Microsoft Dynamics 365 Deep Dive Series: PowerApps, Flow, and Common Data Service for Dynamics 365

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It’s time for the next installment in Dynamics 365 Deep Dive series as our journey explores these powerful new services: PowerApps, Flow, and the Common Data Service (once called Common Data Model). To begin, let’s take a look at the visual below to understand how Microsoft is positioning these products/services.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Visual Workflow

As a long-time veteran in the applications business, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard users pining for “codeless applications.” Companies have been chasing this dream for years and years. Now, Microsoft introduces PowerApps, Flow, and Common Data Service, three services that form the core foundation for building useful business applications, quickly and without code.

Microsoft Power Apps

The first service we want to cover today is Microsoft PowerApps. PowerApps enable individuals to build simple, useful, custom applications without writing code; apps that can be published instantly and then used on the web or from mobile devices. We call these “purpose-built” apps because they’re created to fulfill specific business needs. Below is a simple example of a mobile app that I created to display to users all of the projects that are assigned to them. It’s simple because all you have to do is tap the start/stop button to rapidly capture the time spent on each of your projects. This same app also allows you to edit projects and create new ones. The data is then saved to the Common Data Service which automatically updates CRM and Operations. Not a single line of code needs to be written, and the process is completed in less than a day.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 PowerApps

Take a look at the finished app:

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finished PowerApp

With PowerApps, non-technical business users now have the ability to easily create mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, apps that are also accessible from a browser. This means that we now have a platform with the ability to consume, edit and create data from many of the systems you regularly use. Take, for example, a form or SharePoint list you already have for capturing new project requests. You need only point PowerApps at the chosen form or list, and it will create most of the app for you. Perhaps you want to add CRM and/or ERP data to that as well. It couldn’t be easier. Just tap into the Common Data Service. PowerApps will accomplish all this without writing code. What’s more, it uses an intuitive point-and-click designer that you can access from the web or from your desktop.
The most common applications that PowersApps can tap into are:

  • Common Data Service
  • Office 365
  • Dynamics 365
  • Excel
  • Google Apps
  • SQL Server
  • SharePoint
  • OneDrive
  • Box
  • Azure

If you’d like to see all of the available applications, check out this full listing. You’ll want to check back often since more are being added nearly every week.

Microsoft Flow

Next on today’s agenda is Microsoft Flow, a service for creating workflows across commonly used applications. While there’s already a powerful workflow engine in Dynamics CRM, what happens if you want to incorporate workflow outside of CRM? It becomes a challenge that requires some serious custom code development. With Flow, you can overcome the limitations of the Dynamics CRM workflow, because Flow, like “the little engine that could,” will save the day. It’s a supercharged cross-application and cross-platform workflow workhorse. I have a great example to share with you. I decided that I’d like to monitor Twitter for certain hashtags or keywords and automatically create a lead record CRM when they come up on Twitter. Then I took it one step further and decided that I wanted to send an email or text message notification to someone on our sales team about the new lead. Without Flow, this would have required third-party tool custom development. But with Flow, it’s a point and click process that I was able to accomplish in less than 15 minutes!

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Flow Screenshot

Since Flow works together with PowerApps, it provides even greater power and usability for Dynamics 365, and can automate almost any time-consuming process or task. It could be a simple task such as an approval workflow or complex workflows across Sales, Service and Operations. With Flow you can:

  • Set Up Notifications
  • Synchronize Files and Services
  • Collect Data
  • Automate Approvals

Flow comes ready-packed with 400 templates and 95 services. Additional templates and services are being added all the time. You can see the full listing here.

Common Data Service

The final item on our agenda today is the Microsoft Common Data Service (CDS). It’s an Office 365/Dynamics 365/Azure-based business application data model and storage application. Microsoft has pre-configured CDS with a large set of standard entities used in business applications. One example would be the customer fields that exist in both CRM and ERP but are called something different in each system. CDS allows you to map both applications to a single, common field called “Customer.” CDS in effect creates a codeless integration, so that whenever the field is updated, it will update in both CRM and ERP.

But that’s not all! These standard entities, without writing code, can extend the data model with custom entities, thus opening up a new world of possibilities for building even more useful PowerApps and Flows. In this new world, non-developers have the ability to create a data model to support their needs. CDS has the awesome ability to provide a single data model that sources data from multiple systems, relates the data, and also allows users to view and update data across several applications.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Common Data

Gone is the need for custom code, workarounds, or third-party solutions. CDS does it all!

Save this date! Because on March 16th we’ll be presenting a live, information-packed webcast, a deep dive demonstration of what you can expect to accomplish with PowerApps, Flow, and CDS. You won’t want to miss it! Learn more about the Webinar here.

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