The State of xRM
A few months ago I posted an article on the state of xRM. At the time, I felt that Microsoft didn’t “get” the power of their CRM platform and how it is used to build unique line of business applications. I felt that their story pushed the “Sales-Service-Marking” App line of thinking while missing out on hundreds of other unique applications that business solution professionals such as myself were building every day.
I mentioned this in a Q&A session at CRMUG in Nashville. The response was “just wait” and some not so subtle hints were dropped regarding the Common Data Service, Power Apps and Flow. From this I assume that the “Power” family was going to be the applications development platform while traditional CRM would continue its Sales-Service-Marketing (and PSA/Field Service) routes with integrations to the ERP side. Honestly I was a bit disappointed, at the time I saw PowerApps as just another iteration of InfoPath or MS-Access forms.
PowerApps/Flow/CDS = Just InfoPath v2 or Something Else?
At Extreme365, a few more hints were dropped. Then it dawned on me. Are they going to link/merge CDS/PowerApps/Flow to Dynamics 365? Is that going to work? The fact that there was the ability to run Flow direct from Dynamics 365 should have been obvious on the direction. However, Microsoft hasn’t been all that successfully in linking its business applications together… how many attempts at CRM to GP integration tools have been developed? However, this was more than just an integration…
As an MVP, we get to see some ideas and technologies that Microsoft is working towards. Of course we are sworn to secrecy and sign a strict NDA, in which violation of which leads to shame, banishment and bad luck.
As of today, the NDA has been lifted (or at least the info is now public as per the spring release documents)
xRM = CDS, Its all the Same Thing.
In January of this year, a few of us got to see where this was headed. There would be no “integration” of CDS to the CRM database. CDS *was* going to be the CRM database. And the Sales-Service-Marking and other “First party” apps (PSA/Field Service) could be installed separately on top of the CDS as “native system of record” the same way the apps that we solution professionals build. xRM = CDS, CDS = xRM.
To demonstrate, I can edit an entity in the PowerApp interface:
Or I can edit an entity in the traditional Dynamics 365 tools (note that the label is now also “PowerApps”) Basically 2 doors to the same house.
Sales/Service/Marketing – First Party Apps. xRM – Third Party Apps. In the end, all Apps on CDS.
The Common Data Service environment will get created with a set of common entities (e.g. Accounts, Contacts, activities, etc). If you don’t need any of the “first party” apps (e.g. Sales -> leads, opportunities, etc) then you don’t need to install or license them. (at very least, makes the Advanced Find drop down much cleaner!)
A good overview of what entities are in the core or what entities live in the first party apps is at this GitHub link.
Model Driven Apps and Canvas Driven Apps
In terms of a user interface, one could continue to build “model driven” apps using the same “entity-field-form-view” tools and techniques that we have been using since CRM 3.0. The entities and fields would appear as objects in the Common Data Service. On the flip side, if the particular business application needs to have a more unique user interface with controls placed on a pixel co-ordinates, then this could be done via the Power Apps interface to create “Canvas” based applications, pulling from the same Common Data Service as the Model based apps.
Model Driven App Design:
Canvas App Design
Basically this means you can have your cake and eat it too. If parts of your business application need the clean cut forms and views, then that part of your app can be build that way using the Model driven app method. If you need a specialized mobile interface with particular controls, you could build that using a Power App. Need to integrate to other applications? Flow is there to the rescue. Need to go deeper? You can still build traditional plug-ins, web resources or tie into Azure functions.
I have only begun to scratch the surface of what is new and available. The release notes have 200 pages of new goodness coming to Dynamics 365, CDS, PowerApps, Flow, etc.
xRM and CDS, best combination since Peanut Butter and Chocolate.
So while I will admit that I had my doubts initially, Microsoft has once again proved that they actually do know what they are doing and have provided us with a very powerful and flexible business applications platform. I really should have never doubted them.
Of course all of these new announcements open up other questions on security, licensing and best practices. There is a ton of new info coming out daily.
What applications will you build?
Nick Doelman is a Microsoft Business Solutions MVP and has been building xRM applications for many years and will continue to build CDS applications for many more!