Many housing associations are grappling with the decision to build core processes using Dynamics 365 or PowerApps. But what’s the difference, and how could the decisions made now impact the organisation in the future?
Before we start…
One key element here is that both PowerApps and Dynamics 365 are part of the ever growing Microsoft Power Platform. This is a collection of products (eg: AI Builder, Power Automate, PowerBi etc) that sit on the dataverse (previously the common data service). This means that whatever route you decide to go you’ll still be able to link to one data source.
The Power Platform also enables you to hook into your Microsoft 365 subscription (Word, Outlook, Excel etc) and provides data connectors that will help you integrate with information sitting outside your dataverse environment eg: Property development or compliance applications.
What is a Power App?
Power Apps provide a rapid development environment to build custom apps for your business needs. Using Power Apps, you can quickly build custom business apps that connect to your data stored either in the underlying data platform (Microsoft Dataverse) – https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-gb/demo or from another source.
Using Power Apps, you can create three types of apps: canvas, model-driven, and portal. More information: Overview of creating apps in Power Apps
You can run apps that you created, or that someone else created and shared with you, in a browser or on mobile devices (phone or tablet)
Power Apps administrators can use the Power Platform admin center (admin.powerplatform.microsoft.com) to create and manage environments, view Dataverse analytics, and get real-time, self-help recommendations and support for Power Apps and Power Automate.
What does this mean in the housing sector?
We now understand what PowerApps are but what are the pro’s and con’s of them and how could they be used in the housing sector?
To be honest this list could be huge. From internal processes like desk booking and arranging leave to creating apps that log visits to customers homes you can build an app for that…
Pro’s of using Power Apps
- Can be customised to suit your business process
- Can be built in house by colleagues inside and outside the technology team.
- Are great for proof of concepts – enabling you to quickly show the business value.
- Basic apps can be deployed quickly
- Licences are cheaper than Dynamics
- Can be built from the ground up giving you exactly what you need
Cons of using Power Apps
- Although Microsoft’s big sell is low code/no code it appears, from the customers I’ve spoken too, that if you move away from the standard training, things can get a bit more complex
- You need to maintain each app you create which can lead to larger overheads for IT teams
- You need experience in PowerApps, power automate etc to build more functional apps
- You need to build from the ground up. Yep, this is both a pro and a con..you get want you want but have to build each piece of functionality
What is it?
Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a cloud-based business applications platform that combines components of customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP), along with productivity applications and artificial intelligence tools.,
Dynamics 365 launched in 2016, when Microsoft combined Dynamics AX — its ERP application — with its Dynamics CRM application.
This has resulted in a suit of applications that manage anything from Finance and Human Resources to Customer Service and customer insights – https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365
Each of the applications come with a lot of pre-built functionality that can be configured to suit the business need.
What does this mean for the housing sector?
As with Power Apps the opportunities are huge. Processes (both internal and external) can be built using the suite of apps.
Pro’s of using Dynamics
- Common User Interface throughout
- Much of the functionality required to build business processes are in one application
- There is a lot of out the box functionality that isn’t yet available on the power platform eg: SLA’s
- Microsoft continue to build functionality and spend millions on it, these updates are automatically added twice a year and wouldn’t impact the configuration you’ve built
- More complex processes can be built using out of the box functionality.
Cons of using Dynamics
- Cost – Generally speaking Dynamics licences are more expensive than Power App licences
- Understanding the best app to use – some of them are self-explanatory eg: Sales. However, other apps eg: customer service can be used for ASB case management but could also be used to log repairs….which then opens the conversation about field service
- You pay for each Dynamics 365 app you use. Although if you are using a base app (eg: customer service) the cost of adding another app (eg: field services) is reduced.
What’s easier to Implement?
This is very dependent on what you need to achieve. The technical implementation for a basic process would be the same. Yes, the Dynamics 365 app will come with a huge amount of out of the box functionality from day one but I suspect that configuration would be required to ensure the system represented your process.
From the Power App perspective, you can spin up an app quickly. But to get an app that’s fully functional may take more time.
Dynamics 365 has some horror stories across the sector around implementation. When you scratch the surface of these its often the case that
- A lot of processes have been deployed at once across multiple teams (I wrote a blog article about avoiding this – Avoid a big BANG go live! (deliveringcrm.net))
- The customer need and the supplier’s translation didn’t hit the mark
- Key stakeholders across different (impacted) teams weren’t involved in the project
All people issues that could surface when implementing any application.
There are tools available to help you manage your environments, but I suspect as you create more and more power apps it may become tricky to understand what functionality has been built into each of them, running the risk of duplication and wasted dev time.
Don’t get me wrong Dynamics isn’t perfect, you often need to review what’s been done before (entities, workflows etc) but all this is contained within one app that makes life easier.
We all know Microsoft love an update (and most of the time so do we). At the moment I’m not sure how updates to one part of the power platform eg: Power Automate impacts another part (PowerApps). I’m guessing with different teams involved you may need to test all the apps you develop when MS does an update to any part of the platform. On the flip side, if you are using Dynamics 365, updates are contained to the application so you can focus your testing
This is a very broad area, (I wrote a bit more about it here – 6 Ways To Help Form a Dynamics 365 Habit – #D365ForHousing (deliveringcrm.net)) but if we focus on the UI then a Power App is much more customisable and can certainly look better than Dynamics (as in colours, logos etc). But from a design perspective (as in the way fields look on a form, form layout etc) they are similar, and both have good and bad features.
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here, it’s about the business need. It does feel like as your power app portfolio grows you may spend more time managing them but for some organisations this may not outweigh the cost of a Dynamics 365 licence.
So what would I suggest?
- Understand the strategy you’re trying to achieve/business need you’re trying to fulfil
- Identify the processes that support the strategy
- Sort the data. Its going to sit in the dataverse and be used with any part of the Power Platform you decide to run with. (here’s a blog that may help – The Data Maturity Roadmap – #D365ForHousing (deliveringcrm.net) ) Once you’ve done this…..
- Plan the best solution to manage those processes – but be prepared to flex between Dynamics and Power Apps as you move from one process to the next.
In my opinion there is another way, a hybrid approach. Use Dynamics and PowerApps together. You get the out of the box functionality of Dynamics and the lower licence fee of Power Apps. Here’s an example:
You have a business process flow in Dynamics 365 that tracks an ASB case and includes all the key milestones. Front line teams (who are not ASB officers) have a Power App they use to provide updates on the ASB case. There are more front facing team members so using the PowerApp rather than full fat dynamics means there is a saving.
As the Power App is updated the detail goes against the case within Dynamics (because both applications use the dataverse to store data) but follow up actions are automated within Dynamics and sent to the appropriate officer.
Here’s another example of how D365 and PowerApps could work together.
Why not get in contact?
Here’s how we can help with your journey
- Provide you with FREE Dynamics 365 modules (or build custom ones for you) that users love –#D365forhousing has already delivered several great modules including complaints, lettings and ASB and been used as a proof of concept to secure a £500,000 business case
- Support your implementation or jump start a current one (and we’re happy to work with Microsoft Partners) – Deliver an application that’s adopted, delivers a return on your investment and doesn’t break the bank. My focus is Outcome, not Income.