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Back to Florida again – at least on a mental level. In part 1 of my Microsoft Ignite conference diary I described the overall setting of Dynamics 365 in the context of the Business Applications story. This time let’s have a look at some of the details on what the XRM platform can do now and in the near future. The live tweet content can be found from my #MSIgnite Storified collection part 2, but here’s the story behind those social posts.
The GA (general availability) target of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement V9 was set to the week after Ignite. This was indeed the case, as I didn’t even have a chance to arrive back home from Ignite before I had my first V9 trial instance running the in the cloud. People who had participated in the Dynamics 365 Insider program were already granted access to the preview instances of this major release but now each and every new trial is provisioned with the V9 bits. A few days later there also was an official blog post that announced the availability of “Dynamics 365 October service update”. The naming of course is a bit confusing, since up until this point Microsoft had stuck to the “July 2017 Update” name – and that’s what still shows up in the D365 Admin Center UI. Don’t you agree that life would be much simpler if we’d all just use the version numbers instead of marketing names? Oh, and if we had the KB article already available for the 188.8.131.523 GA build, that would be even sweeter.
After the initial Preview Executive Briefing sessions for V9 that were conducted before the summer holiday season, Ignite was the place where the next big presentation on Unified Interface took place (at least to my knowledge). Oren Ryngler and Linda Simovic took us through a detailed demo of all the UX goodies that V9 has to offer. Unfortunately the slide deck is not available for download even for Ignite attendees, but you can view the full recording of the presentation on YouTube. I bet that even if you participated in the preview program, you’d be hard pressed to recall all the wonderful details packed into the Unified Interface. Principles like “Gradual exposure to complexity”, AI capabilities like Grid Recommendations or the new chart types are something you can expect to discover in the video.
There was another excellent session where Linda discussed what the underlying motivations behind the Unified Interface initiative (or “Unified Client Infrastructure” / UCI) were. Even more interesting was the quick peak at the Custom Control Framework (CCF) that is a significant benefit unlocked by UCI. Described as “extensibility framework for building UI components that visualize data”, we’ve already heard that Microsoft has been busy rebuilding everything in the default app UI as Custom Controls (“but if it’s default then how can it be custom?” Ah, never mind the semantics…). What we don’t yet have is a definitive date for when the APIs for building true Custom Controls will be opened up to customers and partners. What’s REALLY interesting is that the product team’s roadmap includes a “Control Gallery” marketplace for viewing and purchasing these as solutions. If it all works out, then the Unified Interface in V9 is just the start of the true transformation of XRM UI into something more than fields and grids on an entity form.
While the UI story is always going to get far more social media coverage due to fancy screenshots from the visible application, there’s a lot more bubbling under in V9 than just the promise of a Custom Control Framework. Matt Barbour presented the Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE Platform Update for Developers, delivering a concise “what you need to know” package for people working with XRM solutions or API based extensions. Now that everything in the OoB apps has been separated from “system” into actual solutions, managing the dependencies via solution segmentation is actually a big deal. Why it’s even a bigger thing from application maintenance perspective is that the next V10 major version will ONLY accept V9+ solutions – so start getting used to them right away. In addition to the earlier announced V9 platform enhancements of Virtual Entities and Multi-Select Option Sets, we also received a “one more thing” with Auto Number fields! Thousands of custom numbering solutions can finally be put to rest, at least after you install the Auto Number Manager for XrmToolBox to access the configuration options for this new native field type.
There were several shorter sessions in the Expo area of Ignite that offered practical tips for how to do more with less when it comes to Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. While I remain firmly in the no-code territory myself, the PowerShell scripting capabilities available in the new Online Management API or the more familiar Microsoft.Xrm.Data.PowerShell module demonstrated by Shwan Dieken and Sean McNellis from the PFE team open up automation capabilities even I can easily relate to. Don’t forget to check out this huge link list put together by Shawn & Sean for the latest admin tips & tricks you need to be aware of. Over on the MVP powered sessions of Ignite, George Doubinski also showed a wealth of automation tips to reduce manual labor for Dynamics pros. What I bet you didn’t know how easy the integration of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement with a WordPress website can be, thanks to the plugin developed by George & Co at AlexaCRM.
Like I wrote on the back of my first Ignite postcard, the Business Applications story that Microsoft wants to tell us consists of a lot more than just Dynamics 365 these days. While it’s been all too easy to disregard the earlier sales pitch for PowerApps and Flow as just a citizen developer fable that doesn’t apply when working on Real Projects, they are gradually gaining the types of ALM capabilities that put them higher up on the list of tools to consider for solving customers’ business problems. While there were some disappointments, like the continuing non-story of Adobe Marketing Cloud + Dynamics 365, you could easily find yourself thinking “hmm, that’s actually pretty cool” while watching the demos for this “Power platform” of non-XRM business tools. Even though CDS still largely is “a box to connect other boxes on a PowerPoint”, the added features like embedded PowerQuery and the accompanying new data sources give us a sign that progress is being made.
As always, the big questions is about when’s the right time to jump in to the new technology if you want to deliver successful customer projects with it. Events like Microsoft Ignite are great for calibrating your own perceptions and expectations, not just via the official product demos but also the community response to them. I know I walked away from the conference with a far better understanding of what Microsoft is pursuing with their latest product development investments – even though I’ll need to review a bunch of the session recordings to actually grasp the finer details of each individual technology.
Greetings from the Sunshine State! This Fall I was fortunate enough to have chance to attend my first ever Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida. Staying true to my habits, I did tweet out quite a lot of content from the live event with #MSIgnite hashtag. If you missed that stream, feel free to revisit the collection over at Storify, where I curated a story called “#MSIgnite 2017: Business Applications”. (Unlike with the V9 preview, I’ve decided to refrain from embedding the infinite scroll version of the story into this blog post. You’re welcome!) Here’s a little written summary on my thoughts about the event’s contents.
If you’ve been to or kept an eye on Microsoft Ignite before, you’ll know that it’s an event that has traditionally catered the more mainstream product lines like Office 365 and Windows. I did not expect any major announcements from the Dynamics 365 team at Ignite, so my intention was to explore the broader story around MS Business Applications. Most of us who are working in cloud environments with Dynamics products must be well aware of how much there is going on around the core XRM platform (still the best name for it), but rarely do we have a chance to focus on something that isn’t directly linked with the sales/service/marketing processes of CRM system development projects.
That’s a bit of a shame, since at the end of the day that’s precisely where Microsoft’s big competitive advantage lies. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts in this occasion, and if the size of the Ignite conference would be used as the yardstick, I’d say the whole is actually HUGE. Sure, it wasn’t anywhere near Dreamforce in terms of the attendee count, but if you’re not looking for a rock festival to hang out with your business partners but rather want to deepen your understanding of the current and future capabilities of a cloud technology platform, it doesn’t need to get any larger than this. I reached my 10k step target each day just walking between the sessions, which tells you the Orange County Conference Center floor space was truly put into full use in trying to fit in the complete MS business technology stack. You sometimes literally had to take a shuttle bus from one side of the conference to the other to make it to the sessions in time!
The biggest piece of news for D365 was already from the earlier week’s Directions North America 2017 event, where Microsoft admitted that after 1 year of waiting, there was not going to be a Business Edition release of the XRM based apps at all. Or even for the ERP side of the house – at least from a product naming perspective. While none of the technology investments made in preparation of Business Edition was actually cancelled, it’s understandable that this caused a lot of stir among the Dynamics ecosystem. Without going deeper into the topic, I believe MS made the right choice and it’s only a shame it took them so long after the initial Dynamics 365 rebranding announcement to find the right path forward. While we wait for the new licensing model details, we still remain in a product naming limbo that was also very much present in any Dynamics related session at Ignite. You must remember that what we’re experiencing in the XRM space ain’t nowhere near the amount of confusion that our ERP colleagues must go through. Godspeed, Dynamics X!
Of course the story is no longer just centered around what to call your CRM & ERP platforms. In practically all the Ignite sessions that touched my field of work, the solutions being demonstrated were always mashups of several MS technologies. Clearly the intention was to underline the possibilities of seamless integration between the latest cloud apps from almost any two product teams. Yeah, I hate the word buzzword “seamless” as much as any experienced IT consultant does, but my point is that it seems like the phase of inventing new MS cloud products has reached an end and now the focus is truly on ensuring they can connect with one another. This also means challenging the assumptions of what the role of each product is in the customer’s solution architecture. Instead of using XRM as the UI for business data presentation, could a better result be reached via a Power BI dashboard that has embedded Visio process visualization and PowerApps screens with record level drill-down? Possibly yes, and these alternatives are what MS wants us to actively explore.
The floor space given to PowerApps at Ignite 2017 made it the clear headline product in the Business Applications track. Maybe it was just my session schedule planning, but it felt like all roads eventually lead to PowerApps. It’s of course a very neat way to demonstrate the benefits of having your business data in systems that are easily accessible by these low-code/no-code apps. What was somewhat confusing to hear, though, was that the current “UI first” approach of designing PowerApps on a free canvas was promised to get a new model-driven app design option alongside it. You know, with entity based forms, server-side business logic and even Business Process Flows. “But wait, weren’t those the defining characteristics of an XRM app?” Bingo. It literally was a set of Dynamics CRM customization UI screenshots snatched into a PowerApps roadmap presentation. These two paths are converging quickly now and you’re going to want to keep an eye on what the next chapter in the Business Applications has in store for us.
I’ll need to go lie down in a brief coma now to recover from the jetlag caused by a Miami-Helsinki flight (cheers to Finnair for offering the direct connection, though!). I promise make a return with part 2 in a few days time, as there is a lot more souvenir sweets to digest from Microsoft Ignite 2017.
Watch out: the Citizen Developers are coming! They are armed with easy to approach GUI tools like Flow, PowerApps and PowerBI, and they aren’t afraid to connect to any of the 160+ cloud apps that you may or may not know your organization is using to solve everyday business problems that the traditional IT projects have failed to serve.
This is the common story you hear when Microsoft talks about this new generation Business Platform and how it powers the hottest of the hot buzzwords: digital transformation. While it certainly represents a big shift in the capability to deliver new business apps, there is at least an equally significant impact these tools can have to the more centralized efforts of building organization wide solutions for managing business processes and data – meaning CRM system deployment and development. With this in mind, I set out to explore the current state of Microsoft Flow in regards to how it can be used together with Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. The results of this study and some of my personal thoughts on how Flow changes the way we deliver CRM projects can be found in the following presentation:
Microsoft Flow and Dynamics 365 – Jukka Niiranen at CRM Saturday Oslo, 2017-08-26 from Jukka Niiranen
In these slides you’ll find information about topics such as:
- How does Flow relate to other MS technologies like Common Data Service (CDS)
- What traditional CRM process automation scenarios could Flow be leveraged in
- Is the new Dynamics 365 V9 capability of embedded Flows the replacement to now deprecated Dialogs
- Why Dynamics workflows are still easier to work with than Flows
- What licensing and administration considerations do you need to keep in mind with Flow
- Microsoft Flow vs. Azure Logic Apps, what should you use where
The actual presentation took place last weekend in Oslo, Norway, where I was invited to speak at the CRM Saturday event. It was the first such event that I had the opportunity to participate in and found it to an awesome experience! I had a great time meeting both the local Dynamics 365 community members as well as spending time with the very knowledgeable speakers and fellow MVPs. A big thanks to Microsoft Norway for graciously hosting us and to the community hero Marius Agur Pedersen for making the event possible in the first place!
If you aren’t yet familiar with the CRM Saturday concept, I suggest you go check it out and keep an eye for future events where Dynamics 365 community members can get together and exchange ideas on how to make the world a better place for CRM professionals and customers alike. Do also keep an eye on the #CRMSaturday hashtag on Twitter for the latest buzz around the events and information shared from the presentations. At least Mohamed Mostafa and Jonas Rapp have also made their sessions’ slide decks available and I’m sure there’s plenty of other blog posts out there that have been inspired by these events.