Best practices for the new Dynamics 365 upgrade approach

Woman typing on a laptop at a desk

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

Last year, Microsoft announced that the way Dynamics 365 (online) will be upgraded is going to change as it moves to a continuous release cycle.

By the end of January, all Dynamics 365 online customers are required to be on the latest version. After January 31st 2019, any customer that is not on the latest version (version 9) will be automatically updated. Once on v9, all Dynamics 365 online customers will follow a continuous delivery cycle and 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 and October, as well as ongoing, regular minor updates for bug fixes and performance improvements. 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 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. Download updated release notes with more comprehensive information (around 2 months prior)
  4. 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)

It’s also worth noting that new functionality will now be on an opt-in basis, which is enabled by an administrator. Features that could cause disruption are disabled by default and will need to be enabled before being applied.

The next major release: April 2019

The next major release coming to Dynamics 365 is the April 2019 release (or ‘Spring’ release). As the first release following the new update cycle, it is worth spending a little more time understanding the release and how the new process will work.

The key milestones and dates that you need to be aware of are:

Initial release notes available: 21st January 2019 (These will be available here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/business-applications-release-notes/index)

Preview available: 1st February 2019 (See how here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/get-started/release-schedule)

Updated release notes available: 21st February 2019 (From the same link: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/business-applications-release-notes/index)

General availability: 5th April 2019

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

Move to v9 if you haven’t yet: Firstly, you need to make sure that you are running (or will be running) version 9 ahead of the automatic switch-over on January 31st.

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 notes 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.

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 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 would 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: https://dynamics.microsoft.com/en-gb/roadmap/overview/

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.

Join our Mailing List

Receive our latest technology news and updates straight to your inbox once a month. We will not share your data and you may unsubscribe at any time.