Can you future proof your Digital Transformation project?


Based on a recent article by my TDG colleague Chris Huntingford, I started wondering about the over-referenced term of Digital Transformation. Why do we need to hear that term again? Well the reason for it is related to Chris’ article on future-proofing your customisations (and platform) and to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 update cycle.

Think of a typical Dynamics 365 transformation project: they span several years and are vastly complex in nature. So, when you undertake these projects, how do you accommodate the 6-monthly release cycle from Microsoft and the architecting of a future-proof solution? The answer is usually that the solution is architected in a future proof manner but the update cycles are ignored because Microsoft give you a year’s leeway before mandating specific updates.

A multi-year programme of work may be conducted over 3-4 years where the core Dynamics 365 product changes significantly in that time where a situation could be realised where as soon as the customer goes live, they need to immediately start thinking about upgrades and patches rather than bedding down the solution and getting the maximum value out of it.

Is it possible to avoid this? Typically, yes, but it requires a bit of forward thinking on both the Dynamics 365 partner’s and customer’s side. Things like the following should be considered:

  • Realising early time to value by deploying smaller functional pieces rather than entire solutions in one go – no doubt this will get the agile vs waterfall people arguing but simply put, the Microsoft update cycle makes waterfall type projects very difficult to complete effectively.
  • Leveraging accelerators/ISVs and preconfigured solutions wherever possible – most Dynamics partners have several of these that are typically stemmed out of industry best practice. Make sure to evaluate them though and check that they are aligned to the Microsoft roadmap, licensing guide, and future-proofed as Chris suggests.
  • Scope in project time for platform updates and new functionality reviews – this is usually a function for some sort of Design Authority, but too often they get stuck looking at current requests without considering what’s coming in the future. Fundamental platform upgrades should also not come as a surprise and should be catered for well in advance. Microsoft have several early release programs available for this as well as their publicly visible roadmap site.
  • Encourage, enable, and promote consultants and customers to challenge the old ways of thinking in favour of newly available alternatives – this point should ensure that the best possible considerations are achieved and is not meant to be a forum for constant debate with no action. Tough I know, but somewhere a decision needs to be made for better or worse, but at least there will have been some considered conversation around the decision before it is just blindly made because that’s the way things have always been done in the past.

Will the above list provide the illusive silver bullet for ensuring that Digital Transformation projects are always successful and utilising the latest technologies and ways of doing things? The answer I am afraid is no. What it should enable is projects that are more flexible and more capable of realising greater value, earlier, for the customer.

Don’t’ forget that there are also technical aspects around the same topics which are just as important but more relevant for the Dynamics 365 partners and consultants delivering these projects. There is no easy way to go through all of the technical aspects that could and probably would change through the lifetime of a Digital Transformation project, I suggest you have a look at and be aware of the following (if you aren’t already):

  • Flow – this new workflow engine that is sperate from the core Dynamics 365 workflow engine provides a huge amount of power and prebuilt connectors that enable several integrations and extended process to be designed and implemented very rapidly. The per transactions model costing should also ensure that you get maximum value for your spend. Don’t gloss over the fact that PowerApps can use Flow and these PowerApps can be embedded in Power BI dashboards which in turn can be embedded in Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement instance. Why would you care? Well you can create one flow that can be triggered either from Dynamics or from Power BI giving a holistic solution that is easily maintainable and cost effective.
  • The Azure platform all up – this is one of the most crown jewels of the Microsoft empire. Huge amounts of capabilities and all easily available to leverage from your Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement instance. Have a look at these in particularly:
  • Teams – collaboration tools continue to evolve and Microsoft Teams is the latest version that is definitely worth checking out
  • Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) – one of the core components of most Dynamics 365 projects. Whether it’s a code repository, an Agile backlog facilitator or DevOps facilitator, VSTS is definitely worth investing some time in seeing how you can leverage it.
  • Office 365 E5 – lots of productivity in this one, but check out some of the amazing security stuff that Microsoft also include for you.
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