The Benefits of Being a Versatile Microsoft Dynamics Consultant: Blending the Best of Technical and Functional Skills for Better Results
When I joined the business world as a Microsoft Dynamics consultant more than three years ago, I was faced with a question to which I was unsure of the answer: “Are you a functional resource, or are you a technical resource?” I pondered the question for a moment and responded with, “Well, I’m not quite sure how to answer that, because I am both.” Looking puzzled, my new boss responded with, “What do you mean, ‘both’? Which path are you going to take, Alexis?” Determined to not choose a side, I said, “In-between, please : ).”
Very patiently, my manager responded with some gentle guidance: “Well, I see you have development experience, but your soft skills are of immense value, especially in consulting.” That was great to hear, and ever since that day, I have managed to walk the line and find the balance between the functional and technical paths of Dynamics consulting and have come to appreciate the two perspectives (NOTE: My experience is in CRM, but this blog has broader applications, including ERP).
The great thing about Dynamics consulting is this: On Monday, you can be analyzing reports and graphs with a business stakeholder, and by Friday, you are querying databases and generating SSIS packages to update production data. In other words, there are many facets to a Dynamics implementation that cover all sorts of ground, from discovery, requirements gathering, and data migration to reporting, integrations, and customizations—all with a common goal: to enhance and automate business processes. With consulting around software in a technology friendly world, it should be no surprise that the lines between the functional and technical tracks can blur at times…and they should.
Functional consulting: Enhancing business processes
From a functional standpoint, consulting typically means client interaction, meetings, presentations, and team collaboration that evolve into designing, documenting, and other business process-enhancing tasks. In turn, an understanding of the business vision and how it can be optimized and automated using software comes to light. Implementing any enterprise business software from the front end is complex in itself, with various areas to be customized for the client and the interdependencies that come along with it. However, taking it a step further to unveil what is under the hood only compliments the Microsoft Dynamics consultant’s understanding of a different technical perspective and introduces new skills to further your consulting toolkit, not to mention an understanding of the bigger picture itself.
Since I’m a Microsoft Dynamics consultant specializing in CRM, I’ll share a scenario where a functional team member is requesting a UX development change to a production CRM system. The business has a drop-down list on the Contact page to identify which region a Contact operates out of. The requested change is to update an existing value of “Ireland” and break it out into two options: “Dublin” and “Galway.”
Here is what the functional business analyst team receives and its interpretation of the requested change:
Update Region drop-down list to include options of “Dublin” and “Galway” instead of “Ireland”
However, here is how the technical team interprets the request:
- Update Region field in back-end of system
- Ensure reports are updated to reflect the correct Region values
- Update existing data (required)
- Test change once implemented
- Promotion of change to live system
In a change as impactful as this example, we need to think about the existing Contacts that already have the Region of “Ireland” assigned to them. With this data currently in the system, it also means any existing reports or dashboards referencing the Ireland option will be updated as well. Additionally, there could be back-end or integration changes required as well that need coordinating to ensure the correct order of operations is followed.
From a technical standpoint, it is not uncommon to have a “small business change” request like this without the requester or organizer understanding the snowball effect that can occur. To have this knowledge as a functional resource ensures that all dependencies are identified and time/effort are evaluated in order to set proper expectations and realistic timelines for the development team.
Technical consulting: Balancing back-end and front-end knowledge
From a technical perspective, there are also many pieces to the CRM puzzle: Development, data, reporting, integrations, and depending on the software, cloud or on-premise deployment and dependencies. With a deeper focus and understanding of how things operate on the back end, it can sometimes be difficult to understand or maintain an awareness of what goes on in the layers above.
As a developer or solution architect, you might receive a request that initially brings questions to mind, such as, “Why does this business want this?” “How do we currently handle this situation?” “What are the steps to reproduce this action?” And so on. An understanding of the bigger picture—including the business vision or the existing process—allows a technical resource to stay a step ahead so they can spend more time thinking through how to approach the requested change rather than having to spend time getting up to speed on the background.
Technical and functional abilities make for a well-rounded consultant
With all of the tasks required for an implementation, it only makes sense for consultants to be interchangeable in their role—to have the ability to wear many hats throughout the software life cycle. If you think about the potential roles a consultant can play in an implementation—developer, data migration expert, solution architect, project manager, business analyst, QA—they come from varying backgrounds, but they have a common goal: To deliver success to the client.
In my experience as a Microsoft Dynamics consultant, it has been both valuable and redeeming to understand both the functional and technical sides of the Dynamics 365 platform. To be an effective and thorough business analysis who gathers requirements for a business solution yet understands what goes on “under-the-hood” enhances not only my decision making and thought processes, but also makes me more effective and opens me up to other potential skills and knowledge to help my clients and take my career a step further. Looking from the other side, to know how the Dynamics platform operates from a back-end perspective and be able to interpret a business request with its dependencies and potential impact can set you apart from those who don’t possess the skills to put it all together.
Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar side. It could take you a step in the right direction, and it isn’t as far away as it seems.
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