Avoiding a Power Platform “Drive-By” using the Centre of Excellence Starter Kit

A few years ago, I wrote about ten different types of Dynamics 365 projects. One of these types of projects I referred to as a “drive-by”. A drive-by implementation is where someone, often a supplier, is interested in getting paid, and getting out as quickly as they can, leaving an implementation project to slowly fail.

You might end up being the victim of a ‘drive-by’ through :

  • Not having designated appropriate people with the right skills to deliver the project on your side.
  • Working with poorly articulated or point in time business requirements.
  • Not considering Adoption and Change Management and nurturing within your organisation.
  • Expecting your end users to use the product out of the box instead of tailoring the product to fit.
  • Not understanding limitations of licensing or understanding boundaries between line of business systems.

Microsoft want you to use their software, not just buy it

Ten years ago, for the majority of Dynamics implementations, Microsoft often had no real idea whether or not an implementation was successful or not. If an organisation bought a thousand licences, potentially because they had some ‘use it or lose it’ budget to get rid of at financial year end, Microsoft were more than happy to take your money. However, the system implemented might have ended up as shelfware, perhaps using only a small percentage of the licences purchased. The hope was that the software was being used to deliver wider business goals and the licences would be renewed to facilitate an upgrade some years later.

With the world moving from on-premise to cloud, Microsoft’s ability to collect telemetry data centrally now means that the standalone purchase of software licences is no longer the primary critical success factor for a new implementation. It’s now more important that the technology is being adopted and being actively used within the business. ‘Monthly active users’ is now one of the more important critical success factors for Microsoft. Monthly subscription payments are great, but if your users are not actively using the system, they have a high risk of cancelling the subscription and suddenly the revenue stops.

With this in mind, the telemetry data is driving an adoption and change management mindset at Microsoft. Partners and customers are being encouraged to do the same.

Why should implementers want users to use the software?

This might seem like a very dumb question. The answer should be that, being responsible for implementing software, you have enough integrity and professionalism to want the business, customers and users to succeed. You will want the business to be successful, achieving their primary goals through the use of your ingenious PowerApps or workflows.

But sometimes when delivering IT projects, the reasons for implementing software get lost in the practicalities and weeds of implementation detail. Rogue departments go off delivering ad-hoc PowerApps and primary goals get lost. Perhaps a first Power App implementation fails because users thought it didn’t look right. Before you know it, the PowerApps name is tarnished within the business as not being fit for purpose. The organisation then moves on to their next ‘Low-Code, No-Code’ tool and rolls the dice again.

Dogfooding with the Power Platform Centre of Excellence Toolkit

To stop this happening, you need to have the same mindset Microsoft took when moving to the cloud and consider a centre of excellence. You might have some of the following questions.

  • How can you put structure and governance around the Power Platform to make sure all the Power Apps being developed provide business value?
  • How can you monitor which applications are being used the most and those that are not being used at all?
  • How can you nurture people to start using the tooling provided?
  • How can you deal with concerns over data security?
  • How can you deal with apps build by people who then leave the business?

This is where the Power Platform Centre of Excellence Toolkit comes in. It’s eating your own dogfood by using the Power Platform to manage and promote the Power Platform!

What is it? I need some technical details.

It’s a set of canvas apps, model apps, flows, reports and templates that allow you to govern and grow your centre of excellence. It’s a starter kit – not a finishing kit – because every organisation’s needs are different. Some organisations might only need to use some elements of the kit. Others might use the lot and want to extend for niche requirements.

What does it contain?

It’s broken down into four main areas.

  1. The core components. This is a managed solution you should install into a dedicated CoE CDS environment – not the default ‘Personal Productivity’ environment. The intention of the core components is to sync all the details of your Power Platform components into a single CDS repository where you can inspect the data with a model driven app and PowerBI. There’s also a flow to bring in Microsoft 365 audit log data as well as canvas apps to manage app permissions and flow permissions. This is a useful solution to install for admins, regardless of whether you install the rest of the components or not.
  2. The governance components. Once you know what exists, you want to ensure you don’t have application sprawl. This component contains
    1. Developer Compliance Centre and Compliance Detail Request flows
    2. Business Process flows to audit apps
    3. Archival and Clean up flows and a model driven app to manage archival
  1. The Nurture components. You’ve installed the toolkit. So what. No one is ever going to use it unless you nurture your app makers. This module contains flows and canvas apps to cover use cases such as :
    1. Welcome emails
    2. App Catalogues
    3. Newsletters
    4. Managing PowerApp ‘Training in a day’ courses
    5. PowerBI reports to highlight your best apps and app makers
  2. Theming Components. You don’t want users in one department or region to create apps that are blue and others that are bright green. You will want to have some consistency of theming. The theming components contains a theme editor and shared component library that guides your makers towards making Power Apps that have a consistent look, feel and brand.
A list of components in the PP CoE starter kit

How do I install it?

To install, you need to follow the documentation at Microsoft Docs. It’s going to take a while to read and follow the manual instructions so set aside a day to go through it all. If you’re not familiar with Power Apps and Flows and Power BI reports, it’s a great exercise get used to the concepts and interfaces. It’s also good to understand all the bits and pieces under the hood and how it works. With this background, you can use these principles of data synchronisation and reporting in your own projects.

I recommend taking it slowly and trying to understand each of the components you are installing as you go. Document your steps manually as you go or record the steps you took, which will make supporting the components easier going forward. Remember, Microsoft don’t support these components, that is your job as part of being a centre of excellence administrator!

What next?

If you just install it, it’s a waste of time. The goal is to understand the toolkit and its components yes, but more importantly you need to understand the problems the kit is trying to solve. Get business buy in and seek to form a wider team, not just from within IT. Give your users regular training. Set up some sample apps to get your ‘makers’ involved. Showcase the good. Ultimately your Power Platform Centre of Excellence will be a success or failure based on the nurture components. You should be looking for evangelists within the business to help adoption and change management.

So keep yourself protected. Using and understanding the toolkit while nurturing a CoE team will protect you from an an old-school software drive-by.

Go and get started!

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