5 tips for Power Platform CoE Starter Kit admins

If you are serious about Power Platform governance and administration, you basically have to be running the CoE Starter Kit.

During the past couple of years I’ve deployed this Kit to many, many organizations. I’ve seen it develop and grow at an amazing pace. Every time I work with the tools in CoE Starter Kit, I learn something new about them. Some of these things might be in the extensive Docs pages, some of them I learn from viewing the GitHub issues, and the rest are simply acquired via learning by doing.

Here are a few practical tips that can help you in managing your CoE Starter Kit deployment more effectively and get more value from the components included in it.

Tip 1: Get to know what’s new in the Kit

For those who are actively networking with Power Platform community members on channels like Twitter and LinkedIn, you’ll quickly see when something exciting is posted around the #CoEStarterKit topic. What you might not know is that you can actually get an immediate notification to your email whenever there is a new release available.

All you need to do is sign in to GitHub, open the CoE repository and click “watch” to get notifications on the release events. See screenshots for details. If you don’t have an existing GitHub account, registering for this software development platform is a good idea also for no/low-coders. All the support and discussion around CoE Starter Kit is managed via GitHub.

If you want to dive deeper into the new features, then I recommend you to sign up for the CoE Starter Kit Office Hours. Not only will you be getting a presentation and demos of how the newest tools work in practice, you’ll also be able to ask questions from the Power CAT team members behind the Kit.

Tip 2: Don’t just install updates, make sure the changes get applied

The monthly release cadence of CoE Starter Kit means there are new versions to be deployed every few weeks. You don’t necessarily have to install each and every release, yet Microsoft recommends to not skip more than 3 months of updates or you may run into unexpected issues with the various solution component dependencies.

What you may not be aware of is that importing the new solutions isn’t always enough to get the latest bits deployed. If you have either intentionally or just accidentally edited some of the data sync flows, for example, then you may have generated an unmanaged solution layer for these components. This, in turn, will stop the managed solution layer changes from Microsoft’s releases from taking effect.

It’s not easy to detect the creation of unmanaged solution layers with the standard Power Apps Maker portal tools. Luckily the Power CAT team behind CoE Starter Kit have developed a dedicated tool to monitor the state of CoE flows specifically. When you open the “Admin – Command Center” app and navigate to the CoE Flows page, you’ll see first of all A) are the flows on or off, and B) whether there’s an unmanaged layer for the flow:

You will still need to click through to every flow to perform the removal of the unmanaged layer, but the direct links make this an easy task to perform. Keep in mind, though, that the same issue of unmanaged layers blocking managed updates applies to the canvas apps as well.

For more details, please see the CoE Starter Kit Docs page on how to remove unmanaged layers from inventory flows.

Tip 3: Make the Command Center your home page for Power Platform administration

As the previous tip showed, the “Admin – Command Center” app offers very useful features crafted specifically for administration of CoE Starter Kit. In addition to managing the sync flows, you can also conveniently access the CoE related environment variables and update their values via the app (since the native UX for environment variables is unfortunately a bit lacking). Another configuration tool available here is the ability to customize and localize the email messages sent by CoE without creating the dreaded unmanaged layers.

For those who aren’t working with Power Platform on a daily basis, the Command Center also serves as an information hub to relevant updates. You’ll see the latest product team blog posts for Power Apps/Automate/BI/PVA as well as a list of the current release wave’s notes. While these are publicly available information feeds, the Message Center offers valuable information that not everyone might have access to. The Microsoft 365 Admin Center’s message center provides IT admin targeted updates for your tenant. To make these visible outside the Admin Center app in CoE Starter Kit reads them via MS Graph API and filters them down to Power Platform product specific messages.

Since you can customize the links shown on the start page of the Command Center (by clicking “edit bookmarks”) you both add relevant sites/reports/apps to it and remove those CoE components that are not in active use in your organization yet. This is a great way to ensure that multiple Power Platform admins have access to a shared list of tools, without everyone having to collect and organize personal bookmarks in their browser profiles.

Tip 4: Make the CoE Power BI Dashboard even more useful by allowing customization

The main Power BI report included in the Kit is quite massive. Today it consists of 45 report pages, offering details on pretty much every possible dimension of the CoE inventory database. Even though I use it on a weekly basis many times, I constantly find myself wondering “hmm, on what page in which graph was this information available, or was it actually included in this report at all?”

As the number of parameters and data points keeps growing in the CoE Starter Kit scope, it is not possible to serve every admin’s every need via a standard report. Sure, you’re totally allowed to customize the report – but then you are again trapped in the same dilemma of version updates as with the unmanaged layer of flows and apps.

There is a fairly recent feature in Power BI that not everyone may have noticed yet: personalize visuals. What this essentially does is it provides an edit button for any user who’s consuming the report via the Power BI service. They’re free to add/change fields, switch visualization types and perform many other useful tasks for getting the exact answer they’re looking for from the report’s data:

The only thing that needs to be done centrally in Power BI Desktop by the admin who’s updating the latest versions of the CoE Power BI report is to go to File > Options and settings > Options > Current file > Report settings. Tick the box “Personalize Visuals” before saving and uploading the report to Power BI service.

Tip 5: Even Dynamics 365 customers can benefit from CoE Starter Kit

Power Platform governance tools typically address the low-code application development scenarios where business users are empowered to build their own apps. A large number of apps and flows created by many users independently creates a need for both reactive monitoring of the platform usage as well as proactive collection of governance related details from a growing Maker audience.

If you are working with a more centrally managed business application like Dynamics 365 that runs your company-wide processes, you’ll have fewer Makers and apps/flows to report on via CoE Starter Kit. However, the fact that CoE can give you a tenant wide view into elements of your Power Platform environments may still make it a useful tool for you.

In the latest August 2022 release the scope of CoE inventory data expanded to cover Power Platform solutions. Not only can we see which apps/flows are in which solutions, we can now also track the versions of solutions in each environment and their latest modification dates:

At the moment, the solution data collected via CoE sync flows has a default filter to exclude any 1st party Microsoft solutions from getting into the inventory database. Now, if you’re in charge of a customized Dynamics 365 system, you might want to see also what packages MS has been automatically updating into your dev/test/prod environments and when. (See discussion on this filtering decision.)

The beauty of the CoE Starter Kit is that it’s a template built on top of a low-code platform. If you want to adapt it to better suit your needs, or just use the elements in the Kit as an inspiration to build new tools for your specific needs – you totally can!

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