Dynamic Communities Corporation Customer Perspective

Andy Hafer is CEO of Dynamic Communities, the organization that supports four Microsoft Dynamics® user groups with hundreds of chapters and branches globally. Under his leadership, Dynamic Communities fosters the development and growth of these independent user groups that provide educational, networking and knowledge-sharing programs for companies using Dynamics AX, GP, NAV and CRM products.

As the company grew out of their outdated, fragmented enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Dynamic Communities reached out to Concerto to provide a unified private cloud solution.

1. What started you down the road of moving your business into the cloud?

We have been really growing as a company. Dynamic Communities started when volunteers established local Dynamics product user groups, but eventually we knew our organization needed to transform from being a group of volunteers into something professional to support those user groups globally. When Dynamic Communities was officially incorporated, we managed member information and personnel with a lot of spreadsheets and just cobbled together a back office with that. As the user groups have grown, so has our need to organize information on behalf of our members. The first major project we tackled was a membership system to handle contacts and accounts. Of course, we chose to base that on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and worked with an independent software vendor (ISV) to customize Dynamics to handle memberships, portals and calendar activities.

2. Were those applications previously on premise?

Yes, we originally set up Microsoft Dynamics CRM on premise. When we made the decision to move everything to Dynamics GP, it was the perfect opportunity for migrating all of our operations into the cloud. It was an easy decision. Back in my prior career as a CIO for two different companies, my preference was to let the people who know what they’re doing support the hardware and the network and patch all the software so that the company can focus on running their business. The pressing issue was that Dynamic Communities’ employees are part of a virtual team; we don’t all sit in the same office or even live in the same city. Team members work from their home offices in Florida, North Dakota, Minnesota, Maryland, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada and California, so it was critical to our business that we have access from anywhere in North America. Once we knew we wanted to host our applications in the cloud, we investigated who was available in the marketplace to meet our specific business needs.

3. With so many Dynamics consultants as members in the user groups that you support, why did you choose Concerto to implement Dynamics GP and Dynamics CRM?

Well, the members of our organization are all Dynamics experts but not hosting experts. We did a lot of research to figure out who does what we needed — in this case, cloud hosting all of the Dynamics products coupled with Microsoft® Office 365 — that was all integrated together. Because we don’t have in-house IT support resources, we need a super support team. Concerto fit all of our criteria. The folks there are super-conscientious about making sure that all of their customers are supported well. After all of the research we did, Concerto was the best price for the value of what they provide. That’s the bottom line on why we went with them.

4. Without a centralized office for Dynamic Communities, managing your ERP software must have been difficult. Did each employee install local copies of the software?

No, QuickBooks was an online tool that we paid a subscription to use. Dynamics CRM was an on premise license that was installed at a web host and accessed via a web browser. We suffered some downtime using the web host for CRM and the overall implementation was a little “kludgy.” That was one of the main drivers for us to go for an integrated cloud solution.

5. Was there a critical event during that CRM downtime that made you say: “this is bad, and we really need to move into the cloud?”

I don’t want to characterize it as me having some kind of epiphany. There wasn’t any single event. I knew we were going to end up in the cloud. The true drivers for us were that we had the old version of Dynamics CRM 4.0 and needed not just the functionality of the latest version of Dynamics CRM 2011, but a more professional hosting environment. In the case of Dynamics GP, we just outgrew QuickBooks. I think that’s a well-worn path with a lot of companies. You start out with QuickBooks to make payments, take checks and do a little bit of accounting, but that’s all you can do with it. Our organization supports user groups across four different Dynamics products in multiple locations, and each user group is organized and led by its own independent board. They have their own branches and chapters … so you can see that the accounting needed to keep track of everyone’s standing in these user groups is pretty complex.

6. How complex was your Dynamics cloud implementation?

The implementation included three mutually exclusive projects: the Dynamics CRM implementation, the Dynamics GP implementation and the Office 365 implementation, plus integrating it all together. Those were three separate activities with three different managers on our side and on the Concerto side. Even though it was a complex process, Concerto did a good job of taking all of the question marks out of our heads and tackling all of our concerns. Concerto assigned a single point of contact for us who knew exactly what needed to be done. Their consultant has experience in cloud migrations and spent his day making sure everything was going as planned.

7. What was the project's biggest challenge?

If I had to characterize any challenges, it’s something that happens in any project — the “cat herding” aspect. There are always a lot of moving parts. We’re working with ISV solutions so they have to be involved. We’re a small team so we have to find time in our schedules to do what needs to be done on this cloud migration project along with all of the other tasks we have to do … and that’s frustrating.

An additional benefit to the Concerto cloud system is that I know all of our software licenses are legal. That’s important because when you have a lot of remote employees in different cities running around with laptops under their arms, you never really know where that copy of Microsoft Office or other software tools came from.

8. What’s the advantage of having everything in the cloud?

We know that the data is going to be backed up — even the data on local hard drives — and accessible from any device with an Internet connection and browser, regardless of operating system. Last week I had a meeting with one of our partners and witnessed someone accidentally dump a whole cup of coffee into their laptop keyboard … so having all of this data in a bulletproof environment and managed the way that a large enterprise would without breaking the bank is a huge advantage to a small business like us.

9. What advice would you give another CEO or decision maker about the benefits of migrating to the cloud?

Determine what you want your operational model to look like and how you want your users to behave when they need support. If you assume hosting providers are in business to support you, then a hosting provider is a commodity. The only competitive differentiator is the service they provide to you. Some hosts offer nothing but a place to put your data online, and you have to use your own IT department for development and support. For us, Concerto is a great partner whose one-stop-shop service model fit us best. The greatest relief of all is that with Concerto Cloud Services™ I don’t have to invest in support and IT infrastructure for a long time.