Microsoft has settled into a schedule of providing significant enhancements to Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) every six months, so all of us who use the product must adapt to being in a constant state of adopting new features and preparing for the next upgrade.  Microsoft is investing heavily in development of Dynamics, and pouring the fruits of research and development such as artificial intelligence and analytics into the product.

The question for my clients is how to get the most out of this cycle of constant integration.  They want to know how much an upgrade will cost and how long it will take.  Here are some considerations that may help you make the best trade-offs for your organization.

I divide upgrades into three types of changes.   The easiest are improvements in performance or changes in the user interface that require no action on our part.  If forms or reports run faster, or Microsoft adds a new item to a toolbar, these improve the product without asking for a trade-off.  The only task it may require is for us to update user documentation or training materials when the screens change significantly enough to merit the update.

The second category is what I call negative changes -- when deprecation of an old feature causes our solution to break.  Microsoft has a pattern for this which involves early warning, so we usually have two or more versions which have backward compatibility before a feature is turned off or changed for good.  This post is a good example of Microsoft announcing feature deprecation, including the Outlook add-in, dialogs, mailmerge, Parature knowledgebase, and over two dozen APIs.  This kind of change is the reason that you must read the release notes as soon as they are published.  You have choices to make on when to replace deprecated features.  Sometimes Microsoft has announced the end of a product or feature only to extend it later, so bolder customers can wait until the last minute and hope for a reprieve, but I do not endorse this approach.

The most interesting category is improvements which allow you to enhance your solution, but that require action on your part. For instance, when Microsoft adds new apps such as Dynamics Project Service or Field Service, you may want to activate some of the features that they contain and have your users take advantage of these features.  In some cases they may replace customizations that you created before they were available, so you will need to migrate data and train end users.  Each version contains hundreds of new features, and offer many opportunities to take Dynamics to new heights.  Would you like to add artificial intelligence to analyze your client interactions? A chat bot to supplement live chat?

We recommend that you create a roadmap for your Dynamics solution and roll out new features over time rather than assume that your solution will remain static.  Users will come up with new requirements, new ways of accomplishing their work, and Microsoft will serve up new features that you will want to use.

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