Office 365

The future of Cloud Computing

If you give the Cloud a chance, you will clearly see the advantages of moving your entire business to a hosted, virtual environment. Even though, cloud computing has recently exploded and is gaining momentum, just like everything else that is new to the market; there is a user adoption curve stretched over the lifespan of the product or service. Thinking back to high school, do you remember Rogers Adoption Curve? Once a new product or service is introduced, very few (16%) are the innovator / early adopters. The majority of the population (68%) find themselves in the early / late majority and the last 16% are the laggards who will eventually adopt or never adopt for various reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is, Cloud Computing is nothing new and we are approaching the early majority adoption stage. The bad news is, if you fail to recognize the trend and fall within the late majority / laggard 50%, chances are, it may be too late and the speed of business will pass you by. Simply, your early adopting competitors will have a strategic advantage moving forward.

Only within the last few years has Cloud Computing become main stream. Before the term “Cloud” was popularized, virtual private networks (VPNs) have been around since the early 1990’s. Some of the first players in Cloud solutions were SalesForce.com and Amazon in the late 90’s. Now, we see major movers in the industry like Microsoft with their Azure cloud. Products like Office 365 and Dynamics CRM, as well as ERP solutions like Acumatica, successfully utilize the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Dynamics GP 12 will also have flexibility in deployment into the Azure Cloud when it is released late 2012.

So, for those of you who are on the fence about Cloud Computing, where should you start when deciding to go virtual? If you aren’t one to jump all in, start by testing the waters. I recommend starting by taking a look at Office 365 which includes Exchange online, sharepoint, lync and office productivity suites like Word and Excel. Office 365 is deployed in the Microsoft Azure cloud and once you begin using it, you will have a better understanding of the value of no hardware or software to buy and there is simply no maintenance. Additionally, you will always have the most current version of software available at no extra cost. And, with a tiered pricing structure starting at $5 a month for hosted exchange email, there is very little risk

Your next step should be moving CRM to the Cloud. With a choice between Microsoft’s Azure cloud or a partner hosted Cloud like NjevityToGo, you can easily move from CRM on premise to the Cloud. Depending on your requirements, you can choose the platform that makes the most sense for you. However, you will gain better uptime and more robust integtration functionality for the same price by deploying in the NjevityToGo Cloud.

Finally, the fog will clear and you will realize the strategic cost advantages of Cloud Computing and can make a better informed decision to move all of your business applications to the cloud. For more information about the advantages of Cloud Computing check out “Is The Cloud Right For Me?”

The Cloud Office of Today

Okay, confession time:  this blog is late.  I usually publish my blogs on Friday’s and an endless number of things have gotten in my way.  However, the biggest thing that has gotten in my way is simply this:  Writer’s Block!  Oh yeah, good old Writer’s Block!  But then, recent events have brought me to thinking about the Cloud Office of today. 

To quantify this, I am speaking of the physical office and how it can be fully deployed in the Cloud.  Is it reasonable to expect a Cloud solution to be fully deployable at your office?  My recent conclusions are:  yes. 

It is recent that I have had the need to investigate some of the critical elements of a Cloud office that until now have been undefined.  The critical element missing has been an online phone system such as Lync Online.  So we begin there:

In my quest for the Cloud Office, my first line of thinking is to look at the first line of communication many companies receive:  the telephone.  Most phone systems of the past were very costly.  They were also very specialized and very maintenance intensive.  Sound familiar?  This is like many of the servers your company has and shares the same fate as many servers.  For many years we have had VOIP phones with providers such as Packet8, Cisco and Altavox.  However, integrations to the Microsoft Office productivity system (Office 365) have been lacking. 

Recently, my partner and I have researched the possibility of using a Lync Communications Server to accomplish the same functionality as Cisco, Packet8 or Altavox.  However, Microsoft’s recommended configuration of Lync requires many servers, software and services itself.  Not being discouraged, we have done further research into this and have found several providers of Lync VOIP services as a service.  This provides you with an integrated environment between Lync LiveMeeting, VOIP calls from your desktop, screen sharing and real-time presence information. 

Office Communications is necessary in order for your team to collaborate.  To bring the whole Cloud Office together, Office 365 with Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint and many other applications provides you with the functionality to create the office documents you need.  However, using Office Communicator will further enhance your communication with an instant message environment where office persons can ask quick questions securely and quickly.  Further, to enhance the experience, the integration with the phone system as available with Office 365 Levels E3 and E4 will give you a more integrated environment. 

How we track our external communications such as Leads, Customers, Opportunities and other CRM functions is fully available with NjevityToGo CRM.  When looking for a CRM system, it is important to ensure that you have the proper phone integration to “pop” the contact information when a call comes in.  This functionality means that you will know who is on the phone and have an idea as to the reason they are calling.

To bill your customers, the use of NjevityToGo Dynamics GP (Great Plains) or SL (Solomon) will accomplish this nicely.  The difference between the two applications will depend upon your business needs.  Dynamics GP will give you robust financial, distribution and manufacturing functions.  Dynamics SL is ideally suited for distribution and project or professional services companies.  Having an integration between your ERP and CRM System is a must and the NjevityToGo Integration will provide you with robust, deep and complex functionality not normally seen in a Cloud Office environment. 

To collaborate and share documents, SharePoint Online (part of Office 365) provides you with the ability to collaborate with your colleagues, customers, vendors and others.  Couple this with Business Intelligence available through Business Analytics and you will be able to provide your team with the latest information available on the health of your company and where your business stands.  Further, combine this with Mobility and you now have anywhere, anytime, any device access to the information necessary for your business.

On a final note, there are hybrid environments that exist that can help you get to a Cloud Office with many features listed above.  It’s important to meet with a trusted advisor to get a vision of your Office in the Cloud!  

Highlights of Convergence 2012

The anticipation of my first Convergence had been building up since January.  Convergence is a gathering of Microsoft Dynamics users, partners and ISV’s who come from around the world to crash a city for a few days to learn more about the Microsoft Dynamics family of products and network with fellow business product users.  As a first timer, I was warned that I would be going nonstop from early morning to early morning with a few hours of sleep in between.  That was not far off from the truth and after coming home and having some time to finally sit and reflect on the past five days, I want to share some of my experiences and takeaways from Convergence 2012. 

After an already solid two days of GPUG events, meeting up with customers and networking put behind me, Microsoft opened with their keynote Monday morning.  Upon entering the arena, it became clear how big the event was with a record attendance of over 10,000 users, partners and vendors.  The other surprising fact was that out of the Dynamics family of solutions, nearly 75% of the attendees were there for Dynamics GP as users, partners and ISV’s.  We were shown GP 2013 scheduled to release Q4 of 2012 and the improvements Microsoft has made to version GP2013 including flexibility of deployment into the Cloud.  I recently read an article put out by NetSuite titled “Time to Put GP Out to Pasture.”  Companies like NetSuite will be going on the offensive big time as GP is moving into their arena with even more deployment flexibility.  Trust me when I say this, Dynamics GP is not going out to pasture; it is going out to capture more market share.

It was also nice to hear the direction Microsoft is headed from Kirill Tatarinov, President of Microsoft Business Solutions Division and B. Kevin Turner, Chief Operations Officer.  The main theme of the morning was simplifying Business Intelligence through connectivity and mobility creating a “World of Opportunity” for everyone, not just Microsoft.  It was clear to see Microsoft’s focus was on complete business solutions that can be taken anywhere and shared with anyone.  Among the featured product releases were Windows 8, Dynamics GP 2013, SharePoint and Office 365.  It was demonstrated how you can use any of these products on any device, anywhere and the value that is created being able to connect personal and professional environments.  

Between sessions, there was plenty of time to visit the expo hall to wander and look at all of the solutions available for Dynamics products.  There were a few that I was very impressed with for both Dynamics GP and CRM.  Here is a little insight into my top two ISV’s. 

Click Dimensions is the top rated email marketing and marketing automation solution for Dynamics CRM. Click Dimensions is able to build a database of information in CRM about your prospects so your sales team can market proactively and determine the best way to approach prospects and leads.  They are a solution that I recently became familiar with and immediately saw the value they add to CRM.  It was already simple to create automated workflows and campaigns within CRM, however, at the show, they were showing me how they have simplified that process even more into a very user friendly drag and drop solution.  It is truly a product I would like to see more CRM customers using to grow their business because of the value it adds to CRM.  http://clickdimensions.com/

BI360 is a business intelligence solution for Dynamics as well as many other ERP platforms that is very impressive as well.  Recently, I have been hearing business professionals talk about the need for more insight into their business.  With all the technology available, they want a real time, simple diagnostic tool that they can use to answer the “why is this number like this” and “how do we fix it” questions.  Out of all the BI solutions I personally saw at Convergence, BI360 seems to have the best functionality and ability to provide answers by drilling down into data and information real time.  This immediate insight is extremely important for business professionals in the world we live in.  Even better, they demonstrated how easy it was to build reports in less than a minute and dashboards in less than two minutes.  http://www.solverusa.com/products/bi360

My takeaway from Microsoft and their supporting ISV’s is that technology is there to provide businesses the complete solutions they require to help their teams capture more market share and react quickly to the obstacles and challenges they face, no matter where they are in the world.  Through collaborative products and the freedom to work from anywhere, Microsoft proved their point that we are living in “A World of Opportunity.”

The Future of Business Intelligence

Let us explore the future of Business Intelligence.  Last week I spoke about Windows 8 and it's impact on computing.  However, let's further explore the problems, yes problems, with Business Intelligence.

Until today, Business Intelligence has been primarily provided by Hyperion, Cognos and other solutions.  Many years back, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Analysis Services.  However these solutions have been either expensive in their software purchase and/or their implementation.  Further complicating things are the differing requirements from the user to the manager to the executive.

Therefore, we have seen an emerging trend in business solutions in which we believe you should know about.  They are:

Audience -- the audience or consumer of the business intelligence will always be the number one concern in Business Intelligence.  For example, the CEO and CFO will have a varying set of requirements of what they want to see.  The manager of purchasing will want to see something different from each other.  Thus, a real Business Intelligence solution must accommodate not only the level of the position in the company but also the information they need to make decisions.

Platform -- the platform has changed.  Built in Cubes or Analytical Processes built into the ERP system are key to giving the information necessary for users of all types.  Using Analysis Services from Microsoft, for example, is an easy and cost effective way of delivering the right information.  Therefore, some of the legacy solutions are relegated the the dungheaps of history.  Consider the power of Microsoft's PowerPivot and SharePoint Enterprise Services for delivery of real information for your audience.  

Delivery -- to the tablet, PC, laptop and phone will continue to be the wildcard in Business Intelligence.  As devices become more agnostic in nature, they will continue to proliferate the consumption of data.  Thus, delivery will require a robust ability to drill down, drill through and self guidance that is available for many apps today.  

Our recommendation for the future is to meet with a trusted advisor who will take into account the audience, platform and delivery when considering the right Business Intelligence Solution for you.  

Configuring CRM 2011 Email Router with Office 365

We were just migrated from Exchange Online to Office 365. Among the many things that had to be reconfigured to work with Office 365 was the Microsoft CRM 2011 Email Router. There were two distinct tasks. First, give permissions to the account that the Email Router uses to the various mail boxes that use the Email Router. Second, set up the CRM 2011 Email Router.

Grant Email Account Full Access to Mail Boxes:
1. Open Windows PowerShell
2. Set your credentials by entering:
$LiveCred = Get-Credential
3. Enter the username and password for an account that has administrative privileges in Office 365.
4. Enter the command:
$Session = New-PSSession -ConfigurationName Microsoft.Exchange -ConnectionUri https://ps.outlook.com/powershell/ -Credential $LiveCred -Authentication Basic -AllowRedirection
5. Then the command:
Import-PSSession $Session
6. For each of the mailboxes that your account needs to access enter the command (mailboxname is the mailbox you want to access and emailaccount is the account the CRM Email Router will use):
Add-MailboxPermission "mailboxname" -User "emailaccount" -AccessRights FullAccess
7. Disconnect from your Exchange session:
Remove-PSSession $Session

Set up the CRM 2011 Email Router:
1. Get your Exchange Server name by logging into Office 365 and going to Outlook, Click on "Options" in the upper right and select "See All Options". From there click "Settings for POP, IMAP, and SMTP access..." and make a note of the Server name under POP setting. It will be something like PODxxxxx.outlook.com
2. Start the CRM E-Mail Configuration Manager
3. On the "Configuration Profiles" Create a new Incoming Profile with the following setting:
Profile Name: Office 365 Incoming (or something like that)
Direction: Incoming
E-mail Server Type: ExchangeOnline
Exchange Web Services URL: https://podxxxxx.outlook.com/ews/Exchange.asmx (use the server from step 1)
Access Credentials: Other Specified
Username: (the account you gave access to)
Password: (the password)
4. On the "Configuration Profiles" Create a new Outgoing Profile with the following setting:
Profile Name: Office 365 Outgoing (or something like that)
Direction: Outgoing
E-mail Server Type: ExchangeOnline
Exchange Web Services URL: https://podxxxxx.outlook.com/ews/Exchange.asmx (use the server from step 1)
Access Credentials: Other Specified
User Type: Administrator
Username: (the account you gave access to)
Password: (the password)
Access Type: Delegate Access
5. If necessary change the Default Incoming and Outgoing profiles for your CRM server(s) on the "Deployment" tab
6. Click Publish to save the new configuration
7. Test by going to the "Users, Queues, and Forward Mailboxes" tab, clicking on Load Data, Select all users and queues and click test Access.

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