So, you have probably heard of, enquired about or purchased, Dynamics 365 F&O, and you’re excited about all the possibilities of this new technology, but then panic sets in. There are so many options. So many possibilities. So many things to consider. So many new terms.
When working with D365 F&O, a couple of terms will repeatedly come up
- LCS (Life Cycle Services)
- Finance and Operations Apps
- Power Platform
- Azure DevOps
Whenever I feel like I am having an overload of information, I remind myself of the KISS principle. KISS is an acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid. But a more professional definition would be: the simpler the system, the better it works. The good news is that Microsoft has designed the entire Dynamics 365 F&O architecture based on this principle.
Understanding the F&O Environment
The diagram below will make it more evident that the design is quite simplified and elegant. There are 3 significant items that I feel are most important, to take note of, with regards to D365 F&O:
Life Cycle Services (LCS) – This is your master administration portal where you can view all your environments and settings, the performance behind it, upcoming software updates and so much more. The first thing that you get when signing up for D365 F&O is an LCS portal. So, if you need to know anything about your F&O Project, it will either be there or in Azure DevOps.
Azure DevOps (VSTS) – This is a very powerful internal portal where you can work together with your team, log issues, have sprints (recurring cycles of work), store all your code customizations, do code builds and keep track of how things are going in your project.
Finance and Operations Apps – These apps are similar to an ERP system. This is where your users will log in, create General Ledger Journals, Sales orders, Purchase orders, etc. Your data and business processes will live here.
But now, let me give KISS a more versatile and extensive definition, just because I can.
- Keep it Simple
- Keep it Standard
- Keep it Supported
- And keep it Secured
1 – Keep it Simple
The basic architecture:
Basic architecture comprises a Data Access Layer, an Application Stack, and a UI Interaction layer. Simply put, you should ask yourself where your data is in this stack, and how it can be accessed.
D365 F&O environments have Azure SQL databases. Azure SQL databases are like SQL servers, but fully managed in Microsoft Azure, and always on the latest version. This means no more SQL updates. No more sleepless nights, in hope that the update doesn’t break something important.
The Application Stack is hosted by Microsoft. Any customizations that can be deployed by using LCS and deployable packages, will be managed by developers.
The UI is a web browser, meaning there are no complicated applications to be installed, or complicated system requirements. You can run it anywhere in the world on any device.
Microsoft has introduced several components which can be used to “customize” the system, without altering source code or risking data integrity and safety. All these methods always enforce business logic when applied. Some may include (And they are getting more and more creative with new ways as time passes):
- The Power Platform introduces front-end configurable components, that can be embedded in D365 F&O or access D365 Data and Events.
- Electronic reporting as a very versatile tool, to enhance customer-facing reports and certain data imports and exports.
- Business Events that can be used for integration and triggering. These can be written to the Azure Service Bus.
- Personalization has been enhanced in such a way that forms can be manipulated, with regards to fields, and setting certain fields as mandatory from the front-end.
However, there might still be cases where customization is required. For this, the extension framework has been introduced. Simply put, no standard code can be removed, skipped, or changed. Codes can be added before or after standard codes, or at certain places, which Microsoft has made room for. These extensions are handled as separate objects. D365 F&O also has the full power of the .NET framework behind it, where .NET libraries can be used within your D365 environment. The code in D365 F&O is object-oriented; meaning that the code is open and can be reused, as per Microsoft’s best practice of reusing as much code as possible.
3 – Keep it standard
With the Data Management framework, Microsoft has introduced entities. Microsoft official documentation defines an entity as: An abstraction from the physical implementation of database tables.
Simply put, it is like a spreadsheet with columns that are very clear and easy to understand, in basic language. An example would be financial dimensions – instead of asking for the reference ID, it would allow the user to specify each component text value, such as a business unit and cost center. The entity will then find the reference ID, based on the values inserted.
This is your gateway to data in D365. It will always enforce business logic when implemented. What this means, is that for example, if a supplier is on hold, a user cannot use the entities to take the supplier off hold. Proper processes must be followed. The entities can be used to create things like sales orders, purchase orders, general journals, but not posted transactions.
These entities can be used in integration as follows:
- They can be exposed to external services using standard ODATA RESTFUL web services with OAuth2.0. It is an industry-standard.
- They are the entities used in the Data Management workspace for data import and export.
- They are utilized when exporting data from D365, either using the framework or from any screen, you might be on.
- They are used with the Microsoft Office Add-in.
- They are available in Power Platform.
I am slightly torn about where to add this item. Updates have become so easy, and could fall under “Keep it Simple” or “Keep it Standard”. No longer do you need to worry about a big update project. Microsoft does these updates for you. Because of the extension framework, updates can be installed without affecting your system’s integrity. Microsoft is committed to delivering predictable service updates. It also advises you to test the service update, before deploying it to production, in a User Acceptance Testing (UAT) environment. Especially when you have customization or specialized configuration.
While reporting is always a challenging area for many, in D365 F&O, it has become more powerful.
- SSRS Reports – Standard out-of-the-box reports are integrated to measure objectives and effectiveness
- Electronic Reporting – Consumer-facing reports that facilitate the translation of business data
- Management Reporter – This is the same as was used in AX 2012. A powerful financial reporting tool in which custom reports can be built.
- Power BI – Power BI is embedded using the entity store. There is also the power of full Power BI wherein you can export data, to Azure Data Lake or a data warehouse, and build Power BI reports. These reports can then be embedded into D365, so users don’t have to go to multiple apps, to access information.
LCS provides a whole range of tools in which a company can monitor system performance. With this, things like slow-running queries can be identified, indexes can be added, query plans can be created, and so much more. Microsoft is also bringing in optimizations, within the tables, code, and database, with each service update. Because D365 F&O will always be on the latest version, each optimization applies to you as well.
3 – Keep it Secured
Dynamics F&O is equipped with advanced security and permission protocols designed to give your organization, complete control over your data. However, before setting any permissions, you need to set clear roles and responsibilities. This will help direct organizational management and any decision-making framework you may want to implement.
Azure Active Directory
Users are managed in Azure Active Directory (AAD) through an enterprise identity service, providing single sign-on, multifactor authentication, and conditional access to help protect users from various cybersecurity threats.
Data integrity is ensured, generating overall consistency and accuracy, as only Microsoft has access to the production database.
Users must be assigned to a security role for access, determining the duties that a user can perform. In addition, the permissions will specify the level of access that is required to solve a problem or complete an assignment.
App Registrations in Azure for External Access
Within Azure AD you will find the App registrations window that offers the ability to create registrations, for applications and assign permissions accordingly.
4- Keep it Supported
Organizations will agree that the value of a cloud service, is appreciated through frequent updates, that can provide both improved reliability and new features while minimizing operational impact. The D365 One version does just this- assisting you to stay current in a consistent, and seamless manner. It optimizes the delivery of updates, providing predictability, lower upgrade costs, and a better support experience.
From reading the above, you know that you can improve your day-to-day activities, by implementing simple, standard, supported, and secured approaches to the way in which you manage your finance and operations. The Dynamics 365 F&O digs deep, offering features and functionality for a protected, updated, and comprehensive environment. The possibilities are many for your modern environment with the top benefit being greater visibility through a 360-degree view of your business performance.