One True Connected Enterprise for Government Organizations

Government organizations are somewhat unique in that they do not exist to sell to or service customers so much as to provide services to citizens. In today’s blogpost, we’ll explore this industry from a technology perspective. Enjoy!

Common Challenges in Government Agencies

To overcome those challenges, government agencies are exploring digital transformation. They are looking for a new approach to:

Not only can one connected platform streamline all these areas for Government, a rapid platform deployment can set the stage for agility, productivity, and insights now and far into the future.

PowerObjects is a holistic provider of services covering CRM, ERP, Power Platform, and everything in between. When Government entities choose Microsoft Business Applications as their one connected platform, they can handle anything that comes their way. Combining Office 365 with Microsoft Business Applications – like Power Platform and Microsoft Dynamics 365 – enables communication tracking and automation of all business processes. This technology solution provides transparency and accuracy every step of the way.

Dynamics 365 also enables direct connections and integrations with over 300 platforms so government organizations can really focus on customer and citizen centricity. This cloud-based ERP and CRM platform leverages artificial intelligence and powerful insights through the Power Platform. And you can now calculate rates with Dynamics 365 thanks to our Power Rates Calculator.

Custom apps, Microsoft tools, and virtual education are just a few ways we’re helping clients – in government and all other industries – tackle COVID-19 business challenges.

Metro Bank Strives for Continuous Innovation

Metro Bank are the UK’s first new High Street Bank in more than 150 years. They are less than ten years old but have quickly emerged as a major player in the UK’s banking industry. Metro Bank have been running Microsoft Dynamics for more than seven years. Through an ongoing partnership with PowerObjects, Metro Bank upgraded to a newer version of Microsoft Dynamics 365, unlocking a new world of features that were not yet available in the version they had been running. The upgrade also ensured they are on the evergreen roadmap with Microsoft. Watch this video to learn how Metro Bank is working towards continuous innovation and customer service success with Microsoft Dynamics 365!

 

Power Apps Positively Impacting Local and Regional Governments

Local and Regional Government organisations are in a state of constant technological flux. And as their constituencies continue to grow and expand over time, the necessity for transparent, quick and personal constituent interactions grows as well. Indeed, helping constituents feel closer to the Governmental institutions that represent them is absolutely a move in the right direction for Local and Regional Governments. It inspires more confidence among citizens that they are being heard, seen and recognised in their own homes and communities, which is of paramount importance nowadays.

So, having said all that, the question that naturally follows in this day and age of technology is this: what is the most cutting-edge technology solution that can be implemented to enable Governments to stay in tune with their communities?

It depends on who you ask, of course, but PowerObjects is a firm believer that Microsoft’s Power Platform as the answer to this increasingly important question. The Power Platform is a combination of Power Apps, Power BI, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. Each of these products has their own focus and application – i.e., whether you’re trying to automate mundane processes (Power Automate), set up a Customer-facing Chat Bot (Power Virtual Agents), present data in a visually appealing and understandable manner (Power BI) or create low/no code applications in a matter of mere minutes (Power Apps), Power Platform has you covered.

And that last element of Power Platform – Power Apps – is the key component of PowerObjects’ answer to the question of how to keep Local and Regional Governments in touch with their constituents. The customisation aspect of Power Apps is unbeatable in terms of the ability to create unique solutions to specific needs. As each institution experiences different issues, the ability to create malleable Apps for Government employees, without requiring any coding knowledge to do so, is a fantastic asset to have at one’s fingertips.

Kicking 2020 off the right way, PowerObjects recently hosted an App-in-a-Day Event in the United Kingdom, during which we sat down with representatives from various Local and Regional Government organisations to hear about the technology and customer service challenges they were currently facing.

We then showcased Power Apps and worked side by side with them to develop – in a matter of minutes – applications designed to overcome and solve those challenges. By the end of the day, each group of representatives from Local Councils had built their own Power Apps solution. As a result, they were able to digitally solve their most unrelenting issues and keep their constituents as priority number one.

For more information on Power Apps, click here. As always, happy Dynamics 365’ing!

Using Custom Format Strings With ‘Convert time zone’ Action in Flow!

The Convert time zone action is an extremely handy tool within Flow that allows us to change the Time Zone into a time zone and date format of our choosing. Let’s describe how it works…

As shown below, this action allows users to choose time zones for Source and Destination systems, as well as to choose a Format string for the output from a list of several choices.

While the Format string list of options is robust and extremely useful, users may come across a scenario in which they need to have the date formatted in a specific way that is not offered. For example, what if we needed to have the date returned in MONTH DATE, YEAR format (e.g., September 29, 2019)? That is not one of the predefined Format string options, so what do we do in this case? As you might expect, this is where the Enter custom value option comes into play.

One thing that is not very clear when using a custom value in the Format string is what values are accepted. But we did some digging and discovered something interesting: did you know that Flow uses the same Custom Date and Time Format Strings as .net? It’s true… take a look at the link below. All of those same options are available to us in Flow!

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/standard/base-types/custom-date-and-time-format-strings

After consulting the .net resource mentioned above, we discovered that we needed to use <MMMM d, yyyy> to get the output we were looking for. Using that format string, Flow gives us September 29, 2019 - exactly what we wanted!

We hope you found this helpful. Happy Flowing!

The Future of AI and Data Analytics is Bright with Microsoft’s Power Platform

If you look at the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics over the past few years, it’s astounding the leaps and bounds technology has advanced.

Let’s start with Power BI- this tool is not just advanced reporting anymore. It now integrates so deeply within Power Apps and Power Automate (Formerly Microsoft Flow) that it can be used as a complex data model where bringing in data from multiple sources makes sense, creates insight, and actually drives action. Microsoft’s tagline of “Turn insights into actions” is truer than it’s ever been and has even evolved into “Turning data into opportunity”. Oh, so poetic.

Microsoft Flow is now Power Automate and leverages robotics process automation (RPA). In addition to the name change, Power Automate now extends automation capabilities so that even if one of your systems isn’t modern enough to have an Application Programming Interface (API), you can still integrate with it and set up UI flows. With this capability, you can enable anyone to automate manual business process across all your on-premises and cloud applications or services.

This past year, Power Apps has been a game-changer for many of our customers. What once were logistical nightmares have been turned into unforeseen efficiencies and time savings.

Yes, times they are a changing and we are there to help!

Join PowerObjects’ Power Platform practice director Venkat Rao for further review of the latest updates to the 3 key components of Power Platform: PowerApps, Power Automate, and Power BI.

In this Webinar, Power Platform: Limitless Innovation with PowerObjects, Venkat will walk you through Power Platform capabilities through the example of a traveling salesperson working with intelligent new applications that realize the dreams of “insights into actions” and “data into opportunity.”

Venkat manages a team of very talented people at PowerObjects who build all sorts of creative and cost-effective Power Platform solutions for our customers and take digital transformation and customer experience to a whole new level.

Who We Are – The PowerObjects Story [VIDEO]

What does PowerObjects do? This 3-minute animated video tells our story – from our fanatical focus on Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Business Applications to our four pillars of success, industry focus, and global presence. We’re proud of the successes we’ve helped customers achieve, and we’re proud of our own successes, as well. We think this video captures the essence of what makes that success possible!

Microsoft Showcases PowerObjects-built PowerLead

In today’s blogpost, we’re stepping away from the technical content we usually publish in order to share some exciting news. But first, a little background…

If you follow our blog, you know that our bread and butter at PowerObjects is Dynamics 365 and the suite of related Microsoft Business Applications. And you’ve likely noticed that in the last year, we’ve also had a deliberate and sustained focus specifically on our Power Platform practice. Power BI, PowerApps, and Flow have tremendous potential to positively impact Dynamics 365, so this increased focus is only natural. In fact, we even established an internal Power Platform Center of Excellence where a group of passionate technology experts work together to share and spread their expertise, industry best practices, and training specific to the three branches of Power Platform.

So, on to the exciting news… our team of experts used Power Apps to build a solution that is now featured on Microsoft’s own Power Apps Partner Showcase website! The solution, PowerLead, allows users to capture leads on the fly with functionality that easily scans business cards or manually create leads and contact records with just a click. It features Voice to Text recognition, saving team members valuable time. Additional features give users the ability to follow leads, edit records, and share records with colleagues on demand. PowerLead has a dedicated area for viewing statistics in an easy-to-read graphical representation, adding more flavor and functionality to the lead capture process. You can see it here.

This is our second Power Apps solution to be showcased on Microsoft’s site. The first, Sales Toolbelt, can be seen on Microsoft’s site here. Having multiple Power Apps solutions showcased puts us in rare company – only a handful of Microsoft Partners have even a single tool featured, and less than five partners can claim more than one. With lots more in the works here at PowerObjects, it won’t be long before we’re featured again.

Thanks for indulging our quick pat on the ol’ back ! We’ll return to the technical stuff tomorrow…

Happy Dynamics 365’ing!

Unlock the Potential of D365 with Microsoft Power Platform [VIDEO]

Microsoft’s Power Platform was designed and built to unlock the potential of Dynamics 365 and Office 365 faster and more completely than you ever imagined. Comprised of three sets of tools – Power BI, PowerApps, and Power Automate – the Power Platform empowers everyone to innovate with one connected platform. Watch this video to learn how can you unlock the potential of Dynamics 365 and Microsoft’s Power Platform with PowerObjects.

Sorting Data by Fiscal Year in Power BI

One of the questions we always ask when starting a new Power BI project is, "Does your organization follow the calendar year or a fiscal year?" It's critical to know because it determines the outcome of the reports for the organization!

The Power BI Desktop offers two functions to create a calendar table: Calendar and Autocalendar. These functions generate a single column, Date, in a new table. Typically, we then add other columns to the table, such as Year, Month, Quarter, Month Number, etc., in order to filter and sort data. Several options exist for creating the date/calendar table; in today's blog, we'll show how to use a DAX script to create a date/calendar table and then demonstrate how to achieve sorting by a fiscal year in slicer.

Let's use an example in which a company uses a fiscal year starting in April. The leadership team likes to see estimated sales in a column chart with a month slicer sorted by fiscal year, from April to March.

The steps to achieve the goal are as follows:

  1. Create a date/calendar table in DAX in Power BI Desktop
  2. Create a fiscal year number sort column in DAX
  3. Create a relationship between a fact table and the date/calendar table
  4. Create a column chart and a slicer with month name field
  5. Sort the month name with the fiscal year number field

*Assumption: the steps to connect to data source(s) and importing data to Power BI Desktop are completed in advance.

1. Create a date/calendar table in DAX in Power BI Desktop

A common practice is to run either a pre-defined DAX or M script to create a custom date/calendar table in Power BI Desktop. In our example, we use a DAX script.

It is important to note that we refrain from creating relationships between the date attributes in existing fact and/or dimensional tables in data sources to take advantages of the time intelligence functions and to optimize performance in Power BI.

Steps:

Select Modeling > New Table.

power bi

Date = ADDCOLUMNS(

CALENDAR("2015, 01, 01"," 2018, 12, 31"),

"Year", YEAR([Date]),

"Month Year Num", CONCATENATE(YEAR([Date]), FORMAT([Date],"MMM")),

"Month Num", Month([Date]),

"Month", FORMAT([Date], "MMM"),

"Quarter Num",FORMAT([Date], "Q"),

"Quarter", CONCATENATE("Q",FORMAT([Date], "Q")),

"Day", FORMAT([Date],"D"),

"Week", CONCATENATE("Week ",FORMAT([Date], "WW"))

)

*Note: The date range is set between 1/1/2015 and 12/31/2018 as an example

2. Create a fiscal year number sort column in DAX

Steps:

FYMonthNum =

          VAR FYStartMonth = 4

          //Update the fiscal year starting month above *Use number between 1 to 12

          RETURN

IF (

                    MONTH ( Dates[Date] ) >= FYStartMonth,

                    MONTH ( Dates[Date] )

- ( FYStartMonth - 1 ),

12

+ (

                         MONTH ( Dates[Date] )

- ( FYStartMonth - 1 )

)

)

A Sample Result:

power bi

If you have an M script, the following sample would help in adding a fiscal year number column in your date/calendar query:

AddFYMonthNum = Table.AddColumn(XXX, "FYMonthNum", each if
[MonthOfYear]>=FYStartMonth then [MonthOfYear]-(FYStartMonth-1) else 12+[MonthOfYear]-
(FYStartMonth-1))

Note: "FYStartMonth" is a variable to enter starting month of a fiscal year in function and XXX is a previous step name in M script

3. Create a relationship between a table and the date/calendar table

We connected Dynamics 365 Sales Online Free Trial as a data source and imported Accounts and Opportunities data. We created 1:N relationship between the Dates and opportunities tables with the Date and estimatedclosedate fields:

power bi

4. Create a column chart and a slicer with month name field

We created a sample report page with a year and a month slicer, and a column chart called, "Estimates by City."

power bi

5. Sort the month name with the fiscal year number field

As you can see above, the slicer lists Month in alphabetical order by default. We need to change the sort order to fiscal year with starting month of April.

Steps:

power bi

power bi

power bi

Now the month slicer sorts by fiscal year starting in April! Changing it to, say, July is as simple as amending the DAX script to say VAR FYStartMonth = 7. power bi

Pretty slick, right? We hope you find this useful.

To maximize your investment in Dynamics 365 and related solutions, our Power BI experts can transform your siloed data into stunning, interactive visualizations in a single view so you can make insight-driven decisions anytime, from anywhere. Learn more about our Power BI services here.

Happy Power BI'ing!

Route Optimization With Flow and PowerApps: Power Platform App for Delivery Fulfillment

Scenario: Your organization receives orders and then delivers those orders to customers. The drivers in your organization show up for work at a warehouse, pick a truck that's already been loaded with packages, and heads out for the deliveries. But… once the drivers are in the trucks, how do they know which package to deliver first? And how can they deliver all packages efficiently – spending the least amount of time driving?

The answer: route optimization. When it comes to delivering packages efficiently, route optimization is crucial – and it can be accomplished by implementing a solution built with Power Apps and Flow! Let us show you how…

Before we begin, let's cover a few parameters:

1. The app we're building connects to Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement in order to:

2. Via Flow, the app uses Google's API to perform the route optimization action for drivers.

Now, let's get started!

App Interface

Screen 1 - "Available Trucks"

Drivers picks from a list of available trucks. These Truck records are created in Dynamics 365 and displayed in Power Apps using the standard Dynamics 365 connector.

route optimization

Screen 2: "Deliveries" (a unique list for each truck)

This screen shows the deliveries contained in the Truck selected on Screen 1. As you will see, each Delivery has an associated Address. Clicking Optimize Route on this screen sends the address information to an Azure function, and within a matter of seconds displays an optimized route in Google Maps. More on that later.

route optimization

Fun Side Note: Clicking Optimize Route brings up a screen with a fun GIF. As the route optimization is being performed, the screen shows a navigation marker that's being chomped on. ?

route optimization

Screen 3: Delivery Details

Open one of the Delivery records in the previous screen to view its details. Click Navigate to open the phone's maps app with this delivery's address.

route optimization

Flow Details

Below is the Flow that is triggered upon clicking Optimize Route.

1. Power Apps general information.

route optimization

2. The Initialize variable step defines the start and end location, which we have defaulted to as Minneapolis, MN.

route optimization

3. Get the Address information from the Delivery records for the specified Truck.

route optimization

4. Define a variable "value" that contains the start point, end point, and addresses.

route optimization

5. Send the information contained in Step 4 to an Azure function. This Azure function sends the information to the Google Maps Directions API, which sends it back to the Azure function in an optimized fashion.

Note: The Directions API is very nominally priced, starting at $.005 per call ($5 for 1,000 calls).

route optimization

6. The Azure function sends the optimized route back to Power Apps in a URL format. This URL is then opened in the device's native maps application. In our case, here's what Google Maps displays:

route optimization

And there you have it! With Power Apps and Flow, you can build your own fully-functioning delivery app that incorporates route optimization.

Conclusion

This app highlights two very powerful features of PowerApps:

1. If you have a need for a mobile app that has a very specific use case – however complex it may seem, Power Platform is definitely a viable platform for it because of its ability to work with practically any application in existence. And as you can see, a fairly complex app can be built quite easily using Power Platform.

2. Cost! Power Apps and Flow are most likely included in your Dynamics 365 or Office 365 plan. You will be not be paying any additional licensing fees for a single app.

Visit our Power Apps and Flow webpages to learn more. Happy Flow'ing!

Power Platform Administration Center

Now that Microsoft has combined PowerApps, Power BI, and Flow to form the foundation of Power Platform, you may think it is an administrative nightmare to bounce between the various application centers. However, we've got good news! In today's blog, we'll describing the new, unified Power Platform Administration Center that is now in preview.

It is available at https://admin.powerplatform.microsoft.com using your Office 365 credentials. It looks like this:

power platform

The navigation pane, which should be familiar to users of Dynamics 365 Version 9 and beyond, contains the key areas to administer your Power Platform-based components.

power platform

Let's explore the various sections:

The Help + support section allows administrators to create and view any support tickets they may have with Microsoft support.

power platform

The Analytics section provides dashboards and key metrics for the most common Power Platform environments.

The Common Data Service for Apps section provides information about the CDS environments in use for Apps, as well as Dynamics 365 instances:

power platform

power platform

power platform

power platform

The Microsoft Flow section displays various analytics:

power platform

power platform

power platform

power platform

The Power Apps section contains analytics like usage statistics across geographies:

power platform

power platform

power platform

Environments is the new term for Instances and each is created under an Azure Active Directory tenant and accessible only to users within that tenant. Environments represent partitions for the components created using Power Apps and can be used to separate apps with different security requirements or user bases.

power platform

Opening an Environment takes you to the data service (e.g., Dynamics 365 CE)

power platform

The Data policies section is an area where new Data Loss Prevention policies can be created and maintained. These policies define what data can be shared with which connector, thus controlling what can be used in Flows and Apps.

power platform

And finally, the Admin centers section brings us to the familiar, individual administration centers. For example, the instance picker for Dynamics 365:

power platform

The Power Platform Admin center is still a work in progress and will undoubtedly undergo several changes to unify the tools and UIs of the various platform components. But it is a promising start, and while this has only been a high-level tour, you can look forward to deeper dives into the individual areas in the future.

Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more Power Platform updates!

In the meantime, Happy D365'ing!

And Operator in Flow

We've devoted several blog posts in 2018 to Microsoft Flow because of its awesome ability to automate workflows quickly with a no-code/low-code approach. If you haven't read our recent post on building Flows in mere minutes, please check it out – it's worth your time!

Today's post is devoted to Flow's And operator, which enhances the automation potential of our workflows. In certain business scenarios, we want the action we take to be based on multiple checks – e.g., if condition A is true AND condition B is also true, then take subsequent action, otherwise take no action. To help illustrate this, let's consider a real-world scenario.

Let's say that we are operating a roofing company; one of our main tasks involves sending our technicians to inspect roofs for damage. As the technicians inspect the roof, they mark Yes or No to various questions in an inspection checklist on their mobile device. Next, let's say that if, for example, they find water stains (condition A) AND they also find water leaks (condition B), we want to automatically send the customer an email suggesting that the best way to prevent potential future water-related problems is by installing smart sensors on their roof. Here's how we can accomplish this with a Flow.

1. We will trigger our Flow when a record is created. In our case, we are creating an Inspection Check Lists record.

flow

2. Next, we need a Condition. To create one, click New Step > Condition Control.

flow

Now, in this case, we want to add two conditions. With Flow, multiple conditions are added in advanced mode in the form of a formula. Don't be intimidated! Just because we're going into advanced mode does not mean we're doing anything especially technical or advanced – we're simply tweaking the formula, which can only be done in this mode. The following steps provide an easy way to generate a formula for our And condition.

3. Let's add the first condition: is our vr_waterleaks field equal to true? Here, we need some very simple code to define a true value: @equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterleaks'], true).

flow

4. As stated earlier, the way to hardcode multiple conditions is by clicking Edit in advanced mode. Once in advanced mode, copy the code from the previous condition (Step 3) without the "@": @equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterleaks'], true). You'll need this in Step 7.

5. To add our second condition, we will go back to Edit in basic mode, clear the condition created in Step 3, and create the second condition: is our Water Staining field equal to true? Again, we need some very simple code: @equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true).

flow

6. Now we need to combine the two conditions. While still viewing the second condition, once again click on Edit in advanced mode. At the beginning of the code, add an And clause by typing "and(," between "@" and "equals." It should now look like the After column:

Before

After

@equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true)@and(,equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true)

7. Next, paste the code for the first condition (copied in Step 4) between "and(" and ",equals." It should now look like After column:

Before

After

@and(,equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true)@and(equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterleaks'], true),equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true)

8. Finally, add a close parenthesis – ")" – to the very end of the formula. It should now look like After column:

Before

After

@and(equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterleaks'], true),equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true)@and(equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterleaks'], true),equals(triggerBody()?['vr_waterstaining'], true))

9. Hit <Save> and you're all done creating an And clause that will take an action you define if and only if both conditions are met.

Hopefully, you can think of many uses for this Flow operator in your own organization. To learn more about Flow, please visit our website. If you're interested in taking a Flow class, we offer two different Power Apps and Flow courses: one focuses on Model Apps and one on Canvas Apps.

Happy Flow'ing!