Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a cloud-based low-code platform for automating complex business processes and building powerful applications. With Microsoft heavily investing in the platform and constantly releasing updates, Dynamics 365 adoption is increasing exponentially across commercial and federal space. Microsoft recently re-branded Dynamics 365 into PowerApps and lowered the price-point which makes it even more attractive for agencies and organizations.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), automated one of its Grants Management process using Dynamics 365. HRSA gives about $10 billion in grants annually to improve health care in rural and medically under-served areas in the US. As part of the grant process, HRSA uses a 10-step process to generate a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) document, and this 10-step process was fully automated with Dynamics 365 and Office 365 tools such as SharePoint Online and Exchange Online. HRSA posts the final NOFO document on Grants.gov for health care and other organizations to submit a request for funding.
This article will go over some of the benefits and challenges using the Dynamics 365 platform based on the HRSA implementation of Dynamics 365 for its Grants Management use case.
Entities, Fields/Attributes, Relationships provide the foundation of any Dynamics 365 application. These correspond to tables, columns and foreign keys of a SQL database in any application. These can be easily created in Dynamics without writing code or scripts.
The Business Process Flow feature from Workflow Definitions in Dynamics 365 can be used to guide an end-user through streamlined process whereas the Workflows can be used to execute a certain business logic in a certain sequence. Dynamics also provides configurable Forms that can be easily customized as per business needs. Business rules engine in Dynamics can be used to configure validations and rules. All these features can be implemented using admin tool or a designer.
Dynamics also provides security features like security roles, privileges, team-based ownership, etc., which can be configured to fit any business application. Ad-hoc reports and canned reports can also be created using out of the box Dynamics capabilities. Dynamics can also be integrated with advanced analytics tools like Power BI. It also provides a seamless integration with productivity tools like Office 365 which is lacking in competing products like Salesforce.
The entire configuration can be packaged as a solution file and moved to the higher environment like Testing/QA or deployed in a Production environment.
While Dynamics 365 provides excellent low-code platform, it comes with a few challenges.
Microsoft is constantly releasing new features and experiences in Dynamics, but workflow designer is antiquated, which sometimes leads to re-work when the logic changes. While the Dynamics provides seamless SharePoint integration to store documents, it does not provide the same level of granular permissions capability when Dynamics is integrated with SharePoint, but it is achievable through third-party tools or custom coding.
Government community cloud version of Dynamics is always behind the commercial release schedule. To prevent this issue, Microsoft is working on synchronizing the release schedule soon. Also, 508 Compliance issues can be seen in the older version of the Dynamics user interface, however Microsoft is committing to fix these issues in the newer modern unified interface. There are also limitations on number of calculated fields that can be used in a specific view, report or an API response. This can be overcome by carefully choosing only the required calculated fields within a specific report or an API call.
Most of the UI features in Dynamics are customizable using web resources and PowerApps Component Framework (PCF), but there are certain UI quirks and other UI related features that are difficult to customize.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 is an excellent tool for automating business process with the benefits outweighing the challenges. If an application requires custom user interface, it might be better to consider custom application development using Angular, NodeJS or equivalent based on the custom requirements. Otherwise, agencies should consider Dynamics 365, aka PowerApps as a low-code platform for building applications and automating business processes.