Power Platform – CDS Explained for Normal People
There is quite a bit of information in the wild for technically savvy people, around the Power Platform and it’s underlying Common Data Service. I want to see if I can make that understandable to us Normal people.
I know, many of you were thinking, “Ugh, here comes Steve’s long, drawn-out ‘How we got here’ story”. But this is for the normal people, who don’t really give a shit how we got here, they just want to know if there is something here they can make use of… or not.
Platforms on Platforms
In a meaningless to you nutshell, the Power Platform is comprised of PowerApps, Power BI and Microsoft Flow, each of which are kinda their own platforms. Each of these is able, but not required, to run on top of yet another platform, the Common Data Service. Additionally, they can be used individually, or in any combination. A well-known example of a PowerApp, would be the Dynamics 365 Enterprise Sales Application built by Microsoft, but you can also build your own.
Where this fits, and your interpretation of what I am saying in this post, has a lot to do with where you are. If you are currently using Dynamics 365 it may mean something different, than if you are not. For this post, I want to focus on the person who is new to all of this.
You have several paths that you can take with Microsoft Business Applications, which one you take, will depend on what you are trying to solve for, what kind of budget you have for solving it, and how sophisticated your users are. Let’s crack them open one-by-one, starting with a critical concept.
If you have heard this term, and your name was Cliff, you may have thought you were excluded from playing. But what this really refers to is the idea, that no matter where you start, you can keep going without hitting a wall. This is a pretty unique proposition that today, only Microsoft can fulfill. With most other platforms, you will reach a cliff, a point where you can go no further without switching platforms, migrating data etc. Microsoft Business Applications are used by one-person companies, all the way up to the largest companies in the world. There are no gates, you can start with the simplest need, and keep extending, and extending with no limits. You can literally grow from a one-person firm, to a 100k employee enterprise, without ever having to change platforms. No other vendor can say that today.
We might as well start at the top with Dynamics 365, a set of world-class, enterprise grade applications that deliver an incredible array of capabilities. From Marketing Automation to Sales Force Automation, Project Service Automation and Connected Field Service Automation, all with baked-in intelligence. No other vendor comes close to what the collective Dynamics 365 applications can bring to bear, on the most advanced business requirements on the planet. While Dynamics 365 applications may be the top of the mountain, they are also the tip of the iceberg. Even these world-class applications are cliff-free with the ability to tap into Azure for even more advanced capabilities, or Microsoft Flow, to connect to vast array of other services, including competing services, who does that? Nobody else does that.
There is a growing number of enterprise organizations that are making the move to Microsoft Dynamics 365, as well as smaller organizations with complex needs. So if you are not an enterprise organization or have complex needs are you out of luck? Hardly. Microsoft has a path for every business. Let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum to Micro-Businesses.
1-5, Make me Alive
For a micro-business, I am going to first make an assumption that you are already an Office 365 customer. It’s not a requirement, but it is a no-brainer, and opens up even more doors. Personally, I think the easiest place to get started with graduating from spreadsheets, is Microsoft Flow, hands down. A no-code solution for activating automated processes in your organization immediately. Microsoft Flow has hundreds of connections to other Microsoft and non-Microsoft services and tons of pre-built templates. From something as simple as grabbing an incoming email, and auto-replying with a Dropbox attachment, all the way through to multi-step, multi-path, multi-vendor processes spanning your entire organization. Remember, No Cliffs.
Personally, I think the best place for a mid-sized business to start is with PowerApps. A low-code way of building simple to sophisticated apps, that are highly specific to your unique needs. If you want a head-start, check out RapidStartCRM. PowerApps can of course leverage Microsoft Flow, to supercharge your automation, all with no developers required.
Once you have started collecting data and information with your applications, you may want to start adding a layer of intelligence over it so you can really get a tight handle on what’s going on. This is where Power BI comes into play. Another low-code capability for gaining insights into your business at a level you probably never had before.
Make a Pizza
No matter where you begin, you can add any of the other ingredients, at any time, in any order, to any degree. Went big with Dynamics 365 right out of the gate? You can easy add a simple PowerApp for some other department with simpler needs. Or the other way around, started with a simple departmental PowerApp, you can easily add Dynamics 365 Connected Field Service to that. Extending Microsoft Flow with a PowerApp, or extending a PowerApp with Microsoft Flow… all possible, and easier than you think.
How did this all happen?
The big pivot, that really opened up all of this possibility, was the introduction of the “Common Data Service” (CDS). For most of you, this will be invisible, kind of like the engine in your car. But it is this Azure powered substrate that sits under everything I mentioned above, that lets you effortlessly snap in additional capabilities, and provides this “No Cliffs” evolution. While you don’t have to even think about it, it is Microsoft’s not-so-secret super sauce, that has competitors either worried, or wanting to join the Microsoft Party.
Steve the Shill
As I re-read this, I am realizing that I am sounding like a Microsoft Stooge. Really it is just my excitement with the possibilities overflowing onto this post, maybe as a result of my recent Summit attendance and an even further crystallization in my head of the possibilities. I promise, I’ll get back to poking Microsoft in the nose… when and if, they do anything that deserves it.