How to manage Microsoft Dynamics 365 updates

Michael Lonnon
06 Jun, 2022

Moving systems onto the latest Microsoft Dynamics 365 release isn't as obvious as rolling out an update. Getting it right means doing this...

“What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.” – Albert Einstein

Are your mission critical systems in the cloud? If so, you are likely already familiar with the value of doing so. Lower Capex costs. Scalability and faster access to compute power. And the primary strength of a cloud approach over an on-premises one: access to fixes, security enhancements, and new innovations.

If you’re on a platform such as Dynamics 365, you are benefitting from Microsoft’s $20.7 billion annual spend on R&D. Clearly, most organisations are not in a position to make that sort of R&D investment, so it makes sense to take advantage.

On the Dynamics 365 platform, updates come as part of regular vendor updates. Microsoft, for instance, deliver two major updates each year: April and October. As well as regular minor updates.

This said, it doesn’t always make sense to adopt the latest updates. The reason being is that it’s not always clear what impact updates will have on your operational environment. And so testing and due diligence is a must before accepting releases.

If resource is scarce, it may make sense to defer updates until an impact assessment can be undertaken. In such instances Microsoft allows you to defer for a period of time.

So, with all this in mind, how can you bring the latest updates through in a predictable and secure way without impacting operations?

Updates have to work for you

Following a prescribed upgrade path isn’t always the right thing to do.

There may be times where the learning curve is too great at that moment, or resources too stretched on other projects. And that’s fine. But adopting the latest technology releases is essential. At some point.

If you don’t, then you place your organisation at a greater security and compliance risk. And without the latest updates you risk falling behind your competitors that have brought adopted new releases. As Mark Carey, HSOs Head of Optimisations, says, “One of the big issues if you don’t keep your system up to date as quickly as possible, is that it can quickly become out of date and non-compliant with legal and country specific requirements.”

Deferring upgrades for too long also increase the complexity of bringing them in. For example, if you defer updates for two years, then you will have four major releases to bring through at once. This increases the risk of something going wrong.

Upgrades will improve the protection your organisation is afforded. And it will give you the latest tools to enable you to be more successful. But you will need to manage them into the organisation in the right way.

Investigate what new features can help you

At some point you will need to bring through the latest features to remain compliant. And you may be glad you did. In a recent optimisation project, Mark worked with a client which had held off adopting upgrades for two years, “We recently had a customer that had not updated for four releases. So instead of 50 features to look at, we had about 200 to go through.

“When we went through the new features, the customer commented that they wished they’d know about them earlier as they would have had a measurable impact on their business.” The customer, upon learning about the new feature advancements, realised they had unwittingly stifled progress.

But you can understand why. Updating your primary operating systems is not without risk. It’s not as simple as downloading the latest updates, and then bringing systems up to speed. As with managing any update, testing is key to ensure your procedures and operations are not badly affected.

Prioritising release features is one way to manage adoption workload. A simple thing you can do is review the Feature Management module. It’s a quick way that anyone with a Dynamics 365 environment can see which features are enabled, and which aren’t. From there, you can take a quick view of which you need to investigate.

Or you may want to do a full impact analysis of everything that’s on the current system, and everything that’s coming in the next release, to see what is worth taking, and what isn’t.

How to manage updates for the best result

Generally there are two major annual releases with Dynamics 365. There is the technical update, the focus of which is bug fixes. And for this reason, organisations on a stable system will want to prioritise these platform updates. Security is paramount. However, an organisation implementing the platform may decide to delay updates because they will not want to interrupt the analysis and design/development phase.

To find the best way to bring through technical updates, Mark follows a proven method, “When we have customers wanting to put in updates, we use a thing called our ‘Foundation Services Agreement’. At a basic level, this includes a number of Public Updates a year. It also includes extra features like performance reviews, and licence analysis. And then one other thing we call the functional impact analysis.” With the technical updates for bug fixes going in, next is the functional updates.

There are often 40/50 different functional features per major release. Most organisations don’t have time to review them all to see what’s relevant. The problem is these organisations then fall behind on functional advances in the software.

You must analyse all the features, even if not all are adopted. “With a functional impact analysis, we collate each change that’s going into a new release and come up with a summary document detailing what area of the system they are. We then run through the options on the new functional release and do an impact analysis.”

It’s this impact analysis that will highlight which features will add value without harming operations. Going through each feature in this way identifies whether there’s no impact, or high, medium, or low impact. For example, if you’ve a UK business and there’s a new piece of functionality that is Mexican VAT, there’s no impact. Ignore it. But if there’s a new feature that improves reporting on the UK, you will want to look at it.

Undertaking a feature benefit analysis will also highlight the level of value. For example, if it’s a big change in the way warehousing module works, and that’s the primary focus of your business, it could be a high benefit.

The feature benefit analysis comprises a report that shows you, for example, out of 50 new features, there might be 20 you are recommend to enable right away, 20 you can ignore because they’re nothing to do with you, and 10 that need more detailed investigation.

Whether you accept new features or not is up to you. They will always be available in feature management. But you should review each before deciding. Learning what the impact to your organisation will be. Good, bad, or otherwise.

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