Recently I attended the annual Dynamics 365 Tech Conference in Seattle, with my focus on attending sessions that highlighted business intelligence and analytics strides. These sessions provided insights on where Microsoft is investing time and money on the analytics front.
Microsoft’s chosen direction is, as we predicted, moving towards IoT (Internet of Things) and machine learning concepts. But the key differentiator in the current direction is the goal of combining Dynamics 365 and IoT data. As a benefit for developers in the Dynamics 365 and analytics space, design patterns and samples are now provided as a framework for a developer to leverage to quickly get up-to-speed and adhere to best practices.
For your reading pleasure, I will provide the following summary of exciting new Dynamics 365 Power BI features for 2017.
Less Stress, No Coding on Configurable reports
Great news coming from the launch of ER (Electronic Reporting)! Dynamics 365 allows the format, layout and design to be independent of customizations within Dynamics 365. As a developer on global implementations, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the same report copied and customized to meet geographic-specific requirements, which created new designs based off of the country that was using the report. More good news: the data source for the report can now come from Power BI. The specific details can be found here.
New World vs. Old World: Data Refresh Rate
As time flies, Dynamics 365 has made significant improvements in the data refresh rate. We may not have even noticed that we are now getting near real-time data refresh rates. Way back in the Dynamics AX 2012 days, we would typically wait for the analysis services cubes to refresh overnight – this enhanced refresh rate is a dramatic change!
The analytics reports we develop will now be nearly real-time, giving businesses a considerable advantage with the ability to make business decisions leveraging more accurate real-time data. I see a future when we are looking forward to the day when aggregated data is provided “real time”, as in up to the moment. Today’s five minute delay is a great position to be in.
Less Data Modeling, More Doing with the Entity Concept
Check this out: out-of-the-box Dynamics 365 is providing thousands of data entities! These data entities are an abstraction or idea of an object; the idea of the object does not relate to the underlying tables that exist within Dynamics 365 that capture the data for the object. A typical example would be Customer or Product.
What it boils down to is “more doing” and “less data modeling” to create Power BI reports. An end user will be able to select the data entities as the data source and the relationships will already exist! Imagine how much faster we can present meaningful analytical data?
This idea of entities is a similar concept in a star schema data modeling. The data entities will remove the need to create an ETL behind the scenes needed to create a star schema.
More Power: More and More Power BI Content Packs
Content packs are the capability to create reports with Dynamics 365 data entities as the data source. These reports can then be combined with “like” data to create a dashboard of information that would apply to a Dynamics 365 user role.
Microsoft has provided several content packs out-of-the-box and are now starting to embed them directly in the Dynamics 365 product. Below is an example of a collections dashboard that is part of the “Credit and collections management content pack”.
Take a look at current and previously released content packs here. ISV and Dynamics 365 partners with industry knowledge are starting to provide content packs that can be used within Dynamics 365. As organizations mature with Power BI, power users will have the ability to author organizational content packs.
Making Analytics Accessible Again
Out-of-the-box content packs will be embedded to create what is called an “Analytical workspace”, so that within many given Dynamics 365 workspaces, you will have access to the “Analytics” selection. Once you select this, you will see several tabs along the bottom that provide different views of focused information.
Exciting accessible analytics discussions happened in many breakout sessions throughout the Tech Conference, focusing on the idea of mashing up Dynamics 365 data with IoT information. Utilizing Azure IoT Hub, Power Apps, Common Data Service, Logic Apps, and connected systems allow analytical reports to be created with plant maintenance information. The devices were considered Assets within Dynamics 365, and the Dynamics 365 Asset information could be combined with device information (such as temperature readings).
As analytics become more accessible, particularly through utilizing products like the Cortana Intelligence Suite, we are able to provide more insight to our customers and within our own organization. Dynamics 365 Retail already provides the capability for product recommendations. The details are located here. Under the covers, Dynamics 365 is making use of Azure Machine Learning, which is under the Cortana Intelligence Suite umbrella and has a service algorithm to make product recommendations.
There are many other services and capabilities from the Cortana Intelligence Suite that a Dynamics 365 developer can make use of. Once we develop these skills, we will only be limited by our imagination.
This is an exciting time to be in the ERP and analytics space – there are so many capabilities already within reach for the Dynamics 365 for Operations product. As you get started on your ERP and analytics journey, please contact Hitachi Solutions to assist you with ideas and best practices on how to implement in an insightful way for your organization and customers.