In a press conference in 2014, Satya Nadella shared his vision for a “mobile-first, cloud-first” world.
Since then, we have seen a significant investment being made by Microsoft and its partners in building an ecosystem of intelligent applications in the cloud. Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations (formerly AX) has probably seen more revolutionary changes than any other application. It has come a long way from being a classic on-prem ERP application to a class-leading cloud-based ERP that works just fine with the all other productivity and intelligence applications in the cloud. It is also noteworthy that in some sense, cloud and mobile are one and the same thing. As Satya said in his brief, the magical coming together of the cloud and mobile is what is Microsoft’s pursuit and their innovation agenda.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Tech Conference in Seattle where I attended some very informative sessions and had some very insightful discussions with partners and colleagues from Microsoft. Lately, we have talked about the shift to the public cloud at quite some length. In this post, I want to talk about mobility or mobile scenarios that are available for Dynamics 365 for Operations.
As you might have already seen in the roadmap, Microsoft are developing a new mobile app framework that will make app development for Dynamics 365 for Operations much easier. The three key improvements are:
Microsoft have already released several mobile workspaces. A number of other apps are in development and we should see them coming in the upcoming releases.
It is easy for partners and customers to build their own apps by leveraging this app framework that comes with Dynamics 365 for Operations. Remember the famous [mode=mobile] option?
However, apart from this mobile framework, we can now also take advantage of other tools such as PowerApps and Xamarin. Please note the following additional scenarios that were presented by Microsoft.
PowerApps with CDS: If there is a requirement to collate data from various sources then PowerApps may be a better solution. PowerApps provides a PowerPoint like UI development and it can be combined with Common Data Service (CDS) to combine data from various sources. The Common Data Service is an easy to provision scalable data store that provides security, storage and behaviour via an entity model. This scenario also provides the option to build apps based on templates with minimal coding. The capability to support offline mode is in the roadmap. At the moment over 60 entities are available as standard. Microsoft are releasing the CDS SDK which will enable extensibility of this option. The security is based on PowerApps and CDS framework and source security model.
PowerApps with SQL Azure: We can also use PowerApps with SQL Azure as the backend for the database. Similar to the previous scenario, we can combine heterogeneous sources of data using connectors. However, offline mode for this scenario is not available. Business logic can be implemented for the apps using SQL stored procedures. The security for this scenario is also required to be defined manually in SQL and PowerApps.
Xamarin: Further, if there are very specific requirements that demand more control over the experience, or if the device requires specialised interactions then pro-dev tools such as Xamarin maybe more suitable. Xamarin is Microsoft’s cross-platform development software to create 100% native user interfaces customised for each platform. Microsoft provide Xamarin templates for app development in Visual Studio. Partners can use Xamarin APIs and C# to extend this and create applications that meet their requirements. Business logic, offline capabilities, data entities and security framework all need to be custom built by a pro developer.
In summary, Microsoft are making not one, but multiple options available to us to implement the mobile-first vision that has been laid out. From my own personal experience, five years ago, there were hardly any clients asking for ERP access on mobile devices. It was also not as easy and flexible to build mobile applications with the previous versions like Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 and AX 2012.
Today, every business that I speak to asks for mobility options. It is very exciting to see how the approach to implement and patterns of consumption are rapidly changing in the digital world. And for us as Dynamics partners, it is also very exciting to see how Microsoft is leading this change.