Recently I had the privilege to make my sixth appearance in the CRM Rocks podcast run by Markus Erlandsson. Between our first session back in October 2013 and today, the world of CRM has certainly gone through a lot of interesting events. It’s amazing that out of those ~2600 days in between, there are now more days when a product named “Dynamics CRM” has NOT existed than it has.
CRM of course still is very much a “thing” – it just isn’t the center of the Business Applications universe anymore. In our podcast with Markus we talked about the broader scope of what has happened with both the first-party Dynamics 365 applications as well as the Power Platform in the year 2020. Put on your headphones and listen to the CRM Rocks episode right here.
The topics in the podcast also tie in nicely with another tradition of mine, which is writing these end of the year retrospectives about the top 3 topics that I’ve found to be most interesting or impactful for our ecosystem. Before we get started with the fourth edition in this series, let’s quickly check back on what themes I picked out last year at the end of 2019. They were: 1) low-code movement, 2) licensing confusion, 3) data story evolved.
All fairly hot topics still today – which is of course the reason why I emphasized their importance one year ago. Now for 2020, this time I’ll keep you on the edge of your seat by introducing the top 3 in reverse order. Hold on tight, here we go!
Nr. 3 from 2020: Renaming frenzy
We all know that Microsoft loves updating not just their software but also the terminology used for referring to these products. CRM is of course a prime example of this. Microsoft’s isn’t always “following the money” by sticking to industry standard names, rather they prefer to reimagine the categories in which their technology can be used for solving new business problems.
In 2020 we saw the iconic Office 365 brand get removed from the official vocabulary of Microsoft’s list of products available for purchase. Like with CRM, the actual technology and the customer use cases for the products didn’t see any major overhaul overnight. Previously there were SKUs in the price list branded Office 365 and Microsoft 365, which caused confusion for the customers, according to Microsoft’s own branding change announcement. Luckily now everything is crystal clear and no one will be talking about Office 365 in the year 2021 anymore. (Right?)
While Offi… sorry, I mean Microsoft 365, is a mainstream product used by pretty much all customers in the MS Cloud, its rebranding in Spring 2020 turned out to be just a warm up for the real main event of 2020 that took place in July. I’m of course talking about the rise and fall of Microsoft Dataflex. In may have only lasted for exactly 3 weeks but the Dataflex era will surely be remembered as the crazy days of software branding.
Luckily the Dataflex saga started in the middle of the year, which means we were able to catch the season finale before 2020 ended. The revised names of “Microsoft Dataverse” and “Microsoft Dataverse for Teams” were revealed in the GA launch of what used to be codename Project Oakdale. These names have persisted for six weeks already without changes, so they seem to be the real deal now.
Following along the path travelled by CRM and XRM earlier, the three letter acronym of CDS is therefore now officially deprecated. What were perhaps more shocking casualties of the year 2020 were the terms “entity”, “field”, “record”, “option set” and “two options”. (I’m not counting “multi select option sets” in this list since everyone who’s had to deal with them probably hated them already, so good riddance.)
As for how many adjustments there were to products in the Dynamics 365 family, I honestly can’t even tell. The fact that I needed to do a dedicated “why MS product naming is complex” type of a blog post to analyze the phenomena should be firm enough evidence that the renaming frenzy definitely was one of the top themes of 2020.
Nr. 2 from 2020: Power Platform licensing complexity growth
Measured by my own articles and the comments I’ve been hearing, there seems to be no end to how much headache the licensing of different Power Platform components is causing to people. Even though most of the last major changes to the licensing model were actually introduced already in 2019, I think the impact from them has only now started to hit home with a lot of the technical folks when trying to apply the new rules in real life scenarios.
Earlier in the year there was a lot of fuss around the coming technical enforcement of access rights on the app module level. The immediate attention was of course on the arrival of Dynamics 365 Team Member licensing enforcement and the targeted app modules offered by MS while they would be blocking all other standard and custom apps. This was supposed to take place already on April 1st, but then COVID-19 came around and the deadline was pushed to January 31, 2021.
We did still see a growing number of technical limitations implemented to keep customers in compliance with the licensing terms while using MS cloud services. The
CDS Dataverse storage capacity in particular became a big practical blocker for customers wanting to leverage multiple Power Platform environments to some ALM practices for their low-code apps.
While storage consumption is already enforced today, the big question on every developer’s mind (well, at least those who follow what the Power Platform community talks about) must be the API call limits. We’ve been getting a few bits & pieces of information here & there from MS about how they actually plan to keep track of the API quota for different operation types, but no definitive guide exists today. The eventual enforcement of these rules could potentially lead into future troubleshooting patterns where we could replace “DNS” with “licensing” in this popular meme:
In the year 2020 I wrote in total 9 blog posts on the topic of Microsoft Business Applications licensing – including a 4 part series on the various sources of complexity in licensing. As for Microsoft, during the year 2020 they didn’t manage to launch the licensing consumption metrics dashboard that has been promised for Power Platform Admin Center ever since the October 2019 licensing model came into effect (on paper). With all these factors combined, licensing complexity in my eyes earns again a place in the 2020 Top 3 themes, just like it did in 2019. Let’s see if in 2021 things will settle down a bit and we’ll finally gain more confidence in understanding and managing the licensing costs of solutions built on top of Power Platform.
Nr. 1 from 2020: Microsoft Teams as a platform
There’s not a single doubt about what the year 2020 will be remembered for on a global scale. The total impact from the COVID-19 pandemic reaches far beyond the mere side effect that it had on us information workers, with everyone being forced to join the #WFH trend and getting used to all of our work being remote work. Still, that is the most immediately and easily observable part of what the virus did to us. As a result, for pretty much anyone working in the MS ecosystem, 2020 became the year of Teams, Teams and a whole lot more Teams.
Working from home proved to information centric businesses that a surprisingly high percentage of those processes that weren’t fully digital before COVID-19 struck could actually be turned into such when no other option was given. While this will give a major boost to future digital transformation investments for sure, it also demonstrated how little new tech was actually need at the end of the day to make the typical business processes work without any sort of physical encounter. Already with our collaboration tools of 2020 and the low-code application platforms of 2020, many teams have learned to creatively solve their problems and get the job done. No massive multi-year initiatives and agile software development projects with big budgets were needed to reach “good enough for now”.
In 2019 Microsoft started promoting Power Platform as “the platform for every developer” by addressing the pro developer audience on the benefits they could reap from adopting low-code tools as part of their app development toolkit. In 2020 it was time to address a much wider audience of power users, by promoting Microsoft Teams as a platform for the apps they could be creating for themselves, for their teams, or for their entire organization.
Power Platform as a whole has managed to reach 1o million monthly users, based on the latest Microsoft FY21 Q1 earnings call. While that’s an impressive figure, it’s nothing compared to the 115 million daily active users that Microsoft Teams has. In my own analysis on this Teams as a Platform motion, I wrote about how Teams is gradually transforming into the next Windows:
Teams is now the closest thing that Microsoft has at its disposal to transform into an OS style fabric that connects a significant share of information workers globally.
By bundling the basic Dataverse functionality inside Microsoft Teams both in technical and licensing terms, I’d say we’re seeing the low-code equivalent of what the Internet Explorer + Windows bundle represented back in the early days of the commercial usage of the web. It will be pretty tough for the competing vendors to find their way inside any existing corporate IT infrastructure on the same breadth as what Teams has already achieved.
Teams of course was delivered there as part of the licensing payload of Office 365, which lead to competing workplace messaging platform Slack to file an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in the EU in July 2020. Later in December when the business app platform vendor Salesforce acquired Slack and announced it plans to use it to “create the operating system for the new way to work”, this kind of validated the strategy that MS had followed with Teams all along.
The way I see it, Business Applications will increasingly be presented within the context of where the work actually gets done. They will become more targeted for the specific user groups and use cases that may well be unique to every organization. The complex ERP style systems of record will still exist behind the scenes, to orchestrate how work gets assigned, scheduled and invoiced. For the actual end user experience of interacting with these work processes, though, it will likely be closer to just using an app inside Teams than what is required operating the complex UIs of traditional enterprise applications. This is why the biggest theme of 2020 in Microsoft Business Applications has to be the concept of Teams as a key layer in the application platform story.