With Microsoft Inspire 2020 happening earlier this week, we naturally saw a whole host of new announcements, with Business Applications, the Power Platform and the Common Data Service Microsoft Dataflex forming a core part of this. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, tools such as Microsoft Teams have become increasingly invaluable, by allowing teams to work together collaboratively, while still being many miles or continents apart. As many organisations contemplate long-term adoption of Teams, it becomes natural that we start to see efforts to bring low code application development, hosted within the confines of a proper relational database, as an add-on feature within Teams. While there is much to consume and potentially litigate over within these announcements, I wanted to home in on some specific news that may have slipped under the radar – namely, some of the upcoming changes relating to Business Application certifications. In the following blog post published on Tuesday, we got a first peek into some new exams, that will become available to sit on or after September 2020:

All of these will earn you a corresponding Associate Certification once passed; previously, associate-level certifications have typically required at least two exam passes to obtain, so this change makes it easier than ever before to earn a Microsoft certification:

Now some of you may be thinking at this stage “Hey! Isn’t there already a developer AND functional consultant exam available for the Power Platform?”. Well, as part of this change, both MB-200 and MB-400 will be retired on December 31st 2020. Candidates can still sit them to earn credit towards each of their corresponding certifications until the end of 2021 at the latest.

As with any change, it is always important to sit back and review them in detail. With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve dissected after evaluating the new certifications more closely.

Considering what’s happened on the Azure side of things, a change like this was probably inevitable.

For those working in the Azure space, certification upheaval has been the norm here for quite a while now. At the start of the year, pretty much every major Azure exam available was replaced with a new variant, which saw a staggered release cycle earlier this year. Beyond this, new Azure certification pathways have been popping up left, right and centre, covering roles such as solution architect and skill areas such as AI, Data Fundamentals and DevOps, to name but a few. I would speculate that Microsoft is gearing up for a “Round 2” when it comes to the various role and skill-based exams currently available for Business Applications. With this mind, Microsoft may have decided to start again with a clean slate. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are further certification changes ahead within the Business Application space, and that we see changes within the Microsoft 365 side of things too.

Does this herald the start of performance-based testing for Business Application exams?

What I’m unsure about at this stage is whether we will start to see some of the performance-based aspects of the existing Azure exams finally come across into MB-800, PL-200 or PL-400. To summarise, these will be assessed sections where the exam automatically provisions an actual environment for you. From there, you must complete a specific set of tasks, with your given marks reflecting how you got on. If executed well, it does provide a more realistic mechanism of assessing a candidates knowledge using a particular system and in perhaps making the experience more engaging. Guess we will have to wait and see on this one.

Business Central is finally getting some love.

Dynamics 365 Business Central was released just over two years ago, so the fact that it is now getting a corresponding functional exam is welcome. However, it is impossible to validate this further at the time of writing this post, as the skills measured document for it has yet to be published. It’s also worth noting that Microsoft plans to release MB-800 after PL-200 and PL-400; October at the earliest, according to the website. Having done minimal work with Business Central in the past, I’m not well-positioned to make any further comment relating to this. Still, it does seem strange that Microsoft is not considering a developer variant of the exam at this juncture. Whether this is because the application does not support the same extensibility as the other Dynamics 365 applications, I’m not sure. It’s possible, therefore, that there’s a missing piece of the puzzle here.

Don’t panic if you plan to sit MB-200 or MB-400 shortly.

I know people and colleagues who will be sitting these exams soon, and my advice to them would be not to back out. As mentioned already, you will still earn progress towards your chosen certification. What’s more, the skills covered will be highly relevant to what is currently available within Dynamics 365 / the Power Platform today.

Comparing PL-200 to MB-200

At the time of writing this post, it’s not possible to do any form of detailed comparison here; similar to MB-800, the full Skills Measured document has yet to be published. However, we can learn from the website that PL-200 will assess candidates in the following broad areas:

  • Configure the Common Data Service
  • Build a Power App
  • Create automations with Power Automate
  • Configure Power Virtual Agents
  • Create visualizations with Power BI

From here, we can see that Power Virtual Agents and Power BI – topic areas not even mentioned at all in MB-200 – will be covered in-depth. The introduction of these topics almost certainly makes this a much more Power Platform focused affair. It’s no longer about Dynamics 365 as an application within the Power Platform, but rather, all of the available tools within this that you can leverage to build your specific business application.

Comparing PL-400 to MB-400

On the PL-400 side of things, the Skills Measured document is available, meaning we can analyse the exam in-depth. In summary, there appears to be a broad similarity to MB-400 in the areas you need to learn. Some of the new topics include:

  • Power Virtual Agents
  • More focus on the extensibility aspects of other Power Platform solutions, such as Power BI and Power Apps
  • Business Units and Teams
  • Increased focus on solution deployments and implementing an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) process around this
  • How to work with App Checker and Solution Checker in Power Apps

Microsoft has also chosen to drop some areas currently present in MB-400. For example, the data export service is no longer explicitly mentioned, and some elements relating to canvas Power Apps, such as building reusable component libraries, have been gone completely. Overall, I think candidates can expect a similar experience to MB-400, with some of the noticeable holes in the previous exam now being filled in duly.

Keep Calm and Carry On

It can often be challenging to keep up with the pace of changes occurring not only in the Microsoft Business Applications space but also more generally in IT these days. The best and only thing we can do is to embrace things openly, get stuck in and work any upheaval to our advantage. With this in mind, I’m eagerly looking forward to sitting these exams, finishing off my blog/video series on MB-400 and, all being well, transition this existing content across so that it applies to PL-400 after it launches.

What are your thoughts on these new exam changes? Do you plan to sit them once they are released? Should more exams be made available covering Business Central? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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