My investigation into Dynamics 365 is already exciting. This product has a sleek UI converging across all the MS Office products, closely resembling OneDrive and Office 365 — no surprise there — and newer versions of Office on the desktop. It looks a lot like LightSwitch too.
At the moment, I’m absorbing training videos from Pluralsight; it seems a little rash to create a development environment when I may discover fairly quickly that this is not the solution for my needs. This isn’t my preferred method of learning, more often than not jumping in at the deep end seems to have been how I got initiated into most of my technologies. Now might be the right time to do some proper investigation first!
The UI is clean and there is plenty of screen real estate for viewing and editing data. Dynamics is designed to be responsive and technology-agnostic, this means that the mobile device experience is not a poor simulacrum of the desktop interface, but something just as easy to use. Nevertheless, one would expect to develop different forms for different uses, but as a developer it is a relief to see that this need not be an immediate concern.
Navigation is reasonably intuitive, having used MS products over many years, so it is easy to traverse the system. There seem to be multiple routes to each area, which is to be expected — we all work in different ways. On the other hand, the plethora of buttons, expandable tabs and drop-downs could be overwhelming; for some solutions this could be a case for customisation.
One especially powerful feature struck me immediately when exploring data views (lists): the sort and filter capabilities are flexible and easy to use. Even better, users can save their own views based on a custom filter. Exporting the data to Excel is native, as is re-importing data. This really is breath taking:
Without any customisation or tinkering, your data admins can make their own environment more productive and use the power of Excel as they always have done.
Instantly, many smaller requests on your developers for new views (lists) based on queries that could change every quarter would evaporate. Plus, there is the immediate potential to do away with all those disparate, undocumented, business-critical workbooks on local hard drives.
Data administrators are rarely stakeholders of new systems and many of their less obvious needs are overlooked when migrations and upgrades are planned — the cost of this oversight is rarely included in change management, so avoiding this issue altogether is an extremely positive outcome, and in a small way lowers ongoing development and support overheads.
So far, Dynamics 365 looks good, but investigating the user experience has left me with developer questions, such as: how to tweak forms — a little (re-ordering elements) or a lot (adding new fields or sub forms); or customise navigation — reducing the number of options to something more intelligible to the specific business; or simply how easy it might be to ‘re-skin’ the solution, and I’m itching to lift the hood a little and explore the configuration possibilities.