When is the Right Time for Businesses to Invest in a Dynamics 365 Portal?

Where there are other financial* and IT** considerations which may impact the decision, there are 2 main situations which can be used to identify if the Organization is ready for/ needs a Portal.  

 1) When Dynamics data/ documents need to be regularly be viewed/ shared with external users – customers or partners.  

Client and partner engagements at every step need the information to be exchanged in the form of data and documents. Sharing these over emails or shared locations very often results in duplication and redundancy. Furthermore, the team is losing productive time maintaining this update. 

Sharing controlled data right from its source in Dynamics to secure external Roles can easily remedy the situation. 

Activities to look out for when identifying that the Organization should surface information via Portals 

  • When you see that the CRM users are frequently having to share reports, request data, send alerts, expose status’, etc.,
  • Where you want to ensure that the external user always has the most updated information residing in Dynamics
  • Provide access to KBs, Blogs and access Discussion forums, ensuring that the partner/ customer is engaged and enabled

2) When external users need to create or update data/ documents which are maintained by the Organization in Dynamics 

While any license impact based on the user and the kind of activity performed must be clearly understood and adhered to before investing in the portal, the Portal is a great tool to allow Partners and customers restricted and secure access to add/ update specific sections of the Organization Dynamics 365 apps. 

Some simple use cases where Dynamics may need such updates – 

  1. When Partners, Distributors and sales channels need to share new/update their sales opportunities 
  2. When Appointments need to be booked 
  3. Cases – create and updates 
  4. Moderated Discussion Channels re needed Questions and Common Update and need to be,  
  5. update time and expenses on Projects. 

Some thoughts on the “How”

The Dynamics Organization can provide a seamless experience to external users,  by linking it from its corporate site, replicating the branding and using Azure AD authentication. Roles defined can showcase targeted content to different roles within the same client organization.  Keeping the Portal content and forms simple but relevant will help in increasing footfalls on the portal. 

While the Internal users need to be cognizant of their actions on Dynamics and the fact that some of it will be visible to the customer, per se, the Portal need not have all the data saved and managed on Dynamics surfaced.

* while 1 instance of the CRM portal is available for free to all Dynamics 365 Organizations, provided they fit in [ check the previous blog “Dynamics 365 Portal – Introduction”], any UAT and Test environments have a cost attached 

** Portal development needs some development skills on HTML, JavaScript and “Liquid” apart from having a good handle on Administration of Administration and Security on Dynamics. The Portal developer will need System Customizer, Portal Admin and in some cases, Global Admin credentials on Dynamics. 

Dynamics 365 Portal – A Quick Introduction Before Our Journey

The Background 

The Microsoft Dynamics 365 Portal was formerly known as ADX Studio Portal. The Canada-based Adxstudio team had been building web portals for customer relationship management software since 1998. 

Back then, it was an asp.net web site which surfaced the Organization Dynamics CRM data – online or On-premise. It could be hosted on any server and could be completely Customized, Branded and Integrated. 

Microsoft Acquisition 

Adxstudio was acquired by Microsoft in 2015. In its GA release in Spring 2016 from Microsoft, the Portal was available as a fully Microsoft – managed Dynamics 365 add-on only. Until August 2018, Microsoft continued supporting the legacy ADX Studio Portal product, however, since then, all formal support for the old product has been discontinued. 

Dynamics 365 Portal– today 

The product, Dynamics 365 Portal, in its new form has its on-premise footprint completely wiped out – it is now available to only the Dynamics 365 instances in the cloud. [Recently, Microsoft has released source code to create a framework for on-premise portal deployments – albeit this isn’t officially supported ] While an organization can host multiple portals drawing data from its Dynamics 365 instance – the relation is strictly N:1 – Portals could now access CRM data only in the same Office 365 tenant.  

Implementing customizations via Server-side codes is no longer possible. JavaScript and “Liquid” have become the chosen tools to extend this Microsoft product. Originally released in its 8.1 version, the product is today available as 9.1.5 

License, in brief 

Users: 

Organization employees and partners, depending on their CRM activities from the portal need the correct license – Full or Team. 

  • Organization: 

Effective October 2018, every Organization with 10 Dynamics 365 Enterprise subscriptions has one Portal already available for use. Any additional portal instance required is available at a cost – including any Sandbox or Test tenants 

  • Multiplexing: [Indirect] 

Internal users and devices accessing Dynamics 365 data indirectly through a portal or via an API to a separate service such Microsoft Outlook must be properly licensed 

Capacity in a nutshell 

  • Page Views: The Portal includes 1 million-page view 
  • Common Data Service Database: 10GB
  • Common Data Service File Capacity: 5MB- 32 MB/ file
  • Common Data Service Log Capacity: 2 GB 

Audience and Portal Types 

While each of the portal types can be configured to cater to multiple audience groups, pre-configured Portal templates are available for Partners, Customers and Employees separately [ Employees will require proper CRM licenses to access Portals data] 

Partner 

  • Customer Self Service Portal
  • Custom Portal
  • Partner Portal
  • Partner Project Service (Optional, requires solutions installed)
  • Partner Field Service (Optional, requires solutions installed)
  • Community Portal 

Customer 

  • Customer Self Service Portal 
  • Custom Portal 
  • Community Portal 

Employee 

  • Employee Self Service Portal 

Authentication 

Available authentication types 

  • Forms Authentication 
  • Windows Authentication
  • Windows Live ID Authentication
  • Windows Azure Authentication 

Security 

Roles for the Portal User are defined within Dynamics 365. Permissions and data access use the same processes as used for CRM user roles. 

Conclusion 

While there is enough to write pages on each of the items in the bullet above, hopefully, the above data points and references have given you an overall premise of Dynamics 365 portals, scattered in various documents and blogs in a nutshell.

Coming up 

With this background, we will in the next blog, in this series, delve into the When and Why of the Dynamics 365 Portals. 

What is the right time to invest in Dynamics 365 Portals and some strong Pros and Cons to help you decide

Microsoft PSA License Changes

Dynamics PSA has seen an enormous adoption and development in the past 2-3 years when it was launched. With some major releases integrating the app with the CDN services and releasing impressive UI changes, PSA has hit some high points with an adoption 

While PSA as a stand-alone SKU, provides an end-to-end project management solution, when used as a part of the Customer Engagement plan, becomes the critical Delivery link between Sales and Invoicing. 

The Customer engagement Plan comprises of Project Service, Field Service, Customer Service, and Sales – it’s a suite of apps.  

Today, using just the Customer Engagement Plan license, an organization can work the entire length of the sales cycle through to invoice generation. There are a smooth collaboration and handover between the sales team, the project team, and Accounts within PSA.

This license plan may see another change soon.

Microsoft has finally made an announcement – albeit, not a detailed one, on how it is planning to “restructure” the dynamics PSA License – putting an end to at least some strong rumors floating around the web that Microsoft plans to remove Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation from the business applications portfolio and license it differently.

PSA is not going away but Microsoft is about to decouple the whole Planner and Task scheduling functionality from PSA and move it directly to the new Project Service

In Q1 2020, we will replace PSA’s Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Gantt, and task scheduling capabilities by leveraging these from the new Project service experience. This will provide a truly differentiated and world-class experience, bringing the best of Microsoft Project and PSA capabilities together into a seamless offering

While we will have to wait until Microsoft reveals some more, I feel, that the Project Manager, managing Tasks and schedules, will be the one most adversely affected. This seamless process of Quote to Invoice will now have the key Project management piece of tasks and schedule removed. 

Soon, there will not be any project scheduling experience in Dynamics part of the offering on the product, that experience will entirely come from the Project Online license.

  • While Microsoft has promised that the combined SKU of Project Online + Dynamics will be priced comparably to the current full PSA license we will have to wait for another quarter before we have clarity on these.
     
  • Apart from the Analytics and Integration with Dynamics 365 apps, Approving of Time and Expenses and Task and Resource Scheduling were the 2 main actionable sections in PSA.  If that is now an opt-in and priced higher, customers would lose the core benefit of the app. So while MS may restructure the background processes and replace the existing ones with the mature Project services, they will most likely price it the same, so that existing and Potential PSA users don’t have to re-strategize their application bundles
  • The decoupled licenses, if priced higher, may benefit those Organizations who have not been using the complex Schedule Board and the nascent task scheduling. Now they would pay less and only pay for what they use.
  • The Announcement does not clearly mention if there will be some functional and transitional changes for existing PSA users from an application perspective. It may be a hurdle to cross for Partners and customers if there is one.
     
  • Project managers managing Large projects probably did retain their Project Online License alongside PSA and integrated it in some ways with it. They should continue to use Projects. There seems to be deeper integration with Dynamics coming our way in the upcoming releases.

Reference: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/dynamics365/bdm/2019/05/22/the-future-of-dynamics-365-for-project-service-automation-psa/ 

Invoice Like A Champ And Get Paid Faster

automate invoicing

You’ve finished dinner at a restaurant and the waiter asks whether you would like anything more. You say “no, everything was perfect” and he says “Great!”. 

It’s been 10 minutes and there is no bill in sight. The waiters, servers are too busy with the other tables, but you manage to get the attention of the host. “Could I have my check please?”. “Sure, what table?”. “The table you seated me at” “Got it, I’ll get our accountant to get you the bill right away. “Accountant?”  

The accountant starts by asking how many of you were at the table, he then calls the waiter and gets a list of all that you’ve eaten. He calls the server to confirm that the number of plates they’ve cleared is in line with what the waiter has said. He then has the audacity to confirm it with your date! He gives you the bill you notice the pricing for some of the dishes are not what you had seen on the menu. He apologizes and fixes it. You mention to him there was a discount which was offered while making the reservation. He consults the website and calls up marketing to confirm whether a promotion was being run… you are starting to think this the worst meal I’ve ever had. You just want to get it over with and hand over your credit card and the reply isWe only accept cash. 

However good the meal was you would be disappointed.

customer perception graph

The customer experience is the sum total of all the customer moments. The bill is one of the most defining customer moments

To get paid you need to invoice your customers accurately on-time. To invoice your customers accurately you need to know What Have You Sold to Whom. 

For Technology and Service Providers 

What have you sold is NOT EQUAL TO what the customer has bought. Your conversations start around outcomes, but these must translate into tangible products and services.  

What have you delivered is NOT EQUAL TO what the customer will end up consuming.

ideal subscription

Recurring businesses are all about scale and therefore invoicing accurately is a bigger challenge.  

In technology parlance, your billing system would need to capture the following entities

Sold: Marketing, Promotions, Opportunity, Products & Pricelists, Quotes. CRM.

Bought: Orders, Contracts and Invoices. CRM and Accounting System.

Provisioned and Delivered: Contracts, Timesheets: PSA and/or Software Provisioning Engine

Consumed: Licenses, Software tracking, Support: Ticketing, Helpdesk, Self-Service

The challenge is where does the customer data reside? Is the solution coherent and integrated so that you are confident that you are invoicing accurately and on-time?

What are the building blocks of an accurate invoice?

Who have you sold:

Ensuring the correct people are marked and notified of the invoice.

What have you sold?

Products/Services with the correct rate and quantity. This is where the magic happens for subscription and consumption-based items.

When?

The invoice needs to capture the period of the services/products, when is the payment due and what is the penalty for delays.

Statutory:

An accurate invoice will need taxes and other statutory information such as Tax Identified Number

Once the invoice is accurately constructed, to get paid on time:

  1. It needs to be delivered to the right people.
  2. It needs to be persistent: How many times have you heard a customer say, “Please resend the invoice, we can’t find it”? The invoices should be available to the customer through a self-service portal
  3. It should maintain an actionable-state which is easily accessible by all the stakeholders. Has the invoice been paid? If it has not been paid what are the defined and actionable escalation Can we place a credit hold on the account so as not provision additional products/services?
  4. Is it convenient to pay? Have you enabled your business to accept digital payments? For recurring subscription businesses does your infrastructure allow you to securely maintain customer information and auto-charge them?

To get paid faster and ensure a delightful customer experience around billing:

  1. You need a (unified) solution that captures: Customer, Sales, Orders and Invoicing, License Provisioning and Service Delivery Information
  2. Products, Pricelists, Discounting should be centralized
  3. Contracts – not the documents but a digital record that accurately captures the agreement between the customer and you. Set up contracts so that you can invoice in advance
  4. Automatic and transparent provisioning of subscriptions/services
  5. Real-time capturing of all license changes and consumption data
  6. Sell to customers who will pay – credit holds
  7. Generating accurate and actionable invoices on time all the time

If you have questions write to us sales@iotap.com or sign up for our monthly newsletter on the best practices for scaling your technology and services business.

Steps to enable Multi-Language for Portal

1) Enable the required language on the Dynamics CRM instance

The user would need to have ‘System Customizer’ OR ‘System Administrator’ role to perform the action below

Go to Settings -> Administration -> Languages

Select the desired language to be installed and hit the ‘Apply’ button

In the screenshot below ‘Spanish’ language has been enabled.

Note: This action can take time depending on the number of languages selected and is ideally recommended to be performed during non-peak hours.Lag-setting

2) Within your Dynamics CRM instance go to Portals -> Websites and open the required website record which needs to be enabled for multi-language.

3) Click on the ‘+’ button next to the ‘Supported Languages’ sub-grid to add a new ‘Website Language’ record.

2

4) On the ‘Website Language’ form set the below fields and save the record.

Portal Language: Newly added language in #1 above

Publishing State: Published

3

Note: This action would automatically generate new records (related to newly provisioned language)  for all the language enabled OOB Portal records, however, it won’t have the translated values. The translation would need to be done manually.

E.g.: There will now be 2 records for each ‘content snippet’ record. Open these records (related to the newly provisioned language)  and update the values with the translated text. Do the same for all the other required entities.

4

5) The language menu should now be available on the Portal. Changing the language on the Portal would automatically refresh the portal with the translated values.

5

Microsoft CSP Pain Points Lead Partner To Develop Partner-Facing Solution

Recent press coverage and article from Scott Bekker at Redmond channel partner details a conversation with Ismail Nalwala and the value of Work 365 as a solution for CSP partners. Whether you are direct or indirect Work 365 can help partners run an efficient cloud business as described by Rosalyn Arntzen from Amaxra.

Being Customer Zero On Dynamics 365 – A Microsoft Partners Perspective

Digital Transformation and Customer Experience are two areas that are on top of mind for executives and CIOs everywhere. Dynamics 365 is one of those applications that is at the center of Digital Transformation for Microsoft and its partners. Being a Microsoft partner is not an exclusive club. It’s a challenging marketplace with tight margins and innovation happening rapidly both at Microsoft and with partners. However, there are some perks of being a partner like receiving the Internal Use Rights (IURs) to some of the best technology products like Office 365 and Dynamics 365. The idea is that Partners need to be customer zero, use the products to be able to sell the products. Dynamics 365 formerly Dynamics CRM or CRM online, is one of those products which can be used to run your entire business! As we released Work 365 for Partners I was recounting our journey– which involved us trying to make the most use of the application to keep us relevant and stay ahead. In reflecting back, we were Digitally Transforming while attempting to deliver great Customer Experience.

As a Microsoft Partner, we had access to early versions of Dynamics CRM. Today we are using Dynamics CRM in every function of our business but it wasn’t always like that. I wanted to share in this article our own journey to see if I can relate this back to other partners who are thinking of where to start or get feedback from those that are ahead of us on what we could be doing.

We started with the Sales module to have a contact management system in place in late 2010. We went from Contacts to Opportunity Tracking and then onward with implementing one thing after the other and eventually getting the whole company to use the system from Sales, Service, Delivery to Accounting. As a Dynamics app developer, we needed a way to deliver and manage Work 365 licenses. The manual license delivery and trial processes were time-consuming and error-prone. Once we built this license delivery mechanism in Dynamics CRM, our system was no longer just a data repository but more of a provisioning and business critical application. The graphic below depicts the different functional pieces we implemented over the years to digitize our business.

Work-365-csp-platform

After we implemented a piece of functionality we would then continue with the rounds of

  • Tweaking and adding fields and forms
  • Setting up notifications and workflow automation
  • Fixing and managing permissions

The most important thing for us was the more functional areas we added the more user adoption we had and the greater the ROI. We started to see the complete 360Degree of our customers and provide better customer experiences with every new service and functional line. We integrated 3rd Party Partner applications like ClickDimensions for marketing Automation, Xperido for document generation, DocuSign for signature and contract management. And every year we had to work with the inevitable upgrade cycles with new feature and compatibility.

Our approach to Digital Transformation was not to invent a Digital strategy but to digitize our current strategy. As a Microsoft CSP, we needed a way to keep up with the growth, provide great service, differentiate ourselves and keep our costs low. We used the Netflix model which I will discuss specifics in a separate article. Our strategy was:

  1. Create differentiated products and services
  2. Streamline our service offering and our systems to manage the cost
  3. Provide multiple service channels to customers including self-service

To that effect, we leveraged our experience of developing apps for Dynamics, e-commerce and Dynamics 365 configuration to create Work 365 to manage our CSP and customer-facing services.

Back to the Beginning

Our biggest learning along with our Digital transformation journey as a Microsoft CSP partner:

CRM implementations are never done and you must work at it endlessly to improve and fine-tune the processes.

Leverage the IURs and create application density to realize the investment. Application density happens by implementing connected processes in one system where users across different functions have efficiency gains from access to data, reduced training costs and process automation.

Don’t worry about developing a digital strategy- but more importantly digitize your current strategy. Be the customer zero in using the Cloud services and products so that you can train the teams and serve it up to your own customers.

Please share your thoughts about how you use your application IURs, tackle Digital transformation and provide exceptional customer experience.

About the author
Ismail Nalwala
CEO

Click on the link to view the original post – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/being-customer-zero-dynamics-365-microsoft-partners-ismail-nalwala/

Framework For Business to Evaluate Tools For Business Process Automation

Business process automation (BPA) is the automation of manual paper-based processes using tools and technology. BPA can help an organization reduce cost and increase efficiency.

Once a decision to implement business process automation has been taken, choosing the right tool is the next significant consideration. While there are many tools available for BPA, and a discussion around these is imminent; the criteria for evaluating these tools must first be identified. Each organization may weigh these criteria differently and a framework has been provided to adjust the relative weight of the criteria against each other later in this series.

1 In-House Skillset

Organizations often have dedicated IT teams for improving and enhancing their internal systems. Selection of a tool should consider the level of the skillset of the in-house team and Power Users. Often, BPA vendors claim their tool make it easy for business users to create or modify processes that require some understanding of logic and being aware of basic programming constructs like conditions, loops and such. Alternatively, the organization may choose to outsource the requirement to an external vendor. In the case of the former, not considering this criterion in the tool selection process may often lead to an expensive and long drawn learning curve.

2 Form Complexity

Forms are the user interface element of a business process and have a key impact on determining the success of any business process automation. The complexity of a form designer varies from a simple drag-and-drop configuration to development by backend coding. Complexity also depends upon the type of data that needs to be populated as well as the data that needs to be captured by the end user. A complex form may have custom validations, parent/child relationships between data elements or require data from external systems.

3 Process Complexity

Gauging the complexity of the actual business process is another evaluation criterion. The process can either be sequential (series of steps performed one after the other) or it may require a non-sequential graph like behavior (often called as a state machine). A complex process may fetch or store data from an external system or even have an external trigger. Consider the case of a business process where a contract must be digitally signed upon creation of a customer record in an external CRM system. A typical business process will entail multiple outcomes, for example, the reviewer may not Reject the request but send it back to the author for changes; this could go around multiple times and so on.

4 Mobile Enabled

Today’s business environment is becoming increasingly diverse and remote. Businesses expect their employees to work from anywhere, either online or offline. Mobile-enabled forms can prove to be that secret sauce for the adoption of the system organization-wide. The added benefit of using the native mobile functionality like the camera or GPS opens new possibilities that are just not possible using a traditional PC based approach.

5 Document Generation

Paper-based record-keeping is an expensive and time-consuming part of any business. Often businesses print copies of ‘approved’ digital records because the automation is ineffective at generating the full document as required by the business. Even after automating the business process, one may still need the physical document for contract signatures, or to create a template before sending to the external vendor. Document generation allows the creation of a digital document from data, eliminating the need for paper altogether.

6 External System Connectivity

Business processes often require integration with systems outside the scope of the automation environment, either to leverage the data, services or as a trigger to initiate the process. Consider an example where a business process makes decisions on information available in an external HRMS system, such as approval levels for expenses. The number of connectors available for a tool will provide flexibility to integrate with current and future systems that the organization may adopt.

7 Requirement Stability

Business requirements regularly change with an ever-evolving business landscape, an introduction of new external influencers (regulatory requirements, market changes, competitive situations); business processes must adapt to embrace these changes. The selection of a BPA tool should consider this inevitability and the organization should favor a tool that allows for an agile implementation process. Not considering this may lead to re-work which will eventually increase the cost and cause unplanned delays.

8 On-premise, Cloud or Hybrid

Businesses should review the application landscape. Are they primarily on-premise based or have they embraced cloud technologies or have a mix of both? What are plans for the near term and long term? Running a process on either premise may require working with data/services on the other. For example, a process (in the cloud) may require HR data sitting in an ERP on-premise. While the cloud provides many advantages, there are specific use cases where this may not be the right choice. There are different architectural considerations when deploying on-premise or on cloud and being cognizant of these upfront will help avoid brittle workarounds in the future.

9 Insights

Someone once said, “you can’t manage, what you can’t measure”. This is true with business processes as with all things in life. The effectiveness of a business process is measured through adoption, adherence to SLAs and other metrics. The BPA tool should lend itself well to providing analytics for your business process that can be reviewed by the process owner as well as the organization leadership. This can help iron out kinks in the process, identify and eliminate bottlenecks, define a framework to drive performance and overall get a sense of the return on investment.

10 Budget, Licensing, and Support

This is an obvious one, but one that often takes a high priority for most businesses. There are many tools available, some cost good money, some even free! The other factor for consideration is the licensing model. Does the tool incur an upfront capital expense or does it allow for ongoing operational expenses? Which is better suited for your organization? What are the upgrade paths and release cycles? What sort of support is provided by the organization? There are multiple licensing models, per-server, per-workflow, per-user and even per-run – mapping this against your business use-cases will help to make a decision that is cost-effective and a right fit for your organization.

How to Identify the Right Business Process Automation (BPA) Tools for Your Organization

The previous blog provided a framework for a business to evaluate tools for business process automation. This blog explores some of the popular business process automation (BPA) tools that are popular when working with Microsoft SharePoint technologies and how they fare against the criteria that we defined in our previous blog. Ratings are provided on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least favorable and 10 being most favorable.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

According to Microsoft, SharePoint Designer (SPD) is a tool for rapid development of SharePoint applications. SPD includes the ability to create workflows native to the SharePoint platform. These are no-code workflow solutions that manage simple to medium complexity business processes in an organization. Forms created for SPD workflows often use HTML and/or InfoPath as their underlying technologies. Please note that since SharePoint 2013, Microsoft has introduced the Workflow Manager, where workflows can be designed visually using Visio. For this blog, we refer to both these technologies under the SPD moniker.

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow

Microsoft defines Flow as “a cloud-based service that enables business users to automate business tasks and processes across applications and services”. PowerApps is defined as “an enterprise service for innovators everywhere to connect, create and share business apps on any device in minutes”. PowerApps & Flow are in many ways Microsoft’s successors to InfoPath & SharePoint Designer. They are included as part of most of Microsoft’s cloud offerings (premium versions are chargeable separately) and are geared towards regular business users partaking in the automation process.

Nintex Workflow & Forms

Nintex is a third-party workflow automation tool, primarily used for SharePoint and Office 365. It leverages SharePoint’s native workflow engine and does not require additional infrastructure or client software. They feature drag-drop user experience for creation and modification of Workflows and Forms along with a plethora of other features that make it seamless to create, manage and monitor business processes in the organization.

The comparison presented below is based on the features that the individual product offers out-of-box or after minimal customization efforts. It does not possibilities that are an outcome of applying for extensions via custom coding.

1 In-House Skillset

Strictly speaking, all three options do not require custom coding. Having said that, SharePoint Designer presents the least visually interactive way of developing workflows. (Visio can be used as a tool to enhance this experience). SPD workflows are created using the SharePoint Designer tool and provide basic workflow capabilities. There are a limited set of built-in actions and anything more will require custom coding. The forms built for SPD workflows face the same issue as these are designed using either HTML/javascript or using InfoPath, which requires considerable skills and understanding to get anything more than the basics accomplished.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow

Nintex Workflow & Forms

4.0

6.0

8.5

Both other options provide intuitive drag-drop interfaces along with a gamut of other techniques that make it easier for users to implement business process automation. Most vendors portray BPA tools as easy for end users to make changes. While this is true to some extent, implementing BPA does require a sense of logic programming and is really geared towards power users.

2 Form Complexity

When using SPD to create forms for data collection there are two solutions available (SharePoint out-of-box forms and InfoPath forms). InfoPath provides the ability to develop forms with multiple input elements: text boxes, radio boxes, drop-downs as well as repeating groups/sections of controls. However, InfoPath is not intuitive to use and deployment of the forms require administrative access once you go beyond the basics. The alternative is SharePoint ‘out-of-box’ forms which can be used to create simple forms.

With PowerApps it is possible to create forms by writing Excel type functions for the business logic. It also supports HTML coding for branding but does not allow JavaScript which limits the ability of Power Users. However, PowerApps provides a bunch of starter templates that may be a good place to get started.

Nintex forms allow for different layouts depending on the users’ device. Furthermore, complex forms with repeating sections, two-way automatic data binding and easy access to SharePoint APIs (to name a few) can be built.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
3.5 8.0

9.0

 

3 Process Complexity

SharePoint Designer provides multiple pre-built actions that can be configured to create simple to medium complexity workflows. SharePoint Designer workflow is sequential which means that it only allows the creation of workflows that have a forward-only path.

Microsoft Flow is targeted towards actions performed by individual end users. It also has

many pre-built templates using which one can create simple to complex workflows. Flow does not directly support state machine workflows which allow for non-sequential execution of processes. While Flow provides many connectors and templates, it requires multiple actions to accomplish a single task, which can often be frustrating, especially for new users and an encumbering task for large complex workflows.

Nintex provides a drag and drops user interface to quickly create and edit workflows. The enterprise version has more than 200 workflow actions pre-built. Unlike other options listed here, Nintex allows you to create State Machine workflow (capable of flowing in any sequence and through any amount of iterations).

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
3.5 6.5

9.0

 

4 Mobile Enabled

SharePoint Designer forms (built using InfoPath) and HTML devices are not automatically optimized for mobile devices. While these forms may render on a mobile screen, the experience is often less than ideal. SharePoint 2013 onwards introduced the concept of device channels, but that requires the creation of mobile-specific master pages for each device channel. Having said that, the new SharePoint Modern Experience provides responsive forms. In either case, access to native mobile capabilities is not present.

PowerApps, on the other hand, provides a mobile-first view towards forms. It supports native mobile interfaces such as access to GPS, Camera, Signal Connection, Location, and Accelerometer. The PowerApps app is available from Apple and Google stores and can be installed on users’ devices. It also supports Push Notifications which are a great way to alert users to imminent actions. PowerApps also provide offline capabilities.

While Nintex forms are primarily designed for the PC, they provide adequate support for mobility. These forms can be run within a mobile browser or through a fully native mobile application that can leverage some device capabilities such as Camera and GPS signals. The Nintex AppStudio addon allows for the creation of custom-branded native mobile apps that can be mass deployed via your corporate MDM solution. Nintex also provides offline capabilities for the native mobile applications.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
2.0 8.5

6.0

 

5 Document Generation

SharePoint Designer workflow does not have an out-of-box action to generate a document but using a SharePoint feature called “property promotion-demotion”, it is possible to inject some basic information into a document template. The generated template could then be converted to a PDF using SharePoint Word Automation services (not available for SharePoint Online).

Currently, Flow does not provide any specific Document Generation capabilities, much like SharePoint Designer workflows. However, Flow provides built-in connectors for DocuSign and Adobe Sign. Both these products allow for document templates to be defined and for signatures to be triggered on these templates via Flow.

Due to Nintex’s acquisition of Drawloop, Nintex now has a document generation feature built right into their workflow tool. The user experience is intuitive and you can quickly create a document template, map properties from the workflow into the document and generate Word or PDFs document.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
3.0 5.0

8.0

 

6 External System Connectivity

SharePoint Designer Workflows do not have pre-built connectors for any third-party applications, however, an HTTP web service connector is available. In theory, it is possible for a developer to build connectors to other applications and expose these via an HTTP web-service, but this approach is complex, time-consuming and difficult to maintain.

Both Nintex and Flow have several prebuilt connectors for popular systems such as Microsoft Dynamics, DocuSign, Twilio, SharePoint, Exchange, Azure, and others. It is worth pointing out that currently, Flow provides many, many more connectors than those available with Nintex (some of these are only available via a Premium subscription to Flow).

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
1.0 8.5

5.5

 

7 Requirement Stability

Business Processes developed using SharePoint Designer Workflows, to a high degree of probability will involve some custom coding via Web Services or other mechanisms. We often find that these have been put together in a hurry to meet business deadlines. Compounding that effect over several iterations leads to a system that is or tending to be unmaintainable. Testing takes longer and there is a high probability of unwanted side effects.

Both Microsoft Flow & Nintex offer GUI based drag-drop interfaces, favoring visual paradigms over coded ones. This reduces, if not eliminates the need for custom coding and changes are incorporated with relative ease and stability as compared to those developed with SPD.

It is noteworthy that Nintex provides some actions over Microsoft Flow that further reduce steps required to accomplish a specific task. Consider this example, an HR executive creates entries into a list of candidates that are about to join. The system should email these documents to the candidate for review. With Flow, separate steps are required to retrieve the item and the contents of the document and can take several steps to accomplish this; with Nintex this is a two-step process.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
3.0 7.5

9.0

 

8 On-premise, Cloud or Hybrid

SharePoint Designer Workflows work within SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-premise. There isn’t much difference to these except that the workflows cannot contain server-side code with SharePoint Online. Any custom code should be written and hosted outside of the SharePoint Online environment (say, as a Web Service in Azure). For cross-premise connectivity, SPD workflows will require the use of the “Call HTTP Web Service” action, which will require some level of custom coding and a whole heap of security planning.

Microsoft Flow is a cloud-only offering. As of today, there is no on-premise version of Flow and neither has one been announced. However, Microsoft makes cross-premise connectivity much easier using the “on-premises data gateway”, which allows for connecting to on-premise business data without the need to poke holes in the firewall or writing custom services. This gateway currently supports connections to SQL Server, SharePoint, Oracle, Informix, Filesystem and DB2 systems.

Nintex provides ‘premise-specific’ flavors of the tool, there is Nintex for SharePoint (on-premise), Nintex for Office 365 (online) and Nintex Workflow Cloud (independent online offering). Despite having such a broad-spectrum product portfolio, cross-premise connectivity with Nintex requires techniques like that of SharePoint Designer Workflows. Nintex provides options for customers on any-premise but does not deliver when it comes to cross-premise connectivity.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
2.0 9.0

6.5

 

9 Insights

With SharePoint Designer Workflows, logging and data tracks must be manually maintained within the workflow. There are no automated means by which process metrics will be tracked. For consistent reporting, a significant upfront design is required; yet the effectiveness of the reporting will be dependent on the individual authoring the process automation.

Microsoft Flow provides basic reporting using Flow Analytics, a premium feature included as part of the P2 license. In its current form, Flow Analytics provides three metrics Total Flow runs by day, Number of flow runs and Flow runs trend. For custom business-specific analytics, Microsoft Flow currently suffers from the same challenges as those of SharePoint Designer Workflows. SLA monitoring and measurement is yet another item that is currently missing from both SPD and Flow.

Nintex Hawkeye is the process analytics offering from Nintex. Marketed as “Process Intelligence and Workflow Analytics”, it features the concept of lenses which are perspectives on the process data. There are primarily two types of lenses, Usage lens which provides low-level consumption based metrics and Process lens, which provide information that is specific to a business process. There is some work required on part of the process author to provide effective data for a Process lens, but this is as easy as ensuring certain ‘beacons’ are placed within the workflow (using a drag-drop paradigm).

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
1.0 3.0

8.5

 

10 Budget and Licensing

For organizations with SharePoint on-premise (2010 and later) and/or SharePoint Online, SPD workflows are free to author and run. If the organization chooses to author workflows using the Workflow Manager capabilities, a Visio 2013 Professional license is required for each user that authors the workflow.

There are currently four plans of Microsoft Flow, ranging from Free Plan (no-cost) to Plan 2 ($15/user/month). Each plan offers different maximum runs of Flow per day and different frequencies of the Flow runs (interval between each run of the Flow). There is no SLA for the Free Plan, whereas the other plans offer a 99.9% availability SLA by Microsoft. While the base cost for Flow is per-user, there is an underlying cost associated with Flow Runs – each unit of 50,000 flow runs over and above the allocated quota per plan (aggregated across all users) will cost $40/month. For full details on Flow plans and pricing, please refer to https://us.flow.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/

Nintex offers three licensing models, per workflow (authored), per user and per server (on-premise only). There is no additional cost for workflows run. These prices are not public but are available through Nintex Partners. They tend to be higher than Flow on a per-user basis. The per workflow model allows the use of Nintex products across on-premise and online environments simultaneously and is the most flexible option available if the organization has online as well as on-premise environments.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Microsoft PowerApps & Flow Nintex Workflow & Forms
8.0 6.5

5.0

 

The table below summarizes the scores for the options against our defined criteria. It is important to note that different organizations will assign different relative importance to each criterion which will ultimately result in a choice that is a best-fit for them. To this effect, an excel sheet is attached which provides the option to assign weights to the criteria and provides a weighted average score of the options listed.

 

SharePoint Designer Workflows

Flow & PowerApps

Nintex Workflow and Forms

In-house Skillset

4.0

6.0

8.5

Forms Complexity

3.5

8.0

9.0

Process Complexity

3.5

6.5

9.0

Mobile Enabled

1.0

8.5

6.0

Document Generation

3.0

5.0

8.0

External System Connectivity

1.0

8.5

5.5

Requirement Stability

3.0

7.5

9.0

On-premsie, Cloud or Hybrid

2.0

9.0

6.5

Insights

1.0

3.0

8.5

Budgets & Licensing

8.0

6.5

5.0

How to Setup SharePoint Communication Site Template for a Company-Wide Intranet

Organisations think SharePoint portal as a centralized place to get various information such as documents, news, team members, departments, etc.

At its core, an Intranet Portal is used to displaying information to business users and formal contents. For the majority of the organizations, SharePoint is just a common platform to come together to share information and communicate but the real motto is not only collaborating but being productive.

The only thing that makes any organization a successful one, only by choosing the right tools to achieve their goals. The productivity tools make business users lives well-organized, exciting, easier and more productive.

Let’s ask one question

The SharePoint Modern workplace may consist of the home page, Procedures, and manuals, corporate news or announcement but does it provide the relevant information as per the business users need or interest.

Next step

The motto of an organization is to provide push information through publishing, select collaboration tools, work together and smarter.

How to achieve

Organisations need to move towards a new world with three components.

1. Communicate using Communication Portals

2. Modern workplace for productive tools

3. Personalized workspace with Dashboard

In a real-world scenario, when you want to broadcast a message, share a story or publish the content for readers, or launch a product or service then the Communication site is for you. You also need to understand the various parameters while setting up the SharePoint intranet and extranet, the nature of the line of businesses, governance, content authors and quantity. We helped numerous organization to setup SharePoint intranet in accordance with their requirements, respective branding, and audience, so that they become more productive in a smart way.

Communication site can be used for Training, Policies and guidelines, a new initiative or marketing campaign and so on.

You can select any one of the templates to start with, nonetheless, you can add, remove, or rearrange web parts anytime.

Create a Communication site

1.       Sign in to Office 365

2.       In the top left corner of the page, select the app launcher icon and then select the SharePoint tile. If you don’t see the SharePoint tile, click the Sites tile or All if SharePoint is not visible.

3.       At the top of the SharePoint home page, click + Create site and choose the Communication site option.

Sharepoint-create-a-website

4.       Select one of the following site designs:

  • Topic to share information such as news, events, and other content.
  • Showcase to use photos or images to showcase a product, team, or event.
  • Blank to create your own design.

sharepoint-website-design

5.       Give your new communication site a name and, in the Site description box, add some text that lets people know the purpose of your site.

6.       Click Finish. Your site will be created and will appear on the sites you’re following. Your site will not inherit the permission settings or navigation of other sites.

Setting the Layout for Communication Site

The new layout section offers you to change the page layout for any of the site designs to display your content effectively.

sharepoint-website-setting

Note: You can’t really disable Communication site creation unless you remove the Create site button from the SharePoint home.

While these are the high-level guidelines for helping you to choose the right type of site, however, richer capabilities and features are on its way in coming months. Our goal is you to keep you updated with the emerging changes, you can read our SharePoint Blogs or get our newsletter directly in your mailbox.

You can now use new modern site templates to make a digital workplace and leverage Communication sites for a global SharePoint intranet.

  • Please look out for the next blog where I will be sharing more details on how to use this feature and the benefits.
  • Like this blog or share your thoughts. Have you tried using this?
  • This feature is still in preview and has been introduced for SharePoint online. If you are taking advantage of this for your intranet contact us.
  • Add information about how this fits into the Microsoft
  • Talk about how to do this without communication sites.