Recently I was tagged to do a “confession” in the #WeArePowerAddicts challenge, started by MVP Vivek Bavishi. There’s been a massive amount of support for this over on Twitter, where many of the finest members of the community are enforcing the message that is bringing all of us together. In this post I’ll cover three aspects that I find so intriguing with this movement that is forming around Microsoft Power Platform and why professionals with a Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement / XRM background should seriously consider getting involved with it.
The Return of the Community
Community was the biggest single reason why Dynamics CRM became such a defining part of my professional life, starting way back in 2005. Sure, I had already earlier enjoyed the business/marketing side of customer relationship management, but it wasn’t until I had to dive deep into a specific technology that I realized the massive value of an active, global user community. The growing blogosphere around Dynamics CRM and especially the social layer of #MSDynCRM Twitter on top of it first empowered me to turbocharge my own speed of learning, then later presented me a medium for expressing my own thoughts. And here we are now.
Lately I’ve been having this feeling of premonition combined with dejavu. Like being special agent Dale Cooper, investigating the events that are taking place in a strange town in Pacific Northwest, far away from your normal surroundings, encountering The Giant in a dream sequence and being told that “it is happening again”. Only this time the Giant is Power Platform and the place isn’t Twin Peaks but rather Redmond. Big things are happening and it’s still difficult to see exactly how the story line will play out, but you just can’t wait to see what the next episode will reveal.
The cast of this show isn’t just made up of Microsofties. Just like in Season 1 that brought us Dynamics CRM (and XRM), the biggest stars are actually the community members who keep you engaged with exploring the many wonders of this new world of Power Platform that Community Season 2 has introduced. They eagerly demonstrate their skills with the cloud toolkit of PowerApps, Flow, Power BI, CDS, Connectors, Azure services, in combination with the more familiar Office and Dynamics products, infecting you with their enthusiasm. Some would call them PowerAddicts.
Be a Maker, Not a Customizer
When implementing a CRM system based on Dynamics 365, you’re always more or less adjusting the functionality of an existing application to meet the specific needs of the customer’s business processes. The starting point is always the same, and the end result depends on how much budget you’ve got for customizing the OoB experience. In general, the CRM systems deployed for various different organizations resemble one another far more than you might have initially expected, considering the great amount of effort invested in the projects to build them. It’s not a bad thing – especially since many customization requirements may not end up delivering a positive ROI anyway.
Switch from the preconfigured first party Dynamics 365 apps into the pure platform play of PowerApps and it’s a completely different ball game. PowerApps Canvas apps start with a blank canvas, just like the name suggests. There is nothing in the tool itself that would dictate how exactly your app is supposed to look like and what features it should contain. With this massive power comes a great deal of responsibility, as you truly are the maker of the application that needs to have a vision of what you’re building as well as the capabilities to make it all come alive.
To come up with a vision of your own, the most important ingredient is exposure to the work of others. You need to see what the #PowerAddicts community has built, get inspired by it, and then take a shot at building something new from those pieces + the ideas and requirements that are unique to your project. You may well need to have a number of hobby projects, too, since delivering a made-to-order application without first practicing how to work with your tools is going to be tough. The concept of Maker Culture describes the community’s approach to Power Platform quite accurately:
“Maker culture emphasizes learning-through-doing in a social environment. It emphasizes informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfillment. Maker culture encourages novel applications of technologies, and the exploration of intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working.”
Sure, it’s not like you didn’t need the forums and search engines as a basic survival kit in Dynamics 365 projects, too. That’s still more of a unidirectional way of using the community to get the job done, whereas how this new generation of Power Platform Makers seems to have an intrinsic motivation to build things together.
Escape from Planet CRM
Dynamics 365 as a product family is constantly evolving and the number of different applications in it is growing like never before. Despite of all these exciting new opportunities that the technology stack and Microsoft’s commercial offering seem to be opening up, in the everyday life of a consulting organization it’s still frighteningly easy to fall back into doing “just CRM”. What I mean by this is the process of repeatedly solving the same problems for different organizations, through pretty much the same methods as before, just with an updated version of the tools you’ve been using for years. While it may sound like a lucrative business area, in the long run such repeated problem solving via manual labor (i.e. burning your cognitive fuel reserves) really ought to be taken over by machines – be it an app, an “AI”, or simply an innovative, repeatable service offering delivered by a commercial machine instead of a project team.
After 13 years of Dynamics CRM experience under my belt, I often find myself torn between the value of my accumulated knowledge and the burden that it imposes on me. I pretty much know in advance what challenges a customer will have with Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement when hearing about their expectations for a CRM system and how it should fit with their organization’s existing tools and practices. I’m painfully aware of the ever expanding solution areas I don’t know well enough to give the right answer immediately when presented with a specific problem. Sure, there are the many small victories to celebrate when I can use my prior knowledge to solve problems – be it a blog article by myself on the very topic, or the ability to quickly find the right link where someone else has presented the solution. Still, with the scope of work included in a typical CRM projects it feels like I’m at a saturation point where it’s no longer possible to gain new generalist skills without starting to lose my grip on the skills I’ve gained earlier. This is of course the point where a common sense advise would be to go specialize on a more narrow area to further advance your skills – but what if you just find the role of a generalist more fulfilling in the grand scheme of things?
What Power Platform offers to people like me is a fresh new start. Here we have a toolkit that comes with zero hard dependencies on doing things the way they’re done in the CRM business. You can take PowerApps and build a solution to pretty much any business problem that revolves around improving the processes between the employees of an organization and the data sources they have access to (or should have). There are no assumptions here about the right way to solve such problems, unlike with CRM where you are in a way competing against the long legacy of prior systems, processes, best practices. It’s not a vacuum of course, as there are always alternative solutions out there.
The important difference here is that the boundaries of your work are truly undefined at this moment. No one knows how far these things will go, but if you have faith in the competitiveness of Microsoft cloud and its ability to attract both the right kind of commercial players to form an ecosystem as well as those inspired professionals that build up the community around it (hello #PowerAddicts!) then you know it’s going to be far bigger than CRM ever could have reached.
Power Platform allows the seasoned CRM professionals to return back to the role of a student. With new tools like PowerApps and Flow you are pretty much starting from scratch and you need to ramp up your skills in the same way as you might have done with MSCRM vX.0 back in the days. If you just can mentally position this work the right way and approach it primarily as a learning experience instead of a ToDo item in a project backlog, then OH MY GOD how much fun it is! Seriously, these tools can give a motivated citizen developer the kinds of superpowers that I couldn’t have even imagined just a couple of years ago. It ain’t all just marketing – it’s the real deal.
Now’s Your Turn
If what I’ve said here resonates with you and you’ve been hoping to find a way to get back into the game 100%, then you owe it to yourself to get truly involved with the Power Platform. Become an Addict.