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If you are new to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the jargon workflows and dialogs can be confusing. There are plenty of excellent resources that compare Microsoft Dynamics CRM workflows and dialogs from a technical perspective, but perhaps you are looking for a basic overview that helps you understand why you would use Workflows or Dialogs from a business perspective.
Both workflows and dialogs fall into the category of “Processes” in MSCRM because they are technologies that are designed to support and automate business processes. They can BOTH be found in the Settings area under Processes.
Dynamics CRM Workflows are automated processes that you design to run in the background. They can be triggered manually by the user, or they can be triggered automatically by something occurring in the application such as the value of a field changing, a record being assigned to another user or team, or a record changing status. After a Workflow is triggered, it can do a number of actions such as create a record, update a record, send an email or launch another workflow.
Here are some very simple examples of what Workflows can do:
Of course, those are simple examples, but multiple triggers, actions, and branching conditions can be combined to create rather robust Workflows to support more complex processes such as routing a case through the resolution and escalation process or facilitating automation around the sales process.
Dialogs, which are new in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, can be best be thought of as "wizards"—think "next, next, next, next, finish." They do not happen automatically in the background, but rather they are something you design for the user to walk through on the screen. The users start the Dialog, and they are prompted for input and/or decisions before clicking Next. Based on what the user selects, Dialogs can call Workflows to do things automatically in the background.
Examples of dialogs might be:
As with workflows, these are very simple examples, but very robust Dialogs can be created to support and automate very complex business processes, which is all part of the extensive configurability of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and why we love it!