apps can be added to a solutions and also created from components included in a solution.

The main thing from a Dynamics 365 users’ perspective is that the use of unified interface in your app makes your average CRM/xRM more sexy – visually at least, and as a system administrator/customizer you can reduce the amount of ‘noise’ encountered by your users in the solution and instead focus on what is important for their role. Assets such as; forms and views can be configured specifically for the unified interface from your D365 solution and can be filtered using the App Designer. If they don’t use an entity, view or process, don’t add it!

When a business process flow is available it is displayed with stages at top of the record form with the fields displayed as ‘fly-out’ panel on click. The image below is a comparison side by side, with the unified interface on the left and Dynamics 365 v9 web interface on the right.

hubvcrm.png

You can use the “My Apps” area to find both your Apps as well as launch the App Designer and manage security roles that can be used to access the App. Simply toggle the roles you need to be associated or removed from the app.

MyApps

My Apps view in D365 via; Settings > Application >My Apps

Here you can also apply a URL suffix for your app, for example – https://yourcrm.crm.dyanmics.com/apps/servicehub  allowing users to easily bookmark the app in their browser.

As briefly mentioned earlier the recent updates to the mobile and tablet app for Dynamics 365 means we can select our app/hub as a mobile user, this can bring continuity where required to the user experience. In our example, the same business process flow is displayed when mobile as it is in the unified interface (see below).

Screenshot_20180213-103322    Screenshot_20180213-103732

Custom controls can be added to form fields, and used both in the mobile device and unified interfaces to give you even more bang for your buck.

For new implementations the use of custom apps can be a great selling point, for existing users it could be a value add to their user experience, elevating the often bland perception of the standard interface – this will differ depending on the level of comfort for change within user groups. For many, with the smart look and feel and the use of timeline and custom controls, this is a welcome step into a whole new world of UX with Dynamics 365.

There is more information on creating a custom app here (via the CRM Software Blog).

Give it a try! 🙂

 

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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.