D365, AI & RPA with the Power Platform!

I recently watched Scott Durow talk at the D365UG | Bristol meeting where he shared how his thinking about implementing D365 has changed. This is something I have been acutely aware of over the last 2 years working with D365 Finance & Operations, life has changed….and for the better. A large part of that change is that I can see D365FO is no longer a difficult to reach Island, but rather is now just one of the bigger islands within in an archipelago, connected by great transport links.

I don’t think we can successfully implement Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations projects in the same way we did AX2012 and older versions – and one of the main drivers for this is the ever increasing development/maturity of the Power Platform.

What is the Power Platform?

Microsoft define the Power Platform simply as “an integrated application platform that combines Power BI, PowerApps, and Power Automate.

There is now a central Admin portal for the PowerPlatform which you can login to here: https://admin.powerplatform.microsoft.com/

PowerBIhttps://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/

This is data visualisation / value add on steroids, its a very powerful analytical tool-set that can connect to multiple data sources (such as Azure Data Lakes, and the Common Data Service) and provide to users custom dashboards, and filterable analytics to optimist how company visualize their valuable data.

In D365FO terms the data that would be made available to PowerBI is typically coming from a BYO Azure Data Lake, where D365FO is pushing the data out to that data lake periodically. Microsoft enhanced this capability by enabled the automated synch of the Date Entity Store into a Azure Data Lake hosted in the customers tenant, right out of the box – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/unified-operations/dev-itpro/data-entities/entity-store-data-lake

PowerBI itself is actually made up of multiple component apps working together:

  • Power Query: a data connection tool that lets you transform, combine, and enhance data from several sources
  • Power Pivot: a data modeling tool for creating data models
  • Power View: a data visualization tool that generates interactive charts, graphs, maps, and other visuals
  • Power Map: a data visualization tool for creating immersive 3D visuals
  • Power Q&A: a question and answer engine that lets users ask questions about your data in plain language

Impacts:

  • Data is key, data is incredibly valuable and data presented correctly delivers essential business insights – enable our customers to react and adapt to environment changes
  • We must seriously consider and put effort into designing the various types of analytical output that the business needs. If we don’t know the data we need to measure the business KPi’s then we for sure wont capture all of it……..
  • Implementation projects MUST have a BI specialist within the team, early enough to engage with the data design elements, to ensure the integrity of data is maintained.
  • Licensing for PowerBI as a Service comes in 2 flavours:
    • PowerBI Pro
    • PowerBI Premium (larger compute power)

PowerAppshttps://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powerapps/

Coming from a functional background making applications has always been something I wished I could do, but felt I wasn’t capable of. This has changed with the introduction of Microsoft PowerApps!

Using PowerApps, even a non-developer can quickly build apps that connect to data stored in multiple other cloud-hosted and on-premises data sources (such as CDS, AzureSQ). These apps can be delivered via a browser or installed as Apps on mobile devices.

All PowerApp’s start life at http://web.powerapps.com , where a user can create using a UI 3 types of app:

  • Canvas > these are created from a blank page, allowing you to specify all the components and data sources.
  • Model-driven > these are created based on data from the Common Data Service.
  • Portal > these are external-facing websites that allow users outside their organizations to sign in with a wide variety of identities, create and view data in Common Data Service, or even browse content anonymously. Great for eCom, B2b and Service Portals

Impacts:

  • Power Apps reduce the development time of ‘custom’ apps that can be used to get data back into D365FO via a variety of methods.
  • I personally think that ‘portals’ in PowerApps is going to be huge, its got some many user stories it can be applied to. Choosing when to portal and when not to portal will need careful review.

Power Automate http://powerautomate.microsoft.com

A User Interface based Integration Tool, this essentially replaces the old A-Synchronous workflow in the D365 apps.

When thinking of Power Automate I tend to consider it as an advanced workflow, AI and RPA functionality provider, a bit of a ‘bag of skills’ but that’s being a little unfair to say the least. At its heart Power Automate can do so much more than execute workflows such as the collecting of data, reviewing documents using AI to extract data from them for onward input to other systems, to synchronising files between systems and of course providing mission critical notifications when a business situation arises.

I wont go into Power Automate in too much detail here, I will just flag it as something that has been in my opinion one of Microsoft’s most underrated services, and later when we consider the use of LogicApps this will become even more apparent.

OK so the above elements of the Power Platform all seem to leverage the abilities of the Common data Service or the Common Data Model, but what are they?

What is the Common Data Service ?

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powerapps/maker/common-data-service/data-platform-intro

The images below are taken from Scott’s presentation I mentioned above but I believe were originally created by Chris Huntingford. The first slide shows how the original functions were delivered, then how Microsoft created the Common Data Service by essentially extracting and combining the elements such as entities, workflow and business processes into this ‘new’ platform.

This is how it was…….
This is how it is now

What is the Common Data Model?

Microsoft needed to find a way to enable its own apps to share data with each other without the need for extensive, custom integrations. This ‘need’ drove the construction of the CDM.

The Common Data Model stores data, and provides apps access to data for consumption via universally-agreed entities. Essentially storing data in a common format and allowing access to that data by 3rd party apps”

D365 and D365FO are a great example of how the CDS needed to be implemented. They both store the same types of data, but in different ways. The use of CDM allows the data from both systems to be aligned, and further when you bring the Common Data Service into play as mentioned above, this can keep data changes in D365FO automatically updated via the CDM within other D365 applications

So how do the 3 elements of the Power Platform fit together?

Below you can see one of the images used by Scott Durow in his D365UG presentation I mentioned above. It clearly shows how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together

I still don’t think its easy to know exactly which tool to use in which circumstance, so when considering leveraging the power that the ‘power platform’ provides, remember that it is only a platform from which you can construct fantastic solutions………focus on the end solution you are looking for, rather than the technology that will provide it.

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