Having recently completed several exams, including the new MB-900 Fundamentals for Dynamics365, I thought it would be useful to set out how the new exam structure works, and what paths can be taken within it. This post is meant to be for D365 CE, not for F&O (I’m hoping to do a separate post on that another time).
The first question that usually comes up around certifications is ‘why should I take the exams – I know how to use/configure/deploy the system!’.
The answer to this is actually quite easy – if you know the stuff, then the exams won’t be too hard for you. They’ll also give you a better overview of things, especially due to the new curriculum (eg including cloud offerings, etc).
Not only is it rewarding for you to take (and pass!) them, it shows that you’re able to do so (and you get cool badges…thanks Microsoft for gamifying things lol). Additionally it can also help your company to qualify for different Microsoft Partner tiers, which can be quite important in the grand scheme of things (I am NOT going to talk about the recent IUR situation…)
It can also help when applying for a job position, as recruiters will check to see if you’re current with the latest exams. Experience is great of course, but they’ll want to know why you may not have any (recent) exams to show your knowledge.
The first exams in the series that I’d recommend to take are:
The MB-900, as per the name, goes over the fundamentals of Dynamics 365, and also gets you used to the new format (it’s now 60 minutes, with approx 25 questions). There are now drag’n’drop questions, multiple choice answers, and ‘journey style’ questions (these are when the question presented depends on the answer given for the previous question)
The MB-200 exam covers the different deployment types, configurations and integrations, and click-based customisations. It expands on the base that’s set out in the MB-900.
The next question usually asked is ‘what area/app should I specialise in’? That’s ALSO quite simple to answer – there are (currently) 4 options available for exams (after the MB-900). These are:
So, pick which one you think would be most suitable to your role, and take them. Of course, that’s not stopping you taking some of the OTHER exams as well – why not try to get the whole set in!
Read the syllabus! Microsoft doesn’t just draw them up randomly – they cover the material needed. They’ve also been through Beta phases where feedback has been given (which Microsoft usually take some note of). It will give you an idea of where the focus is, what’s needed to check, etc
Practise – hands on experience. You really DO need this now. Fire up a trial, start playing around. Use the syllabus as a guide for this – if it says that you need to know about cases (eg case management, case routing, case rules, parent/child cases), then make sure that you DO know how to do these!
Talk to others who are studying at the same time – perhaps try to make a study group. I was fortunate enough to join twice-weekly session for one of my exams, hosted by an amazing Microsoft Trainer.
When taking the exam, if you come across something that you don’t know, and are guessing the answer to – DON’T CHANGE THE ANSWER LATER ON. In this sort of scenario the gut reaction is usually 85% correct, and it’s better to leave it than try to second guess yourself.
Also, don’t stress out about the exams. They’re not the Big Bad Wolf – once you do them, you’ll see that they’re not absolutely crazy. Sure, you may have to guess a question or two, but even very experienced people do that.
As as tech guy, I immediately know what someone is referring to when they’re talking about environments (within a technical context, of course). However there are a large number of (non) technical people who have absolutely no idea what the word ‘environment’ means, leaving aside how they are used.
The aim of this post is therefore to demystify what environments are, the different types, how they’re used, etc.
Caveat: There may be specific circumstances in which these may differ, eg for Dynamics F&O
So firstly – what is an environment?
This is simple to answer – an environment is a full (technical) system. There may be multiple different systems contained within the same environment (or they could be split out). There will be different environments used (more details below) in any company
Incidentally, people may also use the word ‘instance’ instead of ‘environment’.
The next question is – how are environments used?
Thankfully this is also simple to answer – environments are used to enable different parts of the technical system roll-out process. Each environment is unique (and should usually not be connected to each other
Types of environments
There are quite a few different types of environments needed. Listed below are the ones that are usually considered to be MVP (no, not Microsoft Valued Professional….in this context it means Minimum Viable Product)
Development This is the environment that the development team will use for coding and configuration, as well as initial testing of code Once code is stable, it will be promoted to the next environment
UAT (User Acceptance Testing) This environment is where the client/business will access to test the system. Each development item will have a logged story, and these will be tested against. They will either pass (and then be signed off) or not pass (with explanations given as to why they haven’t passed) and be sent back to the development team
Note: It may be possible to use the UAT instance for training, and all client/business users to access it. This will depend greatly on the resources needed, project timeline/progress, etc. It is not usually advised to do this though
Staging This environment is where data migration is tested out, to ensure that all data from the previous system/s are successfully migrated (with any transformations that may need to take place).
Note: It may be possible to combine the UAT and Staging instances, if the proposed system is very simple and not complicated/large
Production This is the actual LIVE system for the company
Customisations, code etc are promoted through the different environments with releases. It’s important to ensure that these are carried out properly and scheduled in, especially when applying a release to a production environment. I’ll cover how this should be done, and what things to bear in mind, in a future post.
There are also several other types of environments that may be being used, depending on the type/scale/scope of the project:
Training This is an instance with all customisations and code (to date) along with data that is used to train all client/business users. Any updates in functionality to test environments would need to be replicated to this environment as well
Integration Depending on the other system/s that D365 will be exchanging data with (both in and out) it may be necessary to have a specific instance set up to test out the integration with these other components
Support A clone of the Production environment for use in support cases eg attempting to recreate issues/bugs that have been raised
If you’ve come across any other types of environments, please do comment!
Dynamics 365 is Microsoft’s business application suite, combining in a single system its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) capabilities. It includes four main applications: Customer Engagement, Finance and Operations, Talent and Retail.
Microsoft allows organisations to pick and choose the specific
applications they want to use to achieve their needs and objectives. This
allows organisations to use only the applications that they need, rather than
purchasing licenses to applications that may be left unused.
365 for Customer Engagement
Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement is Microsoft’s CRM system. It
contains a collection of separate applications that make up its CRM system,
including: Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Field Service and Project
Dynamics 365 for Sales
This application enables organisations, and the users within these
organisations, to track sales across the entire sales lifecycle from beginning
to end, build and maintain close customer relationships through effective
management of customer accounts and gain valuable insights on the sales
process. The application also includes tips, suggestions and insights which
help to maintain customer relationships with ease.
Dynamics 365 for Marketing
Dynamics 365 for Marketing is an
application which seeks to optimise the way in which organisations generate
sales opportunities and turn them into business relationships. The application
seeks to bring together sales and marketing strategy to create a unified
approach for managing the whole sales lifecycle. Companies can use the
Marketing application to create a personalised marketing strategy which uses
data on previous activity to target specific individuals and deliver
personalised advertisement messages.
Dynamics 365 for Customer Service
This application provides
companies with the ability to provide personalised, high quality customer
service on a range of platforms. The Customer Service Hub within the application
provides a centralised GUI and includes many tools that companies can use to
improve and optimise the service they provide to customers. These tools provide
a complete view of customer cases and enable companies to provide personalised
support for customers. Users can create and view customer cases, record and
monitor progress, view previous customer interactions and see an overview of
all open cases, which can be broken down into categories, such as product,
priority and incident type.
Knowledge Base Articles
Dynamics 365 for Field Service
The Field Service application focuses
on businesses’ operations in the field and provides companies with tools they
need to successfully operate and deliver high quality service to customers when
on-site. The application optimises the efficiency of resources through improved
scheduling, increasing the effectiveness of staff on-site and utilises Internet
of Things to identify and diagnose customer issues early on.
Agreements & Billing
Universal Resource Scheduling
Dynamics 365 for Project Service Automation
Project Service Automation is an
application targeted towards companies that provide project-based services and
includes tools to increase productivity, efficiency and the quality of the work
being delivered. The application includes tools to assist these organisation
through the whole project lifecycle and allows users to plan projects, track
progress, forecast price and profitability, monitor the scope, review and
assess costs and time, optimise resource scheduling, amongst other things
365 for Finance and Operations
Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations is Microsoft’s integrated ERP
system. It includes a variety of features such as supply chain management, intelligent
analytics, financial management, operations support and human resources
management. One of the central features of Finance and Operations is its
financial management capabilities. This platform allows organisations to use
features such as general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable,
banking, budgeting and forecasting, fixed asset management and tax management.
Finance and Operations also includes a number of capabilities which aid
organisations to manage and optimise their supply chain operations. Some of
these capabilities include sourcing and procurement, inventory and warehouse
management, materials requirements planning (MRP), and manufacturing
management. These capabilities enable organisations to optimise and automate
their supply chain at every point throughout the process.
365 for Talent
Dynamics 365 for talent, Microsoft’s human capital management
application, provides organisations with the tools they need to optimise the
way in which they manage and engage with their workforce. Talent is made up of
three central parts:
Attract focuses on the all parts of the recruitment process, from
finding suitable candidates to submitting offers to successful applicants. Once
successful applicants become new employees, the Onboard part of Talent helps to
assimilate new joiners into the organisation. Finally, Core HR is designed to
enrich the experience of employees and managers in organisations by creating a
self-service portal. Within this portal employees can request time off, set and
track performance goals, receive feedback and monitor skills and capabilities.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest talent database and often the primary
system that recruiters use to find, communicate with, and source candidates for
the jobs that recruiters are looking to fill. LinkedIn Recruiter integration
with Dynamics 365 for Talent (Attract) makes it easier for users to hire, and
to keep the data in sync between the two systems
365 for Retail
Dynamics 365 for Retail works to bring together both front and back
office function to assists businesses in optimising inventory, merchandising,
store operations and hardware to create a unified multi-channel sales approach
that delivers a high-quality shopping experience.
Retail shares functionality with both Finance and Operations, and
365 for Business Central
Microsoft Dynamics 365
Business Central is a cloud-based, all-in-one business management solution
which enables customers to upgrade from their entry-level accounting software
or legacy ERP system to one single, comprehensive solution to manage finances,
operations, sales and customer service. Helping organisations streamline their
processes, improve customer relations and enable growth through:
Business without silos—connecting
businesses and boosting efficiency with automated tasks and workflows, all
within the familiar Microsoft interface of applications such as Word, Outlook
Actionable insights—achieving more
and gaining a complete view of the business with connected data, business
analytics and guidance delivered by Microsoft’s leading intelligent
Solutions built to evolve—get
started quickly, growing and adapting in real time with a flexible platform
that makes it easy to extend beyond Business Central based on evolving business
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business
Central Essentials includes the following functionality:
ledger, workflows and audit trails, bank management, budgets, deferrals, bank
reconciliation, dimensions, fixed assets and currencies.
Customer Relational Management—contacts,
campaigns, opportunity management and built-in integration with Dynamics 365
Supply Chain Management—sales
order management, basic receivables, purchase order management, locations, item
transfers, and basic warehousing.
Human Resources—employees and
estimates, jobs and time sheets.
Other—multiple languages, reason
codes, extended text, Intrastat reporting, scheduled tasks and Outlook
Microsoft Dynamics 365
Business Central Premium will include the above functionality, plus:
Service Order Management—service
orders, service price management, service item management, service contract
management, planning and dispatching.
version management, agile manufacturing, basic supply planning, demand
forecasting, capacity planning, machine centres and finite loading
Microsoft’s Common Data Service (CDS) is an Azure-based application which stores and manages the data that is used to create applications on PowerApps and explore insights on Power BI.
CDS is the collective name for two different services offered by Microsoft, CDS for Apps and CDS for analytics.
The former is built into PowerApps and it brings together and stores the data from Dynamics 365 applications and databases to enable users to create business applications.
The latter, on the other hand, is similar to a data warehouse or data lake. It pulls, aggregates, cleans, integrates and stores data from multiple sources which can then be used by organisations for analysis to produce visualisations, dashboards and reports.
Using CDS has a number of benefits, including:
Effortless data management: the data is stored in the cloud, so users can benefit from the lower costs associated with cloud storage, scalability. data redundancy and high availability.
Security: role-based access allows organisations to easily control who has access to the data
Dynamics 365 integration: users can easily utilise data on Dynamics 365 to create business applications
Data quality: business rules, workflows and process flows are used to ensure the quality of the data that is stored.
Common Data Model (CDM)
When using multiple sources to create
business applications or explore business data, each source may have a specific
way in which it categories, formats and structures the data. In order to aid
the development of business applications and data analysis, CDS uses the Common
Data Model to create standardisation and consistency across the data. The CDM
is shared data language that allows different business applications and
databases to communicate in the same language, so to speak.
The CDM contains a set of standardised schemas and semantic metadata that creates a standardised structure and format for data coming from different sources. It does this through the set of entities that standard across businesses, as well as the relationships between these entities. Entities are a set of individual data records.
Think of entities as tables within a database and records as specific rows within those tables. It is common for entities to share the same data and thus have a relationship.
For example, the entity “Discount” will likely share data with “Quote”, since businesses will quote a discounted price to attract customers. If a business requires an uncommon, specific entity they have the option of creating their own. Some of the standard entities included in the CDM are listed below.
Microsoft Teams is a
communications tool that enables the growth of interaction and collaboration by
enabling text and video chat between team members. In teams, users can
participate in group chat room threads, send and receive instant private
messages and video call with two or more users. However, Team is more than just
a messaging tool, uses can also view, edit and share documents on OneDrive
without leaving the application. Users with Enterprise, Business Essentials or
Business premium can access Teams.
Team is available through an
internet browser, desktop application and mobile app.
It is possible to use to use
teams externally as well as internally. Meetings can be set up and held with
people who are external to a company, simply by sending through Team Meeting
link. Attendees can then connect to the meeting through whichever device they
prefer, or can call in from a phone (in which case there won’t be any option
Native integration with Microsoft
Office services include Word and Excel, but also SharePoint, OneNote,
PowerPoint, Planner, Power BI, Delve and cloud storage. Among the benefits of
the latter is that all team members can view the latest version of data, as
content is synced and stored instantly. This can allow members of a team to
instantly view and collaborate on documents together – this can also be done
whilst on a Team meeting call.
Key benefits of Teams:
One centralised hub
Office 365 integration
Customise Teams through APIs and bot frameworks
Enterprise security & compliance
Azure Active Directory integration
No extra cost to Office 365 users
It was announced that from
October 2019, Teams would absorb the capabilities of StaffHub, which will be
discontinued. StaffHub is a scheduling and work planning application which
helps organisations with the onboarding of new staff, deliver training and
Yammer is an enterprise social
network which allows social networking and communication within organisations.
It present a less-formal alternative to email communication, and it creates a
space for engagement where employees can respond to the announcements made by
Whereas Teams is used for instant
messaging in relatively small teams, Yammer can be used for engaging with
organisations or departments as a whole. Yammer can be used to send out task
reminders, announce recent successes or changes to the business, praise
employees and introduce new joiners, for example. Another key feature is that
external individuals can be added to the organisation’s Yammer, aiding greater
collaboration and engagement with external stakeholders.
Yammer can be described as an
organic knowledge repository of information and idea sharing. It’s not uncommon
for people to send emails (this is how we traditionally conducted business) but
it is also not uncommon for things to get lost in email.
Skype for Business
Skype for Business is a
communications enterprise software that can be used on the cloud, known as
Skype for Business Online, or on premise, known as Skype for Business Server.
It enables users to communicate via instant messaging, as well as audio and
In September 2017, Microsoft
announced that Skype for Business would be replaced by Teams.
The Microsoft Power Platform is a
system of applications which work together to enable users, from managers to
employees, to have a positive impact on the business and its customers. There
are three parts to the system: Power BI, Flow and PowerApps. Although each
application can be used individually, it is the combination of all three which produces
the greatest benefit for organisations.
Power BI is a business
intelligence software which allows users to analyse and visualise data to
produce useful and actionable business insights without the need for technical
skills. Data can be imported into Power BI from a number of different sources,
such as excel spreadsheets and on premise or cloud-based datacentres. Power BI
can be used on the desktop application called Power BI Desktop, the online
software-as-a-service application called the Power BI Service, or through the
There several central components
of Power BI: Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View, Power Map, Power BI Service
and Power BI Q&A.
Power Query is used to extract,
clean and transform data from a range of different sources, such as databases
including SQL Server and MySQL, files such as Excel, JSON and CSV, and other
applications such as Azure and Outlook.
Power Pivot is a data modelling
tool which allows users to create data models where data is structured in a way
to show the inter-relationships and hierarchies between different data
elements. For example, if two different datasets contain common data in their
columns, users can use Power Pivot to easily create relationships between the
two datasets by using the drag and drop feature.
Power View is the main data visualisation
tool within Power BI and it allows users to create interactive data
visualisation in a number of different formats, such as graphs, charts and
treemaps. Users can use slicers to slice and dice the data to explore insights
in greater detail.
Power Map is an interactive data
visualisation tool that enables users to discover and explore insights in 3D which
may not have been possible with 2D charts and tables. Due to its integration
with Bing, users can explore the data broken down by geographical location.
Power BI Service
Power BI Service is a component
which allows users to keep up-to-date with information about their
organisation. A central feature of Power BI Service is that users can share
dashboards which present insights through interactive data visualisations.
Dashboards are made up of tiles, with each tile showing a different data
visualisation. Tiles pull data from on premise and cloud-based datasets as
their source and will update as the data changes.
Power Q&A is a natural
language tool for asking questions about data in English, rather than in a
programming language. Users can ask questions about the data model they have
built and imported into Power BI and receive answers quickly and easily. This
feature allows users to explore insights that they may not have discovered
For example, if the data contains
a number of columns with the titles “region”, “quarter” and “sales”, a user can
type the following question into Q&A: “sales by region in the last quarter
as a bar chart”, and Q&A will produce a bar chart showing that information.
If users do not specify which type of visualisation they want the data to be
presented in, Q&A will choose the best type based on the data. Q&A also
includes keywords contained in the dataset to help uses ask meaningful
questions about the data. Another way in which Q&A helps uses is that it
comes with an auto-complete feature, which predicts the question the user is
going to ask.
Microsoft Flow is a cloud-based
software that allows users automate tasks between applications without the need
for any technical skills. To do this, users create workflows, known as flows,
by specifying the action that should occur when an event happens. Flow can be
used to automate a vast number to different tasks, using applications within
the Microsoft Suite, such as Dynamics 365, Office 365, and applications outside
of the Suite, such as Dropbox, SQL Server, Twitter, Salesforce and GitHub.
Streamline day to day tasks
Easily share and access business data
Collaborate on a common platform
Improve workforce productivity
One way in which Flow can be used
is to automate the process of sending an email after an event has occurred. For
example, when the status of a lead is updated on Microsoft Dynamics, a flow can
be created to automate an email to be sent around specifying the details of the
update to the appropriate staff. Although users are free to create their own
flows, the application contains an extensive range of flow templates, allowing
users to quickly choose the flows they need to automate processes.
It is also possible to build
connectors to systems, such as bespoke-developed applications.
PowerApps is a platform-as-a-service
application development software in which users can create and share mobile
apps for business use that run on a variety of operating systems, such as iOS,
Android, Windows and most internet browsers. Rather than having to develop an
app for each OS individually, the apps users create run on the PowerApps app. This
cuts down the time and cost involved in development drastically.
The aim of PowerApps is to enable
users to create business solutions without the need of technical expertise. It
does this by presenting an intuitive, user-friendly interface in which users to
utilise drag and drop functionality to create apps. Although PowerApps does require
the use of formulas, these formulas are based on those used in Excel to
optimise ease of use. The key benefit of this is that it makes solving business
issues accessible to those who would not necessarily have been involved in a
traditionally technical task, bringing new ideas that add value to the
Much like Flow, PowerApps can be
used with a number of different applications, such as Dynamics 365, SQl Server,
SAP, Oracle and Dropbox.
There are two methods for
Canvas Apps is a visual canvas to
help you design and build apps – the aim is to provide a comfortable
environment to create what is needed. Rather than using complicated coding or
programming tools, users can drag and drop various elements into the canvas
from whatever is required. Throughout, it’s possible to format the right
conditions and settings that are needed to make the application work. Existing
data sources can be integrated natively without any issues.
Model apps can run as either a
standalone or as the backend to a canvas app. One of the core benefits of
Model-driven apps is their ability to generate data models. When inputted, the
data is defined as a structure which allows the app to conform to your
information. Similarly, developing an application utilises consistent business
processed. Once this is all finished, the app designer would then be used to
develop the final product. No matter how complex or easy, what matters are the
steps that provide the basis for its completion. The simple application
architecture allows the app to be customised, without creating new code.
Microsoft has a several different
file storage and collaboration solutions which can be deployed within
organisations to allow sharing, interaction and collaboration between
SharePoint Online is Microsoft’s
cloud-based tool which is designed to foster an environment of sharing and
collaboration within organisations. One of the primary ways organisations use
SharePoint is to manage and share resources within organisations by storing
them on the cloud. Rather than storing documents in a single location, storing
resources on the cloud allows users to access documents from any device, and interact
and collaborate with others across the organisation.
Organisations can also use
SharePoint as an enterprise content management system, in that it can be useful
as a means to efficiently store and organising data and information on a system
that can be accessed by the internet. However, there are also many other ways
in which organisations can deploy and use SharePoint, such as the creation and
management of websites, customer relationship management, networking facilitation,
business intelligence and workflow management.
Organisations wishing to maintain
control over their data and have a greater ability to customise SharePoint to
meet their needs can deploy SharePoint Server, which is installed on premise. This
may be preferable for organisations that hold sensitive and classified data.
Some uses of Sharepoint are:
Document & File Management,
Advanced Search Functionality
Increased Business Intelligence solutions
Collaboration abilities allow
more than one team member to access, edit, and annotate a document
simultaneously. Team members can collaborate to formulate the document by
breaking down tasks or sections, and SharePoint will cohesively stitch together
a complete document on the fly as they work.
It’s also possible to use
Sharepoint as a document storage repository when using other Microsoft
applications, such as Dynamics365. There is seamless integration between these
products, and implementations of this can have major benefits in terms of
storage pricing (Sharepoint storage is somewhat of a fraction of the cost of
Dynamics storage – the benefits of this are seen when implementing solutions
that will need to scale up over time). It can be used for attachments, emails,
OneDrive for Business
OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud
storage service that allows users to store files and access them from anywhere
on any device. Due to its integration with Office 365, OneDrive enables users
create and edit documents on the cloud, and share these documents to
collaborate with others. Local copies of documents can be downloaded from the
cloud to view and edit offline (with then synchronising back online when
re-connected). The service can be used for both personal and business/school
use, but the latter service is managed internally in the organisation and is referred
to as OneDrive for Business.
Following on from the information
for Sharepoint above, OneDrive for Business with Dynamics 365 is a great way to
expand on SharePoint integration by allowing users to associate documents to
SharePoint-enabled entities from their own OneDrive for Business folders. This
does need Sharepoint to already be in place and integrated with Dynamics365 in
order to work
Microsoft Delve is a cloud-based
solution powered by Office Graph, which is a repository of user content and
activity, and the inter-relationships between them. Essentially, Delve provides
users with up to date information on what they are currently working on and who
they are working with, and helps increase interaction and collaboration between
employees within organisations.
The purpose of Delve is generally
to be able to present in front of us what we need before we even ask for it. An
example of this could be an upcoming meeting – Delve should be able to show you
the related documents for the meeting (subject to security controls – if you
don’t have security access to view the files, they won’t be displayed)
On Delve, all users can create
and update their Office 365 profile with their professional interests, current
projects, skills and certifications. Users also receive a personalised home
page, which enables them to discover important information from across the
Office 365 Suite, such as emails, events, contacts and documents. The home page
provides users with links to their recently accessed documents, other user’s
profiles and a content feed. This content feed uses machine learning and
artificial intelligence which tracks user activity and interaction to present
content that may be of interest to the user.