Big Year Ahead for UX in Power Platform and Dynamics 365

Today the NDA is lifted on 2020 Release Wave 1 for Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.

In this blog I will be covering the User Experience (UX) enhancements within this release focusing particularly on the new visualisations, user interface improvements, and extensibility of controls across Model-Driven, Canvas, Mixed Reality, and Portals.

This potentially may be of interest if you are in the process of uplifting the user experience for your deployment, especially given that Dynamics 365 is moving to Unified Interface Only mode as of October 1st, 2020 and the Legacy interface will no longer be available, in fact ALL Legacy forms on this date will be migrated.

Or perhaps you are just keen to understand the art of what’s possible with the new UX features in this upcoming release.

My aim is to give a run-down of the major changes, their potential use case scenarios and hopefully inspire you to go on to create great user experiences for your end users.  So let’s go!

Model-Driven UI Enhancements

Starting with Model-Driven applications, there are a swag of new changes from product management through to calendaring and grid view enhancements.  I’ll also take a closer look at some of the add-on capabilities such as forecasting as they contain some very interesting visualisations.

Product Management

One area that has come under a lot of attention is how best to add and manage multiple products to the opportunity/quote/order entities.

Within 2020 Wave 1, a new product management control will be added.  See below screenshot from the release notes.

Product - Quick Create Form
Product – Quick Create Form

You may notice a number of substantial changes to the product management experience that includes:

  • A new form (Quick Create form) that has a multiple tabs (Products Lists, Recently Used, Write-In)
  • Search capability to search within a filter criteria (see drop down for Product category).
  • Ability to modify quantities (similar to how editable sub-grids work)

The changes continue with further user enhancements, shown in the following screen shot:

Product - Further Info Screen
Product – Further Info Screen

It provides enhancements such as:

  • In-line Price and Quantity editing
  • Ability to quickly view Further product information in two locations (a pop-out dialog and within the product description under price)

From a development standpoint, it appears as though a Power Apps Component Framework (PCF) control has been implemented using the Office UI Fabric Look and Feel (https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/fabric#/) – that has yet to be confirmed however, but it will be useful to understand if this control could potentially be made available to other forms and even canvas apps for further customisation.

Activity Enhancements

Activities within Dynamics 365 has seen a significant uplift in capability, with the ability to switch views to provide the user with different ways to view activities.  The following screenshot provides a good view of the different view options:

Activity Switchable View Control
Activity Switchable View Control
  • A selector on the right of screen enables the user to toggle between List view, Calendar view, and Kanban view.

Microsoft really nailed this control, it really does a great job of condensing a lot of meaningful activity related information into a previously static view.  And while I’ve seen Kanban controls on the PCF gallery (gallery for third party custom PowerApp controls), this is the first time we’ve seen this available within a first party Dynamics 365 app.  I foresee many other uses for a Kanban control, particularly anything that requires collaboration and project activity tracking.

Sentiment Analysis

Another fine example of being able to condense a lot of meaningful information into a small area, is within this Customer Sentiment control.

Sentiment Analysis Control
Sentiment Analysis Control

Typically what we see with sentiment analysis, is a single value that shows either a happy or sad state or something along similar lines.  This control however aggregates all previous interactions and uses ML to reason over transcript data, but what is really interesting is how they compress all this information as blue and red areas denoting sentiment during a point in time or over a number of interactions.  There is also quick search within transcript data.

I could definitely see a use case for a similar control to say provide Customer Spend over time (remind me to add that to my PCF custom control backlog).

Grid Enhancements

Even the old data grid has been significantly reworked.  There is a new filtering capability that is very Excel-like in usage and far more intuitive.

You can see in the following screen shot a redesigned filter criteria panel that enables quick selection of filtered values.

View Filtering - Multiselect
View Filtering – Multiselect

The following screenshot shows that this filtering capability also extends to Lookup data also, that provides a mechanism to quickly search for records and add them to your filter.

View Filtering - Lookup Data
View Filtering – Lookup Data

Search This View

By default Dynamics 365, the grid search field uses a separate view called Quick Search.  This seems counter intuitive as when a user is within a view and is looking for information they probably need to search the view that is currently displayed without losing context.

The Search This View feature provides that much needed context, and useful when searching for records that span across multiple ‘pages’ within the view while keeping context (header, ordering, etc the same).

Search This View
Search This View

Sales Forecasting

Microsoft has also announced a new Sales Forecasting app for Dynamics 365. 

What is interesting from a UX perspective, are the new visualisations and controls presented within the new Forecasting app as can be seen here: 

Sales Forecasting
Sales Forecasting

The forecast page is a densely populated page that provides a tonne of information for users.  For instance:

  • Easy Navigation with actions such as Predictive Chart actions, Recalculate, and last updated timestamp.
  • Header shows the Selectable Time Interval (e.g. FY2019 per quarter) with the Forecast period below.
  • Main body shows a relationship tree with presumably the Sales lead at the top of the hierarchy, and
  • Prediction graph to the right represented as a time series chart.

Adding to the charting capabilities there is a flow diagram represented as a Sankey diagram that shows the pipeline represented as bands that flow into predicted outcomes.

Sales Forecasting - Sankey Diagram
Sales Forecasting – Sankey Diagram

It’s not clear if these visualisation types will be available for other forms, we can only hope.  But personally I feel this is an intuitive way of providing a complete picture and telling a compelling story.

Connection Strength

The following shows a contact card that has a connection relationship diagram with multiple faces that indicates not only the contact’s immediate network but the next level down.  Along with this is a relationship indicator, that shows a full bar for a strong connection.  Once again another example of a natural way to represent complex relationships.

Connection Strength
Connection Strength

Navigate To

The “Navigate To” has been on everyone’s wish list for some time now.  It provides the ability to open another record (from within the main form) without losing focus of the main form thereby reducing clicks and possibly losing context.

This elegant solution that Microsoft has come up with will pop up the record as a dialog and at the same time provide view and edit functionality.  All the standard controls you would expect are there on the tool bar such as Save, Save & Close, New, Deactivate are still available on the dialog’s ribbon.

For developers, there is also a new API function available called navigateTo that enables this feature to be triggered through code.

Navigate To
Navigate To

Comparison Chart (F&O)

One visualisation that I hope we will see coming to Customer Engagement is the comparison chart.  This control available in Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations enables you to select multiple products and perform direct comparisons.

Comparison Chart
Comparison Chart

Mixed Reality

The new frontier for applications seems to be Mixed Reality, particularly in service management and field service scenarios.  Real credit needs to be given to Microsoft for pushing this emerging technology.

The new MR apps that will ship in Wave 1 on mobile devices (Android initially) provide plenty of opportunities to test drive some of the new mixed reality focused controls.  A major leap in capability is to contextualise and action on 3D models, bringing into focus pertinent information when you’re on site and working on a job.

Mixed Reality Control
Mixed Reality Control

We see the possibility of adding rich media data together with 3D models.  This next screenshot shows video clips attached to a model – handy for instructional training.

Mixed Reality Control
Mixed Reality Control – Video

The big news on this front is that the Power Apps Component Framework (PCF) team has been working closely with the Mixed Reality team to develop these new controls.  This will hopefully pave the way for system customisers to tailor MR experiences in the not too distant future.

Portals UI Enhancements

We know the Portals team had a very busy year in 2019.  Particularly with porting the Dynamics Portals product to the new Power App Portal platform and bringing us a new designer experience and a taste of things to come.

This year we see a lot of refining of the Power App Portals platform.  For instance the ability to embed authenticated PowerBI reports within Power Portal web pages.  This feature was initially made available last year and was enabled through custom code (aka Liquid Templates) but coming in Wave 1 is ability to embed these reports through the new designer experience. 

Portals - Power BI Component
Power Portals – Power BI Embedding

There are also some notable mentions of a friendlier theme support framework, which are sure to hear more on in the near future.

Canvas Components

Canvas Apps also sees the official introduction of Canvas Components.  Canvas Components are custom component libraries (developed with PCF) or third party component libraries that can be imported for use within Canvas Apps.  This was initially publically previewed in late 2019, with updates to the framework that enabled PCF to operate in both Model and Canvas apps.  We can expect to see General Availability of this feature in April 2020 release.

Canvas - Get Components
Canvas – Get Components

Power Apps Component Framework

Introduced originally as Custom Control Framework (CCF) in 2018 and previewed in April 2019 as the Power Apps Component Framework (PCF) finally went GA in October 2019.  This was a huge milestone for the Platform and generated a lot of excitement within the developer community.  The community has really embraced the framework and contributed over a hundred custom controls to the PCF gallery (http://pcf.gallery) maintained by Guido Preite.

In 2020, work continues with many Microsoft first party controls continually being ported to the new PCF. 

Two notable mentions for 2020 Wave 1, include the PCF Calendar Control and the PCF Object Detection Control.

The PCF Calendar control will now provide customisers with the ability to create new unique scheduling experiences.  A potential scenario might include embedding the calendar within a Canvas PowerApp to provide for a tailored Field Service scheduling experience.

The Object Detection PCF control for AI Builder exposes additional information such as the confidence score of a detected object so that you can easily embed onto a Canvas app.

Also news on development front, there will be a major focus on improving React support for PCF controls enabling developers to take advantage of the React framework without all the necessary bundling of your own React libraries.

Conclusion

In summary, there have been a lot of enhancements particularly for visualisation, general usability, extension capabilities, and the changes are across the board from Model-Driven, Canvas and Portals.  This I feel will lead to better experiences as you transition between Model and Canvas or even Mixed Reality, and open up a raft of new possibilities for system customisers.

Please tell me more about what you think about the UX changes in 2020, and what you would really like to see a greater focus on.