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What is Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform?

It can be confusing I know, Dynamics 365, CRM, Power Apps, Power Platform there are a lot of names being thrown around and all you want to know is which one is the right one for you.

When I first started working with Dynamics back in early 2011, things were simpler when it came to Microsoft’s business applications. They had a customer relationship management application, imaginatively called Dynamics CRM and they had a couple of enterprise resource planning applications called Dynamics NAV and Dynamics AX.

So the choice was simple, if you were in need of a CRM you picked Dynamics CRM and if you were in need of an ERP you picked either NAV or AX.

So since then, Microsoft have been working hard on improving their business applications offerings and over the years there has been a few name changes to both the CRM and ERP applications. But in general it was still Dynamics CRM and ERP.

Until 2016 when Microsoft dropped the CRM, NAV and AX naming and instead introduced us to Dynamics 365, a suite of business applications which included both the aforementioned CRM and ERP applications.

Fast forward another few years and Microsoft again have been busy at work providing us with cool new tools to play with and introduced Power Apps, Power Automate and several other tools which we will touch on shortly, but importantly introduced us to the name Power Platform.

So back to our original question what is Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform. Well during the process of improving their business applications, Microsoft extracted some of the component parts of what was Dynamics CRM. They also introduced us to some new tools that enable developers of all skill levels to build applications.

It's these tools and components that we refer to today as the Power Platform.

So what's actually in the Power Platform?

Well, we have a database called Dataverse, this was quite recently renamed from the Common Data Service, so you might sometimes still see it called that.

When you provision a new Dataverse database, it comes with a lot of tables and columns already defined. Things like accounts, contacts and activities. These tables and columns are referred to as the Common Data Model, and is actually an evolution of the entities and attributes that existed in the Dynamics CRM databases.

We also have Power Apps, which are a set of tools for building applications. Currently there are 3 types of applications you can build.

Canvas apps are apps that can be built by dragging and dropping components on to a canvas, they can be built without needing to know any traditional programming or scripting languages like C# or javascript, but instead rely on Excel-like expressions when working with logic or data.

Speaking of data, canvas apps can use multiple data sources to store their data. A Dataverse database obviously, but also SharePoint lists, Excel spreadsheets and many others.

Traditionally canvas apps were designed to run on mobile devices or tablets, but now with the ability to make canvas apps responsive, they work equally well in the browser or embedded in another app like SharePoint, Teams or even our next kind of app. Model driven apps.

Model driven apps are more restrictive that canvas apps. They are always built on top of a Dataverse database and the UI layout is largely determined for you when you create the app. You can control what fields appear on a form, or what columns appear in a view but you don't have nearly the degree of freedom you do in a canvas app.

The benefits of a model driven app, however, are that there is lots of functionality that comes out of the box, things like advanced search features, dashboards, business process flows and much more. So if these are features you need and you aren't too bothered about having complete control over the look and feel of the user interface, then model driven apps are for you.

The user interface that model driven apps use is the same user interface that is used by some of the Dynamics 365 apps, which we will talk about in a bit. So you can be assured that the user interface is very user friendly and responsive so you'll get a similar experience across all device types.

The last app type is a Power Apps portal, these allow you to build externally-facing websites, enabling users from outside of your organisation to browse and interact with the data stored in your Dataverse database. Power Apps portals are also utilised by the Dynamics 365 applications and come with pre-built templates for those. But you can easily build a portal connected to your own model driven app using the tools provided.

So with a Power Apps license, you get access to all of these app types and can build some pretty amazing apps, without even touching Dynamics 365. Pretty cool huh?

So what else is there in the Power Platform?

Well I mentioned Power Automate before, which as the name implies, is an automation tool. This has the ability to connect to hundreds of different data sources. The automated actions are called flows, and can be triggered manually from within an app or automatically by a trigger action, from a Power App or from any of the other data sources it can connect to.

Power Automate is another of Microsoft's low-code tools, so the design interface is very user friendly so anyone can use it to automate their tasks. Want your internet connected light bulbs to flash, whenever a new lead gets added via your PowerApps Portal website? You can with Power Automate.

There are also Power Virtual Agents which let you create chatbots that can answer questions from your customers via a chat widget on your website, or from your employees through the Microsoft teams app.

There is AI Builder which allows you to use AI models such as object detection or prediction without the need for any data science or coding skills. You can build models tailored to your needs or choose a prebuilt model which you can then use in a Power Automate flow or in your Power Apps.

And finally we have PowerBI, which has been around a lot longer than many of the other tools in the Power Platform, but it does fall under that umbrella. Power BI enables users to bring data from many unrelated data sources together into a single place to provide interactive dashboards, reports and insights.

So that’s half of the question answered. The Power Platform is a set of tools and applications that you can use to build custom apps quickly and easily.

The Power Platform is a set of tools and applications that you can use to build custom apps quickly and easily.

So to the second half of our question what is Dynamics 365?

So let's say you don't want to build an application from scratch, regardless of how easy it may seem. Or you would like some functionality that couldn't possibly be built in the Power Platform without unlimited time and budget.

In steps Dynamics 365.

Dynamics 365 is a suite of business applications that are pre-built to provide common use cases and functionality. They also provide functionality that just isn’t available through your own custom Power Apps, but like your own custom Power Apps, the Dynamics 365 apps can be customised and extended to match your organisations specific requirements.

There a lot of apps now available under the Dynamics 365 umbrella, and by the time you watch this video more may have already been added. So I’m not going to go into the detail of each one, but if you have a specific question or would like me to do a video on a specific app, let me know down in the comments.

So let’s start with what was known many years ago as Dynamics CRM, while Dynamics CRM may not exist any more the functionality that was available in that app, albeit much improved and expanded upon, still exists in Dynamics 365 Sales and Dynamics 365 Customer Service.

Dynamics 365 Sales as the name implies is targeted at selling and it’s here you’ll find the concept of leads, opportunities and forecasts, as well as integrations to LinkedIn Sales Navigator and AI assisted sales insights. If you are looking for an app to manage sales, here is a good place to start.

Dynamics 365 Customer Service is where your customer support agents would be at home, working on cases, using knowledge base articles to help answer customers questions and queries. You’ll also find built in AI assistance here as well with suggested cases and knowledge articles.

Dynamics NAV and AX also live on albeit again much improved.

Dynamics NAV is now Dynamics 365 Business Central and Dynamics AX is now two separate applications Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management.

We also have Dynamics 365 Field Service, which is designed to help manage field technicians, engineers and resources that work onsite.

Dynamics 365 Marketing, which as the names suggests allows you to manage marketing campaigns and marketing automation.

There’s Dynamics 365 Project Operations for managing projects and resources.

Dynamics 365 Commerce for e-commerce and shopping and Dynamics 365 Human Resources for managing staff.

Oh and not forgetting Customer Insights which provides insights into all of your customer data and Customer Voice which allows you to collect and analyse feedback.

Phew, that’s a lot of apps.

So in summary Dynamics 365 is a collection of pre-built apps that provide you with great functionality out of the box and can also be extended using the tools on offer in the Power Platform.

Dynamics 365 is a collection of pre-built apps that provide you with great functionality out of the box.

So I hope that has helped clear things up. If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

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