- You don’t necessarily need to buy Dynamics 365 (Dynamics CRM) licenses to get the CRM functionality you need.
- Power Apps and the Common Data Service have the components to build a simple CRM app that looks and operates *exactly* like Dynamics CRM (without the features that you don’t need)
- Dynamics 365 is a Power App
- Don’t need all that Dynamics 365 functionality? Build a CRM Power App (I will show you how)
“We need a CRM!”
I was facilitating some Power Platform training to client’s internal team the other day. This organization has Office 365 (whoops, I mean Microsoft 365), has a number of legacy SharePoint and Excel based solutions and is looking to build and revamp many line of business apps using the Power Platform. We talked about ways we could build apps using the Common Data Service, Power Automate and of course Power Apps.
We were discussing the provisioning of Common Data Service environments. Walking through the process, I noted that currently you need to specify that if you want to enable the Dynamics 365 apps at the start when you provision, and they cannot be installed later.
“Wait a minute…” came a question from one of the team. “What if we want CRM later? Does this mean we need to start from scratch and migrate our data?”
It’s a great question. However, in this case, I have a high level understanding of the organization’s business and what their ultimate objectives.
They are a non-profit organization that performs research projects and programs. Many of their initiatives are government funded. While they do have external stakeholders they don’t “sell” in a typical sense. They do collect feedback and information from their stakeholders they also do not have a customer support center or track tickets. That being said, they have a number of great use cases for model-driven, canvas and portal Power Apps.
I answered the question with a question. “What do you need Dynamics 365 (Dynamics CRM) for anyway?”
Note: Microsoft hasn’t called their suite of business applications “CRM” (Customer Relationship Management) for a few years now. However, it still is a common term for customer engagement software solutions. The “CRM” apps are now referred to as Dynamics 365, and are a collection of various apps (e.g. Dynamics 365 Sales, Dynamics 365 Customer Service and many others)
The perception in the organization is that they need a centralized repository of their stakeholders, related communications and potentially other business information.
They felt they needed a CRM system.
Despite looking at the Power Apps for some of the line of business apps, there were folks within the organization suggesting using (ugh) SalesForce.com, Dynamics 365 (CRM) or potentially some other CRM system.
My answer was that if they were to move ahead with the Power Platform, that they would essentially get most of all that functionality from the “vanilla” Common Data Model and that could expose their required “CRM” functionality in a simple model-driven (or even Canvas) Power App.
Any unique needs could be very easily added using the same tools and techniques being evaluated for building a number of other line of business applications.
This particular organization would likely never need things like Leads, Opportunities’, SLAs, Cases, etc.
It made me realize that again, maybe folks are unclear of what Power Apps and the Power Platform offers and the confusion of what Dynamics 365 offers.
The key thing to remember is this; Dynamics 365 is just a Power App.
The Dynamics 365 “first party” Power Apps provide an incredible amount of functionality for specific business cases. Sales management (Dynamics 365 Sales) Customer support management (Dynamics 365 Customer Service) as well as many others (Field Service, Project Service, Marketing, etc). that extend the Common Data Model and provide line of business applications specific to specific workloads.
Even the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems like Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management is beginning to utilize the Common Data Model with dual-write entities.
However, not everyone needs the Dynamics 365 first party applications.
In fact, in the Dynamics CRM 3.0 to Dynamics CRM 2016 days, many projects I worked on we removed or hid many of the sales and service entities and functions and added our own. These types of apps were referred to as “xRM” or “Anything Relationship Management”.
You don’t need a CRM because you already have a CRM (and it’s a Power App).
The customer was quite relieved to know that by choosing the Power Platform, they could quickly have the CRM system they needed. The Common Data Model provided the required entities and there were already pre-built forms and views for Accounts, Contacts and Activities in the Common Data Service.
Even better was that the licensing for a Power Apps Per User plan is considerably less than a full Dynamics 365 plan license, and the license would cover both their line of business apps and CRM.
For many organizations such as non-profits, charities and government departments, a Power App can provide the core functionality required.
Even if an organization did need to eventually deploy Dynamics 365 first party apps, the hope is that someday those apps can be installed after the fact on an existing CDS environment.
Side Bar: Accelerating your Power Apps
Another great initiative by Microsoft is the creation of industry accelerators. These accelerators are built following industry standards and can be installed on both vanilla CDS and Dynamics 365 environments and do not require extra licensing. These provide customers with a head start building their industry specific line of business applications. Microsoft is adding and updating accelerators daily, check them out here https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/common-data-model/industry-accelerators
Build Your Own Dynamics CRM 2020 in 10 Minutes
The follow are steps to build a super simple, lightweight “CRM” system on the Common Data Service using existing components. I have provided the solution files on my GitHub site, but you could very quickly build your own CRM app and extend it further for your own purposes.
The next step is to create a solution. Solutions are the method to move your assets from one Power Platform environment to another.
In the solution, choose New -> App -> Model-driven app (this will be our new CRM app!)
Give your CRM app a name (could be just “CRM”). In my example I choose “Dynamics CRM 2020”
We need to add some core CRM entities to our app. One of the many benefits of the common data model is that it has a set of predefined entities that are core to a CRM system. Click on the Entities component.
Choose the Account, Contact and Activity entities. You could decide to add additional entities that might be useful to your organization from the Common Data Model (or create your own). For now, we are keeping our CRM system simple.
Click on “Site Map” so we can build the navigation for our CRM app.
We will add an “CRM” area. We can go back later and add other areas to our app.
Lets add a “Stakeholder” group to hold our Accounts and Contacts (Organizations and People) entities.
Add the Account entity for the sub area.
Add the Contact entity…
We will add a communications group
Add the Activities entity in the Communication Group.
Finally, save our site map and publish.
We are pretty much done. Click Done in the maker area.
In the Apps, you should now have a CRM model driven app.
Running the App, we have a model driven app with views of data, many existing functions like searching, exporting to excel, etc. It looks and feels exactly like Dynamics CRM, because, in a way, it is.
You can continue to build on this app by adding dashboards, other entities, or even adding automation using Power Automate or embedding canvas apps or building portals. You could also install some of Microsoft accelerators to get a jump start on extending your system.
If you do need some of the sales and service functions, but not necessarily all the bells and whistles of Dynamics 365, you could build these components as well or look at some ISV products like RapidStartCRM.
The point is, model driven Power Apps evolved from Dynamics CRM and should be your core CRM for your organization, no matter what you business is.
If you feel you need a CRM system for your organization, you definitely need to consider Power Apps. Not only will you have an industry standard, cloud based system that integrates with Microsoft 365 but one that can be easily modeled to your own unique requirements. In fact, if you have used Dynamics CRM in the past, you won’t even notice the difference.
Nick Doelman is a Microsoft Business Applications MVP and has been configuring unique line of business applications built on the Power Platform before it was even called the Power Platform. Follow Nick on Twitter @ReadyXRM