1 Year of Working From Home

ByRob Peledie

1 Year of Working From Home

So, give or take a few days, many of us have been almost exclusively working from home for the last year. I know some organisations have allowed a staggered return, with minimal personnel in at the same time, but for the most part, many who work in the world of technology have been remote.

Prior to all this madness, not everyone had the opportunity to work remotely. Many organisations still felt that if you weren’t literally a bum on a seat from 9 – 5, then you couldn’t possibly be working. I had manager some years ago that didn’t agree with working from home as he said “if it was me (him) working from home, I’d be feet up watching the TV”….. well apparently he judged everyone by his own standards.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the last 4 years or so to run my own business and contracted, so the choice to work remotely has been more in my hands. Previously I worked at OVO energy, and they had an awesome view on this subject.

But the reality is, working from home occasionally is very different from working from home every day. Again, I’m very fortunate to have a separate Office cabin, so to some extent, it still feels like ‘Going to work’, but for many, working from home has been – working from the lounge, working from the spare bedroom, so I would imagine challenging at times.

Added to the challenges, is the lack of personal interaction. Yes we’re all dab hands at Teams, Slack and Zoom now, but there is still a gap. I know working in tech, and development specifically often meant it was good to chat things over with your team… bounce ideas around. Whichever way you slice and dice it, it’s not the same doing it over a video call.

On the other side of this argument is the subject of productivity. Personally, I find I am definitely more productive when not in an open office environment. Theres less distraction for a start. When I had a small team of developers, I would often get people coming up to ask them questions or just chat. You could almost guarantee that 5 minute chat lost 20 minutes of productivity, and if it disturbed the whole team, then……. well you can see the problem. So theres definitely less of that.

So what does the future hold for working from home? Well it seems (trying to give a cloud a silver lining) that for some organisations reluctant to allow people to work remotely, it’s been a blinding revelation. It’s very difficult to say “Working from home doesn’t work for us” when plainly we’ve all had to do it for. the last year! I really hope that for some it opens up this opportunity, that while it comes with challenges, definitely will give people a better work life balance. Cutting down on that commute. Cutting down on your carbon footprint! better productivity.

Whether you’re in the all at home camp or hybrid home/office camp, I really hope you get a good balance that works for you for however long this challenge goes on for.

p.s. these two numb nuts have helped

ByRob Peledie

Crypto Currency Blog Posts?

While my “Normal” day-to-day work revolves around Microsoft Business Solutions, mostly Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform, I have a massive interest in Crypto Currency – Not just the potential for investment, but the whole concept of a decentralised platform.

So, with that in mind, I was thinking about sprinkling in the odd article on Crypto Currency dealing and Mining.

Question is……. would this be of interest? Leave a comment below.

ByRob Peledie

Well……That was 2020

Well that was a challenging year! Thats probably a massive understatement, and Ive been very fortunate, that even though I faced some early challenges as a small consultancy, we have kept working on projects throughout the year, and (at the moment) 2021 looks ok.

I will just say at this point, that I also know many consultants and contractors that have struggled with projects and contracts, and I really hope 2021 is better for you all.

Thinking back though, it’s been a learning curve for many of us. Working from home with all its challenges. New ways of communicating (with the phrase of the year going to “You’re still on mute”). The challenge of not really seeing anyone, and only interacting virtually (I’m not a massive people person, but going from 80% onsite to 100% offsite has been a challenge even for me).

So what does 2021 look like? Well…. if we’re honest, we don’t know. It may improve…..as we sit here today on the last day of 2020, there is some hope on one side of the coin in the vaccines being rolled out….. on the other side, we do have many parts of the UK going in to Tier 4 lockdown…… so who knows.

So while we cant make plans in the same way we may have done in past years, I still think the turning of a year is a good point to reassess, reevaluate and plan for progress and forward movement……..You can always improve on a personal level, even if other things are out of your control.

So how about these 5 to get started….. maybe you have your own:

  1. Learn a new skill
  2. Teach it forward
  3. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone
  4. Read more books
  5. Get healthier
ByRob Peledie

Keep your Eyes on The Road

created by dji camera

If you’ve been working in the world of Microsoft Business Applications for a while, you’ll no doubt be used to change – CRM, xRM, Dynamics 365, PowerApps, Power Apps, CDS, Dataflex, Dataverse etc. Even icons, logos change!

It’s really important therefore that we keep up to date, not only with the updated terminology, but with changes in the platform, licensing and the roadmap ahead. It can be too easy to recommend a way forward, only to find that the option is potentially deprecated, or a better way to solve the issue is on the horizon.

Personally, I have to make time to read up on these changes, and potentially have a ‘play’ with the functionality, just to make sure my own knowledge and skills don’t become stale.

There are some awesome blogs, YouTube channels and of course Microsoft Documentation out there including:

Roadmap

Documentation

Microsoft Learn

So my advice….. take the time….actually…. make the time to keep up to date on the changes and updates. it’s well worth it.

ByRob Peledie

WaterScrumFall – Does it exist?….Should it?

So this is a serious question……and I know it’s going to provoke lots of comments and feedback, and probably a bit of old time flaming. The reason I ask is that, I’m agile through and through. It just works. If you’re managing a development team (and its done well), Agile just works. Everyone knows what they’re doing…. Stakeholders can see progress….. efficiency goes up.

But….

There is s legitimate case when senior management, boards and stakeholders ask the question “How long will it take and how much will it cost?”.  And I’ll caveat that question with the fact that we’re talking about a whole project, not just aspects of it….. so for example a complete end to end build of a Sales Solution or Customer Service, as opposed to a part of that.

In a traditional Waterfall methodology, you would potentially do all the planning, analysis, sizing etc up front for the whole project. In theory you would then know how long it will take to complete, and thus how much. The trouble with waterfall is that you’re front-loading all that work. often, by the time you actually come to develop, technology may have changed or business process has….. then you’re facing a dilemma…. do you develop against the old requirements/methods or change?

On the other side you have Agile or Scrum whereby smaller chunks of work are completed in sprints in an iterative cycle. The challenge there is its harder to predict time and cost some would say.

So then we have this concept of WaterScrumFall (I refuse to call it Wagile!!), whereby you run an agile/scrum methodology within a Waterfall wrapper.

Essentially, planning is done up front at a high level, deciding on the themes or epics, and Architectural roadmap. I would suggest at this level, experience will highlight “is this a 1 month, 3 month or 6 month piece of work?”

You’ll likely know the size and makeup of your team, so resourcing should be easy to calculate.

At some point, some detailed analysis of some of the stories, will feed in to your backlog – and this is almost your step-over point in to Scrum.

The Scrum process carries on in iterations, and sprints are managed in the usual way, with the final delivery effectively giving you the fall.

I think that works, and I have found that traditional organisations who fear Agile will step in to it with a sense of comfort. Once the Agile/Scrum process has been proven to work, velocity and cadence measured, then perhaps the outer wrappers of waterfall can go….

So heres the question…….Is there a legitimate place for WaterScrumFall? Would it work for you?

Drop some comments.

ByRob Peledie

Query Dynamics 365 / CDS Data With SQL

So fairly recently Microsoft announced the ability (in preview) to query CDs data with SQL – as opposed to Fetchxml as we have been used to with online.

I will write up a fuller discussion of this, once I have had a proper play, but there were some issues with setting this up, so I put together a short (ish) video to walk through the steps.

ByRob Peledie

Consuming an Open API and JSON in Power Apps – 101

It’s been a while since I wrote anything too technical, and I’ve had a chance during this lockdown to brush up on some stuff I haven’t really played with in Power Apps,  so  thought I would look at something a little different….. connecting and consuming an Open API, and consuming the results in a Power App. 

Before I get started, there is also a video to go with this article

 There are plenty of open API’s you could use to have a play around, but I decided to use the one from CoinGecko, which gives lots of options for real time Cryptocurrency prices. You don’t need to sign up to it, and there’s no authentication required, which makes life easier if this is your first venture.

If you navigate to the CoinGecko API site, you’ll see the complete list of options, and get a chance to test out your requests right there. For example the first, and most basic is to ping the api.

So for the example we’re going to build, let’s keep it nice and simple. A Power App that retrieves the current prices for Bitcoin in 3 currencies, then allows you to choose your preferred currency, your holding, and show your live value.

Firstly lets create the Flow that gets the data from the CoinGecko API. Go to flow.microsoft.com and log in. Once logged in, go to your flows and click New –> Instant – from blank

You’ll then get the opportunity to choose your trigger, and in this case we want to choose PowerApps, as an action in our PowerApp will call the flow and API

Once you’ve clicked create, your flow will open, and the PowerApps trigger will be shown as the first step

Before we go any further, lets just step through the process that we’re going to do. This is the finished flow

So if we break it down in to simple steps……. The Power App calls the flow. this then uses the HTTP action to call the API. The JSON results are Parsed, and the Responses captured.

This then gives us the resulting data to be consumed in the Power App.

So let’s break it down. Firstly that HTTP Step. If I open up that step this is what you’ll see

So the Method we’re going to use here is GET – because we’re getting data! Seriously though, if you want to know more about these methods, then check out this.

So the URI is where we form our request, and in this case it’s a really simple request for the Price of Bitcoin in 3 currencies – USD, GBP and EUR.

Since theres no Authentication for this API, we can easily see if this request works by posting that URI in a web browser

So the results you see there are in a JSON format. We now need to Parse them, and break them down in to their parts so we can consume and use them in a readable format.

Here we add the Parse JSON action.

So firstly you’ll see that we want to pick up the Body as Content – that’s the payload or data we are retrieving. The Schema may seem a little daunting, but there’s a neat little trick here……. “Generate from sample”

In this, we can just paste in the returned data that we got before in our test with the URL, and the flow will just generate the schema for you!

Finally we just add the Response action, and you’ll see it’s almost identical to the Parse – just with the addition of the status code of 200 which effectively means OK. This then allows the response to be consumed in your Power App

So, that should be your flow created. Don’t forget to name it and save it. Next let’s create a simple Power App and consume that data. 

Go to make.powerapps.com and create a new Canvas app from blank. The first thing we’ll do is add a button – for this simple example the button is going to call the flow which in turn calls the CoinGecko api. I’ve just renamed mine to “Update Prices” .

Now there’s a few things we want to do in order to grab those prices. In the formula box I have added the following

ClearCollect(getrates,GetCoinGecko.Run())

I’m not going to go into all the details of this but essentially we are creating a collection, calling it “getrates” and the data that feeding it is coming via the flow we previously created (Mine is named “GetCoinGecko”

If you want to check your flow is working, just check your collection

I have also added a few labels….. 3 to identify the currency, and 3 to hold the data we pull back

so far then we have a mechanism for getting the data from the API via flow, and triggered by the button. it’s being stored in the collection. We now have to show it in the label fields.

In the formula for the label for GBP I have added the following

First(getrates).bitcoin.gbp

This formula calls the first record in the collection and in this case the GBP value and displays it

Repeat for the USD and EUR data, and there you have it!

Have a play…… why not add a drop down and option to put your holding to show your value (I wish I had 100!)

ByRob Peledie

PowerApps PCF Controls

For those that don’t know, we now have the capability to create custom controls for model-driven apps (as of time of writing, we are just about to get all this goodness for Canvas apps as well!!)

So what is it, and what can we do with it? 

Use PowerApps component framework to create custom components in model-driven apps to provide an enhanced user experience for the users to view and work with data in forms, views and dashboards. 

So what sort of things can we create?

Well how about instead of a number field to show probability of Opportunity closing, you have a slider?

Or perhaps instead of a standard view of contacts, you have this:


Shout out to Natraj Yegnaraman   and his Contact Card PCF Control

You can start to see the countless use cases for this sort of flexibility. And when this is available for Canvas apps (September/October 2019) the potential for creating is boundless.

Now, to be 100% upfront and honest here, this isn’t a ‘drag n drop’ exercise. This is going to require you to have some development experience. There are some great articles and videos that might help you get started – and I’ll list them at the end.

There is also and awesome resource – The PCF Gallery. Here you’ll find some examples of what people are doing, and as is normal in this great community, it’s free to use and share.

Links

ByRob Peledie

Common Data Model Vs Common Data Service

I thought I would put together a short explanation of Microsoft’s Common Data X conventions, and specifically what the meaning and differences are between CDM and CDS.

One of my drivers for this is that I didn’t fully understand it myself, or at least I find it difficult to articulate the definitions, and there’s surprisingly little about the connection between the terms….

So let’s start off with the “official” definitions of both

Common Data Model


The Common Data Model is a declarative specification, and definition of standard entities that represent commonly used concepts and activities across business and productivity applications, and is being extended to observational and analytical data as well. CDM provides well-defined, modular, and extensible business entities such as Account, Business Unit, Case, Contact, Lead, Opportunity, and Product, as well as interactions with vendors, workers, and customers, such as activities and service level agreements. Anyone can build on and extend CDM definitions to capture additional business-specific ideas.

Common Data Service


Common Data Service lets you securely store and manage data that’s used by business applications. Data within Common Data Service is stored within a set of entities. An entity is a set of records used to store data, similar to how a table stores data within a database. Common Data Service includes a base set of standard entities that cover typical scenarios, but you can also create custom entities specific to your organization and populate them with data using Power Query. App makers can then use PowerApps to build rich applications using this data.

There we go…… thats clear Isn’t it?………….

Still doesn’t feel like a clear explanation, so let’s try again…..

I think the clue to understanding this is in the last word of both expressions – Model and Service

A Model provides a framework, or architecture that standardises something….. so for example you might use the expression 
“the project became a model for other schemes” to infer that other projects will be based on this. 

So in this context, the Common Data Model is a standardisation of data concepts.

On the Microsoft GitHub page for CDM, you can find the poster below, which I think really explains the concept


The Common Data Model standard defines a common language for business entities covering, over time, the full range of business processes across sales, services, marketing, operations, finance, talent, and commerce and for the Customer, People, and Product entities at the core of a company’s business processes. The goal of CDM is to enable data and application interoperability spanning multiple channels, service implementations, and vendors. CDM provides self-describing data (structurally and semantically), enabling applications to easily read and understand the data.

I think that starts to focus our understanding a little better.

Now, if you really want to dig in to the Schema, and get a good understanding, then you can use the CDM Entity Navigator to drill in to it

So…….. How does CDS fit in to this? Well as with CDM, let’s look at the last word – Service.

If we view the CDM as the standard of entity schema, then the CDS is the mechanism for enabling you to build that data.

To put its simply……if you were to spin up a new environment of CDS here, then it would build it based on the CDM schema, and supply you with some of those standard Entities and relationships defined in the CDM Schema, but the actual data etc would be provisioned or managed by the Service…CDS.

Hopefully the above has helped to explain the difference between CDM and CDS and how they fit in to the landscape.

ByRob Peledie

AI Builder In PowerApps – Business Card Reader Example

So a few days ago (Early June 2019), Microsoft started to roll out previews of the AI Builder in PowerApps.

What is AI Builder?

According to the Documentation (and it’s worth bearing in mind, that because this is in preview mode, the documentation may change), AI Builder is:


“A new Power Platform capability that allows you to easily automate processes and predict outcomes to help improve business performance. AI Builder is a turnkey solution that brings the power of Microsoft Artificial Intelligence through a point and click experience. Using AI Builder, you can add intelligence to your apps even if you have no coding or data science skills.”

As it stands right now, this is in preview, and you have to enable it in your PowerApps settings.

For this quick article I thought I would go through a really simple example of scanning a business card, and then creating a new Lead record in Dynamics 365.

Just worth saying at this point, that while the following example is simple, it does show a really good use of AI and Microsoft’s Cognitive services. OCR or Optical Character Recognition, has been around for many years, but in the example below, the AI is doing more than just converting an image in to text….. it’s then analysing that text and making a decision as to what it is…. so looking at a word, and deciding it is a first name as opposed to a last name or company name. Putting that sort of power in our hands is awesome, and will get better and better!

To start with, create a new Canvas app in PowerApps, and use the Phone layout. If you have enabled the AI Builder Preview, then you should see the options in the insert menu

AI Builder

Choose the Business Card Reader option. This will place the Business Card Reader component on the Screen

The Business Card Reader currently can extract the following if a Business Card is detected:

  • CleanedImage: The image after processing where the business card appears cropped and enhanced from the original image.
  • CompanyName: The company name in the business card, if found.
  • Department: The organization department found in the business card, if found.
  • Email: The contact email found in the business card if any.
  • FirstName: The contact first name in the business card, if found.
  • FullAddress: The contact full address in the business card, if found.
  • FullName: The contact full name in the business card, if found.
  • JobTitle: The contact job title in the business card, if found.
  • LastName: The contact last name in the business card, if found.
  • OriginalImage: The original image before processing.
  • Phone1: The first phone or fax number detected in the business card, if found.
  • Phone2: The second phone or fax number detected in the business card, if found.
  • Phone3: The third phone or fax number detected in the business card, if found.
  • Website: The website detected in the business card, if found.

I decided just to keep things nice and Simple for this demo, so just included the following fields that I would use to create a new Lead in Dynamics 365:

  • Company Name
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Email Address

I also included a text field that I would map over to the Description field in Dynamics (I’ll show you later how I configure the Microsoft Flow to concatenate the Company Name – Last name for the Topic on the Lead record.

The fields I added were Text Input fields, so If I needed to change anything on the captured Data I could.

The formula for each field just references the Business Card Reader Component Name and the field, so for Company Name it was

BusinessCardReader1.CompanyName

After you have completed these steps, Save and Publish your app. If you’ve followed all the steps above, then you should be able to open the App, Take a photo of a business card and after processing, retrieve the data in to the fields.

So the next stage is to grab that data from our app, and use it to create a new lead.

For this we need to trigger a flow from a button on our screen. I added a Button and called it “Submit to D365”

Once the Button is on the screen, it needs to trigger a flow, which we’ll create next. In the Action Tab of PowerApps, choose Flows, then click Create a new flow. This will open up the Flow designer, which should already have the connector to your PowerApp (Thus inheriting that the button will trigger it)

So in the image above, you’ll see that I have added the “Create a New Record” Action in the flow, and chosen the Org Name and Entity – Lead for this example.

What you’ll also notice is that In the right hand side, there are currently no fields available, but instead have the “Ask In PowerApps” option. This is so that the flow can grab the relevant fields from the App. So If I Choose the Last Name field in the Create a Record Activity then Ask in PowerApps, it will return a holding field for reference:

You’ll also see in the image above that I have concatenated some fields for the Topic.

Once you’ve done this….. Save your Flow and go back to the App. 

In the App, highlight your Submit button, and use the following formula

PowerAppsbutton.Run(Createanewrecord_LastName,Createanewrecord_CompanyName,Createanewrecord_Email,Createanewrecord_FirstName)

So this is launching the flow and grabbing the data from the APP

NOTE: Worth noting here, that you’ll need to change the names of the fields on the app to match the names above and in the flow – so add the Createanewrecord_ prefix)

If all looks good, you should have no red crosses, and your formula looks like this

So after that, Save and Publish you App and give it a go!