Is Microsoft putting traditional software developers out of business or just redefining the business of software development? I’ve been in the technology sector for years and have seen many dramatic…and some not so dramatic…milestones in the evolution of business software. IoT (Internet of Things), BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), App Stores, the consumerization of technology, mobile adoption, virtual reality, big data analytics and of course, the almighty cloud. And these are just a smattering of the major turning points in business technology over the last decade.
Most wouldn’t classify the evolution of Dynamics to Dynamics 365 to be on scale with virtual reality or IoT, but I find myself wondering if they’re just not looking closely enough.
The real value is not just in how it is being offered (the cloud) but in the depth of the offering itself. Bundling Office with ERP and CRM is great, and creating a common data model is great. But, when they added in Microsoft Flow, PowerApps, PowerBI and a focus on “power users” over traditional developers, you start to see something much more pivotal.
Exactly What is a Power User?
A Power User (also known as a Super User) is an end user expert with a more advanced grasp of a specific software solution than regular users, but not someone who makes their living as a technology consultant. For example, an accounting manager for a company using Dynamics 365 may have learned the ins and outs of the software through the normal course of business. Not necessarily a Power User. The Power User is someone with a taste for technology that takes a basic knowledge of a solution and runs with it. They begin to learn about related technologies and delve into the “why it works this way” and “how it works this way.” Over time, their penchant for a solution (or tech in general) becomes a defining factor in their career as employers begin to depend on them as internal experts.
Empowering the Power User
As discussed in previous posts, the introduction of CDM (common data model) for Dynamics 365 has opened many doors for businesses that choose to invest in the Microsoft Dynamics platform. Although interoperability between products has always been possible, it was often just not cost-effective. Workarounds and third-party solutions were the preferred methods for swapping, sharing and collaborating. Now, Microsoft has introduced three new options to take advantage of the newfound interoperability and “empower the power user.”
PowerApps allows business users to easily create mobile apps for iOS (and soon Android and Windows) that can consume data from and insert into many of the systems you already use. For example, you might want to deploy an app that allows remote or mobile employees to add leads into Dynamics CRM from their phone. Or, a streamlined form your social team can use to post to multiple social networks simultaneously. With PowerApps, this can be accomplished without coding using an intuitive point and click, designer.
Other out of the box data sources, which can also be used to populate form fields (such as drop down lists) include Salesforce, Excel, Slack, Twilio, and Mail Chimp. If the data source or service you want to connect with doesn’t exist, then you can still connect to a custom API with relatively little effort.
Microsoft Flow works alongside PowerApps to provide even greater usability and access to Dynamics 365. With Microsoft Flow, you can automate almost any time-consuming process or task. From simple tasks such as emailing a group when a new inquiry is made from a website to much more complex workflows like as capturing, tracking and following up on leads.
Similar to PowerApps, Microsoft Flow can connect to dozens of commonly used services like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. It provides common templates for various tasks, such as having Flow save your incoming email attachments to a SharePoint library or having a CRM item created automatically when a list item is approved. Workflows can also be created using a point and click interface with code only being required if you need to add some custom task. When used in conjunction with PowerBI and the Dynamics 365 CDM, the potential for business innovation and cost-savings is enormous.
Room for Software Developers? Consultants?
Creating with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow doesn’t require an advanced IT degree or extensive knowledge of programming. Power Users can learn to create solutions using online training tools and intuition. Some challenges are harder than others, so formal developers will always have a role in extending solutions, but the ceiling has most definitely been lowered. As these technologies mature, premium services will often be reserved for the more complex projects while Power Users will often find what they need by browsing Microsoft AppSource and loading add-ons themselves or building them outright.
Technology and business professional services firms, like Dynamics VARs, will need to step up their game. Implementations will continue to get easier as the cloud picks up the heavy lifting. Automated configuration and online tools will also easy the challenge of tailoring solutions to the needs of individual companies. Customers will still depend on outsourced technology relationships to assist with implementation, but their impact will be defined by:
- Industry and business expertise
- Broad knowledge of the Microsoft Stack
- Best practices and business processes
- Pre-defined implementation methodologies and templates
- Advanced cloud-based development capabilities
- Data migration and complex integrations
- Project management skills
- Experience with 3rd party solutions