With SaaS products like Dynamics 365, getting the process of running a free trial right is crucial for the commercial success of products. This is why you may have seen Microsoft also perform a lot of changes into the process how you’ve been able to spin up trials of CRM Online instances, nowadays known as Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. Or “Dynamics 365 for X”, with the “X” being an App like Sales, Customer Service, Field Service or Project Service.
This App model is one of the reasons why the seemingly simple process of provisioning a new cloud database to host your CRM trial data has turned into a bit of a beast recently. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all offering, rather Microsoft is trying to tailor the trial experience based on the business process that is most relevant for the potential customer. The intentions are good, but the results can lead to a lot of confusion when dealing with an inherently complex platform like XRM where users never follow just a single track through a few predetermined use cases. Here’s a few notes on what I recently learned about how the trials currently work.
If you’ve been working with Dynamics 365 recently, either by deploying it for customers, managing your internal instances or studying to become a certified Dynamics 365 professional, you’ve probably encountered this selection:
Here you get an option to select either one of the Apps, go for the full suite of “all of these”, or if you’re really paying close attention, skipping the App selection by ticking the box “none of these, don’t customize my organization”. Today when I was in need of setting up a new trial to test the Sales related features specifically, I opted to install the Sales App via this provisioning screen.
After a short while, I was able to access this new trial instance. That in itself can of course be a challenge, since there’s no guarantee that the Office 365 App launcher or the home.dynamics.com screen will refresh to show you the link to the Dynamics 365 instance. Knowing the direct URL of the instance picker (https://port.crm4.dynamics.com/G/Instances/InstancePicker.aspx in EMEA) speeds up this process, and soon I was faced with the Sales specific clean app list. My Finnish language “Myynti” app for the legacy web UI was there, as was the less elegantly named “Sales-keskus” hybrid of English/Finnish, which of course points to the Sales Hub based on Unified Interface.
Since I needed to do some solution installation here, the first thing I had to do was to promote myself to the Admin role. That’s something you’d never need to do outside of the trial experience, as being the user who provisioned the Dynamics 365 instance you’d most likely have sufficient roles in the Office 365 administration side to see the admin menus directly here. But these are trials we’re talking about and the whole point of the tailored experience is that you DON’T see things that are not relevant to you, because that’s a scary UX for people not familiar with the platform.
Now that I had the power to configure the instance to my liking, I proceeded to first checking out the default UI on the account form. Here I noticed that actually my nice’n clean Sales UX was cluttered with stuff that I didn’t ask for. Taken from the English UI here, you’ll notice that the account form tab actually has sections for Project Price Lists, Field Service and Scheduling. Not to mention the related records navigation that was at least 20 items long. Where did my sleek Unified Interface “Sales Hub” go?
When going to the Solutions menu, it’s obvious where these items are coming from. The “Sales trial” in fact contains in total 16 solutions, which is equivalent to choosing the “all of them” option on the trial setup screen. It’s all here, even though you didn’t ask for it: Customer Service, Field Service, Project Service and their accompanying trial customizations. No, none of these will actually show up as installed solutions for the instance if you view them via the Dynamics 365 Admin Center. The same laws of physics obviously don’t apply for trial instances as they would for actual production or sandbox instances.
This is a whole new dimension that has been recently introduced by the Dynamics team, to encourage viral sign-up for the various business applications in Microsoft’s portfolio. It all starts when you navigate to https://trials.dynamics.com/ and start your digital transformation journey from this screen:
You’ll need to enter a work email address that will be used for associating you with the right organization based on the domain. Assuming your digital transformation ambitions aligned with something built on top of the XRM platform and not AX, the resulting Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement instance will be pretty similar to the one in the earlier example when it comes to the customization part. However, it will have a completely different administration layer applied to it, since the idea is that other users can sign up themselves for the same trial org. Here’s what it will look like when someone comes in with the same domain and you’ve already got an active trial:
If you opt to not create your own trial but rather request to join an existing organization, you’ll still be presented with the App selection screen. In our example, let’s say that for the Sales demo org our next user wishes to try the Customer Service features instead:
After clicking “continue” the owner of this org will get an email notification about the new request for someone to join his or her Dynamics 365 trial:
In our scenario, the second user will actually land on a Dynamics 365 CE instance that only shows the Customer Service application features in the navigation, and not the Sales features. Now, there aren’t quite enough moving parts in the trial solutions today to target the entity forms to only show relevant features, so it’s all more of a Sitemap exercise for now.
At this point it’s a bit easier to see why the trial process insists on installing all those solutions that the first user didn’t ask for. It does however raise some concerns for any usage of such instances that goes beyond throwaway demo orgs. Just imagine that the upcoming Dynamics 365 for Marketing App would be added here, and the ~40 related solutions for Portals, VoC, LinkedIn would all be thrown into the mix.
Managing Trial Instances
For the Email Trial process there’s an FAQ document that gives more details about how this thing is supposed to work. The concept of shadow tenants will surely be of interest to the IT admins who may run into this feature only after their organization’s business users have spun up the max 5 trial organizations with a total of 25 users per tenant. To get a view of the trial process and instances you can navigate to the trial instance picker (EMEA URL, change the number according to your geo). They will also show up in the standard instance picker, where you’ll see the new Trial instance type alongside the more familiar Production and Sandbox.
So, now that we know how the process works, what are our options to undo all the unwanted configuration that the trial solutions did on both of our orgs here? Unfortunately the new Email Trial process doesn’t even offer the “none of these” option for provisioning instances, but with the traditional process that is still possible. The only problem is that I now burned that one trial available when starting the subscription process from the Office 365 Admin Center (under Billing – Purchase Services).
For the longest time I was under the impression that since a trial only contained a single instance license, there wasn’t the possibility to change it from Production to Sandbox. Well, it turns out that you CAN do this. Which in turn will unlock the option to reset the instance. Having learned from my earlier error with the trial, I now chose the “none of these” option and got myself a clean XRM instance to work on. After this it was only a matter of navigating to the “manage your solutions” view on the Dynamics 365 Admin Center and starting the installation process for the Dynamics 365 Sales Application.
Ah, the beauty of simplicity:
Since the whole Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement trial process may well have changed again by the time you read this blog post, I suggest keeping an eye on the official documentation page for the latest guidance. From a consultant/admin point of view, this whole uncontrolled nature of the trials as a marketing vehicle for the different App teams makes it a risk that you’ll most likely want to eliminate from your actual project of building a CRM system for production usage. If you’re unsure of what configuration items the instance contains, there’s always one option to consider: nuke it and start from scratch.