Power Platform & Dynamics 365 for the IT Pros

There are many Microsoft MVPs out there (including the three BizApps MVPs in Team Forward Forever) but in the Microsoft ecosystem there is only one MJF. I’m of course talking about Mary Jo Foley, who is arguably the best known analyst covering the moves of Microsoft as an organization and technology vendor. In my opinion, her ZDnet blog All About Microsoft is the single most important information source for understanding the strategy and direction of MSFT.

Recently I had the great honour of being invited to Mary Jo’s podcast show #MJFchat, to discuss the the area of Microsoft that I’ve been personally keeping a close eye on for the past decade: Business Applications. Today this covers both the Dynamics 365 first-party applications as well as Power Platform, the low-code application platform (“LCAP” as Forrester likes to call it).

Compared to many other areas of Microsoft, like the world of Office productivity tools for information workers or Azure cloud services for developers, MS BizApps can seem much more difficult to grasp. At the same time, the technologies in Power Platform are popping up everywhere in the MS cloud. This means that anyone who wants to understand the broad roadmap of Microsoft technologies needs to also keep an eye on BizApps.

In our 30 minute chat, me & MJF managed to cover a lot of the hot topics that are bringing Dynamics 365 and Power Platform into the mainstream of MS technologies today – and especially in the future. Please go and have a listen to the podcast right here. It’s also available on Spotify, iTunes or Google Play podcasts sections.

In this blog post I’ve collected the main themes that Mary Jo Foley and I talked about in the podcast. Since they are each such broad areas that I could do a 1 hour talk on any one of them, I’ve included references to my earlier publications that will allow you to drill deeper into the topics.

The rise of Power Platform

While not so many Microsoft customers yet fully grasp what Power Platform means to them exactly, the active usage of tools like Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate is growing at a very rapid pace. This was evident in the latest MSFT earnings call for FY21 Q2:

The usage growth is largely driven by Citizen Developers who have access to the basic feature set of Power Platform via their existing MS tools in the cloud. This may naturally raise some concerns for the IT pros on what data sources the business users are connecting to and integrating with in their low-code apps. While not the same phenomenon as traditional SaaS based shadow IT that exists outside the MS cloud tenant and beyond Azure AD logins, there’s still a lot to learn for about the various governance aspects of Power Platform, such as those highlighted in a recent Microsoft Security blog post.

To address these concerns, our team at Forward Forever has been building a Power Platform Governance Starter Kit that can help organizations to get quickly up to speed. More information will be published on our website shortly, but please do contact us today already if you’re looking for a governance model and best practices for Microsoft Power Platform.

Business processes in Microsoft’s cloud strategy

Satya Nadella has been working as part of the Dynamics product team in his past and knows extremely well the strategic importance of Line of Business (LoB) applications. Rather than directly competing with the enterprise software from incumbent players like SAP and Oracle, Microsoft is actively building a network of services and modular apps that together can challenge the definition of what today’s ERP, HCM, CRM and other enterprise solutions actually look like:

Monolithic enterprise systems aren’t going away anytime soon, but they aren’t the source of new innovation and processes for most organizations. They will be a crucial part of many business processes also in the brave new digital world, yet increasingly they will not be the directly accessed by the end users. New lightweight interfaces optimized for specific tasks, as well as the enterprise data being referenced in the context of Teams discussions, is where the digital business processes of today are often making the biggest impact.

Further reading: What does a “Power App” look like exactly?

Microsoft Teams as a platform

2020 changed “everything” in the lives of most information workers, and for those working via Microsoft tools, that “everything” often ended up being presented via Microsoft Teams. This put immense pressure on the product team to scale up the core collaboration services to meet the huge spike in users for online meetings, chat and other human-to-human messaging.

What I believe 2021 will change in the priorities is that we’ll see a lot more of the application platform side of Microsoft Teams being demonstrated in events, keynotes and blog posts. Meaning: humans interacting with and communicating via business apps that are accessed from within Teams.

Teams has already surpassed Outlook in being the central product for information workers. The next ambitious goal for Microsoft could very well be in turning Teams into the new Windows, meaning an operating system for (business) apps.

Further reading: Microsoft Teams as a platform (Thinking Forward blog)

Low-code is eating the software world

In my Ignite 2020 slot in the #FIgnite session I chose to spend my 5 minutes of online conference fame on explaining how Power Platform now empowers all Microsoft Teams users to become app makers:

A big factor that’s pushing forward the concept of creating your own apps to improve the lives of your team members and the employee experience on a broader organizational level is the bundling of key Power Platform tools together with Microsoft Teams.

The November 15th GA launch of Dataverse for Teams means that if you’re licensed for Teams, then you have the power to create surprisingly sophisticated business apps before any further premium licenses for Power Apps, Power Automate or Power Virtual Agent are required. The barrier can hardly become any lower than this.

Further reading: Welcome to Microsoft Dataverse for Teams

Licensing & product naming

Hey, wait: so we now have the Dataverse for Teams that introduces yet another new licensing construct? And the data platform we used to call Common Data Service is no longer CDS but also Dataverse, without the Teams part? Oh man, why does MS have to keep shuffling these things around all the time?

Well, what can I say… The price of having a rapidly evolving low-code application platform that is partially built on top of the Dynamics technological heritage is that there will inevitably be some adjustments to the commercial side of the house. There’s not a short explanation to any of the questions related to Business Applications product naming and licensing, which is why I’ve ended up writing quite a few articles on them in my personal blog.

Further reading list:

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