One of the reasons why I changed my blog from “Surviving CRM” to “Thinking Forward” was to give me more space to cover topics that don’t necessarily fit under the umbrella of Dynamics 365. Yes, Power Platform is naturally one of the big drivers for this broadening of the scope, but I see a whole range of technologies in the Microsoft Cloud that are becoming more & more relevant for anyone who’s designing and delivering business solutions to customers. Broad awareness of the stack combined with deep expertise in specific fields is what I believe is needed to survive and thrive in my line of work. You could call this the path of the specialized generalist, or “T-shaped people who run the world”.
How does one go about building up this awareness of Microsoft Cloud technologies? All the required information is of course out there in the great wide Internet, but the big questions are A) what would be the most relevant topics right now for me to search guidance on, and B) how could I make this new knowledge stick? In order to create a memory footprint that will still remain after I’ve moved on from one browser tab to the next, sometimes it helps when you can associate things with something tangible from the physical world. People, places, events, moments.
The big event of the year for the Microsoft minded crowd of IT professionals in Finland is TechDays, which is on March 5-6 this year. I’ve got fond memories of the first time I attended this conference in 2011, when Dynamics CRM 2011 & CRM Online had just been launched and there was a dedicated track for this exciting new version & cloud service (which I naturally covered in my Finnish CRM blog at the time). Now, I have to admit that level of exposure to MS BizApps didn’t exactly become the norm for the event, because for a long time the MBS unit and its Dynamics products remained on the fringe of the mainstream Microsoft product portfolio.
Today things are different. No, you still wouldn’t find a CRM session from the TechDays 2020 agenda, but you wouldn’t find one in Microsoft’s list of products sold, either. What you will find instead is Power Platform being promoted as the common customization layer for both Office and Dynamics products. You’ll encounter a growing number of Azure services being turned into Insights products in the Dynamics 365 portfolio. You’ll see Microsoft promoting a platform for every developer, from professionals to citizens. You’ll hear Satya being bullish in MSFT earnings calls about their Customer Data Platform, powered by Dynamics 365 + Data Platform.
That’s how the story has evolved and this is the new reality in which the customer solutions must be designed: making use of all we have, not just what we’re familiar with. So, let’s look at the TechDays 2020 Finland session list with this in mind. Here are my top 3 sessions picked from the domains that I consider highly relevant for business applications professionals that want to understand the bigger picture of MS Cloud: Power Platform, Data Platform, Azure, Microsoft 365. I will also try to do a post event summary of the sessions I managed to attend and share the key takeways.
“Power Apps – Miten pääsen alkuun ja vielä pidemmälle?” by MVP Timo Pertilä. “Encrypted in Finnish” yet consisting 100% of demos, this session is going to help you kickstart your Power Apps (Canvas) app building journey for sure.
“How to build RPA solutions with UI Flows” by Timo once again. Robotic Process Automation is one of the hottest areas in business software and MS has only very recently entered the game with Power Automate’s new UI Flows that are aiming for GA in June. How far are they already? We’re about to find out!
“Developing enterprise-ready solutions with Power Platform and SharePoint” by Mikko Koskinen. Even if there is native support for CDS in Power Platform, the Connectors to SharePoint are bound to be the most common data source/target for apps today. Understanding how to leverage these in scenarios that go beyond citizen developed apps is therefore quite important.
“Azure Synapse: The day when relational and unrelational folks became friends forever!” by MVP Vesa Tikkanen. For us XRM folks who’ve had a fixation for building a relational data model for everything we do, it’s time to dip our toes into the lakes of non-relational business data that is needed in so many scenarios (like the CDP example).
“Building an Empire – Implementing Power BI Step by Step” by MVP Alexander Arvidsson. I’ll be the first to admit that of all the key pillars in Power Platform, Power BI is where I have the least hands-on experience so far. Therefore the promise of crafting the PBI solution from the absolute beginning and working our way towards Power BI dataflows sounds like just the thing for me!
“Introduction to Azure Databricks” by MVP Oskari Heikkinen. Going big in the data field requires courage to explore technologies like the Apache Spark based Databricks and understand how they relate to MS developed services in Azure.
“Selecting the right Azure products for your Azure PaaS project” by MVP Sakari Nahi. Just because I know how to sprinkle some #azure hashtags on my social media posts, that doesn’t mean I would have the capacity to keep an eye on all the products that are being launched there. I’m convinced that Sakke from Zure can give a Power Platform “aPaaS” guy like me a nice crash course on what the “PaaS with no training wheels” consists of.
“Need to know Azure services as a Microsoft 365 developer” by MVP Laura Kokkarinen. I bet there are similar mental barriers in reaching into raw Azure, no matter if you’re extending Dynamics 365 or Office 365 based solutions. It’ always interesting to hear how the professionals from the cloud next door are tapping into “The World’s Computer” when delivering customer specific solutions.
“Case Terveystalo: Terveydenhuollon digitaalisen palveluiden iteratiivinen kehitys Azuressa” by Ilari Richardt and Masi Malmi. The most interesting stories are from the real world projects, so I’m looking forward to learning what a large healthcare company like Terveystalo has encountered on their Azure journey.
“Lisenssit löytyy, #mitäsitten – ota Teams hallitusti haltuun!” by MVPs Karoliina Kettukari & Vesa Nopanen. User adoption has always been a hot topic / grave concern in CRM projects. Even though Microsoft Teams is now the fastest growing product in the software giant’s 45 year history, that hardly means users will just discover all the benefits on their own and live happily ever after. Tips for how to gracefully pull off the launch new technology affecting such a large crowd of information workers are always useful, even when developing and rolling out more targeted business apps.
“Getting Started with Developing Apps for Microsoft Teams” by MVP Christina Wheeler. Speaking of business apps, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft is envisioning Teams to become the hub for teamwork, not just via common productivity tools but also unique applications made available through its UI. Understanding the options available and contrasting them with what Power Platform can offer is going to be key in building a solid app strategy for customer organizations.
“Customizing Microsoft Teams Provisioning and Governance” by MVP Olli Jääskeläinen. Collaboration practices should be backed up by a smart system that can bring some structure into the otherwise so unstructured world of conversations and documents. Learning how to more tightly connect Microsoft Teams provisioning with the processes and data structures managed in systems of record like CRM is what I’m eager to see.