Dynamics 365 Development: Why PowerApps is the New Power Stone in the Microsoft Dynamics Universe (MDU)

In the release of Dynamics CRM 2011, Microsoft refreshed the UI with a fresh new look and created a new design experience for system customizers. This was an improvement over the 4.0 design experience. Since then we’ve all been wondering why the user interface has had improvements while much of the customization UI has mostly remained a vestige of the 2011 experience. With the announcement that the Dynamics v9 UI is a PowerApp and development will be shifting to a PowerApp design experience, this brings enormous implications to not only the Dynamics 365 CE platform but everything else.

Dynamics is Now A PowerApp

No, you heard me correctly. Dynamics 365 is a PowerApp. Charles Lamanna (Business Application Platform Director at Microsoft) gave the keynote talk at Denver Dynamics Day last week. As I sat listening, I heard him say that Dynamics 365 CE was now a PowerApp. If I had been holding a cup of coffee, I probably would have been wearing it at that point. To make sure I wasn’t dreaming I asked him directly did you mean to say that the new Dynamics design interface is a PowerApp? He simply responded yes.

PowerApps has two primary development methods which are canvas and model-driven development strategies. A canvas app provides more of a free-form experience while creating an app whereas the model-driven app is geared more towards building apps based on an existing system model. This, of course, caters well to a Dynamics development scenario. I followed up with another question to Charles about the possibility of using either model-driven or canvas app development styles with Dynamics. Charles said that the canvas development style was coming end went on to talk about PowerApps showing up in other places. The implications are huge especially when you consider that PowerApps can create mash-up views of data from multiple platforms. It also means customers will be able to effectively create their own tailored mobile apps to their unique requirements as opposed to using the existing generic Dynamics app we have today.

With the PowerApp designer now taking over as the primary customization experience it would make sense that the product team wouldn’t invest much effort in updating the CRM 2011 interface. The development experience has never been a very high priority for the product team, so it’s hard to say whether this was on purpose or not. In either case, the marriage of Dynamics and PowerApps is a paradigm shift everyone.

PowerApps Will Take Over the Microsoft Ecosystem

If you were a company that talked about the democratization of IT and empowering non-developers you’d need a way for people to create functionality without knowing software development. As it stands today much of the development efforts on the Microsoft platforms require some degree of technical knowledge. PowerApps changes that equation by allowing the development task to become a customization activity. Now that Dynamics 365 CE is a PowerApp and other Microsoft platforms are adopting the technology it stands to reason that you would promote PowerApps and Flow as the primary skill sets throughout the entire platform ecosystem. Imagine one day that the whole dynamics ecosystem including Dynamics AX and NAV are unified under PowerApps. Going even further imagine Office 365 could be configured under the PowerApp domain as well. As PowerApps and the Business Application Platform continues to creep into other areas, it will soon be the standard.

As a Dynamics developer, this has some very powerful impacts because now PowerApps becomes a necessity to learn as opposed to a side platform for special occasions. Everyone that wants to work on the platform will need to understand PowerApps and the Common Data Model. The key benefit to Dynamics resources is that if you’re already familiar with the platform, then you have a big head start since the Common Data Service is built on the XRM platform.

The Democratization of IT Shifts Power from Developers to Business Analysts

A very significant ramification of the PowerApp movement is the fact that the skill sets required on projects are changing to favor the business analyst. In the age where we reached the holy grail of 80% configuration on software projects, the current need for developers becomes more of a support role. It may no longer be enough to merely be the hotshot developer that sits in the corner eating hot pockets and saying nothing. I believe that as this power shift happens, you’ll start seeing more remote developers because they’re only needed to build fringe functionality. It also means hardcore developers without any business analyst skills will become much less dominant. In a pure stroke of irony, this is precisely the opposite of how it has been in the past. Business analysis has always been a cornerstone of successful solution development, but now it becomes an even greater asset as the power to configure solutions grows.

I believe this power shift between developers and business analysts will continue over the next few years as the PowerApps platform gains even more momentum and is adopted by more Microsoft platforms as the standard. This highlights the importance for developers to cross the chasm into the techno-functional realm.

The signs seem clear where the Microsoft platform is heading. While there will always be a need for developers in the Microsoft ecosystem our dominance is going to diminish and it will start happening soon. At a minimum take the time to educate yourself on PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, and related platforms to stay relevant in the space. Change is coming and it will be here soon.

If you want to get more detail on creating a new PowerApps and Common Data Service instance checkout Henry Jammes’s LinkedIn post “The future of xRM / CRM is here! A first (impressed) look at the new PowerApps and Common Data Service for Apps“.


Categories: Blog, Development, Project Delivery

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