The Microsoft Power Platform gives Dynamics 365 Business Central users a tool set to build no/low code apps, visualize data, and automate processes all with real-time data. This blog and video will show various Power BI data visualizations, the beginning of a Canvas app in Power Apps, and a simple flow in Power Automate. Dynamics 365 Business Central data can be seen in real-time in Power BI reports and through the build of a Power App in these examples.
Home Button – My Apps Launchpad
I will begin by emphasizing a feature you may or may not be aware of if you’re working with the Microsoft Cloud. In the Microsoft Edge browser, click the ellipsis button in the very far right, and then go to Settings, and then search for ‘home’ under Settings.
My advice is to activate the home button and then change the website option to myapplications.microsoft.com.
Then no matter where you are navigating in the cloud workspace, you just have to click that home button, and it will bring you back to the launchpad of the various Microsoft apps to which you have access. The homepage will look different to you depending on the licenses that you have assigned.
Launching Dynamics 365 Business Central and the Power Platform
You can launch Dynamics 365 Business Central through businesscentral.dynamics.com which brings you to the Business Central environment. For this blog I will be in the Business Central environment using the CRONUS Canada demonstration data. The reason I want to call your attention to this, as well as the MyApps launchpad, is as you begin exploring with Microsoft Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate within the context of Business Central, there’s a minor issue that is a bug or maybe an undocumented feature.
If your system administrator has assigned Power Platform licenses to you and you launch Business Central, it doesn’t recognize that you have those licenses until you go and actively launch each of the items once your Business Central screen is up. This only needs to be done the first time, but you should launch Power Automate, Power Apps, and Power BI so that the Business Central installation knows that you have all three items as an active license. Those are the first steps you need to do to make sure you have everything you need to get up and running.
Once you’ve launched the application, you can go and activate the Power BI tiles within the context of your Dynamics 365 Business Central deployment. The tiles are going to provide you with high-level data for certain metrics that you may want to measure on a specific area of the system without having to navigate to Power BI specifically.
There’s a lot of features such as the data filters, that aren’t going to be fully activated within the tile, but at least it gives you the ability to create some Power BI reports from within Business Central that you’re able to view within the application which saves you from having to go to another application at that time. You can navigate between Power BI reports within Business Central by clicking on Next Report in the dropdown menu.
If you have multiple reports in the system, it will cycle through all of those as you need them.
Power BI desktop is where you will design all your reports and then publish them out to the Power BI service in the web. Power BI desktop is a free download from microsoft.com. There’s a number of different visuals that you can apply and many of them can also be acquired by going and retrieving them from the Microsoft Online Store or AppSource.
Financial KPI Dashboard
An example of a visualization that I’ve retrieved is a map of the United States and I’ve added a couple of features to track both the sales by state, as well as the profit by state. These are also color-coded, and this happened automatically so that the states with the higher sales or higher profit is going to be colored green and then states with less sales or profit will be colored red.
In the example in the screenshot above, California is the state with the highest sales, trailed by New York, and then Texas. If we look at Texas in terms of overall total sales, it presents a smaller amount of sales than New York and California, but in terms of profitability, Texas ranks right up there.
If we click on Texas, then it will automatically update the slicers of the charts on the right-hand side as well, to surface the information as to what contributes to this overall value. The data can be retrieved from a number of different data sources.
For this example, I have the data source as an enclosed Excel spreadsheet, but you can retrieve this live from any ERP system. You can also combine multiple data sources if you have a point-of-sale system and CRM, etc. When you want to eliminate a slicer, you just go ahead and click it a second time, and then the slicer goes, and it resets back to the default.
Customer Satisfaction Dashboard
Another dashboard that I like is the Customer Satisfaction Dashboard. I changed the theme and modeled it after a stoplight schema in that green is the more desirable outcomes followed by yellow and then red would be the least desirable outcomes.
This is where the Microsoft toolset tends to be very strong. What I like about this is if you’re familiar with Microsoft Excel, then applying this type of conditional formatting within your Power BI reports is exactly the same approach as using conditional formatting in Excel, where you can create rules around certain things and have the colors change based on those rules.
In the gauges at the top of the dashboard, I have set a goal that we would like to attain for us to be happy with the numbers that are being presented. If you click on a certain item in the data slicer, you’ll see the gauges change to reflect the data being selected.
In the example below, I added another color. The Net Promoter Score gauge changed to blue because we have 100% based on the data slicer. I selected blue to show that it’s hit the maximum level possible.
The Customer Satisfaction Dashboard represents different metrics. In our example we have Customer Effort Score, Product Quality, Satisfaction by Price, Net Promoter Score, etc. What I want to highlight about the Power Automate system is that you can have this type of Power BI dashboard, for example, streamed directly from a Microsoft Form.
If you create a Microsoft Forms survey with one or two questions to send to the customer after an engagement, whether they shopped on your website, or you just completed a service call with them for example. Their survey inputs through the Microsoft Form can be directly streamed into a Power BI dashboard, so that you’re looking at your customer satisfaction live in real-time.
Open Work Orders Dashboard
There’s a number of different ways that you can represent your data and it can come from many systems. In the scenario shown below, we have a Dynamics 365 Field Service system, which has Open Work Orders for technicians that are in the field.
You can click on a specific data slicer and it will filter out all the inspections. It will show the customers who are currently getting inspections done, as well as the resources assigned to each of those, and how many of these resources are active and how many active work orders there are for each particular type. I changed the theme in this dashboard, so you can do any kind of branding that you want, as well as achieve any type of color theme that you feel would be the most appropriate for your deployment.
Some other metrics you could track live as well is the number of minutes with each service call to see how long it takes to resolve each issue. In the screenshot below we have a scatter chart where you have the two axes providing data. In this example we have the average booking minutes and the revenue generated. The bubble is representative of the visits to resolution. A visit could be a phone call, any type of activity, whether it’s an email or a visit to the site. For a field services organization, they may want to track at a glance what their time to resolution is, how many visits are required to resolve each of these items. You can gain a lot more insight using these visuals.
Another type of visualization available in Power BI is a tree map, which can be seen in the screenshot below in the Revenue by Resource tile. You can select a resource in the tree map, and it will give you the slice of data. If you hold down your control key on your keyboard, you can pick a second resource or even a third, and it will update the values based on your selection. Power BI gives you a lot of liberty in terms of navigating these different visualizations and getting the data you want to see to help make decisions.
There is another map visualization where it shows the location of your customers, and then the size of the bubble on the map is going to be the revenue associated with each.
This map is derived from Bing Maps and you could do this within the context of your Power BI dashboards without incurring any additional costs for most applications. Typically, the monthly amount is about 100,000 customers, so unless the company is quite large, they don’t typically hit that limit.
The next example I’m going to discuss is a Sales Dashboard that has data fed directly from Dynamics 365 Business Central. Some of these dashboards could be shown in the context of your Business Central environment, but if you want to filter, use some of the data slicers, and drill into some other metrics, then you’ll want to be in Power BI in order to utilize it to its full capacity. In the screenshot below, we have a bar chart which is providing two-dimensional data, but now what we’ve done is we’ve added a color code.
For example, we receive a call from John Haddock Insurance, and they want to buy more Athens desks. At a glance, we can see they’re red which means they have an outstanding AR balance that’s overdue. You can tell them that you really appreciate their order, but before you can release the chairs from the warehouse, you really need them to resolve the $85,401 outstanding balance. It’s all about including additional details for you so that you can make more decisions at a glance. If you click on a specific map point, it will slice the data and serve the tree map to you with the data that you’ve selected.
Another thing you can do is customize these cue cards that appear in the tree map and add additional information you would like to see at a glance. For example, with the ATHENS desk, it currently shows sales of $64,000, but you could add the budgeted amount to show if you are tracking on target with the budget.
In the screenshot below, there is a Summary tile in the lower right-hand corner and it’s using a feature called Smart Narrative. When you’re looking at a report, a lot of times you’ll be able to analyze things and derive insights, but if you’re looking at the dashboard you might want to utilize Smart Narrative a little bit and see what it is it’s trying to tell you. The Summary information changes if you click on one area in the tree map, so the Smart Narrative changes to bring you content to what the tree map is actually showing in terms of the selection.
Power BI Desktop
The Power BI desktop is where you would create your reports and your dashboards, and then publish them out to the Power BI service. In the scatter chart shown below, I want to highlight the Play axis. Power BI has a visual storytelling capability.
The data is showing Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for business intelligence and Microsoft is in the top right quadrant. Microsoft is both a leader on their completeness of vision, as well as their ability to execute. When you click the Play axis in Power BI, it will show an animation of the evolution of all the different players over time. If you imagine another business metric that you would be tracking, whether it’s sales or anything like that, and you click on the Play axis, it will bring your story to life.
Power Apps is where you can really dive into your systems a lot more. In Power Apps when you navigate to Data on the left-hand side, this is the area where you would first set up your connection and you may need the assistance of your IT administration depending on if they have these parts locked down or not. Not every organization does, but every business is different.
I have the connection set up for Dynamics 365 Business Central and for the Common Data Service (now known as the Microsoft Dataverse). If you utilize multiple Dynamics 365 products, for example you have Dynamics 365 Business Central for your accounting system and Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement for your CRM system, you may want to connect using the Common Data Service instead of just the Business Central proper. In this example, we’re going to use the Business Central proper.
The other area I want to bring your attention to is Tables, which can also be found on the left-hand side under Data. What Microsoft has done with the Common Data Service is they give you everything that’s available within those products. Whether you’re talking about accounts or activities or addresses and so on, everything is there. When you’re dipping your toe for the first time into the water of working with Power Apps, you may not want all of these things listed all at once, so there is a quick way around that to filter out those items which will be seen later on in this article once I’ve created a Power App.
Creating an App
When you click “New app” there is a drop-down list containing Canvas, Model-driven, and Portal. My recommendation for those just getting started in Power Apps is to select Canvas apps. Model-driven apps are very powerful apps and we’re not going to cover them in this blog.
After selecting Canvas app, I select “Start with your data” and in the Common Data Service (now known as the Microsoft Dataverse) tile I’m going to pick the “Phone Layout”.
Then I’ll select Dynamics 365 Business Central. It’ll take a few moments and it returns with the name of my companies and I’m going to map to CRONUS Canada, which is my test company.
Then tables will appear in a list, also called entities, but think about it like it is a table within your air-quote SQL database. You can select multiple items from the list. For example, you could choose items for inventory, customers, vendors, etc.
I’m going to discuss an application that is going to look at items within Business Central. Once I select “Items” from the list and then click “Connect”, it’s going to do an animation to show that it’s creating a Power App based on your requirements. It’s going to derive some insights as to what it thinks you might want in terms of an app.
It will show you exactly what your app is going to look like on the phone. You can change what it looks like, so to start that click on the top item in the app with the value of 1000. When I click 1000, the value in the top bar changed to ThisItem.number.
I deleted ‘number’ and left “ThisItem.” and then a dropdown list appears that lists the different options. I chose “inventory” which will show the inventory amount for the item. Then I click on the unit of measure and navigate back to the top bar to change the unit of measure to the unit price.
After modifying a few things about this app, you can click the play button in the top right corner. The play button launches the app, and you can work with the app in real-time and test it.
There are many modifications you can make to the app, such as changing a number to display currency. When you click the expansion arrow, it’s going to bring you to a detailed screen and then you’ll see all the details of the particular item.
The app is working with live data, so in the play area you can click the plus button in the top right corner and in this example, I can add an item and it will then appear in Dynamics 365 Business Central. Then if I navigate to Business Central, the new inventory item will appear there and you can make modifications to the information such as changing the unit of measure to pieces and you can upload an image, for example.
There are several opportunities to create a Power App for your users where you’ll be able to have somebody who’s on the shop floor and using this application to add inventory, or maybe to see what inventory items are available, where it is in the warehouse and so on. There is a number of possibilities for you to take advantage of within the Power App system. For information about licensing, please read our Power Apps Licensing blog article.
If you think about how your job has evolved, there are many aspects that might have been manual that are now automated. For example, I’ve been in IT for 30 years and looking back when I first came in every morning I sat there and spent the first couple of hours looking through all the different computer logs that we had for our servers and seeing if there were any errors that I need to worry about. After about 10 or 15 years, tools became available and things became automated so that I didn’t have to look at logs anymore. An automated system gave me an alert whenever something was amiss. That freed up my time to do things that were more productive and contributed to the organization’s goals. A lot of the automation capability within Power Automate can solve some of the very real potential pain points with not a lot of effort.
Power Automate flows can be simple or quite complex. Power Automate flows work with Dynamics 365 Business Central, but for this example I’m going to discuss a vacation approval working with the Office family of products. If you think of this flow in the context of a department and you’re the practice lead with multiple people who work in your department, then you’re probably very busy. You might not remember who asked for vacation a couple of months ago, and now you need their help in this week, but then you remember that the employee is on vacation when you try to message them online or go to see them at their desk.
In this example, the Power Automate flow is using a SharePoint list and when you create an item you can tie it into Microsoft Teams so that your users can go to that Microsoft Team, type in a vacation request when they would like time off, and then the system goes and looks at the who created the email, and then it will look at the Microsoft Office 365 graph to see who that person reports to.
Then it will send the email to the manager with an approve button. The body of the email gets created and you can word it any way that you please. It will send the email to the manager saying this person wants these days off for this particular purpose and there’s an approve or reject button.
If the manager rejects the request, then it’s a very short flow and it will send the rejection back to the employee and terminates the process. If the manager approves the request, then it informs the employee of an approval, and it sets the content in that SharePoint list from pending to approved. Then the flow creates an item in a shared Team Calendar that you can also link to as a tab in Microsoft Teams so that it will show this particular employee’s vacation in the range they requested.
Afterwards, the practice lead can subscribe to that list and have an email sent to them one week before the person’s vacation starts.
This is an example of finding ways to use the tools that you have available. With Power Automate used in this way, within the context of Office 365, in some cases your license already includes it, so you’d be able to take advantage of this without incurring any additional costs.
For the complete demonstration of the Power BI, Power Apps, and Power Automate examples shown above, please watch the video below:
When you combine Dynamics 365 Business Central with the Power Platform, there are endless scenarios of enabling users with low/no code applications, interacting with real-time data dashboards, and automating processes. Contact us if you have questions about getting started with the Power Platform.
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