While vertically and/or horizontally integrated COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf), or high-cost / high control custom developed end-to-end applications have a place in many organizations, both are being eclipsed by a modern, best-of-all-worlds, micro-services approach known as Application Platform as a Service (APaaS). APaaS is a modern, cloud-based, construct that allows organizations to:
- Build applications iteratively
- Provision app software instantly
- Scale apps on-demand
- Integrate with other services (cloud and on-premise)
Microsoft has developed their APaaS concept as the Microsoft Power Platform, a business micro-services application platform that includes the Common Data Service (CDS), PowerApps, Power BI, and PowerAutomate (formerly Flow) technologies, and now underpins the Dynamics 365 applications that many organizations already know. Together, these technologies target to fulfill the promises of APaaS, enabling organizations to:
- Rapidly create custom, containerized, no-code / low-code micro-services applications that meet different business and user group needs without becoming monolithic;
- Integrate all data natively on the platform – no custom components required – and make that data available to any other application;
- Employ “No Cliffs” development with tools that are easily extensible by professional developers and readily integrated with Azure cloud services.
COMMON DATA SERVICE
The magic of Power Platform’s data integration is in the Common Data Service (CDS). Long-time Microsoft Dynamics developers easily recognize the potential of xRM (e.g. CRM, VRM, ERM, PRM, etc.), while users of that application no doubt recognize the seamless way that data kept in one type of Dynamics record has been available, referenceable, and usable throughout the application. CDS represents the next generation of that capability enabling applications that can extend far beyond the traditional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and ERP (Enterprise Resources Planning) functions.
The upshot here is that all data generated by all applications built on the platform resides in CDS. That means that data associated with (for example) an application built to track training qualifications for employees can be seamlessly shared with (say) an application for asset management, allowing one’s qualification on a vehicle to determine which vehicles he/she may check out, or one’s job position to drive which equipment and gear they are issued. Another intriguing use case could be for toolcrib management for manufacturing or oil / gas drilling rig scenarios.
Now more than ‘just’ a tool for point-and-click design and development of mobile apps (though it does that, too), Microsoft PowerApps is the native environment for creating and interacting with end-user functionality on the platform. Developers and “citizen creators” alike can use PowerApps to build micro-services applications that run natively in mobile, web, and desktop environments across any popular combination of devices and operating systems.
Where legacy ERP and CRM solutions often forced unattractive, monolithic, and often sluggish user experiences, PowerApps turns that paradigm on its head, allowing users to create smaller apps (micro-services) targeted for specific and contained use cases yet can draw on the common source of business data housed in the CDS.
The CDS, in turn, leverages the Common Data Model (CDM), a shared data language (aka “Master Data”) used by business and analytical applications. It consists of a set of a standardized, extensible data schemas published by Microsoft and partners that enables consistency of data and its meaning across applications and business processes.
Because PowerApps are built atop the CDS, their data is available to other PowerApps in the same environment, as well as Dynamics Customer Engagement (formerly CRM), Dynamics ERP’s, and even SharePoint, subject to the security model, and are deployable across the organization.
Power Platform’s answer to rich, visually compelling, data visualization and business intelligence (BI), Power BI consumes all of the data stored in CDS, and then integrates with data found across hundreds of other third-party services. The result? Charts, dashboards, and other visualizations that are as aesthetically stunning as they are rich in data. Power BI has been called a “Common man’s BI solution” as the intent is to democratize analytics and reporting to power users in business groups versus complex, specialized tools that require specialist IT resources that have often discouraged business teams from even making the request due to the time and costs involved.
POWER AUTOMATE (formerly Flow)
Microsoft PowerAutomate (formerly Flow) delivers a workflow builder for line-of-business users, allowing them to automate time-consuming tasks and processes across apps and services with Power Automate’s low-code builder. With PowerAutomate, organizations can move workflow creation for business solutions away from an expensive, strictly IT-provided service and closer to the day-to-day business. By reducing IT involvement, time to create workflows is cut down, empowering, and encouraging, business users to create their own simpler solutions and allowing IT to focus on more advanced solutions. PowerAutomate is easily extended to more complex tasks as well, enabling enterprise organizations to weave it like a thread through their business applications, connecting and automating previously siloed activities.
INTEGRATIONS WITH THIRD PARTY SERVICES
Closed ecosystems are dead. Well, at least, we can agree they need to be, right? Though CDS is home to data from an incredible array of business use cases, the Power Platform debunks any assumption that in-house data alone is sufficient to serve the customers, answer the questions, and empower the employees to accomplish the mission. Microsoft has built hundreds of connectors that provide point-and-click integration of data, not just from Microsoft services (e.g. SharePoint/Office 365, Dynamics, LinkedIn, Azure, etc.), but to so many other popular third party services as diverse as Twitter, WordPress, SalesForce, Todoist, Facebook, Basecamp, and many, many more.
Aria Consulting would be happy to discuss how we could help you to take advantage of Power Platform to meet your needs and propel your organization further down the road of Digital Transformation.