More Great Content

Periodically I like to highlight other bloggers who are active in the D365O/AX community. 

Kelly Kane is a newly minted MVP who blogs over at AX Soup about a “hodgepodge” of AX relatated topics. No word on how a hodgepodge compares to a plethora or slew. Kelly also promotes Women In Dynamics šŸ‘šŸ»šŸ‘šŸ». 

Rachel Profitt and I go way back, having worked together on an AX 2.5 implementation in 2002! She blogs now at Dynamics 365 Lady. And apparently getting her autograph at a conference is a rite of passage.

So there you have it. Lots of free great content brought to you by a fun bunch of nerds. If you find any of our posts helpful, please comment and like the content – we all love getting feedback on what helps you. 

FastTrack (D365O Tech Conference)

Microsoft has a generic program called FastTrack which enables direct collaboration with customer projects and initiatives. The D365 Operations group has its own take on this program. The Operations program provides services via technical talks, customer specific workshops, and recurring status calls. Agust Bjornsson, FastTrack Operations EMEA Lead, shared some of Microsofts goals at the Tech Conference. 

The bottom line of the FastTrack program is for Microsoft to enable consistency of implementation across the partner channel, and for customers (and partners) to have a feedback mechanism back into Microsoft if they encounter questions or issues.

I think this is a fantastic concept – these types of programs are so crucial to knowledge and idea sharing between Microsoft, partners, and customers. It’s still a fairly new program, so I anticipate tweaks to the concepts going forward. And to be frank, part of this program’s purpose is for Microsoft to monitor for implementations going off the rails – thereby protecting their future revenue streams. But keeping the communication channels open is a critical part of any long term product investment.

The company I work for, SAGlobal, has participated in this program both for our internal implementation, and on customer implementations. We’ve been happy to have a go-to person for each implementation. Olaf Traustason, Senior Technical Lead, said about FastTrack

I enjoy the Technical Talks because they are to the point and on point. 

Analytical Workspaces (D365O Tech Conference)

Last year I blogged about Workspaces in Dynamics 365 as a concept. At this year’s Tech Conference, TJ Vasser talked about some of the newly available features on the reporting side. TJ highlighted his own blog post about the various reporting options available for Dynamics 365 for Operations.

Analytical Workspaces

Up until March 2017, the only option for bringing Power BI content into D365O was to publish content packs in PowerBI.com, and each user had to link a Workspace to that published content pack. With Platform Update 4, it’s now possible to embed Power BI content packs directly into a Workspace. Embedding Power BI into Workspaces should remove much of the effort from the end user, and shifts the work to reporting analysts and developers.

The major components of the embedded experience are:

  • Adding a new form, or adding a Workspace tab.
  • Defining the .pbix files that are embedded in the Workspace.
  • Writing a controller class that links the .pbix file to the form, manages filters and security, and defines drill-through experiences.

It’s Not All Rainbows

There are many caveats to this story – when investigating D365O and Power BI features, it’s always a good idea to prototype the entire process before building out any specific feature. Some of the caveats for the embedded reports include:

  • Currently only Entity store is supported; using your own database (BYODB) is unsupported.
  • Embedded Power BI requires a developer and code promotion; publishing to PowerBI.com is easier to make fast changes.
  • It is possible to drill through from the embedded report, but each drill-through experiences require an Event handler in code.
  • There are better options for dynamic filtering experiences, but these also require development.

 Summary

Simplifying the user experience and bringing reporting into the app will make embedded Power BI a powerful tool. I anticipate quite a bit of development effort to provide awesome experiences. I also suspect the change management process for embedded could be problematic. It’s a good step in the right direction and is worth exploring. 

New Configuration Copy Features (D365O Tech Conference)

D365 for Operations needs a simpler way to define and export groups of entities from a source environment, and transform and import data into a target environment.

Microsoft is building some brand new (and long needed) tools for importing and exporting configurations between companies, environments, and default/template data environments. Mike Falkner led the session demoing the new features.

Define and Export

The Data Management UI is getting a refresh to be more usable in a number of areas:

  • Better overall organization of Workspace
  • Lists instead of tiles
  • Easier picking of entities into a group, including mass picking
  • Manual and automatic sequencing improvements

Transform and Import

There weren’t demoable features ready on this side of the equation. The general approach is supposed to be hard coded rules that can transform specific entities. The import should be simplified by more quickly selecting and importing multiple Data Packages.

Summary

I’m very happy to see more features in this area. The current features are workable, but every step takes longer than ideal. Look for features to come out this spring, with a quick and iterative release cadence.

Common Data Service (D365O Tech Conference)

The Common Data Service (CDS) has been a much discussed concept since the middle of 2016 when Dynamics 365 was first announced. The way this feature is described sometimes seems like CDS is the unicorn of the Dynamics 365 world – it solves any problem.

Sometimes what gets lost in this story is the basics – CDS is a new, simplified database concept. The advantage of the new CDS approach is a faster setup, deployment, and management of the data model, user interfaces, and integrations.

Environments

Environments group features together in CDS including:

  • A collection of tables and table relationships – aka creating a database
  • Publishing Power Apps aka a user interface
  • Integration and mapping tools connected to Dynamics 365

Common Data Model

The CDM is the definition of tables and table relationships. The Microsoft published CDM is geared towards the Dynamics 365 entities and used for integrating multiple D365 products.

Power Apps

In many of the CDS demos Microsoft shows Power Apps with CDS, which sometimes conflates the technology. The database components of CDS don’t require a Power App to be used.

Power Apps are most…powerful when they combine requirements from multiple systems into a single experience. For example, there may be multiple systems that do issue or task management, and each system may require its own fields. A Power App can be created with all the fields required across all systems, then the integration features to push issues into each system will work swimmingly.

Integrations

CDS entities eventually will be used to pass data back and forth between Dynamics 365 databases. There’s a focus by Microsoft to provide some scenario based integrations for things like Order to Cash scenarios between Dynamics 365 Sales and Operations.

There are a couple of mechanisms for passing data back and forth. Microsoft Flow is most commonly used in demos because it supports many products, but there’s also a more “native” integration feature that will pass data more efficiently for Dynamics 365. The integration features also include data transformation logic.

TemplatesĀ 

Templates are used to deploy the CDM, PowerApps, and Flows/Integrations as an Environment.

Admin Center

The Admin Center is a portal for designing, publishing, and maintaining the CDS environment.

This portal also manages the security. They key components of security like table level and record level security are in the toolkit.

Summary

There is a lot of interesting technology around the CDS. But right now it seems like the CDS is a solution in search of a problem. There needs to be simple examples of the technology solving specific problems for Dynamics 365 for Operations customers to jump in on this new feature set.

Microsoft will probably hate the comparison šŸ˜¬, but I think of CDS in the same way as people used to use Access databases. Access databases were simple, limited, specific tools; many times they were disposable as technology evolved. Conceptually CDS may be an evolution of that story. If the business use case is longer term, it may be better to build features and UIs directly in a Dynamics 365 product.

App Source (D365O Tech Conference)

Application stores are a mainstay of every modern operating system. Microsoft is working towardsĀ bringing this concept to the business application space.

The Dynamics 365Ā App Source concept allows ISVs and partners to bring their addons to a centralized marketplace. App Source can help partners and customers find business users and customers. On the flip side, customers can find validated solutions that have gone through a validation and approval process.

Unlike a traditional App Store, business apps are generally more complex to implement than a PC or mobile app. Many times code, business processes, and data need to be tested and promoted to various systems to make the solution work. The Dynamics 365 for Operations App Source site connects to a management toolkit called Lifecycle ServicesĀ that helps strategically deploy the key assets into various environments.

At the tech conference, Shefy Manayil Kareem (@Shefymk) from Microsoft discussed the following key features of App Source:

  • A new publishing portal for Dynamics 365 due later in 2017
  • For ISVs, improved actionable insights for App Source hits and leads
  • New predictable trial experience
  • Announcement of “Test Drive”, where a managed environment is already running and ISVs can temporarily allow access to an environment for a prospective customer
  • Leveraging multiple components from D365 Operations, Sales, PSA, PowerBI, Common Data Service, and Power Apps
  • Reviews and ratings displayed in App Source based on the trial experience

The App Source concept is a few years old, and continues to round into form. Key upcoming features like Test Drive should lead to simpler trial experiences should significantly increase the value of having a solution on App Source. Ultimately, ISVs and partners hope to decrease the time for prospects to investigate the features of an product and drive sales.

 

Upgradeable Programming in Dynamics AX (v7)

New post is up over on my company’s blog. Have a look!

AX 7 has many new features around organizing code; partners, customers, and ISVs need to understand these features to build upgradeable customizations. With prior versions of AX, it was common for customers to get stuck on a version because of the complexity of upgrading.

Keeping AX upgraded benefits customers, ISVs, and Microsoft. Having customers on a more recent code base reduces the cost of maintaining old software versions and the cost of providing support for bugs that have already been fixed…

Azure Marketplace Series

I’m continuing my blog series about the component pieces ofĀ an Azure Marketplace solution over on theĀ company blog:

Latest post:Ā Understanding Process Data Packages in LCS

Previous posts:

Azure Marketplace and the new Dynamics AX (v7)

Workspaces in Dynamics AX (v7) – Letā€™s Make them Awesome

Packaging Extensions for Dynamics AX