While I’m over in Finland enjoying the biggest and longest heatwave ever, some of my fellow MVPs and Dynamics 365 community members were attending the first ever Microsoft Business Applications Summit this week on the other side of the globe in Seattle. As much as I would have enjoyed sitting in cold & dark conference rooms instead of trying to hide from the burning sunlight, this time I had to rely on the others to share the latest news from #MSBizAppsSummit while I attempt to enjoy the summer vacation.

A large share of the conference’s announcements are covered in the October ’18 Release Notes, which you can download in PDF format right here. This is a massive “drop” that follows the format of what we already saw with the previous April ’18 release. Even though it’s been made available during the summer heat, it’s actually a list of features that Microsoft intends to (mostly) make available between October 2018 and March 2019. So, winter came early this year, which is a positive thing, since now we have several months of advance notice of what’s in the product team’s pipeline. These release notes essentially replace the earlier roadmap.dynamics.com website, which in itself was kinda cool (running on top of Dynamics 365 Portals and all) but didn’t communicate the actual road ahead all that well. So, these twice a year PDF releases with ongoing updates to their detailed content is the thing you need to pay attention to now.

One small but notable difference is that Microsoft is no longer calling it “Dynamics 365 Release Notes” but “Business Applications Release Notes”, which together with the Summit’s name reflects the new context in which we all should approach whatever parts of the toolkit we use in our end user solutions. Recently also the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional program updated its terminology, and now the previous Business Solutions MVPs are in the Business Applications MVP category.

The previous April 2018 release was the first time when we saw the new organizational structure of Microsoft Business Applications Group (“BAG”) bringing previously separate product offerings under one roof, with CRM & ERP products being represented in the same release notes list as PowerApps, Flow, Power BI. That also was the time when things like the Common Data Service for Apps were announced as replacements for what XRM previously stood for. However, from a raw functionality level there appeared to be a greater urgency in reaching GDPR compliance before the May 25th deadline than to actually push out new integrated features for the CDS for Apps platform.

Reading through the October 2018 release notes, this time it’s very different. There are huge steps being take to bring together the “ex-XRM” technologies with the newer products and make it truly one Power Platform. Here are selected highlights:

  • PowerApps Canvas Apps and Flows can now been included inside CDS for Apps solutions, giving them the ALM story for enterprise grade deployment across different dev/test/UAT/prod instances. This clearly makes them no longer a “power user” focus tool but a building block for credible business applications.
  • PowerApps Canvas Apps can be embedded inside the model-driven app entity forms. The traditional UI of XRM apps that was generated from metadata will get a touch of pixel-perfect design options that the Canvas Apps have always been about. This ability coincides with the new options to freely set the app size instead of earlier phone/tablet format limitations.
  • Flow is promised to reach parity with async workflows. Even though the transactional capabilities of real-time workflows (similar to plug-ins) is not yet within October 2018 scope, that’s one bold step to make the XRM workflows history and move their logic into Flows.
  • Power BI reports & tiles can be embedded onto CDS for Apps entity forms and the record context as well as any record attribute can be passed to them for data query and visualization filtering. Surely pretty much anyone has at one time wished “gee, wouldn’t it be sweet if instead of working with this limited ASP.NET chart XML from Dynamics CRM 2011 we could leverage those modern Power BI charts instead”. Well, that day is getting closer!
  • PowerApps Canvas Apps will FINALLY offer native support for lookups, option sets and datetime fields. For anyone who’s tried to replicate pretty much any CRM functionality with PowerApps, this will have been a very early stumbling block. Not so easy to solve with separate product teams inside MSFT apparently, but within the new Business Applications Group these gaps for real life solutions can now be filled.
  • There will be a single mobile “player” for both Model-driven Apps and Canvas Apps. When previously the Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement mobile app for Unified Interface and the PowerApps apps lived behind separate app icons on your phone, soon the users may no longer see any difference when switching between different business applications.

These are only a few items in the long list of upcoming features that the 239 pages of October 2018 release notes contain. A lot of important unification is also taking place in the author and admin experience of how Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement apps, CDS for Apps platform, PowerApps Canvas Apps and Flow can be used together for your solution design needs. Similarly, a lot of advances are being made on the UCI front, with the legacy web client being more and more replace with Unified Interface. Then there’s the whole CDS for Analytics side of things coming up, with promises for new AI apps and capabilities. You’re going to need to read through a wealth of blog posts to grasp the full spectrum of what Microsoft is planning to launch, so a good place to start is the Scott Durow Top 10 favourite features in this release.

The April 2018 release for Dynamics 365 CE was a bit of a surprise due to the fact that it wasn’t officially a major release like v10 or even v9.1, instead it was only a v9.0.2 update. Deployed automatically to your v9 instances, with no CDU process to schedule the update from the available time slots. Now in July we got a confirmation from Microsoft that this reflects the way all future updates will be rolled out, in the blog post Modernizing the way we update Dynamics 365. Looking at how the Power Platform will increasingly be consisting of functionality that isn’t found in the “XRM server”, the automatic updates make a whole lot of sense. It remains to be seen how the remaining on-premises customers will be serviced with the updates and to what extent there will be feature parity. At least we now got a confirmation at the Business Applications Summit 2018 that there will be a new on-prem release this fall, so there appears to be a plan to bring things like UCI available for those who still prefer to run their own business application servers.

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