It’s that time of the year again when all us Microsoft Business Applications geeks are blessed with two huge documents to consume: the Release Plans for both Power Platform and Dynamics 365. While I gotta say that it’s awesome to have this level of transparency on what specifically is in the next 6 month release cycle, the amount information does feel overwhelming – at least if you’re trying to cover more than a few specific products within the stack.
Ultimately we should at least aim to have a general idea of how each piece of the BizApps puzzle is evolving. Especially the Power Platform side is very relevant for anyone who’s not strictly focused on training/delivering/administering just a single app from the Dynamics 365 portfolio, because this is your low-code toolkit for making those applications meet the real life needs of customers. Unlike with past CRM projects, the customization tools are not part of single server installation, rather they can be discovered from all around the Microsoft cloud.
To make the Release Plan easier to digest, I’ve picked out the new/improved features that jumped out when I went through it for the first time. Instead of the PDF versions (which are coming a bit later anyway), I prefer the online documentation, so below are links to each of those items for you to drill deeper into – and also keep track of possible changes to the original plan.
I’ve added my comments on why I consider these to be the most important items in the Release Plan. Time will tell how they actually land and what the impact will be. It’s going to be fun to review this list October 2020 when Wave 1 is over!
Single mobile app player for Canvas & Model: very much needed in order to break free from the assumption that Model-driven apps are only for Dynamics 365 customers.
Offline improvements: the need for accessing data without a live connection is still very real in mobile scenarios. What is somewhat of a bummer is that the efforts here are targeting Model-driven apps only for now.
Modern solution explorer makeover: Yes! There are a lot of areas where app maker productivity could be improved, so it’s great to see investments are being made here.
Canvas app Monitor tool & Test studio GA: the wave of the future. Low-code app development isn’t going to be restricted to personal productivity scenarios, we’ll have much of the same needs as in the pro dev side.
Azure Application Insights telemetry in Canvas: a great example of how the existing tools from Azure should be harnessed to offer shortcuts for Power Apps makers.
Generate app from data with responsive layout for phone and tablet: it’s been an awkward limitation before to only support phone layouts. The bigger story is in bringing out these templates for how to actually make Canvas apps responsive, as it has been quite a mountain to climb for citizen developers. In 2020 Wave 1 we’ll also see a preview of the awaited responsive Canvas app pages.
Canvas Components GA: very impactful stuff here. Component libraries, solution awareness, support for galleries and forms, using collections and media files. These are big steps in bringing the two app types of Canvas and Model-driven closer together.
Power BI embed component in Portals: oh yeah, there’s that third app type, too… Definitely looks a lot more approachable than the current embed experience. As for Portals extensibility for pro devs, the CRUD Web API sure made Nick Doelman excited, so keep an eye on that one.
Unified Interface enhancements: important for many Dynamics 365 experiences. Forms as modal dialogs in particular looks useful, better filters are about closing the gaps to legacy web client, search in this view is an age old requirement.
Improved themes reflecting modern Microsoft Fluent themes: UI matters, the power of the Apps is not just in the logic, data and automation. MS should be more aggressive here when competing against other low-code development platforms.
Interactive adaptive cards: we’ve surely been waiting for this. Very important for bridging the user experiences across different tools in different MS clouds (Office, Dynamics, Power Apps). Could 2020 be the year of the Adaptive Cards? Potentially yes, if you look at how Teams & Power Automate can make use of this feature.
UI Flows solution awareness: aligning RPA with the common shipping vehicle of Power Platform. Being a new preview feature, there’s of course a lot of other parts moving around still, but the important bit from a platform play perspective is getting everything to play nice with solutions (including non-UI Flows…)
Use business process flows in Office 365 apps: interesting yet logical step. From a process automation perspective there’s no reason to keep BPF functionality tied too closely with the familiar CRM sales process stages mentality. Again, it’s the platform that counts.
Power Platform governance and administration
Environment life cycle support: much needed in the real world implementations. To be able to test new standard and custom features in complex business systems, copying and deleting environments needs to be compatible with all the platform components used. Power Automate, Canvas apps etc. have to support healthy ALM patterns for enterprise development scenarios.
User access diagnostic experience: again, very much needed for keeping larger environments operating the way IT would want them to. The process of managing access to applications should be isolated from the actual app maker tools or features specific for Dynamics 365 admins, to ensure there’s help available on a broad enough level when users encounter problems.
Admin connectors & PowerShell cmdlets Generally Available: because they need to be. Low-code Application Platforms for enterprise customers will have to provide automation tools for not just app creation but app governance and administration. If the number of business apps within an organization will explode thanks to these tools, trying to scale the old admin practices isn’t going to be the answer.
Bring your own data lake: allowing customers to control their own adoption metrics for Power Apps. Just like the GUI for admin tools might not meet the requirements of all organizations, it makes sense for Microsoft to allow customers to also take the telemetry data from apps and use Azure services to put it into their own reporting context.
Paginated reports enhancements: the next generation SSRS has been a long time coming. The new features like API to render a paginated report to any format (e.g., PDF, Excel) and subreport support will bring the cloud reporting powers of Power BI close to what you could do in on-prem 15 years ago. They might not be the coolest of features, but for many CRM scenarios these “pixel perfect” A4 outputs are still a very practical solution.
Copy and paste visuals into other applications: supporting the modern flow of information. If the paginated reports represent the PC era way of working, then being able to grab a part of your analysis and quickly paste it to a conversation in Teams with a link back to the full report is the way today’s information workers expect these cloud apps to work with one another.
Data lineage GA & enhancements: when cross-referencing data from anywhere is a breeze, how can you tell if the analysis is actually accurate? The lineage visualization is an effective way to illustrate how this modern world of self-service BI operates and bring tools to do meta-analysis on what’s the actual source of the truth being presented to you.
Power Virtual Agent
Add a Power Virtual Agents bot into Power Apps canvas app: because bots are not just for customer service. Internal scenarios for app users would be very interesting, although the starting price for using bots is probably going to scare most customers away.
Adaptive Cards: see my comment in Power Automate section.
Single Sign-On: if attempting to go beyond generic website chat popups, strong identity management features are a must.
Pass context to a bot from the calling site: “Hi, how may I help you?” That’s not how a smart agent would initiate the chat, so after identity comes context management. Bridging the gaps between apps is where I see bots being particularly powerful, so URL query string support is a good start for making this happen.
Power Automate integration: building the Cognitive Service for citizen developers. The patterns from Azure need to become more accessible in the BizApps frame of reference.
New models like anomaly detection and receipt scanning: making AI Builder ready for business. Training AI for unique data sets is one thing, but where I believe wider adoption will start is through these more “ready to go” scenarios.
Common Data Model
Empower out-of-the-box analytics: delivering on the promise of CDM. It’s all just theory until we see Microsoft deliver on those promises about making it easier to integrate data sources and analytics/AI via a common semantic model.
CDM visualization and management experience: making CDM more than a GitHub repo. “Increased focus on growing the Common Data Model ecosystem requires enabling users to work with Common Data Model in their native data environments, such as Power Query, Insights Apps, Synapse, and Power BI.” Yes, it certainly does.