April 2019 release notes out now for Microsoft Dynamics 365, Power Platform

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Microsoft's newest business applications release notes document is out now as a PDF or online, to be followed with feature previews starting in February 2019 and a virtual launch event and general availability beginning in early April.

The documentation promises hundreds of new capabilities to the business applications lineup, including the launch of the Layout and Remote Assist augmented reality apps, significant improvements to the Power Platform (now with a capital 'P' in Platform) including "more advanced enterprise and administrator requirements", and a broad range of application-specific enhancements and features.

In introducing the new wave of updates, Microsoft noted the data integration capabilities of the business applications suite, with the Common Data Model as a basis for "semantic consistency" for application developers.

For a rough estimate of scope, the newest release notes are 314 pages, a gain of about 20 over the October 2018 document. Microsoft customers and partners will want to review the list of GA and preview features in depth, but what follows is a selection of some notable details from applications and services across the suite. Notably missing here is Finance and Operations. Given the breadth of different types of updates D365FO will introduce, it deserves its own review of newly launched updates like CDS integration for entities, availability of data residency in China and new localizations.

Dynamics 365 for Marketing

Dynamics 365 for Marketing will offer new public previews of features that include mixed reality content and website personalization. Personalization will use attributes of past behavior to tailor the layout, content, and branding of a landing page, for example. And mixed reality will offer a range of experiences that suit the needs of particular types of goods and services, as the guide explains:

[M]arketers can add mixed reality content to their emails and marketing pages. Recipients can open such content on desktop browsers for a rich 3D experience, or on mobile devices for augmented reality, or on mixed reality headsets for a complete mixed reality experience. This would be especially powerful for products that typically need much more of a touch-and-feel experience—luxury goods, for example.

Dynamics 365 for Sales

In Dynamics 365 for Sales the company is noting improvements through integration with Microsoft Relationship Sales (MRS) to connect with data in LinkedIn and Office 365, recommendations via sales playbooks, and new configure-price-quote integration capabilities, designed to connect with third party CPQ solutions.

Teams integration reaches general availability, with the D365 app for Teams allowing users to work directly in Teams for collaboration using Office apps, working with D365 users and non-users, and creating documents using Office 365 synced with Dynamics 365.

Coinciding with the abrupt announcement of the end of two OEM arrangements with data services vendors, the Sales release will offer the ability to discover and try out multiple third-party data providers.

CPQ integration will build on a standard approach, using Common Data Service (CDS) for Apps as the "data glue to both read product catalog data generated by Dynamics 365 Backoffice apps (Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations and Dynamics 365 Business Central) and write back quotes, discounts, and product configuration data."

PowerApps

PowerApps will offer improvements and new features in a broad range of areas, including for app makers, end user experience, administration, platform capabilities, and ISV tooling.

As one example, PowerApps Control Framework allows first- and third-party developers to build, package, and deploy their own controls for model-driven apps. PCF will be available for model-driven apps and in preview for canvas apps. 

A new CDS for Apps form designer will replace the current state of the app building experience which was described in 2018 as "ripped out of Dynamics CRM, duct taped onto PowerApps, and painted purple." The new designer offers "a major experience improvement."

Dynamics 365 AI

AI for Market Insights expands availability in public preview to cover 138 regions.

An "AI assisted query builder" for Market Insights, in public preview, aims to solve the challenge of refining search rules. The AI-powered tool suggests the most relevant terms using entities like brand, product, business, geography, etc., to "reduce the cognitive load of search setup".

Dynamics 365 for Customer Service

Notable updates coming to Customer Service out of many include:

  • Channel Integration Framework is officially released for use with widgets for the Unified Service Desk "with minimal configuration experience".

  • Dynamics 365 Portal messaging now routes into agents via the Omni-channel Engagement Hub's routing and work distribution system.

Dynamics 365 for Field Service

IoT continues to play a major role in defining the future of the Field Service app. Some GA features due in this wave include:

  • A technician can view IoT data for a specific device or asset, both current and historical from the field service mobile app.

  • Enhanced IoT visualizations related to an alert in need of diagnosis, including data on cases and work orders and repair history.

  • Sending command payloads from Field Service to devices via IoT Central using Microsoft Flow.

Dynamics 365 for Talent

Enhancements in the Spring 2019 timeframe focus on the Attract and Onboard modules, as well as expanded core HR entities in CDS for Apps and some new policies. They include:

  • Candidates can apply for jobs using their LinkedIn profiles

  • In preview, candidates can apply from LinkedIn

  • Offer preparation will be faster

  • Hiring teams can post jobs to multiple external job sites with more automation, including pushing edits and removing posts on multiple sites efficiently

  • Talent has about twenty preview features for Attract and Onboard previews planned

Dynamics 365 Business Central

Productivity improvements lead the announcements for Business Central. Expect more support for keyboard-centric scenarios for faster use, more contextual information, and advanced user interfaces for search, lists, and "focus mode".

The integration with Sales has been "hardened" (as opposed to a new and more robust modern integration model) to offer "reliable synchronization, improved sales order integration, and shared AI insights with Dynamics 365 for Sales."

Business Central upgrades can be scheduled and rescheduled by admins, or admins can ask to be upgraded immediately, with views into errors related to the upgrade.

Intelligent Cloud for Dynamics SMB becomes available for Dynamics SL 2018 CU1 and NAV 2018. GP 2018 R2 customers can replicate additional data – open transactional and master record data. And historical data will be supported in the data replication process. Dynamics NAV 2018 replication will include "virtually all on-prem tables" except customized ones.

The Business Central web API is moving out of beta, exposing more than 48 entities that "provide a fixed versioned contract, which enables a standardized way to integrate across localizations and deployments of Business Central."

Dynamics 365 Portal

The Portal team continues to focus on making the product an external customer-facing platform for all Dynamics 365 apps. The release includes:

  • Support for Power BI integration to access to reports and dashboards for people without a Power BI account

  • A new starter template that provides a connection to a CDS for Apps environment that does not have any Dynamics 365 apps pre-installed

Flow

Microsoft has laid out ways that Flows will start to touch more business and productivity applications than ever before, from Dynamics 365 to Teams to Power BI, OneDrive, and more. In Microsoft Teams, for example, Flow will be used for notifications, interaction with services through commands and actions, and automation.

While Flow provides rapid development of integrated processes worth marveling at, it can also give compliance officers serious heartburn at the prospect of uncontrolled data moving through – and beyond – an organization's controls.  Several enterprise-grade governance and compliance features are set to set to reach GA, including analytics enhancements, support for guest users, and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) features that prevent organizations from leaking business data to non-business data sources and enable the setting of data classifications.

Brittany LeMaro