Customer Success with Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step

3.5 (2 reviews total)
By Chandru Shankar , Vincent Bellefroid , Nilesh Thakkar
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  1. Background and Concepts

About this book

Sure Step is a full lifecycle methodology to help you envision and deliver your Microsoft Dynamics solutions portfolio. Maximize your Microsoft Dynamics investments and increase your efficiency to select, sell, deliver, operate, and support your solution.

"Customer Success with Microsft Dynamics Sure Step" explains the architecture and content elements of the Sure Step methodology, enabling you to successfully envision and deliver your Microsoft Dynamics AX, CRM, GP, NAV, and SL solutions. Learn solution selling techniques and implementation lessons to successfully engage with and foster customers for life.

This book provides detailed coverage showing you how to use the methodology to successfully deliver Microsoft Dynamics solutions for your business. It explains the architecture and content elements that enable you to successfully envision and deliver your Microsoft Dynamics AX, CRM, GP, NAV, and SL solutions. As a solution provider, you will also learn solution selling techniques, and as a customer, you will learn how the methodology can help you select the right solution.

"Customer Success with Microsft Dynamics Sure Step" begins with a focus on envisioning the Microsoft Dynamics solution for the customer. It then describes how to deliver the promised solution in a timely, high-quality manner. Learn how the customer and solution provider work together to select the right solution to meet the organization’s needs. Learn how Sure Step helps improve the overall quality of your Microsoft Dynamics solution, including coverage of proactive and post go-live optimization offerings and a thorough explanation of how to upgrade your Dynamics solutions to the latest release of the products. Understand the essence of Dynamics projects and how to successfully deliver these business solutions, in addition to getting to grips with the project and change management disciplines and processes. You will also get guidance on adopting Sure Step if you are looking to develop a consistent set of processes in your organization.

If you are an experienced practitioner but new to the Microsoft Dynamics space, or just getting into ERP/CRM solutions, "Customer Success with Microsft Dynamics Sure Step" will arm you with resources to deliver business solutions that meet or exceed the expectations of your customers.

Publication date:
January 2014
Publisher
Packt
Pages
380
ISBN
9781849687027

 

Chapter 1. Background and Concepts

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at ERP systems (or any integrated application suite based on best-practice functionality) is that they are inflexible and don't support business change. Gartner finds that in too many cases any perceived inflexibility is due more to the way ERP applications have been purchased and deployed than to any inherent flaws in the technology.

Gartner, Inc., Jan 2012

The success of a business solution, and specifically Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, isn't solely about technology. Experience tells that it is as much about the people and processes as it is about the software. Software is only the enabler, with the key to success lying in developing an organizational solution strategy to fit the near-term and long-term goals of the company, matching the needs to appropriate solutions, and then managing the implementation to meet the set goals.

When organizations think of ERP and CRM systems, they typically think of core financials and bookkeeping functions or the basic customer contact management activities. While these systems certainly can and do support those functions, it is also important to understand the capabilities that the modern-day versions of these solutions are starting to provide to companies and their user base. These systems have evolved well beyond these basic foundations, encompassing multiple functional, departmental, and cross-functional needs of the organizations. Current generation business solutions are capable of providing composite applications that support areas including product engineering, sales force automation, marketing automation, customer care, sales order management, supplier relationship management, supply chain planning, order fulfillment and logistics, and after-sales service and support.

Given the wide range of capabilities that the modern-day systems offer, it is very important for organizations to be methodical in building a strategy and tailoring their approach to learning about the solution functionalities that are available and matching them to specific needs in specific areas of the company. One of the best research models in recent times to help organizations build a successful solution strategy is the Gartner Pace Layer Model. This chapter will introduce the reader to this model, and explain how it can help organizations investigating business systems for their needs.

Microsoft has always understood that its customers will achieve maximum value from their software investments only if the solution is a good fit to the customer requirements, and the solution is implemented to meet the needs of the users. With this vision in mind, Microsoft developed and introduced the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology, to help service providers correctly position and deploy the Microsoft Dynamics ERP/CRM suite of products—AX, CRM, GP, NAV, and SL. Sure Step is a vehicle that facilitates the partnership of consulting and customer resources, representing a very important triangulation of the collaboration between the software vendor, implementer, and customer, with the implementation methodology becoming a key element of the implemented application.

In this chapter, we will introduce the concepts and definitions used in this book, and lay the background for the ensuing chapters. We will also provide an overview of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, and the different aspects of the methodology that help both the implementer and the customer.

 

The business solutions market


The past few years has seen economic setbacks or relatively subdued activities in most economies around the world. However, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) organization, we started to see modest improvements in the third quarter of 2012, and they projected a global growth during 2013. Interestingly, the IMF noted that the "main sources of acceleration were emerging market economies, where activity picked up broadly as expected, and the United States, where growth surprised on the upside and financial conditions stabilized." The following diagram illustrates this aspect—the graph on the left is from Jan 2012, and the one on the right from Jan 2013:

Analysts quantify the 2013 ERP and CRM Business Solutions market as approaching $63 billion. There are a lot of zeros in that number, illustrating the market potential. And while the economies in many regions continue to have an effect on sales cycles, thereby dampening the adoption of these solutions, business solutions continue to be top-of-mind for business leaders in their quest to deliver value to their stakeholders.

In their 2012 CEO Survey, Gartner interviewed 200 CEO and Business Executives on their market expectations and priorities. When asked what new type of information will be the most disruptive in their industry in the next five years, Technology ranked number one, followed by Legal and regulatory, Sustainability and environmental, Consumer behavior, and Digital media metrics. For the question of which technology-enabled capabilities would be an important area of investment to improve their business over the next five years, CEOs listed the following as among their top priorities:

  • CRM

  • Data-driven management

  • E-commerce

  • Business process re-engineering

  • ERP

  • Collaboration and knowledge management

  • Cloud business

  • Social organization

  • Enterprise mobility

  • Enhanced business reporting

  • Sustainability

  • Dynamic business process management

  • Traceability and supply chain optimization

  • Product cost analytics

The top categories of information that CEOs wanted in order to manage their business better are listed as follows:

  • Customer intelligence

  • Intelligence on competitors

  • Sales information (pipeline/growth)

  • Regulatory information

  • Costs

  • Internal financial information and forecasts

  • Industry trends data

  • Workforce and productivity information

  • Economic data

  • Real-time data

  • Business better

  • Geographic market data

The IMF and Gartner analysis tell us is that the economic situation notwithstanding, business leaders continue to invest in technology as a means to improve their business profitability and standing. In the technology mix, business solutions including CRM and ERP continue to be among the top priorities for these leaders. So developing an appropriate solution strategy for the organization becomes a key part of the overall strategy, which we will discuss in the next section.

 

Building a solution strategy with pace layering


Michael Porter is one of the leading authors and thinkers on Business Strategy. Porter opines that operational effectiveness is not a strategy, and it is necessary but not sufficient. He states that:

the root of the problem is the failure to distinguish between operational effectiveness and strategy. The quest for productivity, quality, and speed has spawned a remarkable number of management tools and techniques: total quality management, benchmarking, time-based competition, outsourcing, partnering, reengineering, change management. Although the resulting operational improvements have often been dramatic, many companies have been frustrated by their inability to translate those gains into sustainable profitability. And bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, management tools have taken the place of strategy." He goes on to add that operational effectiveness "means performing similar activities better than rivals perform them. Operational effectiveness includes but is not limited to efficiency. ....In contrast, strategic positioning means performing different activities from rivals' or performing similar activities in different ways.

The well-acclaimed and recommended Gartner Pace Layer Model helps companies determine the appropriate solution strategy by decomposing the systems and solution suites corresponding to the rate of change in an organization. In its Pace Layer Model, Gartner categorizes systems along three categories:

  • Slowest pace of change—Systems of Record


  • Medium pace of change—Systems of Differentiation

  • Fastest pace of change—Systems of Innovation

The Gartner classification essentially determines the rate of change of the corresponding system in an organization, and accordingly makes recommendations on how to go about the evaluation and replacement process. A good way to understand the Pace Layer Model is to relate the system application architecture to the architecture and design of a building. The following diagram makes the correlation:

A building begins with the foundation. Once this is set, it is unlikely to be changed unless some major architectural needs surface. Similarly, the root of business solutions is the Administrative ERP systems, which support the company's finance and human resource needs. These Systems of Record are typically set and remain unchanged for twenty to thirty years, ongoing modifications to and maintenance of general ledgers and charts of accounts notwithstanding, of course. In his blog on Model-Driven Development and Pace Layering, Butti describes these as:

systems that support core transaction processing and manage the organization's critical master data. The rate of change is low, because the processes are well-established and common to most organizations, and often are subject to regulatory requirements.

Then you have the walls, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), Plumbing, Electrical, and other core aspects of the building which differentiate it from other buildings. These aspects of a building undergo faster transformation than the foundation. From an application architecture standpoint, these would be akin to Systems of Differentiation. This area encompasses the operational systems, including Supply Chain Management systems, Sales Force Automation systems, and Shop Floor Control systems. Organizations will seek new or updated systems as they encounter changes in their ecosystem, anywhere from every three to ten years. Butti describes these as:

Applications that enable unique company processes or industry-specific capabilities.

They need to be reconfigured frequently to accommodate changing business practices or customer requirements.

Lastly you see the interior decoration and furnishings in a building. The wall paint can be changed, or the furniture, paintings, pictures, and so on, can all be moved around on a regular basis. Similarly, the Systems of Innovation can require rapid updates, within a few months to a year. Social Commerce, and Business Intelligence and Reporting systems are among those that would require rapid changes to existing platforms. Butti alludes to these as:

New applications that are built on an ad hoc basis to address new business requirements or opportunities. These are typically short life cycle projects…using departmental or outside resources and consumer-grade technologies.

In his research article Applying Pace Layering to ERP Strategy, Nigel Raynor talks about how this approach can help reduce the dominance of ERP vendors in the organization's application strategy, and create a more differentiated business solution governance model. He also talks about how the pace-layered strategy can help organizations to decompose their application portfolio into smaller groups, thereby helping their business users to identify opportunities for differentiation and innovation.

The Pace Layer Model helps organizations to bridge the divide between business and IT groups. Business users clamor for modern systems that are easy to use and deploy, and meet a specific set of requirements. IT Departments on the other hand, have a more strategic objective to manage a limited set of applications, to minimize integration and system management costs. The Pace Layer Model helps companies to build a strategy that caters to the needs of the business for differentiated and innovative systems, while also meeting IT team goals of secure systems that support core business processes.

 

The two-tier approach, cloud computing, and workloads


The Gartner Pace Layer Model advocates the adoption of appropriate systems for the corresponding organizational needs. Gartner, and many other analysts, are now touting the need for companies to build a more agile strategy for their application portfolio, to give them the flexibility to quickly adapt to changing conditions in their ecosystem. In as much, the old mantra of a single instance business system to encompass all the aspects of an organization is no longer relevant or feasible in these modern times.

There is now a growing prominence of the two-tier approach to designing the application strategy and deploying it in the organization. The two-tier approach is typically composed of two solutions; one solution supporting the administrative corporate functions of an organization, including Finance and Human Resources, and the second solution supporting the operating functions of the organization, from product engineering to sales and procurement, order fulfillment, maintenance and after-sales service. Typically, organizations that have made large investments in legacy systems find this as a way to protect those investments, while still being able to modernize the applications in their operations and providing much-needed user flexibility and access to important information.

In the research article, Two-tier Strategy a Way to 'Reinvigorate' ERP, author Drew Robb talks about the benefits of Two-Tier strategy, and why companies are increasingly adopting it. The article quotes one of the CEOs as saying:

I've not come across a single enterprise running globally on a single instance of SAP. It does not exist. It's never in the single digits, the instances running. The best case scenario, it's in the dozens.

Aberdeen Group puts the number of companies considering two-tier at 25 percent, while Constellation Research has found 48 percent of organizations considering it in their research. Aberdeen, however, also notes that they expect the number to rise. Regardless of the actual number, it is evident that this is an increasingly popular strategy among companies.

The article touts the following scenarios as being suitable for the two-tier strategy:

  • A business with a very specific local focus—single-site or multi-site within a single country or region—so there is less need for multicurrency or multilingual support

  • A business with operations geared strongly toward a specific industry, perhaps a vertical that doesn't feature strongly at corporate headquarters or elsewhere within the organization

  • A newly-acquired operation with a mismatch of multiple outdated, unsupported ERPs in need of a single SMB or mid-market ERP

  • A start-up or small subsidiary with no formal ERP in place where the enterprise is eager to use a second-tier ERP to impose business rigor

  • A small operation at the second-tier that doesn't warrant the use of enterprise ERP software, but down the road as the operation grows, it may be brought more into the corporate fold

It may be also interesting to note that the Two-Tiered approach is gaining even more prominence with the advent of the Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models. With SaaS, the SaaS provider almost entirely manages the solution, and users have minimal or no access to, nor a need for, the technical infrastructure. More and more providers, including Microsoft, are giving customers both online and on-premises options for end-to-end or specific point solutions, thereby allowing the customers to be able to leverage the Two-Tier approach as a means to gradually shift their technology to the cloud. Companies can either chose to move to the cloud the applications to support one or more of their subsidiaries, or they may choose to move a specific function such as Expense Reporting or Indirect Procurement, to the cloud.

To enable this approach, companies such as Microsoft are touting the ability to implement the solution in Workloads. A workload can be an individual business process such as expense management, or can constitute multiple business processes within a function such as supplier relationship management, supply chain management, human capital management, or sales, marketing, or customer service. In as much, a workload can encompass both ERP and CRM workloads. A workload can also address the operational requirements of a vertical function of an organization, such as its manufacturing or retail operations. Essentially, the workload approach decomposes the system into multiple blocks, allowing companies to select those blocks that specifically fit their needs, and also giving them the ability to sequence the deployment of the blocks in a timeline that is most appropriate to their immediate and long-term business goals and user needs. The workload approach also enables shorter and less expensive implementation cycles.

The following diagram illustrates the Microsoft Dynamics workloads approach. This model was presented to customers and partners at the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence 2013 event in March, and is also depicted in the Dynamics Business 2.0 Vision paper.

As we can see from the following diagram, Microsoft categorizes its workload in three tiers—the Administrative Core for the corporate functions, Horizontal Operational Workloads that apply to multiple industries and can be tailored specifically to any of them, and Industry Operational Workloads that encompass the business processes for a specific vertical area such as Distribution or Manufacturing.

 

The importance of a methodology


The use of a consistent methodology is quintessential for the success of the project of the customer. A predictable and reliable methodology is also important for the service provider implementing the solution for the customer. This is especially true for CRM and ERP solution deployments, the duration of which can range from multiple months to multiple years depending on the scope of the implementation, and where the delivery team often comprises of multiple individuals, from the service provider to the customer. In these engagements, a methodology provides a unified taxonomy so that all the individuals work off the same sheet of music, so to speak.

Methodology can be defined as one of the following:

  • The methods, rules, and hypothesis employed by, and the theory behind a given discipline

  • The systematic study of the methods and processes applied within the discipline over time.

Methodology can also be described as a collection of theories, concepts, and processes pertaining to a specific discipline or field. Rather than just a compilation of methods, methodology refers to the scientific method and the rationale behind it, as well as the assumptions underlying the definitions and components of the method.

These definitions provide the constructs for architecting, designing, and building a methodology, including one that is attuned to the delivery of CRM and ERP business solutions. For CRM and ERP solutions, a viable methodology should provide the users the workflows and processes, and it should also provide a connection to the various disciplines and roles that are involved in the execution of the project with the methodology. It should provide flexibility with detailed guidance and assumptions for each of the activities, giving the users the ability to cater the methodology to the corresponding engagement by employing all or only relevant aspects of the methodology.

A sustainable approach provides more than just a set of processes for solution deployment. For the service provider, a viable methodology can provide:

  • End-to-end process flows for solution development and deployment, creating a repeatable process that facilitates excellence in execution

  • Ability to link shell and sample templates, reference architecture, and other similar documentation to key activities

  • A structure for creating an effective Knowledge Management (KM) system, facilitating easier harvesting, storing, retrieval, and reuse of content created by the field on customer engagements

  • Ability to develop a rational structure for the training of the consulting team members, including a ramp-up of new employees

  • Ability to align the quality assurance approach to the deployment process— important in organizations that use an independent QA process as oversight for consulting efforts

  • Ability to develop a structured estimation process for solution development and deployment

  • Creation of a structure for project scope control and management, and a process for early risk identification and mediation

For the customer, a viable methodology can provide:

  • Clear end-to-end process flows for solution development that can be followed by the customer's key users and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assigned to the project

  • Consistent terminology and taxonomy, especially where the SMEs may not have had prior experience with implementing systems of such magnitude, thus making it easier for everybody to be on the same page

  • Ability to develop a good Knowledge Management system to capture lessons learned for future projects/upgrades

  • Ability to develop a rational structure and documentation for end user training and new employee ramp-ups

  • Creation of a structure for ensuring that the project stays within scope, including a process for early risk identification and mediation

A methodology that includes the aspects and features noted above can prove beneficial to both the service provider and the customer. The benefits for the service providers include:

  • Better alignment of the consulting teams with the sales teams

  • A more scientific deal management and approval process that takes into account the potential risks

  • Better processes to facilitate the transfer of customer knowledge, ascertained during the sales cycle, to the solution delivery team

  • Ability to show the customer how the service provider has "done it before" and effectively establish trust that they can deliver the envisioned solution

  • Clear illustration of the business value of the solution to the customer

  • Ability to integrate multiple software packages into an overall solution for the customer

  • Ability to deliver the solution as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within established budget

The benefits for the customers include:

  • Ability to understand and articulate the business value of the solution to all stakeholders in the organization

  • Ensuring that there is a clear solution blueprint established

  • Ensuring that the solution is delivered as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within the established budget

  • Ensuring an overall solution that can integrate multiple software packages

In summary, a good methodology creates a better overall ecosystem for the organizations. The points noted here are just some of the benefits observed in organizations; as you leverage methodologies in your own organization, you may realize other benefits as well.

 

The importance of a methodology for solution selection


Business solutions delivery generally, and CRM and ERP consulting specifically, is very different from deploying other solutions such as an e-mail system. E-mail communications are undoubtedly important for companies, although in today's environment the social aspect seems to be just as important for intra-office communications. Yet, a company could certainly function for a foreseeable period without e-mails—people may actually have to resort to what now seems to be an archaic form of communication and pick up a phone to talk to other parties. As humorous as it may seem, it wouldn't be far from reality, and some employees would argue that their efficiencies may actually increase during that e-mail downtime as they are actually able to focus on their core job requirements.

In contrast to infrastructure solutions, CRM and ERP systems often form the backbone of the company. These systems support core functions such as quote-to-order entry, order fulfillment, receipts and payments, HR and payroll, inventory management, distribution/production planning, demand forecasting, and sales pipeline management, among other things. A company would be crippled if these systems were down for a long period of time. This is why CRM and ERP systems are typically perceived as mission-critical systems, while infrastructure systems are most often seen as business-critical systems.

From a solution delivery perspective, CRM and ERP engagements are also considerably different compared to an infrastructure project. The following illustration depicts some of the products in the Microsoft portfolio. As you go from left to right in this spectrum, the projected solution delivery effort as well as configuration, customizations, and complexity increase exponentially as shown in the following diagram:

The key point in this graphical representation is that CRM and ERP solutions require specific configurations and customizations that are far more than the typical infrastructure solutions. When you think of how these solutions are applied to multiple functions of organizations in many different industries and verticals, this is understandable. As the customization need increases, so does the effort and complexity. This is not to say that all infrastructure projects will be straight off-the-shelf solutions, or that all CRM and ERP projects will be highly customized solutions. Any solution will have a range of complexity, from a quick, rapid deployment, to a longer, complex solution development and deployment. The point of emphasis is that this greater complexity implies a greater need for having an implementation methodology that ensures appropriate project and quality management during the solution delivery process. This in essence is what Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step delivers, which we will introduce in the next section.

As we noted earlier, CRM and ERP solutions often support the key business functions of an organization. Hence customers take a long time to do the necessary due diligence before selecting the right solution to meet their needs. Given this criticality, if a methodology not just helps in the solution delivery life cycle, but also goes beyond that to help customers with their selection process, such a method can be of the utmost value to the customer. This is important from the sellers' perspective as well—given the criticality, customers go through the due diligence in selecting their solution provider or implementer as they do on the business application itself. If the solution provider offers to the customers a methodology that will help them select the right solution to meet their needs and then deliver the envisioned solution, the customers will certainly be more willing to build a long-term relationship with that partner.

During the solution selection/due diligence process, Sure Step guides the customer through their requirements gathering process, including ascertaining their current ("as-is") processes and determining their future ("to-be") processes. Then the customer is able to establish how each of the requirements fits within the proposed solution. Additionally, the customer is able to determine the necessary infrastructure components (hardware and any third-party software), as well as the release schedule (overall plan with resource needs from both the consulting and customer organization). The key output of the due diligence phase is a solution blueprint that articulates the proposed solution for the customer, as well as a statement of work that explains how the solution blueprint will be executed.

 

Introducing Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step


In the previous section, we discussed the criticality of having a solid approach for selecting and deploying CRM and ERP solutions. Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step provides the users just that—for both customers and service providers. We will introduce Sure Step in this section, and in the rest of the book will talk about how it is designed to deliver on these promises to an organization.

Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step is a complete customer life cycle methodology for all Microsoft Dynamics solutions. It provides service providers with comprehensive sales through delivery guidance, project management discipline alignment, and field-driven best practices, while facilitating the due diligence process and a high-quality solution delivery for the customer.

The first release of Sure Step was launched in 2007, and since then Sure Step has evolved to meet the demands of the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem. Existing workflows have been modified and streamlined and new ones introduced. The methodology has also been expanded into a full life cycle methodology that includes the customer's due diligence life cycle as a precursor to the solution delivery process. Also, more content is being made available to the users, with the current release providing over a thousand content pieces, from guidance pages to templates to general project management libraries. The following are the key characteristics of Sure Step, including some of the highlights of the Sure Step 2013 release.

Using six phases, Sure Step covers not only delivery, but also solution positioning and selling. The first phase, Diagnostic, provides guidance and content for service providers to help customers with their due diligence process in selecting the right solution to meet their needs. The remaining phases, Analysis, Design, Development, Deployment, and Operation, provide workflows and content for solution delivery.

Sure Step provides coverage for the entire Microsoft Dynamics solutions suite—Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL. The recent Sure Step releases also extend the general coverage of this content into specific industry and cross-industry solution areas.

Sure Step provides a very flexible approach for delivering the solution, with both waterfall and iterative approaches. The Standard, Rapid, and Enterprise are waterfall project types that scale up or down to match the customer engagement, and the Upgrade project type is also a waterfall approach that caters specifically to upgrading an existing solution. Sure Step also provides the Agile project type for those engagements that lend themselves to an iterative solution delivery approach.

The project types in Sure Step feature a structure that breaks down each engagement into cross phases or swim lanes. The Sure Step cross phases are Program Management, Training, Business Process Analysis, Requirements and Configuration, Custom Coding, Quality and Testing, Infrastructure, Integration and Interfaces, and Data Migration. These cross phases provide users with a functional pivot of the activities or steps for delivering that corresponding area of the solution.

Sure Step includes coverage of the Optimization Offerings for a Microsoft Dynamics engagement. These offerings include proactive quality assurance reviews during the course of the implementation, as well as post Go-Live reviews to help with the ongoing maintenance of the system that has been operational for a period of time.

Other Sure Step features include key process guidance encompassing project management and organizational change management disciplines, as well as the typical roles involved in an engagement, both from the consulting organization and the customer organization. The Sure Step application also gives users the ability to create projects with the initial templates in appropriate folders, either on their local machine or on a SharePoint server to aid with collaboration efforts across multiple project teams.

Sure Step can be accessed in two ways:

  • The traditional option is the Sure Step Client, which can be downloaded to the user's machine of choice, and affords the users access to the guidance, tools, and templates in the offline mode.

  • The second option is a more recent addition—Sure Step Online. Users need to have Internet connectivity to leverage this access option, but the benefit is that they can get access to quicker updates from the Sure Step team, while the Sure Step Client may be refreshed on a less frequent cadence.

 

Microsoft Dynamics overview


As discussed in the previous section, Sure Step covers the entire Microsoft Dynamics portfolio of solutions. In this section, we will provide an overview of those solutions, which is mainly intended to be a quick reference, or a starting point for those readers who may not be familiar with all the solutions in the portfolio.

Microsoft Dynamics is Microsoft's line of business management solutions that provide Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management capabilities. The portfolio includes four ERP solutions, which were brought about by acquisition, and one CRM solution, the development of which was initiated in Microsoft.

Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly known as Great Plains), and Microsoft Dynamics SL (formerly known as Solomon), were both acquired in 2001 from Great Plains Software, based in Fargo, North Dakota, USA. Great Plains developed a mid-market business accounting software package popular in North America, while Solomon provided an ERP system with project management and project accounting functionality. Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly known as Axapta), and Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly known as Navision), were both acquired in 2002 from Navision A/S, a company based in Denmark. Axapta and Navision were popular ERP solutions, especially for manufacturing and distribution midmarket companies in Europe. These ERP systems became the starting point for a new division in Microsoft called Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), with Microsoft CRM added to the MBS portfolio. Microsoft CRM was primarily homegrown as noted earlier, and had its first launch (Version 1.0) in 2003.

In 2005, Microsoft rebranded the products and created a suite of business solutions called Microsoft Dynamics. Four ERP solutions—Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL, and one CRM solution—Microsoft Dynamics CRM, constitute this suite. Microsoft SQL Server is the database technology used for the entire suite.

The following diagram depicts the timeline:

The Microsoft Dynamics solutions have been designed to be familiar to users, work easily with the existing systems that customers have already deployed, empower people and teams to be productive, and help organizations drive business success. The ERP suite provides functionality to help business in the areas of financial planning and accounting, product engineering and data management, supplier relationship and procurement, supply chain, production, distribution and logistics, project accounting, field service, and human resources processes. The CRM solution allows companies to streamline the way their employees communicate and collaborate with their customers with features for sales force automation, customer service, and marketing.

Microsoft Dynamics AX is a business solution for global enterprises that supports industry-specific and operational business processes, along with comprehensive, core ERP functionality for financial and human resources management.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps reduce costs and increases profitability by organizing and automating business processes that nurture customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL are business solutions for small and midsize businesses that deliver out of the box business management functionality.

In addition to the comprehensive Microsoft Dynamics solution suite, Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partners offer a number of integrated, specialized solutions that address specialized industry and deeper functionality needs.

 

Understanding what a project is


It seems like a simple question, but have we ever thought about what is essential to our business? Before we can start strategizing on how to manage and sell projects, we need to understand what a project is and, even more important, what it is not.

Most people respond to the question by talking about activities, planning, meetings, due dates, documents, people, and objectives. This is how many of us think of a project, but can we call all engagements where people try to reach objectives by means of planned activities projects? The answer is, probably not. For example, in the production plants of automotive companies, people realize objectives and collaborate on planned activities, but we wouldn't classify those as projects.

Before we can speak about a project, we need to be certain about the unique and temporary character of our endeavor. Projects are temporary by definition, as they have well-defined start and end dates. Most of us are well-informed about the start date of our project; the end date can be more of a worry and is often confused with the Go-Live date of the brand new software solution. Projects are also unique by nature—not only because they produce unique deliverables, but also because the context for the execution is unique. Unique can mean that it has never been done before, or maybe it has been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in the same way. Therefore, no two projects, by definition, can be the same.

In most of the definitions of a project that we can find in literature, these key elements are well absorbed.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project as:

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project's objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

By implementing Microsoft Dynamics solutions, we implement ERP or CRM software functionalities, and from a product's point of view, many of these implementations are lookalikes. Then what makes these implementations unique?

Although we are implementing typical ERP or CRM functionalities, we need to implement unique business requirements for each customer. Every customer has unique demands for specific deliverables such as internal reports and customized functionality, matching their unique organization of the business processes. But even more important to note is the fact that people make these implementations unique. Implementing the solution in a customer context is always unique because we are always working with different people. They always have a different background, knowledge level, expectations, goals, and their own unique way of working. We also work with changing consulting implementation teams, based on the availability of our consultants, resulting in a unique context. So yes, the Microsoft Dynamics implementations are projects because they are unique and they are meant to be temporary. We always need to deliver our projects in a limited timeframe and no two engagements are the same. However, this involves a lot of uncertainty and so our Microsoft Dynamics engagements are characterized by uncertainty going hand in hand with risk (in ISO 31000:2009 risk is defined as the effect of uncertainty on objectives).

Now that we have understood what a project is, we also need to understand what it is not. Projects are not ongoing and repetitive; projects are not operations. Businesses driven by ongoing repetitive processes carry less risk because the context is much more controlled. In our projects, we do not have such controlled environments. We may know some of our key users, but we may not know all the key and end users of the system, and we also don't know how familiar they may be with business processes and business solutions. We do not know how well they communicate and how they perform in teams. There is so much that we don't know when planning a new engagement.

What matters is to be aware of these risks and to be aware that the business we are in is completely different as compared to an operations-driven business. Only then we can really start strategizing on how to manage and sell projects. Therefore, we should review our future proposals and plans, bearing in mind that we are planning for a project, which ultimately means planning for risks. We should plan how well these plans and strategies are covering the uncertainties.

Most definitions of a project include these elements of the unique and temporary character but do not specifically address them. The following are also a few other questions that need to be answered:

  • Isn't it equally important to gain an understanding of the contractual and commercial matters?

  • Are we delivering the projects?

  • How are we involved in projects?

  • Do we have project responsibility?

  • Do we carry the project risks and to what extent?

The answers to these questions prescribe and justify how we will sell and manage our projects. Just outsourcing resources to carry out project tasks does not call for the same management as carrying all project risks in a fixed-price project.

 

Implementing the solution


Ask a software vendor for their definition of a business solution and you may receive answers focusing on functionalities designed to help automate business processes, empowering every aspect of the business, and ultimately accelerating an organization's success. Words such as insight, efficiency, flexibility, cost reduction, responsiveness, and many more are used to illustrate proven returns on investment.

But what answers would you get when you pose the same questions to the customers? Customer responses typically tend to be less certain and quite inconsistent. Most decision makers do have their own reasons about why they want to have a software solution in their organization. What they want to achieve is related to the unique history of that company, their incomparable way of doing things, and the industry sector to which they belong. Their objectives also have a direct link with the company's business plan and strategic objectives. This means a customer's definition of a business solution is never universal but always specific.

Although business solutions are designed to achieve the same results within organizations, customers usually seek very specific solutions for resolving their unique problems and supporting the business challenges as envisioned by them. No matter how rich the functionality of the solution is, unique customer expectations cannot just be delivered off the shelf. This gap needs to be bridged by the implementation process.

One might think that implementing business solutions in small and mid-sized companies is less complex compared to the large-scale implementations in big corporations. Be careful not to jump to conclusions here. In general, business processes may be less standardized in smaller businesses. But you are bound to find a rich and interesting variety of procedures representing their unique way of doing things. This makes the need for a unique business solution even greater and demands a streamlined implementation process.

By now, you will have understood that the implementation process is a key part of the overall solution. But before you march into your customer's premises to start implementing, it would be wise to give some thought to the meaning of all this for your customer. Imagine yourself in your customer's situation and don't take things for granted. How will your implementation strategy affect this organization? Can they conceive what an implementation process is, and even more important, what added value does it mean for them? Are they aware of the risks, and do they know that it needs both parties to work together to implement a project successfully? Are they aware what their role would be?

Business solution implementations are rife with challenges. Even consultants who have been delivering these solutions for a number of years run into issues on projects that they may not have previously encountered. No matter the years of training and shadowing experienced colleagues, unique challenges are bound to come up. Having this in mind, it is not surprising that our customers sometimes cannot estimate the level of effort that they need to put into this implementation and are not aware of the importance of their involvement. It is then important for the consulting teams to make sure the customer understands their expectations in the overall solution delivery process.

 

ERP and CRM implementations and statistics


Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) is a research organization that has several publications on ERP and CRM solutions. In their research whitepaper titled 5 Best Practices for Ensuring a Smooth Software Implementation, they bring up some key points for the customer's implementation team. The highlighted best practices are: Proper Planning, Continuous Monitoring, Updating your Stakeholders, Preventing Scope Creep, and Negotiating Additional Products or Services.

Management buy-in is also considered one of the keys to successful implementations. TEC believes that it is essential for corporate management to be actively involved in the system selection decision by naming an executive sponsor who participates and provides the necessary support for the project. A senior management sponsor to champion the expected organizational change is highlighted as "a critical, must-have step" for successful implementations.

Ensuring the participation of a cross-functional team is another key to success noted by TEC. A team comprised of all the functional divisions and management levels within the organization facilitates active ownership of the project by the entire user community. This also ensures that the implementation team will be able to reflect the requirements of the users, thereby maximizing the value delivered by the solution.

These are good points for the customer team to keep in mind so that they understand their responsibilities for implementing the solution. As the statistics below will illustrate, teams that ignore these lessons do so at their own peril.

Over the years, reports on CRM and ERP implementations typically highlight the existence of gaps between customer expectations and actual results. Studies also pointed out that time and cost performance still remain points on contention between the customer and service provider. It is important to be careful while interpreting these statistics. It is important to understand what the studies are measuring, the different types of respondents, and their methodological approach, before relating their findings to your own organization.

One of the most popular reports to showcase failure of software development was the 1994 Standish's Chaos Report. The Standish Chaos Report shocked the industry, when it reported a 16 percent success factor on software development projects. The same report called 53 percent of the projects to be challenged on implementation, and 31 percent to have failed. Although considered to be controversial, this report managed to attract worldwide attention for solution delivery issues.

Several years later we still have Chaos Reports, but now we have many other studies as well. The 2009 statistics of the Chaos Report showed 32 percent success, 24 percent failure, and 44 percent projects to be challenged. According to a Panorama Consulting 2011 study on ERP implementations:

54 percent of companies said their ERP projects took longer than expected and 56 percent spent more than expected.

Compared to their previous year's study, the statistic actually showed improvement—70 percent of projects reported taking longer the previous year. The study found that 43 percent of the companies that exceed their expected budgets:

Mentioned a lack of project controls and unrealistic expectations. They also tend to focus on software-related costs while neglecting the costs associated with managing organizational change.

Regardless of the statistics, pretty much all of the studies conclude that we have an opportunity for improvement as most of our ERP and CRM projects take longer and cost more than expected. They are good to bear in mind when undertaking ERP and CRM projects, and planning accordingly. Organizations should learn from failed and challenged projects, and the stakeholders involved in the solution implementations should use them as input for continuous improvement efforts.

It also seems easy to transfer the responsibility for all failed implementations to the service provider. But as we have noted in the previous sections, a solution is made up of many components, including the product (software vendor), the service provider, and the user of the solution (the customer). While it might be easy to blame the implementer for all failures, it is not entirely justifiable. It is not uncommon for instance, to see customer politics and organizational inefficiencies impeding their own projects.

Microsoft's own research into customer escalations of Microsoft Dynamics engagements has shown that almost half of the escalations were due to implementation issues. Further research indicated factors such as lack of formal processes within the teams, communication issues, and scope management, corroborating the need for a good methodology for solution delivery.

Many factors decide whether or not a customer perceives a project as successful. Time and cost are two of the most important criteria, but there is another parameter that is important but ignored sometimes—business value. Recent studies allege that ERP/CRM implementations under-deliver business value, and the organizational changes of the solution are reported as ineffectively managed. This again underscores the need for a good delivery process, one that begins with the organization clearly determining success factors for a project before undertaking it. For instance, Microsoft Services requires an understanding of the Conditions of Satisfaction (COS) to be noted within the Project Charter or similar project documentation, and signed off by the customer at the outset of the engagement. COS can be excellent measures of project success, but the key to measuring this is to clearly establish:

  • Baseline metrics—the values that exist before the project is initiated

  • Projected metrics—the goals for the engagement

When baseline metrics are established upfront, project metrics are measured after the engagement; the teams can clearly determine the success or failure of the project.

Nucleus Research released a guidebook titled Maximizing success delivering Microsoft Dynamics, in 2009, which still provides valuable reference points. According to the guidebook:

When deployed properly, Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM solutions can deliver significant returns to customers — however, that is often dependent on selecting a partner that can deliver the project on time and on budget with minimal changes from the initial project scope and planning.

Nucleus also noted that:

While a structured implementation methodology delivers the greatest success for Microsoft partners, partners also needed to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of customers and to evolve over time as business dynamics changed…Structured methodologies like Sure Step can help partners balance their approach to diagnosing, implementing, and optimizing solutions for customers. The skills and guidance of implementation partners are a key factor in Microsoft Dynamics's customer success, and those that are most successful have moved beyond ad-hoc diagnostic, communication, and project management to follow a more structured implementation approach such as Sure Step. They reap the benefits through improved communication, greater customer satisfaction, and ultimately through greater profitability and growth.

 

Summary


This chapter serves as an introduction to the rest of the book. We began with a discussion of the needs and priorities of the business solutions market. We then explained how, depending on the usage scenario, CRM and ERP solutions can be mission critical to the customer organizations. This criticality underscores the need for a dependable approach for selecting the right solution to meet the customer's needs, a method that builds on the knowledge gained in the envisioning stage to deliver a solution that meets the requirements. We also introduced Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step as a methodology that has been designed to fulfill these needs.

The chapter also includes a brief overview of the Microsoft Dynamics solution portfolio. We also introduced the notion of a project within the business solution arena, and discussed implementing these solutions and lessons learned from past implementations.

The next chapter covers the body of knowledge behind solution selling and how it aligns well with the customer's due diligence process. We will illustrate the benefits of this approach for both the service provider and the customer.

About the Authors

  • Chandru Shankar

    Chandru Shankar is the Manufacturing Industry Director, EMEA, MBS. He is responsible for Microsoft Dynamics AX and CRM solutions sales to manufacturing businesses as well as the ongoing success of these customers. Prior to his current role, Chandru was the Dynamics Solutions Director for Microsoft Services, responsible for AX and CRM Dynamics solutions and offerings for WW MCS. Chandru is also the architect of the Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology for solution envisioning and delivery. He has previously co-authored the book, Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step 2010,  Packt Publishing , January 2011.

    Chandru has several years of consulting experience in Supply Chain and business solutions, as well as manufacturing industry experience. Chandru has also functioned as adjunct faculty for a major university in the U.S., where he has covered topics including supply chain/e-business design and strategy and architecture for MBA students and company executives. He has spoken at multiple internal and external conferences over the years as well as conducted training programs around the world.

    Chandru has a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical-Production Engineering, a Master's degree in Industrial Management, and a Master's in Business Administration (MBA).

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  • Vincent Bellefroid

    Vincent Bellefroid is the founder and co-owner of Plataan, an independent training and consultancy bureau specialized in Microsoft Dynamics and Project Management, and a Certified Partner of Microsoft. Vincent is an experienced implementation consultant and an expert in the project management domain. Vincent has worked with numerous customer and partner organizations, including global SI's while working for global consulting organizations such as Deloitte. Building upon his distinguished ERP implementation and project management career, Vincent is now responsible for Project Management and Quality Control at Plataan.

    Vincent was one of the early adopters of Sure Step in Europe and has been evangelizing the true value of Sure Step ever since. He has conducted multiple Sure Step training sessions, while helping the Microsoft Sure Step team develop the training materials and courseware. Vincent also guides Microsoft Dynamics partners through the certification and adoption process of Sure Step.

    Vincent collaborated with Microsoft for the certification exams and delivered EMEA, APAC, and US Sure Step train the trainer  sessions for Microsoft.

    Vincent is an author on the book Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step 2010 by  Packt Publishing, and teaches Project Management at Leuven University College in Belgium. Vincent is also a public speaker having delivered sessions at Convergence EMEA, Directions, and various community events.

    You can find Vincent and Plataan at:

    • www.plataan.be
    • https://www.facebook.com/PlataanAlumni
    • @PlataanAlumni

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  • Nilesh Thakkar

    Nilesh Thakkar has over 15 years of ERP and CRM knowledge with expertise across Dynamics GP, NAV, AX, and CRM. He has successfully implemented Dynamics products in many countries in a variety of industries, including supply chain, healthcare, media and publishing, hospitality/restaurants, and non profit.

    Nilesh is a Senior Program Manager for Microsoft Dynamics. He is currently responsible for the release management of Dynamics Sure Step and Dynamics GP, most recently orchestrating the launch of Sure Step Online, moving Sure Step to a cloud-based solution.

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