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.