Dynamics 365 – Our Big Leap into CDS
Microsoft recently announced the availability of the Common Data Service (CDS), as a platform, accessible with a PowerApps P2 license. A few folks got kind of excited, many others said “So what?”, and most have no idea what I am talking about right now. But our firm has bet the farm on it.
Several things have happened that have led to where we are today. First, CDS 1.0 gave way to CDS 2.0, which is what we used to know of as the XrM Platform. All of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CRM) runs on top of this platform, with other Dynamics 365 products making their way there over time. Second, an effort has been underway to decouple Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 First-party apps from one another, and the underlying “CDS” platform. This would put them in the same position as third-party applications. Think of the Enterprise Sales App as now being a standalone product, that can be “installed” on CDS, either by itself, or alongside other first, or third-party apps that are similarly installed, like Dynamics 365 for Marketing, Field Service, ClickDimensions, etc.. Or… CDS can exist, without any first-party apps. I covered some of this in my last post, so excuse the redundancy.
A Door Opens
This last bit, about CDS existing without any First-party apps, is what we are focused on with the new RapidStart CRM. But before I get into why we think that makes sense for us and our customers, we have to take a short stroll down memory lane. I wouldn’t be a post be me, if I didn’t drag you back there, but the context is necessary.
The original idea for RapidStart, was not original at all. In fact, other partners had been in the market with many variations of a “*Start”, before we even became a Microsoft Partner in 2011. The idea is simple, and straight-forward, provide an ability for new users of Dynamics 365 to get started, with basic features, at a low cost. For us, like the other partners that were doing similar things, it was a “door-opener”. We’ll get you to come on-board with us, get you setup with some basics, and then help you grow from there. While some partners had created some I.P., maybe a solution, for many it was offered as a “Service”… maybe even a loss-leader. At about this same time, Microsoft was chirping in every partner’s ear, that we needed to create repeatable I.P., otherwise, we were all doomed. Most partners heard this, many dismissed it as hyperbole, and most are doing just fine without converting their project services practice into an application development company. But, others took the bait, including us.
RapidStart began in 2011 as a Service offering. Later we created some I.P. in the form of a solution, and later still, we created some external I.P., our Wizard Portal. The entire offering was announced on stage at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in 2015 (what is now called Inspire). With Microsoft on-board, RapidStart really started taking off, averaging over 100 deployments a year. I will confess, that I got a little nervous when Microsoft announced the “Business Edition” for SMB, followed by great relief, when they later dropped the approach. In the meantime we had continued to evolve the RapidStart offering based on customer feedback. RapidStart had transcended from a “means to an end”… it had become an end of its own. At Microsoft’s suggestion, we built a channel and together we signed up over 300 partners globally to resell and support RapidStart. Today RapidStart is the leading global solution for what Microsoft calls a “Packaged Deployment”. It is one of the few third-party apps to receive the Certified for Microsoft Dynamics designation… and it’s available pretty much everywhere. Things were looking pretty good.
The Other Shoe
While some larger companies had utilized RapidStart, by and large, it was mostly SMB focused. When Microsoft made the branding change to Dynamics 365, a new licensing model debuted with it. With much higher prices than we had previously seen for Dynamics. To be fair, this was not just a price increase for the same thing, many features and capabilities had been added, and a price increase was long overdue. But most of these new capabilities were Enterprise focused: so for most SMB customers, it was basically just… a price increase. Fortunately, Microsoft announced some promotional pricing for SMBs, dropping their price down to $40. Whew! These promos were originally intended to fill the gap until Business Edition was ready to roll out, but once Microsoft abandoned the Business Edition approach, these promos were doomed. Indeed, they fell off the price list a few months ago. While not specifically an SMB motion, Microsoft did create a licensing version of their Sales App called Sales Professional. Sales Pro is designed for users with more basic needs.. sounds kind of like SMB. This new Sales Pro App is priced at $65, 61% higher than the expired SMB promo. Ouch, that is going to make things tougher (granted, I know it is not an apples-to-apples comparison). But, while targeting users with more basic needs, the Sales Pro App is actually not any different from the full Enterprise App, except there is a list of written limitations that go with the price. I wrote about those limitations here, and about paper licensing here.
So where does all that put US today?
Actually… in a much better position. The primary goal of RapidStart 1.0 was to take an “enterprise level” product, and knock it down to size, so that companies of any size could actually get it successfully launched and adopted. While the needs of SMB are typically less advanced, this was also true for many enterprise level customers. RapidStart 1.0 did an excellent job of taking something complex, and making it simple. A lot of the way RapidStart 1.0 did this, was by “hiding” advanced things. There were a lot of advanced things in the enterprise apps, so RapidStart 1.0 was a pretty robust solution. But there were some challenges. Even though the bag looked light, it was actually very heavy, as it still held all of this hidden complexity. Also, customers were paying for all of this hidden complexity that they neither needed, or wanted.
A Platform License
As recent as 6 months ago, I was told by Microsoft that a platform, without any first-party apps, was never gonna happen. It appears that they have revisited that stance. With a PowerApps P2 license, you can indeed provision a CDS environment, without any first-party apps. For certain ISVs, like us, this “pivot” was a “game-changer”. We have all no doubt heard a lot about PowerApps, mostly in the context of Canvas Apps. But “Model-Driven” PowerApps was the new secret sauce for us. This allowed us to approach the problem we are solving for, from the other side. Instead of starting with a mountain, and shaving it down to a hill, we started with a bump, and built our own hill.
RapidStart CRM 2.0
The new RapidStart CRM is a simple-to-use CRM solution, built on top of CDS, without any first-party apps. The original goal remains unchanged: “provide an ability for new users of Dynamics 365 to get started, with basic features, at a low cost”. Like RapidStart 1.0, we expect that many customers who launch with RapidStart, particularly larger customers, will “graduate” to the full first-party apps. In fact we are making this transition very simple to do… just one click. No migration, no downtime, no issues. Of course the licenses will need to be upgraded to the desired first-party app licenses. Also, like RapidStart 1.0, we expect many customers to be perfectly served by RapidStart CRM, particularly smaller customers, who will continue using it indefinitely.
So I will have a lot more to tell you about RapidStart CRM in future posts, including our Industry specific “RapidStarts”. In the meantime, you can learn more at https://rapidstartcrm.com.