Imagine for a moment that on your current Dynamics 365 project that you needed to directly edit the RibbonDiffXml file via Notepad to add a button or menu command to a form. How long would it take you? Would you even get it right the first time?
If you are a Business Analyst, how would you go about updating child records from a workflow?
Think about how many hours these tasks would take, how much extra budget you would need to negotiate with your clients to deliver your projects or worse, how much time you would need to write off.
Doing these types of tasks manually take a lot of time which in turn have a direct cost of Dynamics 365 projects.
How much would you be willing to pay for a set of tools that would automate these tasks or accurately generate code or provide you with easy configurable steps?
One of the many great things about the Dynamics 365 community is the number of FREE tools available that help us all deliver our solutions.
The list is HUGE! Here is just a short list of examples of FREE tools/extensions that are indispensable to any Dynamics 365 project:
XrmToolBox (and all associated add-ons like FetchXML Builder and others)
Various Workflow Extensions like this one, or this one or this one (just install them all!):
And also free versions of commercial tools like North52 or KingswaySoft
There are many, many more free tools out there. (Sorry for the ones I missed)
Unfortunately, many of the developers of these great tools go quietly unnoticed and unrecognized for their efforts. In some rare cases, these developers also get a bit of flack for even suggesting asking for donations?
In 1976, Bill Gates wrote a famous letter outlining the value of software. This still holds true today.
I polled a few Business Application MVPs who have created some of the tools we use daily to get their feedback about the tools they create.
Reasons to Create The Tools
One of the common reasons why developers created these tools were primarily first for their own use. They identified a shortcoming with Dynamics 365 and built a tool/add-on to address the limitation for their own projects and save time.
By nature, developers (I include myself in this definition) are maybe a bit lazy and we tend to look for more efficient and faster ways to do repetitive or boring tasks.
Another reason cited was a way to learn or keep current with new technology. Having a specific project to work on is a great way to learn a new technique or language.
Even though these tools were initially personal projects, thankfully the developers went further to share with their colleagues and then to the community as a whole.
I asked these developers how much time they spent per month working on their tools. The range was from 10 – 20 but could be as high as 40 or 60 hours. Much of the time is spent developing, testing, fixing and answering support questions from the community. If considering professional billing rates from $150-$200 per hour, there is a significant amount of investment going into the ongoing development and maintenance.
None of the respondents mentioned that they made these tools specifically for financial gain. In many cases, the developers themselves have not even set up a mechanism (PayPal, etc) to actually receive monetary donations.
I asked what kind of feedback and support they appreciated most, and here are some examples of what they had to say:
“Thank you’s, user success stories and interesting ideas about how to leverage the tool are what I appreciate most.”
“Shout-outs and awards. (The exhibitionist in me is speaking.)
Pull Requests with code improvements too, as it highlights the community-driven side, even though I have a bit of a hard time accepting someone else’s code in my code…
But I also feel that donations are the hard currency that really proves that my tool is actually *worth* something for my users. So donations work more as tokens of appreciations than putting food on my table. The “willingness to spend” is more important than my “desire to earn”, if that makes sense.”
“Pull request with new stuff”
“Money is nice but truthfully I would much rather have people contribute to the coding.”
“In the first place, I guess a nice feedback from users to know that the tool is used and useful for other people than me, let’s say it would be the first win. Then having feedback from users directly with ideas to improve the tools would be the best.”
Do you use any of the free Community Tools or Enhancements? Then I personally challenge you to show your support!
When you consider the overall budget of a typical Dynamics 365 project, and how much time and effort is saved a small donation to the developer of the free tool goes a long way. You don’t necessarily have to pay “market value” for a tool or enhancement, but donating the price of a beer/pizza is a nice token of appreciation. You might even want to consider asking your employer of making a more significant donation, considering the ROI of these tools.
Some of the tools do have a PayPal button either on the menu or on the website. It only takes a few minutes and is an easy way to show support.
The next time a particular community tool saves you time, effort or money, or even better, gets you out of a serious jam, consider firing off a tweet or posting to LinkedIn or Facebook with a link/tag back to the developer mentioning how you appreciate the tool!
Many of the developers maintain their code on public GitHub sites. Maybe if you see a bug or have your own idea for an enhancement, maybe take a crack at fixing or extending the code and submitting a pull request. You will have potentially added some great value and put your own personal touch on some of your favorite tools!
Maybe you aren’t a developer, but you have an idea for a feature or enhancement that would make the tool even better and add value. Its very easy to send an email to the developer and if they agree may make it happen in a future release.
Buy the Commercial Version
Some commercial tools like Kingswaysoft or North52 have a free developer or community versions of their tools. If you use these tools a lot, consider licensing a full version for a future project.
There are a lot of ways to show appreciation and support of the great Dynamics 365 Community tools. These tools have great value and there are very tangible costs to create, maintain and support these tools. I challenge you to in some way show your support for your favorites!
BIG THANK YOU to the MVPs who contributed their thoughts and information for this post. Of course, I set my survey form to “anonymous” (not on purpose) so I don’t know who did or who didn’t contribute (but I can guess). And of course, keep creating those awesome tools!
Nick Doelman is a Business Application MVP and currently has not created any free community tools (yet) but does donate, promote and offer feedback wherever possible.