It’s that time of year to ride the wave once more, and see what’s new and upcoming within the Microsoft Business Application space, as part of the 2021 release wave 1 plan! As usual, there is a feast of new functionality to digest; so much that Microsoft has split the content out into two separate sites:
- Dynamics 365 – This includes our core set of customer engagement (CE) apps, such as Sales and Service, as well as the various ERP offerings, such as Finance and Human Resources.
- Power Platform – Namely, Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, Power Virtual Agents, and related offerings, such as AI Builder.
Regardless of where you sit in the Business Application space, you can no doubt expect several or more investments within your particular application of choice, all of which have a central theme. For example, the latest set of Dynamics 365 Field Service features all aim to help drive more customer-centric experiences, via self-servicing and a refined feedback loop, to ensure that on-site technicians deliver consistent and positive interactions to customers. With so much to digest, I thought I’d dip in as part of this blog post and unearth my top five favourite new things coming up. Read on to find out my top picks for the 2021 Release Wave 1!
New Dynamics 365 Sales Mobile App
The Dynamics 365 mobile/tablet app currently available for both iOS and Android, has seen some significant investments in recent years; to the extent that, appearance-wise, it’s miles ahead over what was available previously. However, Microsoft has purposely designed this app to work with all of the various CE apps simultaneously. Even though it provides a consistent experience to what we get in the desktop environment, it’s not particularly well-tailored to a specific usage scenario. In particular, salespeople can typically get frustrated by not having the ability to quickly enter core information for the prospects they are working with or arriving prepared for a meeting. To help address these needs and address future needs in this area, Microsoft will be releasing a brand new Dynamics 365 Sales app for iOS and Android. The application is currently available in public preview if you’d like to see what’s coming up. Find out more about it via the dedicated Microsoft Docs pages devoted to the subject. I’d also recommend you check out Dian Taylor’s excellent blog post on the subject, as she talks you through some of the gotchas relating to its setup and provides an overview of its core features. I’ve taken a quick look at the new app myself, and it’s looking great so far!
Power Automate Macros within Dynamics 365 Customer Service
This one looks interesting, although details on it are a little scant at the moment. We’ve had the ability to quickly trigger Flows from within our Dynamics 365 CE and model-driven apps for a while now. These are well-suited for situations when your flows can handle your logic or if you need to provide limited user input into a flow (shoutout to Dian Taylor again for showing us how to do this). But, you might need to resort to customisations or bespoke development work to satisfy more complex scenarios. As part of release wave 1, customer service administrators can now define macros that dictate how Power Automate flows are executed in the background. What this means in practice is anyone’s guess at this stage. Based on the example scenarios highlighted, this could help empower customer service administrators to do more without going through a costly development cycle. Guess we’ll have to wait and see to find out more. 😉
Dynamics 365 Project Service to Dynamics 365 Project Operations Upgrade Pathway
I’m sure there are many current Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation (PSA) customers eagerly watching the new Dynamics 365 Project Operations app, and quite rightly, asking when they can transition across to this successor product. At least, if your clients are anything like mine, that is. 😅 I can’t blame them to be fair. Thanks to features such as Gantt chart views for project tasks, tighter integration alongside the new Project for the web app and a unified, end-to-end integration with Dynamics 365 Finance, Microsoft have made considerable investments to elevate PSA to the next level. Now, we’ve received the long-awaited news regarding the route to upgrade, which will start to rolling out across early 2021. If you’re an existing PSA customer, then these upgrade will be offered to you free of charge, and you’ll be automatically “grandfathered” across from a billing standpoint. Again, details are a little bare at this juncture concerning the upgrade process, but I’m pleased to see that this is finally coming.
Export PDF Documents from Canvas Apps
This next one is very exciting, partly because this requirement comes up so much as part of the projects I’m involved with these days. For a short while now, the various Dynamics 365 CE apps have had the ability to generate PDF documents for common record types. This feature is particularly useful in, let’s say, a quoting scenario, where you need to quickly generate a consistent template to issue to customers and then streamline the process for sending this out. Similar requirements often emerge when building out a canvas Power App. Generally, the need will be to print off a list of records or a snapshot of a particular page on the app. Previous attempts to do this have often involved the need for a convoluted solution. In one case, from recent memory, I had to direct users into a separate model-driven app to do this. Hardly a great experience and, as a consequence, leads to additional dependencies within your solution. Now, to help get around this, export to PDF functionality will be extended out to include canvas Power Apps as well. App makers can now define document types within their app, with dedicated controls added to then straightforwardly export it into a PDF. Not only does this address a longstanding ask on the Power Apps Community ideas forum, but it also unlocks additional capabilities that will no doubt strengthen the potential capabilities that we can build out in a canvas app.
Power Automate Connection References in General Availability
Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) in Power Automate has been lagging now for several years. Although we do now have “solution-aware” flows available, to help us package up and deploy our flows to multiple environments, you will still occasionally hit the odd issue as part of deploying out your flows. This is part of the reason why I’ve been so actively utilising connection references, despite the fact they’re in public preview still. They virtually eliminate the common issues associated with moving flows to alternate environments by allowing you to define a solution component describing the connector your flow and apps are using. When you import a solution containing a connection reference using the maker portal, you specify or create the appropriate connection to be used. Everything then “just works” and some of the pains associated with deployments are instantly removed. However, as the functionality is still in public preview, it is still generally advised not to use it as part of production deployments. With all this in mind, it’s great to see that, as part of the next release wave, this functionality will be moved into general availability, thereby making it “safe” for use across your various environment deployments. If you haven’t already checked out connection references, do yourself a huge favour and start familiarising yourself with them. If only to keep you sane as part of your next solution deployment. 😂