Best practices for the new Dynamics 365 upgrade approach

Important updates are now in place for Microsoft Dynamics 365 online and the way that it will be updated, which all Dynamics 365 online customers need to be aware of.

In 2018, Microsoft announced that the way Dynamics 365 (online) will be upgraded is going to change as it moves to a continuous release cycle. Now, all Dynamics 365 online customers will follow a continuous delivery cycle where updates are automatically applied and companies can no longer put off or delay upgrades. This means that every Dynamics 365 customer will be running the same version, allowing Microsoft to put more focus into supporting a single version.

Please note: this update cycle does not apply to on-premise customers.

What is the new way?

Microsoft will deliver two major updates each year – in April (wave 1) and October (wave 2), as well as ongoing, regular minor updates for bug fixes and performance improvements in the background. To help online customers prepare for the two major upgrades each year, Microsoft have announced new milestones and early visibility resources, which will be available to customers before the general availability of each major release.

Before a major release, customers will be able to:

  1. Download the detailed release plan (previously known as ‘release notes’ about 2-3 months prior to release)
  2. Enable a Preview for the update to test new features in a non-production environment (also 2-3 months prior to release)
  3. Schedule the date and time of the upgrade when ready (allowing you to schedule out of hours or at the most suitable time for your organisation), or:
    Automatically be updated to the latest version (Microsoft will auto-schedule this)

Some changes will be automatically applied for all users, while others will be on a ‘opt-in’ basis where administrators need to enable the new functionality. This is normally the case for any major disruptive changes. Microsoft make it clear which features are automatic and when they are being delivered by calling out three ways of enabling features:

  • End users, automatically: These features include change(s) to the user experience for end users and are enabled automatically
  • Admins, makers, or analysts, automatically: These features are meant to be used by administrators, makers, or business analysts and are enabled automatically
  • End users by admins, makers, or analysts: These features must be enabled or configured by the administrators, makers, or business analysts to be available for their end users

New Unified Interface

Microsoft will be enforcing a new Unified Interface from October 2020 – this will provide a much better user experience with the same visual interface across all the Dynamics 365 applications. Organisations will likely require considerable reviews, system changes and testing in order to be able to transition to the new UI without the risk of functionality breaking. You can transition to this new UI now – however if you have not yet transitioned then you need to be aware that this will be automatically enforced in October 2020 in the 2020 wave 2 update.

How best to approach the next update

While this new approach may be a little daunting, it is an exciting and overall welcome move from Microsoft. As all business applications move to a SaaS approach, companies will become more and more familiar with this continual update attitude. It allows organisations to become more agile, receive better benefits and features earlier and move away from an outdated model of “install, wait a while, fall behind, upgrade, repeat”. There is no doubt that adopting cloud services bring vast benefits to companies but is also brings its challenges and the main one is the new mindset that needs to be adopted. This new mindset is one of being on a cloud ‘conveyor belt’ – so once you’re on, you will keep moving along and receiving updates as they happen.

With these continual updates to Dynamics 365 there are some steps to take to minimise impact and hopefully most of these best practices are already being adopted. If not, now is a great time to re-evaluate your setup and ensure you have the right measures in place to make upgrades smoother and to generally simplify management of your CRM solution.

Best practices and advice

Check you have the right environments set up

Best practices for Dynamics 365 (and development in general) are to have four environments: production, UAT, Test and Development. This keeps development far away from your live environment so that no work breaks you live system. At a minimum you need a sandbox and a production – and these update previews will go into your sandbox for testing before going near your production environment.

Download the release plan when they become available

This will be about 2-3 months prior to each release. Reading these will give you a good idea of what the next release includes and can give you a sense of scale and the changes being made, which you can evaluate against your system. The release notes are fairly extensive, but you can also keep an eye out for summaries and highlights from the Dynamics community. These are split into Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.

Give yourself enough time to test

The most time-consuming task is testing the updates, so the earlier that you set up the preview the longer you have to test. If anything is causing an issue, then you will have time to diagnose and fix this.

Review customisations, integration and third-party solutions

Now could also be a good time to review what customisations, integrations and third-party solutions you have in place to make sure that they are supported; anything unsupported is likely to break during an upgrade. Your CRM partner can help with this, or Microsoft even have tools you can run to check your system.

Evaluate new features against your requirements regularly

The updates aren’t done to cause issues but to bring new functionality, improvements and benefits to Dynamics 365. An update might introduce a new functionality that removes the need for a third-party tool or might simplify an internal process. Evaluating the updates means you might discover a new improvement that could have a big benefit on your company.

Stay up to date with the roadmap

Microsoft have one Dynamics roadmap now, which will show upcoming changes. Keeping an eye on this will give you a further heads up of what might be in the next release. View the roadmap here.

Dynamics 365 Upgrade Support

We understand that managing the changes and staying on top of the latest updates, new features and deprecated features can be very challenging. We help organisations on their Dynamics 365 journey by providing flexible Dynamics 365 Update Support. Our update and consultancy services help clients to understand what changes are coming, what the potential impact is, how to prepare and upgrade and also what features are coming that could bring great additional benefit. We can:

  • Evaluate how the next major release will impact your existing system, customisations, integrations etc.
  • Carry out user acceptance testing (UAT) and regression testing
  • Advise on new features that can fit into your Dynamics 365 roadmap or replace outdated features
  • Consult you on deprecated functionality that you will need to be aware of and could impact you
  • Escalate issues and provide enhanced Microsoft support channels

We understand that every organisation has different in-house skill-sets, CRM complexities and priorities so we will work flexibly in partnership to provide the services that benefit you most – please contact us for more information.

Options for getting help

Organisations will have varying levels of comfort with the upgrades – it may be that you require a lot of help or perhaps you require none. If you do need help, then speak to your CRM partner or speak to us. There are different approaches you can adopt, which will depend on your system complexity, budget and internal knowledge. You can outsource all upgrade work if needed or even look at a blend – installing the preview, carrying out internal testing and then getting support for any development work or fixes on customisations.

If you would like to chat about the new upgrade procedures and your Dynamics 365 setup, please contact us.