Dynamics 365 Navigation UI/UX

First of all, this is not a quick read! For those that dare to venture ahead, peer into the mind I have to live with everyday! I don't have all the answers either, but if we don't vent from time to time....

While watching the recent Dynamics 365 July Update Executive Briefing sessions something struck me. I feel like we can do a lot better with User Interface and User Experience.And yes, every release somehow ends up with a change to navigation!!

It was towards the end of Day 2, during the App Modules and Designers session all about the new navigation paradigm adopted for Dynamics 365.

The idea is that we can now segregate users into their own Apps based on their role, or what they need to see/do in Dynamics.

Rather than taking the full Sitemap, Dashboards and Business Processes we were used to...

The current way. Showing all SiteMap Entities and Dashboards (yes as developers we sometimes manually cut things out)  (Credit: Microsoft)

The current way. Showing all SiteMap Entities and Dashboards (yes as developers we sometimes manually cut things out)  (Credit: Microsoft)

We can now create smaller 'sandbox' apps where the user has only access to Sales & Marketing for example...

A simplified Sales & Marketing App Module, including only what you need(Credit: Microsoft)

A simplified Sales & Marketing App Module, including only what you need(Credit: Microsoft)

It's a pretty good start if we are to try and simplify the huge amount of possibilities the platform has to offer. To boot they are using the new Application Module Designer to build these, with drag'n'drop which is looking really nice.

Application Module Designer (credit: Microsoft)

Application Module Designer (credit: Microsoft)

The problem I’ve got with it, is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough

Users need more than just differentiated SiteMaps, Dashboards, and Business Processes.
I know I sound like I'm complaining here, but let me explain.

As I've come up through the Dynamics "traps" in the last 5 years or so one thing has consistently been beaten into me, project after project, rollout after rollout. No matter how good I think the platform or solution is, it is only as good as Roger (codename for the receptionist) at My Large Company Limited thinks it is. I can't count the times I've toiled over something, only for it to go unnoticed or perhaps misunderstood.

The conclusion from many restless nights, is my strong belief that it all comes down to User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).

More to the point, it's how simple and direct you can make that UI/UX. The more complex it is, the less Roger will like it. It doesn't matter that you think "yeah, but it can do these 500 things Roger!!", no that just won't cut it. We often know that things could work better, or be more simple, but do we spend the extra 50 x hours work to get that? Probably not.

I think traditionally our problem may have been that we have developers, that are great at solving problems and writing code, building our UI. I think in Dynamics land, we've actually had it backwards for the most part. It should be Front-end Web Developers designing the UI and then we can plug that into our platform/database. Look at all the new-age competition coming up now. Grown up on cloud, beautiful and pleasing design. Users don't see what's under the bonnet.

I'm guilty of spending far too long on a feature or component in a solution, sometimes tweaking the HTML, CSS, JS to within an inch of their lives. For no real gain you may say. But sometimes, the extra care and attention to detail may shave off a few clicks, or less tangibly, may just assist the process to 'make sense' to Roger. Success.

One area that I think Microsoft is missing a massive opportunity with, is using their vast knowledge of touch/user interface design simplicity with the Dynamics 365 Web Client. They gravitate towards this for Mobile/Tablets obviously, but why not for the web interface? I still can't believe the Dynamics 365 SiteMap design is the best we can do.

They almost touched on this design-aesthetic with the recent announcements, but not quite.

The New WELCOME Screen.... look Tiles!  (Credit: Microsoft)

The New WELCOME Screen.... look Tiles!  (Credit: Microsoft)

We've all used Windows 8.1 right? Who in the world isn't familiar conceptually with the Tile Interface? Just about every other CRM platform in the world has some form of it. Click on the Tile and drill into the data more closely. The reason these are universally adopted is that they are so simple and effective for both data and navigation.

Ah, sweet PowerBI (credit: Microsoft)

Ah, sweet PowerBI (credit: Microsoft)

PowerBI was definitely a sight for sore eyes a few years ago. The more Dynamics and PowerBI work together the better. This is rounding out the offering on the data side, but I'm getting off topic a bit. I'm concerned about navigation, and putting the power at the user's fingertips.

Why can't users create their own Tile home screens, made up of not just SiteMap-like entity shortcuts, but a load of other useful, time-saving functions that they need in Dynamics? Wouldn't that make them more productive, and reduce time clicking from Views, to Records, to Dashboards, and back to Views again?

It’s the user-adoption gains I’m worried we are missing out on here

If Roger thinks it's simple, he's more likely to explore and find out more about Dynamics. The platform is so damn powerful, it often scares the crap out of people. They are reduced to clicking A-B-C like someone showed me. What we want is for users to be empowered, and want to click around and find out more of what the system can do.. D-E-F-G.............W-X-Y-Z!!

Something I got universally positive feedback on with customers was when I introduced the notion of a Tiled Dashboard used for Navigation and common tasks. I'd had the concept for over a year and a half, but when things are busy great ideas are often left behind. My nickname for these were Launch Pads. The ability to launch into different things all over Dynamics 365 from one place. Open a View. Create a Contact. Open a Dashboard.

A role-specific Dashboard with links to most everyday tasks. Who needs the SiteMap??  (credit: Me)

A role-specific Dashboard with links to most everyday tasks. Who needs the SiteMap??  (credit: Me)

We rolled this out in a small number of dashboards, some fit for user role or department, and others for the business managers at a higher level. The beauty of it was once again simplification.

We were able to link to Dashboards, Views, Settings Areas, External URLs, Create Records and Open Existing Records. Not only that, they allowed us to group Dashboards into collections, and hide the individual dashboards, thus reducing the overall number (our Dashboard list was quite lengthy, and went from around 50 down to 10).

My Tile Interface for Dynamics 365 Dashboards or Forms (credit: Me)

My Tile Interface for Dynamics 365 Dashboards or Forms (credit: Me)

So I decided to build something from this and allow it to be deployed easily be flexible for others. It will be on AppSource shorlty. More to come on that topic as I've already rambled on too much, but I'll be building out materials here soon miiia.com.au/add-ons

Now let me be clear. I'm not privy to all the internal road map details, or future directions for the App Modules and Designers. They may be cooking up something that will make my day. But I couldn't help feel a bit disheartened, that with the incredible might and magic of Microsoft we couldn't come up with something a bit more adventurous and push things a bit further. It was, for lack of a better word, uninspiring.

There was so much to be excited about during the 3 days of Executive sessions, too many to list. So I will try to wake up on more optimistic note tomorrow.

Good night.