Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Dynamics 365: Why It May Not Be What You Think

For starters, the cloud-based CRM/ERP software has some surprising integrations with PowerApps, Microsoft's low-code developer environment.

As someone who has been writing about Microsoft since the mid-1990s, I have tried out most of Microsoft's products, services and devices at one time or another. One notable exception, however, has been Microsoft Dynamics.

For whatever reason, I just never found CRM software or ERP tools to be all that exciting. So, not surprisingly, I never bothered to take a look at any of the Dynamics software.

Quite some time ago, I noticed that Dynamics 365 showed up on my list of Office 365 apps. Even so, it wasn't until recently that curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the Dynamics 365 option to see what it looked like. I have to admit that Dynamics 365 was not entirely what I expected it to be.

If I am to be completely honest, I was expecting Dynamics 365 to be some sort of stuffy business application with a use case that is almost incomprehensible to an IT pro like myself. What I found instead was that launching the Dynamics 365 app took me into an app store that featured, among other things, several simple but useful applications that had been built on top of Office 365 PowerApps.

If you aren't familiar with PowerApps, it's essentially a development environment that allows you to build custom applications without writing any code. I wrote about what PowerApps is and how it works several months ago. At the time that I wrote that column, I thought of PowerApps as being a handy utility for those who needed to create simple apps, but who might prefer a simple drag-and-drop interface to writing actual code.

Being that Microsoft is a software company, I never expected Microsoft to actually develop Office 365 apps in this environment -- and yet, that is exactly what it has done in Dynamics 365.

When you open Dynamics 365, you will initially see a screen that is similar to the one shown in Figure 1. As you can see, this screen contains a direct link to PowerApps, along with a blurb indicating that you can use PowerApps to create custom apps.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1: The Dynamics 365 home screen includes a direct link to PowerApps.

The link to PowerApps is nice to have, but things become a little bit more interesting when you scroll down to the lower portion of the page. As you can see in Figure 2, Microsoft provides an entire collection of free apps that have been built using PowerApps.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 2: The Dynamics 365 home page includes links to several apps that have been developed using PowerApps.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the first app on the list (QuickTask). Upon doing so, there were a couple of things that I found interesting. For starters, when I launched the app, I was presented with a screen telling me that the app needed permission to use Planner, Office 365 Outlook and Office 365 Users. The reason I found this screen so interesting is because it shows that PowerApps has the ability to leverage the data associated with a variety of Office 365 applications. When you think about the sheer magnitude of Office 365 with all of its different applications, it quickly becomes apparent how much data is ripe for the picking by custom applications.

That leads me to the second thing that surprised me. As previously mentioned, the app that I decided to try out was QuickTask. The application's description indicates that the app triages Outlook e-mails into Planner. The app is specifically designed for service desk environments, in which service requests arrive by e-mail. The app allows those messages to be assigned as tasks to specific people within your organization.

The reason why I mention this is because the app's behavior really surprised me. While the app did exactly what the description said that it would do, it also did something completely unexpected: It parsed my mailbox and pulled out items that it found to be actionable. The app didn't display anywhere close to all of my e-mails, and the e-mail messages that it did pick out were an odd mix. You can see some of the subject lines in the heavily redacted screen capture in Figure 3.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 3: This is what the app looks like.

As you can see, the app displayed a Microsoft MVP lunch invitation alongside a few NASA e-mails. I'm not sure why the app picked these particular messages.

In any case, Dynamics 365 has intrigued me because of the way that it makes use of PowerApps. Over the next few weeks I plan to spend some more time with PowerApps so that I can get a better feel for what it is really capable of.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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