Driving value, lowering costs, and building your organization’s future with Microsoft’s next great business technology

Lately, I’ve been helping folks understand the Microsoft Power Platform (MPP) by sharing two simple diagrams.

The first one is below and is my stab (others have made theirs) at contextualizing the platform’s various components in relation to one another.

The Common Data Service (CDS) is the real magic, I tell people. No matter which app you are using, the data lives there in that one CDS across your entire environment. (And no, folks outside your organization don’t get to use it.) This means that data available to one of your apps can be re-used and re-purposed by your other apps, no wizardry or custom integration required. I promise, it just works. Think expansively about the power of this in your organization, and you’ll come up with some cockamamie/brilliant ideas about what you can do.

These are the types of data-driving-business-function that geeks like me always dreamed of.

A diagram of Microsoft Power Platform components

Then there’s PowerApps, in purple. Most folks think of this as a low-code/no-code app development tool. It is, but it’s more. Imagine that there are three flavors of PowerApps:

  1. Dynamics 365, which in the end is a set of really big PowerApps developed by Microsoft
  2. COTS apps developed by Microsoft partners (including AIS), available for organizations to license and use
  3. Custom apps you build yourself

Point Microsoft PowerBI at all of this, then mash it up with data from outside of your CDS that you get to via hundreds of out-of-the-box connectors, automate it all together with workflows in Flow…and you’ve got Power Platform in a nutshell.

When I’m presenting this to a group, I turn to my next slide pretty quickly at this point.

A rearranged look at Microsoft Power Platform

Here I’ve essentially re-arranged the pieces to make my broader point: When we think about the Power Platform, the emphasis needs to be on the Platform bit. When your organization invests in this technology, say via working with an implementation partner such as AIS or purchasing PowerApps P1/P2 licenses, you’re not just getting a product or a one-off app solution.

What you’re getting is a platform on which to build your modern business. You’re not just extending Office 365. Instead, you’re creating a future where your organization’s data and business processes are deeply integrated with, driving, and learning intelligently from one another.

The more you leverage the platform, the higher the ROI and the lower the marginal costs of those licenses become. A central goal of any implementing partner ought to be guiding organizations on the journey of migrating legacy systems onto the platform (i.e., retiring legacy licensing + O&M costs) and empowering workers to make the platform even more valuable.

We don’t invest in one-off apps anymore, i.e. a CRM in one corner of your network where you run your sales, something in another where you manage your delivery, clunky Human Resources Management off over there where you take care of your people, etc.. No, what we care about here is the platform where you integrate all of the above — not through monolithic one-size-fits-all ERP — but rather through elegant app experiences across all your users’ devices that tie back to that magical Common Data Service.

This is what I mean when I tell folks sky’s the limit, and thinking about your entire business is what’s called for here. It’s because Power Platform gives us the ability to learn and grow with our customers, constituents, vendors, employees, and other stakeholders like never before.

That’s what has everyone at Microsoft so excited. I am as well.

I want to learn from you. How do you make Power Platform understandable to those who haven’t thought about it too deeply? How does your organization make it valuable as a platform rather than just a product? I love to build beautiful things, so inspire me!

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Make no mistake, most organizations and government agencies are—at least in part—software companies. The backbone of the services and products they sell, the internal business processes they use, and the customer feedback mechanisms they rely on are all built on software. Even in the age of software as a service (SaaS) – a modern organization’s portfolio of applications and the specifics of how these apps are used influence its most important decisions.

So while it’s easy to understand that software is a foundational component to modern business, often the decision to invest in building or offering software to users must also be accompanied by a more specific, anticipated return on that investment. That process can go like this:
Read More…

FBI UCR

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program is a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort of more than 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily reporting data on crimes brought to their attention. The program’s primary objective is to generate reliable information for use in law enforcement administration, operation, and management. Over the years, however, this data has become one of the country’s leading social indicators. The FBI is required by law to store national UCR data in a platform that will allow the public to search/view results and download for off-line analysis.

The current UCR data reporting tool was built in Cold Fusion and has not received an update since 2010. The FBI released an RFI solicitation with the intent to gather information about possible ways to replace the current UCR tool. Criteria for the new tool is that it should be web based with the ability to filter on any UCR attribute and then export the results in a .csv format.

Using 2 gigabytes of sample data provided by the FBI, AIS set out to determine if, in just a few weeks, a minimally viable product (MVP) solution could be built leveraging public cloud services that were currently (or soon to be) available in the Azure Government Cloud. The resulting MVP was designed to fully support the capability for citizens to be able query, filter, correlate and display public FBI National Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) information. Take a look at the solution we built!

Technologies:

  • ASP.NET MVC 4.5 (with jQuery, bootstrap, ADO.NET)
  • Power BI embedded
  • SQL Azure Data Warehouse
  • Blob storage with SaaS for file download
Office Graph In my previous post, I proposed an example application that leverages the resources available to us in Office 365 development platform and Azure Active Directory, as well as the in-application integration of Office 365 Add-ins.

Now we’ll take a deeper look at the Graph API and some of the implementation points.

Build Your Enterprise Graph

The Graph API empowers developers and enterprises to build new relationships and interactions between resources in Azure Active Directory, Office 365, and other applications and data assets.

As Microsoft’s enterprise cloud offerings continue to expand, so will the opportunities to weave these resources together in new and innovative ways. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn will help it expand its social network graph, so it will be interesting to see how it plays into its Graph API in the future. Read More…

Office_365_AppsEnterprises have a trove of business resources and data that are often under-utilized – users, calendars, contacts, emails, tasks, documents and other files. Often there are redundancies between what users do with Office applications and other enterprise applications, and a painful lack of integration.

In prior posts, I discussed the compelling new Office 365 development platform and introduced Matter Center to demonstrate how integrating web-based add-ins directly into Office applications like Outlook can lead to productivity gains and happy users.

In this post we’ll introduce a sample application to show a practical example of how we can use these technologies to bring enterprise applications together with these valuable resources.

Read More…

Office 365As a full-stack software developer with a penchant for UI/UX, I must admit I was a little skeptical when I was recently tasked to investigate Office 365 as a development platform.

What I found surprised and impressed me.

The Office 365 Development Platform

We’ve gotten really good at spinning up web applications that help users solve problems and increase productivity. That’s great, but it can also leave users with all sorts of disparate applications and stand-alone tools to interact with throughout the day. This contributes to a common productivity disrupter: context switching – that is, the need to frequently switch between different applications and user experiences.

Office 365 offers new compelling ways to integrate external services and custom functionality directly into the Office applications people already use.

Users can do more without having to alt-tab their way through the day, and developers can leverage a rich set of features and functionality without re-inventing the wheel.

Imagine being able to perform many of your day-to-day tasks without ever leaving Outlook. Or accessing external content directly in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Users can do more without having to alt-tab their way through the day, and developers can leverage a rich set of features and functionality without re-inventing the wheel.

What’s more, the functionality you add is available from anywhere, on any device. Office 365 provides rich browser-based web apps as well as native apps for Windows, iOS, and Android.

Nice.

Read More…

Like every business that’s dependent on consumer sales to fuel growth, you and your team members are probably constantly thinking about how you can make your organization’s sales processes fast and efficient enough to support the growth and customer retention that your executive team desires.

Well, we’ve figured out a way to do just that – our client organization is in the highly competitive insurance industry, and needed a way to increase sales volumes. Enter AIS; we were able to provide our client with an automated method of providing customers with a quote for insurance rates via a self-service web portal solution…resulting in the higher sales volumes they were seeking, while also reducing costs. Read More…

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an interesting and powerful business application. A core out-of-the-box (OOTB) benefit of Dynamics CRM is the ability to extensively tailor the application to address business needs, and here there are two approaches to consider: development or customization. Determining which approach to take is the key to maximizing the benefits of Dynamics CRM while keeping costs low.

Dynamics CRM is a basic web user interface fronting a SQL Server database that manages relational data. However, it is flanked by a built-in array of basic analytical tools and extensive administrative features, such as auditing, which give it enterprise-level credentials. Throw in a customizable user interface (UI), and you have a tool that is capable of supporting both small businesses and multinational corporations. So it would be logical to assume that Dynamics CRM has a developer-friendly, structured architecture to support customizations.

However, the reality is a little more complicated and brings up some curious paradoxes about Dynamics CRM. Read More…

2013 was a great year for AIS — we worked on exciting projects for our terrific clients, built some cool apps and won some cool awards. We were honored with the 2013 Microsoft Mid-Atlantic Cloud Practice Award and are among the first Amazon Web Services partners to earn a “SharePoint on AWS” competency. And throughout the year, we wrote and blogged about our passion for cloud computing, SharePoint, going mobile, and doing “more with less” for our government and commercial clients.

Here’s a round-up of 2013’s most popular posts and series, in case you missed them:

We have big plans for the blog for 2014 — more posts, more events and more compelling content from the entire AIS team. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and check out our Events page for details on our free presentations and webinars.

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!