This blog will review the highlights from 2021 in the Microsoft Business Applications space, looking at some of the most exciting new features and products to come to market, as well as looking forward to what 2022 has to offer.
As is now the norm, there were two major Dynamics 365 and Power Platform releases in 2021 Waves 1 and 2. Wave 1 comes in April and Wave 2 in October, more on that to follow.
At a high level, the Dynamics 365 2021 Wave 1 release, focused on the following areas:
- Updates here were focused on improving personalisation capabilities, insights, analytics and adding additional channels to engage prospects and customers.
- We saw a large increase in demand for Dynamics Marketing in 2021, delivering numerous deployments to customers already using different marketing tools and others with new marketing requirements.
- The native integration with the rest of Dynamics 365 and therefore the removal of the need to integrate a manual list, made Dynamics 365 Marketing an easy decision for many customers. This, combined with the 50% discount on pricing for customers, with 10 or more existing Dynamics 365 licenses, increased demand in 2021.
- Major updates around Sales Insights and the Mobile app ensured productivity. AI based intelligence was also at the heart of developments in 2021.
- We saw many existing Dynamics 365 Sales customers adopting Dynamics 365 Sales Insights (bundled together as Dynamics 365 Sales Premium) in 2021, taking advantage of cutting-edge new features such as Call Intelligence, AI based Lead and Opportunity Scoring and automation of processes and record assignment with Segments and Sequences.
- The Dynamics 365 Omnichannel Customer Service saw some major improvements in this wave of updates, including topic clustering across all channels, enhanced supervisor experiences and embedded analytics. AI enabled suggestions for matching cases and knowledge articles also added large productivity gains.
- Across our customer base, the use of integrated chat, including the use of Power Virtual Agents chat bots, saw a marked increase. This facilitated remote customer service teams, thus enabling great customer service, even during challenging working conditions.
- Wave 1 recorded the preview of a much requested feature within Dynamics 365 Field Service, the ability for customers to self-serve, through scheduling their own Work Orders through an off the shelf, customisable portal experience.
- Also added was the ability to track engineer, with customisable notifications available throughout the lifecycle of a work order and the ability to track engineers on a map, increasing Dynamics 365 Field Service’s ability to compete with established field service solutions in the marketplace whilst still offering the major advantage of running on the same business applications platform, and database, as the rest of our customers’ line of business applications from marketing through to finance.
- Despite being promised in the 2021 Wave 1 update, the ability to upgrade from Project Service Automation to Project Operations, this is still not available. It looks like it will be 2022 Wave 1, before the preview becomes available for most customers.
- Despite this, we have worked on a number of greenfield implementations of Dynamics 365 Project Operations in 2021, enabling our customers to sell, plan and deliver projects in an integrated, modern environment.
- The Power Platform, Microsoft’s set of low code application development tools, continues to evolve at an incredible pace. 2021 saw major developments across all the components; Power BI, Power Apps, AI Builder, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents.
- Some of the highlights for us and our customers were the addition of extra capabilities to the Unified Interface in Power Apps, all but finalising the transition from the old UI, additional capabilities in the new Maker Portal, driving modern app development, and the new Process Advisor tools, allowing customers to capture insights into how people work within their organisations and identify areas for process improvement and automation.
Within each of these areas are numerous incremental improvements, along with major functionality additions, mostly at no additional license cost. This cements our belief that investing in Dynamics 365 and the wider Microsoft ecosystem is a wise decision for you and your business, as Microsoft’s continuous investment in, and develop of, the platform and the apps which run on it ensure you are always ahead of the curve.
The Wave 2 release in October 2021, brought further exciting developments across Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform.
This release was infused with more AI than ever before, across all the first party apps and the Power Platform, here are some of our highlights:
- Real Time Marketing added the ability to start automated marketing journeys from any event, anywhere. This allows customers to trigger their marketing journey from third party systems or apps and pass contextual information into the journey for personalisation.
- The addition of integrated SMS sending capability also simplifies deployments and streamlines systems.
- The integration between Microsoft Teams (a theme for this release) and Dynamics 365 Marketing was also deepened to allow the creation of webinars, and their respective registration processes in Teams, with a simple integration to design follow up journeys directly in Dynamics 365 Marketing.
- The standout feature from this release was the tighter integration between Microsoft Teams and Dynamics 365 (not just sales), allowing users to create chats from directly inside the application, invite any user within the organisation to collaborate on a record, with or without a license, and the ability to see co-authoring presence on records.
- These major benefits were quickly and easily adopted by our customers, with no training required as the Teams and Dynamics 365 experiences are used day in and day out. This was the combination of the two platforms into a single, productive experience.
- The enhancements to the Teams integration also offered great benefits to customer service teams, further enhancing their ability to work and collaborate, in remote environments. Some teams disrupted by the events of last year, have moved to permanently remote setups; meaning staff aren’t constrained to an office and businesses can cast their nets much wider to find the right talent.
- As with the other applications, additional productivity enhancements meant that engineers’ lives have become easier. Work order forms and ribbon processes were simplified, as well as enhancements to the native mobile application. The retirement of the Reso Field Service app, whilst this poses some migration effort for some customers, will ultimately result in a much simpler to maintain system.
- In addition, the Field Service release had some features deployed as a result of suggestions from the community, this example came from an idea via the Experience Dynamics 365 site, proving that Microsoft listens to customers and partners, proactively actioning their feedback.
- Whilst there was still no upgrade path made available, many new features were added to the Project Operations application. A major improvement (in preview) is the ability to completely manage the subcontracting process from end to end within Project Operations, as the ability to add recurring charges and enhancements to task scheduling.
Despite the challenges the pandemic has brought both personally and professionally for many, Infinity Group continued to grow and develop in 2021. Our Business Applications delivery team grew by 11, each one of them bringing to the forefront diverse knowledge, experience, and skills.
Keeping up with the rapid pace of change within Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform is a constant challenge and we’re proud of how we approach the problem — through constant collaboration and a strong focus on personal development. The entire Business Applications team meets every Friday to discuss achievements (professional and personal!), challenges, new developments, and exciting updates, all while ensuring a strong team ethic is maintained whilst sharing important information.
We’re greatly looking forward to 2022, with the first wave of changes imminent, we can’t wait to see what the next round of development brings. We’re also looking forward to getting out and seeing our customers face to face again when it’s safe to do so. We work on long and complex projects, and are dedicated to building lasting personal relationships with our customers, so it’s been hard only communicating via Teams for so long!
If you are keen to discuss how to get the Dynamics 365 and Power Platform packages for your business, please get in touch to speak with any of our Consultants.
About the Author
Driving change within Infinity’s Innovation Lab, our Chief Innovation Officer, Tristan, oversees the latest technological development across Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and Azure.