Dynamics 365: An overview of the new Unified Interface

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface on laptop screen

A new look and feel is coming to Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement – bringing an enhanced and aligned user experience as well as some technical changes.

In this article, we look at the new Unified Interface and will cover:

  • What is the new unified interface?
  • Why is there a new UI?
  • When is it coming?
  • Can I stay on the old user interface?
  • Why should I move to this new UI?
  • What does it look like?
  • What is missing in the new Unified Interface?

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Responsive

What is the new Unified Interface?

The Unified Interface is a new user experience and interface for Dynamics 365 to bring the look and feel to a consistent design across all devices and all the Dynamics platforms. The layout and navigation currently differs between Customer Engagement and the more recent applications (such as Business Central and Marketing) as well as the experience in the mobile app compared to the web app. The new ‘Unified Interface’ will bring the web version of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement in line with the modern interface to allow a consistent experience.

The new Unified Interface is quite a shift in navigation, layout and user experience but also includes some major technical changes for Dynamics 365, so there are two key elements to focus on:

  • Technical preparation
  • End user preparation

Behind the scenes, the main technical change you must be aware of is the deprecation of some client-side APIs – particularly xrm.page which is widely used by many organisations. This means that legacy forms may either break or work poorly in the new Unified Interface and could lead to some serious technical debt that will need to be resolved and tested before you can move to the new Unified Interface. It’s worth being aware that deprecated means that no updates will be released and this will likely eventually be removed, so it’s worth reading into – you can find out more here.

For end users, the new Unified Interface involves a very different navigation, page layout and overall design, so you need to also be considering end user training and helping staff adopt the new interface and become familiar with the new layout.

Why is there a new user interface?

Visual and technical overhauls always cause a stir, especially with business systems that are used daily. New navigation, page layouts and overall visual style will mean that users will need to re-familiarise themselves with the new UI. While the visual change may cause some resistance, it is an overall positive move and necessary shift to keep Dynamics 365 in line with Microsoft’s strategy for the platform. Two key reasons for the change include:

Aligning the Dynamics platform: As mentioned, the new Unified Interface will bring Dynamics 365 inline with the interface on the mobile app and on the other Dynamics platforms, such as Marketing to allow a consistent and responsive user experience across the entire Dynamics platform, so that switching between the various business apps is seamless – on any device. Once everyone is on the Unified Interface, Microsoft will have one version of Dynamics (thanks to the automatic updates) and one interface across all their business applications. This will make new development, updates and support much simpler to manage by removing multiple scenarios - and should mean more time to spend on platform enhancements.

App-driven focus: Finally, the whole Dynamics platform is shifting to become an ‘app-driven’ experience, which the Unified Interface enables. Where Dynamics 365 (back when it was Dynamics CRM) was one large database that everyone accessed with varying permissions, the new direction is for more targeted applications that fit together with each serving a specific purpose. This is all enabled with the new Power Platform and underlying Common Data Service. What this does mean, is that when users access the new Unified Interface, rather than going straight into their system they instead have to choose which app they wish to use, which helps to keep all apps organised and with clear purposes.

When is it coming?

The Unified Interface is available to all online Dynamics 365 customers now, but it is turned off by default, as Microsoft disable any updates that could cause serious interruption. It can be applied to Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement customers (online) version 9 onwards – which everyone should be running now with the automatic continuous update delivery model

If you would like to enable it then it will require considerable testing as it is more than simply visual changes. We would recommend enabling it in a non-production instance to carry out your testing, bug fixing and any additional development that may be required. If you need any support with this, we can offer Dynamics 365 upgrade support packages.

Can I stay on the old user interface? 

For now, yes. However, as Microsoft are now focusing on Unified Interface being the standard interface on which they create their updates, it is likely that companies will be transitioned away from the classic web interface soon. The cut-off date for this hasn’t been announced yet and Microsoft should give a few months’ notice (hopefully at least 6 months), so companies can remain on the classic interface in the meantime. While changes like this are off by default, there will come a time when Microsoft enforce the Unified Interface, as this will become the standard supported experience.

The ‘push’ will likely be during a major update – which now happens every April and October – and it is worth being aware that you can no longer delay updates due to the new continuous update cycle. You can read more on this in our article "Best practices for the new Dynamics 365 update approach". The switch could occur in the next major update (October 2019) however it will likely be later. If it is later, then moving to the Unified Interface early is only an advantage, as you will have more time to test and prepare rather than being forced to quickly act and rush ahead of a firm cut-off date. Another reason to move early, is that new updates will be built for the Unified Interface – so remaining on the classic version might mean you cannot use/access new features.

What does the Unified Interface look like?

Visually, there a few notable changes to be aware of and we’ve included screenshots below to give a glimpse into how the new Unified Interface looks in a few key areas.

Navigation – Perhaps the biggest user experience change is the navigation. Where it previously ran along the top and you would use the arrows to navigate throughout the system, it is now all along the left-hand side. Navigating between apps (Sales, Service etc) etc is done via the bottom left corner (in a black box to highlight it below), while entities are listed down the left – these can be minified to only show the icons and give more screen space but relies on remembering every icon or continually hovering over them! Recent and pinned are also in the navigation.

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Navigation

Lists – Results are clearly displayed as before but there are a few new enhancements:

  • Filtering is much simpler with the ability to search for filters and easily apply
  • The status of internal users are synced with Microsoft Teams showing when staff are on the phone, in meetings, busy, out of office or available etc. Key contact info is also available on hover

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Lead Lists

Lead Form – The below shows a new lead in the new UI, which has all the key information as before but has a few notable changes:

  • Better process display (for example, the qualification process) for better user experience, which have drop downs when clicked to free up more screen space
  • Better timeline of activity (phonecalls, emails, attachments, notes) – all in one space rather than the separate tabs for each area
  • Tabs – rather than scrolling down the lead, you can navigate between tabs (Summary, Details, Related)
  • Refreshed look for the action panel at the top (New, Qualify, Add to Marketing List etc)

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Lead Form

Meanwhile, the opportunity and qualification business process looks like:

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Qualification Business Process

Search – Search results have been improved to give more filtering options and to allow more refined search criteria.

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Search

Advanced Find – Advanced Find is available in a hybrid experience (see below) which means that it can be used in the Unified Interface but currently remains in classic web style.

Dynamics 365 Unified Interface Advanced Find

What is not included in the Unified Interface?

At launch, there were some key functionality completely missing from the new Unified Interface, which was a major barrier to adoption. Now, Microsoft have added most functionality to the UI or have enabled a hybrid experience that presents certain features in the old style alongside the new design. These include Advanced Find, Bulk Edit, Merge Records, Audit History, Record Sharing and Personal Options where they are not yet part of new Unified Interface, but you can still carry out these actions – they just appear in the Classic style in a pop-out window.
However, it is important to be aware that there are still some capabilities that remain unavailable or are currently read-only – but will no doubt be added in the future. You can see the list here to determine if they will slow down your transition. 

Conclusion

It is worth preparing to upgrade to the Unified Interface – or at least begin considering upgrading and the implications for your CRM system. While change can cause resistance, the new Unified Interface is a positive step to align Dynamics 365 with the future Power Platform strategy and to keep your system on track with the latest features and improvements. With enough preparation time (which you will have if you begin planning), you can ensure a smooth upgrade and start getting familiar with the new layout – and start using new features that will only be applicable to the Unified Interface.

If you have any questions around the change, or would like any upgrade support, please contact us.

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