Tech Thursdays: Enhancing the flexibility and functionality of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Online with Azure

Many organisations appreciate the benefits of moving their Dynamics 365 environment online, but some express concerns that Dynamics 365 Online will not afford them the flexibility they need due to more limited direct interaction with the database.

In this blog, Elliott Hulburd, Senior Consultant at Pythagoras, gives an overview of some of the ways Azure can extend the capability and flexibility of Dynamics 365 to meet complex requirements.

Elliott Hulburd

Elliott Hulburd

Senior Consultant

A quick introduction to Azure Services

Put simply, Azure is a cloud computing service from Microsoft that enables organisations to take advantage not just of hosted infrastructure, but of a huge pool of computing services provided by Microsoft. Organisations can make use of hundreds of services, from virtual machines, to file storage, backups and services for mobile and web apps. All of this is available for customers to use on a pay-as-you-go basis, without the upfront investment and overhead of on-premise infrastructure.

We can leverage these Azure services to speed up tasks like integrations, or to achieve things that would not be possible in Dynamics 365 alone, such as scheduled data processing, using custom code and carrying out complex integrations.

Azure services that our Dynamics 365 customers are leveraging

The main reasons for introducing Azure services to Dynamics 365 are to extend the functionality, integration, storage and reporting capabilities, compared to using Dynamics 365 alone.

Functionality: Logic Apps

Logic Apps allow for processing of data in Azure rather than in Dynamics 365. This processing can be scheduled to take place regularly at a convenient time, and processing with Logic Apps is massively scalable, meaning thousands of records can be evaluated in seconds without affecting the performance of Dynamics 365. Their simple interface makes them easy to use, minimising the time needed to implement new processes.

Logic Apps also have pre-built connectors to allow easy integration with other services and systems, enabling you to extend your insight by evaluating data from Dynamics 365 and other systems such as a finance system. This speeds up the time taken for integrations, and lowers the level of technical ability required to build these integrations.

Use Case: A great use case for Logic Apps is for processing membership renewals. Renewals can traditionally be manual and time-consuming, so we are often asked by our membership customers how we can automate identifying and contacting individuals who are approaching renewal.

To streamline this process, we can schedule a Logic App to process all memberships in Dynamics 365 once per day to check if their renewal is due. For members that are approaching renewal, an automated notification email can be sent to the member, and their record in CRM can be updated. This update can trigger further processes if required, such as notifying the relevant member manager.

Logic Apps are a useful tool to automate processes that take place regularly, as scheduling processes in this way would not be possible using Dynamics 365 Online alone.

Functionality: Function Apps

Function Apps extend the capability of Logic Apps by allowing completely custom code to run within the Azure platform, giving greater flexibility to tailor Dynamics 365 to carry out custom processes.

This is particularly useful with working with Microsoft Portals; the portal platform from Microsoft which extends Dynamics 365 data to customers or partners. Microsoft Portals are designed to be simple to build and use, but their simplicity can sometimes be a limitation for organisations aiming to be more creative with their portal functionality.

Use Case: An increasingly common requirement is for customers to be able to make payments via their Microsoft portal. To achieve this securely, we can use a Function App to contact the preferred payment gateway. The code to contact a payment provider can run from the secured Azure environment, rather than a public facing portal, and credentials can be stored in the Azure Key Vault: a service to store and encrypt keys and passwords for online applications. Using these Azure services, we can create a secure integration to the payment gateway that can be triggered directly from within the portal.

Storage: Making Cost Savings with Azure

Some on-premise customers have built large databases with extensive notes and large volumes of attachments, so storage costs are a consideration when contemplating the move online.

Using Azure storage is more cost-effective than buying additional storage in Dynamics 365, so we can help our customers make savings by changing the location of files such as note or email attachments from Dynamics 365 to Azure. This frees up valuable space within Dynamics 365 without having an impact on user experience, as these files remain accessible to your users through each CRM record.

Azure Storage can also be used to store files that customers wish to surface to their customers via their Microsoft Portals.

Integrations: Azure Service Bus

Azure Service Bus is a powerful tool that can be used for complex integrations between systems. It is capable of creating stable integrations in a similar way to on-premise middleware such as Enterprise Service Bus or BizTalk, meaning having a large number of integrations to online or on-premise systems should not be a barrier to moving a Dynamics 365 environment Online.

Flexibility: Azure SQL Databases

On-premise CRM customers are used to having direct access to the SQL database for querying their data. Dynamics 365 Online does not allow access, which can make some organisations hesitant to make the move, as they believe they will have less control over their data analysis.

However, using the Data Export Service, we can create an up to date replica of a customer’s Dynamics 365 database in an Azure SQL Database. This replica provides the functionality and flexibility to query data that users are used to seeing from Dynamics on-premise.

Additional business benefits for organisations looking to leverage Azure services

There are big cost benefits that can be realised by leveraging Azure alongside Microsoft Dynamics 365. While Azure services carry a cost, this is usually far outweighed by the savings organisations can make by, for example, reducing the number of custom applications based on virtual machines or moving from less cost-effective methods for storage.

It is also highly scalable, enabling you to scale services up and down to meet demand. As Azure is priced depending on consumption, you’ll only ever pay for the services you use.

If you think you could benefit from any of the suggestions mentioned above, get in touch with us at info@pythagoras.co.uk.

Considering a move to Dynamics 365 Online?

Join us at our Microsoft Dynamics CRM to 365 Upgrade and Migration Workshop on the 24th January. Find out more and register for your place here.

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