Confused about which portal solution your organisation should use for Dynamics 365? Today we’ll look at the best Portal platforms options with alot of new options now available in 2018 that promise better customer experiences and back-end configuration experiences.
I’ll be looking at their key strengths, weaknesses and core features.
Microsoft Portals is the latest iteration of Microsoft acquired ADX Studio Portals solution for Dynamics 365. Microsoft Portals is available as a SaaS add-on for your Dynamics 365 Online subscription, or included within the enterprise tier of Dynamics 365. A quick rundown of the key features of this portal are as follows:
- SaaS Deployment (Fast Deployment)
- Theming Support (Bootstrap, CSS)
- In-built Controls (Lists, Forms)
- Authentication Support (OAuth, SAML)
- Supported by Microsoft
Microsoft Portals Source for Customer Engagement
In 2017, Microsoft made a one-time release of the Microsoft Portals source code. This provides a migration path for current ADX Studio Portals on-premise customers, and provides a new option for organisations looking at hosting supporting and maintaining their own portal solution. It provides all the current functionality of the current Microsoft Portals SaaS solution, with the benefit of having source code access for additional customisation. It does come without warranty or support from Microsoft however. The key features are as follows:
- Hosting Flexibility (on-premise, PaaS)
- Same controls, theming support, authentication providers as SaaS Microsoft Portals with the ability to extend further through source customisation.
- MIT Open Source Licensing
Adoxio Connect 365
When talking Portal solutions, how can we can’t not mention Adoxio. Adoxio previously ADX Studio were the brains behind the popular ADX Studio Portals solution that went on to become Microsoft Portals under the Microsoft corporate banner. Connect 365 promises to bring back some of the components that we miss under the old ADX Studio Portals including customisation support, SharePoint integration, payment platforms and so on.
At a high level, Connect365 platform is an integration platform hosted in Azure that connects to both Microsoft Portal and Microsoft Dynamics 365 instance.
This could be the solution to all the limitations inherent within the Microsoft Portals (lack of options for integration and advanced customisations) whilst having the support of Adoxio technical teams this could make it suitable for SMEs.
SiteCore is a popular commercial content management system, run by Denmark based SiteCore company founded in 2001. With a number of high end clients such as Danone, Mont Blanc, Dyson, Toshiba, Canon, Panasonic Australia, CSIRO it is an enterprise ready solution. Integration with the Dynamics 365 platform is provided through the SiteCore Data Exchange Framework, that allows mapping of Dynamic entities. Technical learning curve for integration with Dynamics 365 would be considered high in comparison to other platforms that provide a more native integration which we will discuss later. At a high level, the SiteCore solution provides many features however:
- On-Premise and PaaS hosting.
- Integration via the Data Exchange Framework to Dynamics 365.
- Good level of documentation and a best practice methodology (called SiteCore HELIX Methodology to assist with deployment)
- Authentication provider support (openID, oauth, dynamics contact etc)
- Payment gateways via the Commerce Connect optional add-on
Sitefinity + Pavliks The Portal Connector
Vendor: Progress (Sitefinity) + CRM Portal Connector
Next we look at both an enterprise content management system (Sitefinity) and a native connector for Dynamics 365 (Pavliks The Portal Connector). This is an enterprise two-hit combo, that provides both exceptional features whilst having a native integration experience that is akin to that provided within Microsoft’s own Microsoft Portal solution.
You may have heard of Progress if you’re a .NET developer, as they also produce the popular Telerik controls. And Sitefinity is their content management system. Sitefinity boasts a number of enterprise customers including BBC, FujiFilm, NASA, Microsoft, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Audi, Tetley, and Kia. So, in that regard it is a high maturity product.
Some of the key features of Sitefinity are:
- Drag and Drop customisation support.
- MVC Code support via Sitefinity Widgets
- Included Telerik Kendo UI
- Authentication provider support (OAuth, SQL, Active Directory, OpenID, Social etc)
- Payment gateway support (Authorize.net, SagePay, PayFlow, eWay, WorldPay, Paypal and others via custom code)
For a configuration experience that is familiar to Microsoft Portals, we now look to Pavliks The Portal Connector (TPC). One of the key goals according to TPC is to simply provide the best configuration experience for Microsoft Dynamics 365 customers, and after first-hand experience using this product I would say they absolutely nailed it. Some of the key features of TPC are:
- Dynamic Entity Support including custom entities
- Dynamic Views / Grid Support
- Dynamic Visualisation Support
- In-Built Sitefinity Widgets make drag and drop customisation simple
Adobe Experience Manager
Vendor: Adobe Systems
Adobe needs no introduction, but just recapping the 2016 announcement of the Microsoft + Adobe partnership meant huge changes in how the two heavyweights of IT operate. Instead of directly competing in the experience, customer relationship management, cloud space the two companies now will focus their strengths and go to market together to provide class leading solutions. Adobe has always had strengths in marketing, advertising and Microsoft in the cloud. Through this relationship we’ve seen a number of changes including the re-platforming of all Adobe cloud based solutions to the Azure cloud, and better integration between Microsoft business applications such as Dynamics with the Adobe CMS and Marketing Automation suites.
With this though, comes a number of challenges from a partner perspective. Especially if you are a Microsoft partner, first is the pricing models of the two companies varies significantly. Microsoft have done an exception job engaging with their Tier 1 partners by providing pricing calculators, and bundled SKUs that make a lot of sense to SMEs. A secondly, the level of the integration between Adobe and Microsoft products is still relatively low and this is a result of the maturity of both products – users want to avoid switching between applications too often, however the toolsets provided by both products doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a single unified interface (like what we see with Microsoft specific ISVs).
Having said that, Adobe and particularly the Experience Manager content management system is the market leader in Enterprise (and has been for a number of years, see Magic Quadrant reports). And I foresee certainly that Adobe will remain market leaders with challengers such as Sitecore for some time to come.
Kentico offers a content management and e-commerce platform based on ASP.net technology. Founded in the Czech Republic in 2004, it has featured prominently in the Magic Quadrant for WCM (2016 and 2017 respectively).
The features offered by Kentico include:
- WYSIWYG editing experience
- In-built workflows
- E-Commerce (through the EMS package)
- SharePoint Integration
Kentico ISV partner EMAKINA, have also developed the CRM Connect middleware suite. This enables Kentico to connect to popular CRM solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 as well as Salesforce. The connector works as a middleware layer with its own framework for extension into other CRM or source database systems.
Hopefully, this has given you quick market scan of available options for your web deployments. A number of considerations should be made when selecting a portal solution – appetite/ability to support the solution, level of customisation required for user experience, backend configuration experience required, PaaS/On-Premise or SaaS, support level required, scalability and so on. I’ve been asked the question “what is the best portal product”, quite simply there isn’t one each was built with different markets in mind, but i’ll try to summarise in my own opinion where I believe each is a good fit.
- Microsoft Portals (SaaS) – Excellent value proposition, easy deployment, suitable for organisations not looking to do too much customisation and integration (or alternatively have internal teams that know how customise using Liquid Templates well).
- Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager – Great for enterprise customers, who need the configurability and scalability, but also comes at a significant initial and on-going cost.
- Sitefinity + TPC – Best configuration experience from the TPC side bar none. More of the middle range in terms of pricing, and would be suitable for organisations who are looking for both the flexibility of a good CMS while working within with Dynamics for data.
- Adoxio – Still relatively new, but the integration platform is promising. I would seriously be considering Adoxio Connect365 if you’re after a SaaS hosted solution.
- Kentico CRM Connect – offers quite alot of flexibility in that it connects to both Dynamics as well as Salesforce. With that though would come some trade offs in providing a native experience such as TPC (Sitefinity).
In summary, the options for delivery of web content has expanded over the past two years. Will we see big moves by other players to support popular open source CMS’s such as Umbraco and WordPress? Will we see big changes with Microsoft own Portal solution? Either way 2018 should be a big year for web platforms. Please drop me a line if you can recommend other Dynamics Portal solutions!