Every organization needs a system of records to manage data, control it, and use it for their growth. This often leads to embracing business applications for managing their resources well and to keep improving the business process. With cloud computing providing so many benefits, such as flexibility, efficiency, security, and more uptime, organizations are now looking to go for digital transformation to move from on-premises business applications to cloud-enabled business applications.
Dynamics 365 is a cloud service offering from Microsoft, combining several business needs into a single, scalable, and agile platform, allowing organizations to bring in this much-needed digital transformation.
This chapter will introduce you to Microsoft Dynamics 365 and share the details of various apps, solution elements, buying choices, and complementary tools. We hope you will get an insight into the various tools, offerings, and options provided by Microsoft in Dynamics 365. This may help you in your business transformation initiatives and solution and platform evaluation, spanning customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and business intelligence (BI).
Let's explore the topics we are going to cover in this chapter:
- What is Microsoft Dynamics 365?
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 apps
- Exploring Power Platform
- Complementing/supporting tools with Microsoft Dynamics 365
- Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations apps
- App source
In the business application world, business leaders are always looking for a better business process automation to achieve digital transformation. The biggest challenge to achieve this is having various applications trying to work together to solve business process automation. Microsoft, for the past several years, has been focused on solving this problem by building intelligent applications infused with AI and analytics capabilities; these applications are built for a very specific purpose but, at the same time, can talk to each other and exchange data seamlessly.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the next generation of intelligent business applications in the cloud offered by Microsoft. It enables end-to-end business processes driven by unified navigation, has a core user experience in how these applications look and feel, and allows seamless integration with each other. Microsoft Dynamics 365 further extends Microsoft's commitment to being a cloud-committed company bringing in world-class business apps together in their overall cloud offering. These Dynamics 365 applications can be independently deployed. A customer can start with what they need, and as the business demands, they can adopt additional applications. Since its inception, Microsoft is making continuous efforts to make it better each day.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 has gained a lot of traction since its inception, and more and more companies are now adapting the applications from the Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite. Let's now explore the key deciding factors for adopting Microsoft Dynamics 365 in your organization's digital transformation journey, with the help of its usage benefits and salient features.
What makes Microsoft Dynamics 365 stand apart from its competition and an enabler for organizations lies in its features, capabilities, and offerings.
Here's a quick glance at the salient features of Dynamics 365:
- A cloud-driven, browser-based application
- Seamlessly integrated with Office 365, all out of the box, to increase productivity and stand apart from others
- Built-in intelligence for predictive analysis and decision-making support
- Quick-to-adapt and easy-to-use business applications
- Releveled and revolutionized the traditional approach toward business solutions
- Easy to adopt new updates released by Dynamics 365 team
Dynamics 365 is the next generation of intelligent business applications in the cloud (public and private) as well as on-premises, expected to transform how businesses use technological solutions to achieve their goals.
The Microsoft Dynamics 365 approach to business applications unifies Microsoft's current CRM and ERP cloud solutions into one cloud service with new purpose-built business applications that work together seamlessly to help you to manage specific business functions.
Let's now get an insight at a high level into the various apps available in the Dynamics 365 family. Let's look at some of these apps, along with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
Dynamics 365 Customer Service is an omnichannel solution to unify the way customers and prospects experience your business. There are several dashboards in Dynamics 365 for customer service as well. The following screenshot depicts one of the dashboards:
Users can create consistency and loyalty at all touchpoints across various experience channels such as self-service, peer-to-peer service, and assisted service. It also proactively addresses issues by detecting the customers' intent and social sentiment.
Expect an increase in CSAT (short for Customer Satisfaction) and retention by providing personalized and consistent engagements and proactive addressing of service issues.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is now available as two separate products as Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management (SCM) for licensing purposes. These two products are collectively called Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations apps. If the customer buys licensing for both Finance and SCM, then they will get all of the features that were previously available in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
For the purposes of this book, we will call the product Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
Microsoft has done a complete re-architected Dynamics AX and introduced cloud-based Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations to the world. Microsoft offers users an interface that is so natural to use that they just use it with an accelerated adoption, thereby raising productivity. Since the first release in July 2017, Finance and Operations, has gone through various updates, and introduced various new features and processes, which we will learn about later in this book.
The fact that it works seamlessly anywhere on any device and on any platform is among the key features that make Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations very attractive to implement.
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations offers a wide variety of role-specific dashboards and workspaces to make work life easier for folks using it day in and day out. The following screenshot shows a dashboard that comprises several workspaces in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations:
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is a very flexible application, and it can be used for many scenarios as needed by any organization. Some examples are the following:
- Enterprise: An end-to-end solution that looks after the financials and core operations for a company
- 2-Tier Subsidiary: Solution that handles the financials and operations for subsidiaries or business units and integrates with the headquarters ERP
- Operational workloads: Manages specific business functions/workloads of business and integrates with corporate systems
It would be very nice to get a glimpse of all workloads available in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, suggesting their core functionality. The following diagram shows a full-suite visual for various workloads:
As shown in the preceding diagram, there are several modules/capability areas spanning different workloads, namely, vertical, horizontal/operational, and administrative.
We will be getting into the details of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations throughout this book; however, there are a few key features that are in line with other D365 business apps, as follows:
- Full-suite business management solution
- Multiple industry capabilities, namely, retail, distribution, manufacturing, public sector, and service industries; all built in a single solution
- Availability in 18 countries/markets with local compliance met and local language support
- Choice of deployment—in the cloud or on-premises
- Elevate business financial performance
- Run smarter with connected operations
- Automate and streamline supply chain process
- Innovate with a modern and adaptable platform
- Simplify configuration of your regulatory services
Several new navigation concepts are introduced in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, and the following are the key ones:
- Dashboard: The dashboard is a new concept and is the first page that users see when they access the client. The dashboard contains tiles that show important details from the system.
- Navigation pane: The navigation pane provides access to workspaces, main menu elements, recently opened forms, and user-defined favorites.
- Workspaces: Workspaces are activity-oriented pages that are designed to increase a user's productivity by providing information that answers the targeted user's most pressing activity-related questions and allows the user to initiate their more frequent tasks.
- Tiles: A tile is a rectangular button that behaves like a menu item button. It is used to navigate to or open pages. In addition, tiles can display relevant data, such as counts or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
The following screenshot shows the navigation page:
The following screenshot shows workspaces and various tiles used within workspaces in the Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations user interface:
Use the following link to learn more about Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management: https://dynamics.microsoft.com/en-us/supply-chain-management/overview/.
Let's move on to the next app that Dynamics 365 offers!
Dynamics 365 Business Central is an accounting application offering from Microsoft, but it is more than accounting software. It is a comprehensive business management solution for small and midsized organizations that automates and streamlines business processes.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central also has dashboards similar to the role-driven dashboards in other Dynamics 365 apps:
Earlier a part of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Commerce is now separated as its own application as part of the Dynamics 365 product portfolio. Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Commerce provides an intelligent platform to enable retailers to combine the best of digital and in-store to deliver personal, seamless, and differentiated customer experiences by empowering people and capturing insights to drive growth.
The following screenshot depicts a Dynamics 365 Commerce solution:
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Human Resources was an earlier part of the Finance and Operations and is now a separate SaaS-based independent offering out of Dynamics 365. Dynamics 365 Human Resources brings your human capital management to the cloud for a mobile, employee-focused, strategic HR approach that helps you to find and hire the right people, nurture success, and deliver high-impact, sustainable results.
The following is a talent solution dashboard showing various modules and capabilities:
Microsoft is trying to make use of the Dynamics 365 suite easier by providing access to various tools that work very seamlessly with Microsoft Dynamics 365 business applications. These tools complement the Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite to make it more personalized and easy for information consumption and informed decision making. Let's have a look at these complementary tools in the following section.
Power BI, Power Apps, and Power Automate are all backed by the best-in-class cloud services for enterprise developers and IT professionals to quickly extend capabilities for Power users and scale to enterprise-wide manageability easily at any time.
Let's have a visual overview of additional apps/services/tools that could be utilized to measure information, act upon the task, and automate as much as possible. The following screenshot shows the Power BI, Power Apps, and Power Automate apps and how easy it is to build on top of it:
Let's now explore all of these tools one by one.
Microsoft has provided the Power Apps service, which can be used to build the new web/mobile apps that can connect to business data. It is the foundation to build any web/mobile application on top of Dynamics 365 solutions without writing any significant code.
Power Apps is a very strong tool that can be used in many ways; some are as follows:
- Building new apps
- Automate process
- Connecting data between various applications
- AI builder
- Creating new portals
Let's have a glimpse of a sample mobile app built in no time and ready for use by the business. The following screenshot shows an app built on top of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations and its data entities:
Power BI is a powerful analytical visualization for Power users to quickly gain insights into information over the cloud or on their premises. It works with Microsoft Dynamics 365 to provide a self-service analytics solution. With Power BI built directly into Dynamics 365, you gain access to powerful business intelligence—real time on any device no matter where you are in the world—with rich visuals, charts, and graphics.
Power BI also has data warehouse capabilities including data preparation, data discovery, and interactive dashboards and can be embedded on most Azure Cloud platforms. Let's have a look at the following screenshot:
Here we see a sample dashboard from Power BI with several informational parts such as charts, trends, values, tables, and many more.
Power Automate (previously known as Microsoft Flow) is the workflow engine of Microsoft Cloud, helping to quickly design any time-consuming task or process as either a complex multi-step process sequence or a simple one-step task. It is going to be seen more in areas of notifications, sync, and automating approvals. Let's have a look at the chain of events, which is very easy to establish in Power Automate, as follows:
Power Automate supports a wide variety of data sources to connect to external world applications seamlessly and the list is increasing as you are reading this book.
Common Data Service (CDS) is a shared database for storing business entities that connects to Dynamics 365, Flow, and PowerApps. It is the fabric behind Dynamics 365 and Office 365 to provide consistently structured entities across services spanning solutions within Dynamics 365 as well as external applications.
CDS gives a secure and encrypted business database, comprising well-formed standard business entities that can be deployed for use in your organization. It provides not only structured metadata, rich data types, auto numbering, lookups, and business data types such as address and currency, but also capabilities such as referential integrity through metadata configuration and cascade deletes, making a compelling functionality. CDS is licensed together with PowerApps as a stand-alone solution and is included in two different versions with Dynamics 365.
The following is a glimpse of managing entities within CDS with other tools such as connections, gateways, notifications, and others:
CDS makes it very smooth to communicate between different Dynamics 365 apps.
Think of an ecosystem in the cloud that can act as a single destination for business users to discover, try, and acquire line-of-business SaaS applications. That is what Microsoft AppSource is, and we see it as a great platform for partners having niche expertise in a specific subject to build, show, and sell their expertise and solution in the cloud.
Let's see how the AppSource landing screen looks. The following screenshot shows the AppSource search page along with solution offerings by partners related to one or many Dynamics 365 apps:
Consider AppSource an application store, where businesses will be able to find and try out line-of-business SaaS apps from Microsoft and its partners.
AppSource also provides a list of implementation partners who can assist customers in implementing these business apps. Currently, it hosts more than 80 apps for Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
For customers, Microsoft AppSource is the place where you can find the apps from Microsoft and partners that drive your business. You can also request the trial through the implementation partner.
Microsoft AppSource is also a place for ISVs (short for Independent Software Vendors) to market your apps to business users. AppSource allows lead generation through using a proven system that Microsoft has built over several years. Use Azure's cloud services platform and tools to deliver differentiated apps to customers:
The preceding screenshot shows the AppSource landing page and solution across industry segments for ease in locating the perfect solution.
To learn more about it, you can visit https://appsource.microsoft.com.
Earlier in this chapter, we learned about the Microsoft Dynamics 365 offering and all available different components and options. Our focus in this book is primarily on Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations. Throughout this book, we will be focusing on Finance and Operations as a product and will go through different phases of the ERP implementation cycle in various chapters. We will discover specific tools and techniques applicable to implement it successfully in organizations. In this section, you will learn a little more about Finance and Operations and its history and highlights.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is a modern ERP system built for cloud-first with two decades of proven business functionalities. Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations may be a new name but it has been around for the last two decades. Finance and Operations, in the past, was known as Microsoft Dynamics AX and Axapta. Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operation is designed for midsized and large enterprise customers and is a multi-language, multi-currency enterprise resource planning solution. Finance and Operations is available in 138 countries and supports more than 40 languages and country-specific localization out of the box. On one side, the seamless integration of Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations with Office 365 takes productivity to a new level; on the other hand, out-of-the-box integration with Power BI, Cortana analytics, and machine learning takes the decision-making to another level.
The following topics describe the highlights of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations:
- Modern: Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is a modern, cloud-first, and mobile-first ERP solution. Microsoft has completely rewritten the technology platform and user interface from its previous version, Dynamics AX 2012. Just to name few advancements, the new version comes with cloud-first Azure deployment, modern HTML 5 client, mobile app, Power BI integration, and modern integration capabilities.
- Work anywhere, anytime, and on any device: The new user experience is optimized for multiple platforms and mobile apps. The clean, modern, and intuitive browser-based UI is a pleasure to use and easy to learn. All business logic is available any time, any place, on any device.
- BI: Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations brings the power of the cloud to light up the state-of-the-art business intelligence options such as Power BI, Cognitive Services, and artificial intelligence. Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations comes with a near-real-time operational data store called entity store for analytics and BI reporting. Entity store uses in-memory, clustered columnstore index (CCI) functionality that is built into Microsoft SQL Server to optimize reporting and queries. Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations comes with many out-of-the-box Power BI content packs from Microsoft and provides the ability for partners and customers to author their own Power BI content pack and distribute it through the marketplace.
- Productivity: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations keeps productivity as the core of its product and user interface design. Integration with productivity tools such as Office 365 has taken things to a new level, and the ability for business users to use their favorite apps such as Excel to export, edit, and publish data back to an application has never been so easy. The new concept of workspaces takes productivity to a new level by providing information around a process. All of the dependencies and answers to questions about a given process are available through a single page. Task guides make it easier to onboard new staff and train them on the process with step-by-step instructions while minimizing the learning curve.
- Predictable and repeatable implementations: Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations brings Lifecycle Services (LCS) to the next level. With LCS, customers and implementation partners can manage their application lifecycle and move toward predictable, repeatable, and high-quality implementations. LCS is mandatory for any implementation project and allows customers and implementation partners to manage their implementation project from the project planning, deployment, and configuration, to monitoring and post-go-live support. LCS provides best practices and standards for implementation projects. With LCS, it has become very easy to manage and update Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
- Adaptable to any industry: Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is a very flexible solution out of the box. Any industry can use Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations due to its industry-standard features and flexibility to customize it to meet the needs of a particular industry. Microsoft is also learning from different industries and adding commonly used features to the standard product with each service update. Retail, manufacturing, distribution, public sector, finance, and IT are some of the industries where Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is used very frequently.
- Feature management: As part of a preview release, Microsoft releases some of the new features that are available only to targeted users. Features are added and updated in every release of Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations. The feature management experience provides a workspace where users can view a list of features that have been delivered in each release. By default, new features are turned off. Users can use the workspace to turn them on and view the documentation for them.
- Service updates: Microsoft has introduced the service update framework. With this framework, Microsoft has eliminated the tedious and painful task of upgrading the product every couple of years. Service updates enable customers to stay on top of newly coming updates to the product and adopt these updates easily through LCS. These service updates are continuous with new features and are released eight times per year. Customers may choose to get all eight of these service updates or just take the minimum required two service updates per year.
- Automated testing: Testing is a very big part of any product implementation. The same is true with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations; Microsoft has released the testing tool RSAT (short for Regression Suite Automation Tool), which can be used to automate the testing to reduce the cost for the UAT process. Users can create test cases and feed those test cases to RSAT to perform automated testing. By automating the testing process, customers can save a lot of time and effort that was previously taken in the past versions of the product.
In today's modern world, everyone is focusing on cloud solutions where you don't have to worry about the infrastructure and other on-premises deployment issues like in the past. Microsoft is no different, and lately, a lot of focus has been on providing a better solution to the customer, which can be sustainable and scalable using cloud technology.
Previous versions of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations used to be just on-premises, but with the evolution of cloud technology, it is also available with cloud deployment. Let's have a look at the following table:
Here, we see the comparison between cloud and on-premises deployment options for Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations has great capabilities that can be used to improve your business processes. Using the built-in features, you can see how the use of Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations can make the user's life easier doing daily tasks. Dynamic 365 for Finance and Operations comes with many capabilities, and the following are some of the latest and greatest:
- Dynamics 365 Finance capabilities:
- Use AI to drive important financial decisions.
- Use powerful workspaces for faster decision-making.
- Use automation for your financial processes to reduce operational expenses.
- Use powerful localization to meet global financial complexity.
- Use Power BI for better reporting and analytics.
- Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management capabilities:
- Use powerful lean and intelligent manufacturing features to improve manufacturing operations.
- Use IoT intelligence for production performance.
- Use asset management to better maintain the assets.
- Use advanced warehouse management with the latest improvements.
- Use automation to streamline your supply chain.
New customers or consultants who want to get familiar with Dynamics 365 applications can leverage the trial provided by Microsoft to explore Dynamics 365. To start the free trial, simply follow the link https://trials.dynamics.com/, choose an app to explore, provide your work email address, and get started. The following screenshot shows the trial sign-up experience currently available:
Depending on the application selected, you may have to provide additional details before the application can be provisioned for you. The trial application comes with guided experience and demo data to make it easy for new users to navigate, learn, and get familiar with the application.
Once you have seen the demo of the application and know that this will help to digitally transform your business, it is really important to build a team of smart people who will help you to make project implementation successful.
Implementing ERP systems takes a lot of effort, and it takes a team to successfully do it. The implementation team consists of people who know the business industry, are product experts, and have tons of experience implementing the product working along with the customer's own team. As a customer, it is your responsibility to select the right people, vendor, and product that fit your business need. In this section, we will talk about who should be part of your implementation team and how they can help you to succeed. Some of the important factors of the implementation team are discussed in the subsequent sections.
When you are implementing any Dynamics 365 production, you will need an implementation partner to help you with your digital transformation journey. Dynamics 365 implementation partners bring a lot of expertise in the area so you can be assured of successful implementation. Here are the two main reasons you would need an implementation partner:
- Product licenses: As a customer, you cannot directly buy the licenses from Microsoft. Microsoft has partnered with many companies that work in the Dynamics 365 domain and sell the Dynamics 365 product licenses to customers through these partners.
- Partner's expertise: To become a partner with Microsoft, companies have to prove to Microsoft that they have the expertise to implement the Dynamics 365 products. Partners are the first layer of support to the customer. Microsoft relies on the partner's expertise to help customers with the implementation and support.
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations comes with great features to support many businesses from different industry areas. Most of the time, 80% of the business need can be fit with out-of-box features provided within Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, but there are those 20% of the requirements for which you might need to either change the business process or do some enhancement to meet that need.
When these business requirements become very common within an industry, sometimes ISVs develop the vertical solution that sits on top of standard Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations. These ISV solutions are developed in such a way so it can be plug-and-play, which means as a customer/partner you wouldn't have to do much to implement these ISV solutions. Here are some examples of business areas that have ISV solutions:
- Sales tax
- EDI integration
- Multi-tier pricing
It is important to check for an ISV solution before you start on any big enhancement as there might already be a solution that may save you a lot of effort.
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations implementation is a team effort. This team is made of the customer, the partner, Microsoft, and ISV solutions providers. The team needs to work like a well-oiled machine to achieve a successful implementation.
Sometimes customers hire an experienced independent solution advisor to work with the implementation team. Normally, a solution advisor has done many ERP implementations across various industries, which comes in very handy during the solution designs. The solution advisor's role is to keep customers and partners honest and keep them on their toes by checking each and every step of the project.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of putting a good implementation team in place to make the implementation successful. Any decision taken during the implementation process can make a big difference, and a good implementation team can make sure you make good decisions.
In this very first chapter of this book, we started with learning about Microsoft Dynamics 365 and all of the different products that are part of it. We also briefly learned about all of the product offerings, different plans, buying, and trial options. Then, we shifted the focus to Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, which is the primary focus of this book, and we explored its history and key highlights.
In a nutshell, Dynamics 365 is a solution approach with a unified platform and data model. It's an end-to-end full -suite business application in the cloud. It's a win-win for customers, advisors, partners, and Microsoft, as they have enabled different channels of development, for example, drag-and-drop/wizard-like building capabilities for business users and analysts as well as pure development on Visual Studio, .NET, and BizTalk.
We look forward to Microsoft Dynamics 365 creating infinite possibilities and allowing organizations to leverage their finite resources and fixed timelines to be able to achieve more.
In the next chapter, we will start our journey of implementing Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations and learn about the implementation methodology and tools.