Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love

Power Apps for 100,000 users with Mandar Zope

May 18, 2021 Neil Benson Episode 34
Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love
Power Apps for 100,000 users with Mandar Zope
Chapters
Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love
Power Apps for 100,000 users with Mandar Zope
May 18, 2021 Episode 34
Neil Benson

Join me with Mandar Zope, a principal consultant at Slalom Consulting from Seattle. Mandar has been busy building business applications that are being used by a hundred thousand users at a global oil and gas company.

Our discussion covers:

  • The user adoption approach used to train and communicate with thousands or tens of thousands of users at a time, using Power Apps..
  • Building data import automation using Power Automate.
  • Approaches to taking a big enterprise portfolio of applications and  breaking them up.
  • Working with design engineers from the very beginning of the project, so that they can create the customer journeys.
  • Increased frequency of builds so that QA can be performed in more frequent chunks.
  • How to handle platform evolution during the lifecycle of the application development. 

Resources
Mandar Zope on Linkedin
Mandar Zope #ProCodeNoCodeUnite (@mzope) on Twitter
Seattle Power Platform User Group (Seattle, WA) | Meetup
Amazing Applications podcast page on LinkedIn
Amazing Applications podcast page on Podchaser
Scrum for Microsoft Business Apps online course at Customery Academy
Agile Foundations for Microsoft Business Apps free online mini-course at Customery Academy

Support the show (https://buymeacoffee.com/amazingapps)

Show Notes Transcript

Join me with Mandar Zope, a principal consultant at Slalom Consulting from Seattle. Mandar has been busy building business applications that are being used by a hundred thousand users at a global oil and gas company.

Our discussion covers:

  • The user adoption approach used to train and communicate with thousands or tens of thousands of users at a time, using Power Apps..
  • Building data import automation using Power Automate.
  • Approaches to taking a big enterprise portfolio of applications and  breaking them up.
  • Working with design engineers from the very beginning of the project, so that they can create the customer journeys.
  • Increased frequency of builds so that QA can be performed in more frequent chunks.
  • How to handle platform evolution during the lifecycle of the application development. 

Resources
Mandar Zope on Linkedin
Mandar Zope #ProCodeNoCodeUnite (@mzope) on Twitter
Seattle Power Platform User Group (Seattle, WA) | Meetup
Amazing Applications podcast page on LinkedIn
Amazing Applications podcast page on Podchaser
Scrum for Microsoft Business Apps online course at Customery Academy
Agile Foundations for Microsoft Business Apps free online mini-course at Customery Academy

Support the show (https://buymeacoffee.com/amazingapps)

Welcome to Amazing Applications. The podcast for Power Platform and Dynamics 365 application builders, creating amazing applications that everyone will love. 

Hi, I'm your host, Neil Benson. You're listening to the Amazing Applications podcast. Our goal on this podcast is to help you slash your project budgets, reduce your delivery timelines, mitigate technical risks, and build amazing, agile Power Platform and Dynamics 365 Applications that everyone loves. 

This time, we've got another interview episode for you. I'm joined by Mandar Zope, a principal consultant at Slalom Consulting from Seattle. Mandar has been busy building business applications that are being used by a hundred thousand users at a global oil and gas company.

I've been involved in some long running and enterprise scale projects before, but nowhere near 100,000 users. So there's going to be some great lessons to learn from Mandar. You might also notice a train in the background of Mandar's audio. This is his first ever podcast appearance, but even an oncoming freight train couldn't stop him. 

If you'd like to share your story on the show, why not visit Customery.com/guest and find out how you can join me? You can even schedule a discussion from that page. Show notes from this episode can be found at Customery.com/034. You'll find links to  LinkedIn and Twitter profiles and a transcript from our discussion.

Let's meet Mandar Zope, a FastTrack Recognized Solution Architect and principal consultant at Slalom Consulting. 

Neil Benson: [00:01:49] 

Mandar, welcome to the Amazing Applications podcast. It's great to have you on the show. Do you want to take a moment and just give yourself a quick introduction for the audience and let us know who you are.

Mandar Zope: [00:01:59] Thanks for having me Neil. My name is Mandar Zope. I work as a solution architect, mainly focusing on Power Platform and Dynamics 365. I worked for this company called Slalom work here as a principal and a yes was in the Dynamics world for quite some time since 2011. And right now, focusing on Power Platform and Dynamics.

Neil Benson: [00:02:22] Good stuff. We were just chatting backstage about Slalom consulting. I worked at Slalom between 2012 and 2015. I think you joined afterwards, but we probably know a lot of people in common there.

Mandar Zope: [00:02:32] Yes, I joined on last year in Jan, 2020

Neil Benson: [00:02:36] It's grown massively since well, since I started there in 2012, how many people work in Slalom these days?

Mandar Zope: [00:02:42] It has grown rapidly and it's been growing very rapidly since then. Right now, I believe that we have our own more than 8,000 consultants all over. And especially the Microsoft practice has actually blown up.  A lot of folks are working on Microsoft products.  Just to add to it, we were a Power BI partner of the year, last year in 2020.

So we'll give you an idea of how much projects we are doing.

Neil Benson: [00:03:07] Yeah, that's great. Whenever I was there, I have to say Salesforce was pretty popular amongst our customer engagement clients. It's great to see Microsoft coming back. I think probably led by the growth in the Power BI business it amazing.

Mandar Zope: [00:03:21] Yep. And especially with Power BI now  so many opportunities just come for Power Apps and it's like pretty nice to even see that side of the business coming in from BI  . Normally, it wasn't the case, but yeah.

Neil Benson: [00:03:34]  A couple of questions we'd like to ask all of our guests, just to get to know them a little bit better. Starting with, what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Mandar Zope: [00:03:41] So for breakfast this morning I just had scrambled eggs. With some chard from our gardens. And and actually I also had some poha. that's a typical, Maharashtrian, it's a breakfast snack. I usually make that on the weekends. It's basically just flattened rice .

Neil Benson: [00:03:58] Good stuff. And tell us about how you got your first job either after school or college.

Mandar Zope: [00:04:05] So my first job was actually working as a research assistant while I was doing my master’s in environmental engineering back in 2007 in Miami, Florida. Yeah. It was really fun. that was my technically my first paid job had nothing to do with CRM, but it was mainly doing a lot of fancy groundwater flow and transport models to predict contaminant transports for some cleanup projects, which we're working at several DOE sites, Department of Energy, and they hired me actually after that, when I finished my Master's. So technically both of those. 

Neil Benson: [00:04:41] Very good. My brother studied environmental engineering as well. And I remember one of his early jobs was to go and confirm the location of all of the manholes in Northern Ireland. So he basically memorized the sewage network of Northern Ireland, not the most glamorous environmental engineering job, but you got to start somewhere right.

Mandar Zope: [00:04:59] Yep. Yeah. I actually got introduced to SQL because of that, because I studied chemical engineering. So I had no idea of any sequel or programming back then. And since doing this projects, I used GIS software extensively and there were always sequel databases I had to work with and that kind of kick started my journey in the side. 

Neil Benson: [00:05:22] And tell us about your current role. You said you're a principal at Slalom consulting. how did you land that role at Slalom?

Mandar Zope: [00:05:28] Yeah, I have previously, before joining Slalom, I was working for a small pretty decent non-profit company, which was mainly focused on scientific publishing. and that was like I started that previous project as a consultant then full-time and that stayed like for five, six years over there.

And Power Platform was just getting so much exposure. I decided time to make a move and join a company where they were trying to actually start their whole practice of even expanding on the Power Apps and Dynamics space and yeah, that's how I landed up in Slalom.

Neil Benson: [00:06:03] You offered to come on to the show and tell us about one of your recent clients and the amazing application you'd build for them. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the customer who they are and what they do?

Mandar Zope: [00:06:15] Yeah so this current customer is a big, really big  enterprise customer, which is from oil and gas I'll say. And we created several applications for a certain program, which they wanted to establish throughout the organization and this program,  basically all the apps which we are creating will, most of them will be used by, I would say at least 90,000 to 100,000 users all over the world.

Neil Benson: [00:06:42] Wow. Okay. So it's a big organization and a lot of users, big enterprise scale application development.

Mandar Zope: [00:06:49] ] Yes. It was pretty exciting to even start the phased approach from business unit by business unit, inside of starting to get them using applications. We are still in the process of actually doing it. We haven't finished yet all the business units, but we are managing both the application development while onboarding new business units simultaneously. 

Neil Benson: [00:07:13] So are the business units all adopting the same application or is it out of the suite of applications with differences between business units?

Mandar Zope: [00:07:19] So every business unit actually has to go through a whole configuration process to set up their business unit so that they can use their applications. And so actually onboarding a business unit is a project on its own, which takes some time. 

Neil Benson: [00:07:35] So are these applications then you've, you're onboarding tens or probably thousands of users, maybe even tens of thousands of users at once. what kind of user adoption approach do you take when you have to train and communicate with that number of people?

Mandar Zope: [00:07:49] So we actually have done. We have created Power App for even using how to use our applications. So we ended up creating a suite of a canvas application, which basically not only tells you information about what the program is, who the related point of contacts are, or even who are the related people you need to reach out to for your particular business unit. And on top of that, then all the different applications, which this program has four different personas and tutorials on how to actually set up yourself and start to use those applications. Yeah that was pretty nice to see even using canvas apps for that.

Neil Benson: [00:08:34] That's an approach I haven't heard of before. So you're building a canvas app for the onboarding experience to show users how to navigate or where to get resources, how to use it. That's a really neat idea.

Mandar Zope: [00:08:45] And, it's actually one of the most used apps right now.

Neil Benson: [00:08:48] Oh, the the onboarding application is the most used one? that doesn't surprise me. So many people to communicate with .

Are these Applications mandatory that people have to use? Are they optional? Are there workarounds that people could dodge if they don't want to use them? I'm interested in how you're encouraging user adoption.

Mandar Zope: [00:09:03] One of the goal for the company leadership was actually to not have siloed applications all over the world in different business units and try to bring them all onto this one platform. The idea is basically just to when a BU, business unit, enrolls into this program, they start using these applications and we have done several other features to get built, a lot of features to even make that process pretty easier.

If they had any previous application, let's say even sometimes there are cases when they had just Excel to do that stuff. We ended up building import features a data import feature so that they can set up their BU and then try to import their data into our new existing system. And we have tried to automate it, almost everything using Power Automate, which was actually one of really cool features we ended up accidentally ended up building because we were having issues where you were trying to onboard multiple business units at the same time. And majority of the time developers were spending time on helping those BU's used to properly import the data in. So we ended up just creating some features inside our model driven applications., for people to drop their files.

And they will actually get an email response right away if their data, whatever they're submitting is in the right format or wrong. And then basically became like a self service process rather than involvement of a person every single time.

Neil Benson: [00:10:39] That's cool. So it's almost as if you've built a custom data import utility for all these system administrators around the world to upload their data.

Mandar Zope: [00:10:46] Yep. And also since the configuration for a certain business unit was so complex, we ended up. Features in there so that when a person from a certain BU tries to initiate the input process, they only get the template, which is created for them in a way so that they don't accidentally end up writing something, which they were not supposed to.

Neil Benson: [00:11:09] That's an interesting approach rather than just consume whatever data source they've got in whatever format they've got. You're giving them a template and asking them to transform their data and populate your template so you can consume ita bit easier.

Mandar Zope: [00:11:21] Yes ,  I was just saying it has saved us a lot of time. Not only for us, but even for a lot of solution owners and people across the project where they don't necessarily have to get involved for every small ask.

Neil Benson: [00:11:35] Yeah, that's a good approach. And tell me about the type of team on the Slalom side or on the customer side. How many people are involved in building these applications and helping roll them out?

Mandar Zope: [00:11:46] So the team is actually pretty big.  Initially when we started, we almost had 20 plus people There were three major teams. One was the Power App team, which was, we call it the build team, which mainly focuses on creating the Power Apps, canvas apps, and model driven applications. Then we also have a separate reporting team, which basically only focuses on power BI, but even they have some Power Apps, which they ended up building for themselves to work with.

Yeah we totally almost have a count of 14 to 15 people right now, and solution owners for both those teams from the client's side.

Neil Benson: [00:12:26] That sounds like a pretty small team on the client side. Just a few solution owners, reasonably big team on the Slalom side. Is that right?

Mandar Zope: [00:12:34] From the client side, mainly we ended up bringing a lot of folks on the deployment side of it. Working with the BUs and onboarding process because that's where actually we needed a lot of help. From the Slalom side, we focused mainly on creating the products. And then on Slalom side, we also have other folks which are working with the deployment teams to actually just start the onboarding process and get them into the program.

Neil Benson: [00:12:59] How have you found it in terms of managing environments? Applications getting users and their right security groups, security roles all of that kind of enterprise infrastructure stuff on the Microsoft 365 admin portal. I find that pretty challenging a lot on my projects. And they're much smaller than yours.

How has it been working with this global energy company?

Mandar Zope: [00:13:20] It's actually has been actually one of the challenging things we had to do because. When it came to security, they had so many different layers of security. We had to put in through that. Contractors cannot see anything which is being used in the program. Or there were some joint ventures in different business units where they want didn't want the data to be accessed by anyone else who's doesn't belong to the company. So we had to build a pretty robust security model and we ended up using the same Active Directory groups to set up from as part of the onboarding process as well.  Just get them all into that one Active Directory group based on their personas, give the security roles as needed.

 That's how we approach it. And the current new features actually work pretty smoothly. I have to add that through because you sync the security role with Active Directory group, which is pretty easy to do that right now was previously we have to always manually do it.

Neil Benson: [00:14:21] So you're building Canvas Applications on top of Dataverse, which that allows you to use the Dataverse security roles, business units, all that kind of security infrastructure?

Mandar Zope: [00:14:31] Yes, exactly.

Neil Benson: [00:14:32] Okay. I think a lot of people turn to canvas apps and don't automatically think of Dataverse. We think of building canvas apps on top of SharePoint or on top of lists or top of Excel or something else. But I think, when you combine it with Dataverse, it gives you a very rich infrastructure underneath things like the. synchronizing with Outlook or using all the security infrastructure. So glad to see you've taken that approach.

Mandar Zope: [00:14:56] Yes. Yeah. We have used Dataverse extensively, so many features and we are not only using canvas apps, but we are using a lot of model driven applications as well, mainly for different personas for people who are actually into the app a lot, but that has actually opened up a lot of other features .

I always am remembered off our old Dynamics 365 days where this whole application just ends up. If you open up the contact form, which is pretty big, and you end up translating those into model driven applications right now, but you also get the opportunity on the same site for making your canvas app as clean as possible, which previously we didn't have that opportunity.

We used to always end up creating those sections and hide and unhide them based on needed, but canvas app totally changes that game now.

Neil Benson: [00:15:45] Yeah, it's always interesting to see how people take a big enterprise portfolio of applications and do you break them up into small applications that are very discreet kind of task oriented applications? Or do you deliver a custom enterprise application, which has got all the features and functionality built into it and then expect users to know how to navigate it and you have to train them on all those features? So yeah, it's interesting to hear the kind of trade-offs that you've made. Which way do you think you're leaning? Have you got a suite of discrete applications at the moment?

Mandar Zope: [00:16:15] Yes, we have a suite of discreet Applications at this moment. Mainly the way we are using canvas apps is because the canvas apps are mainly designed in a way so that they can as simple as possible and no training involved so that any person doesn't get intimidated by the interface and as if they don't have to even think what they're looking at, it just becomes that simple.

And the other thing actually, I like to add is we started involving design engineers from the very beginning so that they can create the customer journeys, not only with the solution architect, but also with the solution owner for all these cases to create this whole user experience so that it is as simple as possible.

Neil Benson: [00:16:58]   Were you doing prototyping in canvas apps prior to building the production applications? Or are you. Just doing someuser interface workshops. How did that approach work 

 

Mandar Zope: [00:17:07] Yeah initially at the start of the project, we involved the design engineers to actually create those journeys and thenstart the initial prototyping of all the screens and how the journey would be. And then the canvas apps developers and any developer model driven app developer had a good place to start with and they don't have to worry too much about 

Neil Benson: [00:17:28] That's interesting. It sounds like you're doing some prototyping on maybe on paper or some kind of wire framing tool before then translating those designs into a Power App. Is that right?

Mandar Zope: [00:17:37] Yes. We were doing a lot of wire frames. Yes.

Neil Benson: [00:17:39] Okay, cool. I've heard some people suggest that canvas apps are so easy to build, especially model driven apps, all your forms and your views are there that we can do prototyping inside Power Apps, but I still think that's quite a lot to setup and people get the impression that the app is almost done once they see the user interface and that's not always true.  And so I think there's a real place for prototyping on Post-it notes and sketching things out on a poster paper, or using a wireframe tool to do that rather than trying to do it in a Power App.

Mandar Zope: [00:18:10] If the customer journey or the journey for that user is extremely small, then it actually makes sense. But if you know that you really have a lot of ifs and thens along the journey and you have really, it's a pretty long user journey. So it actually ends up time saving while just  wireframing it rather than canvas apps.

Neil Benson: [00:18:32] Are you using a particular approach in terms of a methodology when building the applications or have you just I don't know if Slalom as a standard methodology these days.

Mandar Zope: [00:18:41] Agile is what we are using to follow all these ceremonies, backlog grooming, sprintcreate your sprint user story backlog, and then.

Neil Benson: [00:18:52] Yeah, I know I worked with some great scrum masters whenever I was at Slalom, a couple of them actually from the Seattle office because we didn't have enough resources in the Southern California office when I've worked there. So it's great to hear that tradition is being kept up.

Mandar Zope: [00:19:04] It is. I have learned so much about Agile in this project.

Neil Benson: [00:19:07]  Any other particular challenges that your customer had to overcome or your team had to overcome in terms of the scale of this particular project?

Mandar Zope: [00:19:14] Initially when I joined, we had so many features, we were building up, but we were not pushing to test quite frequently. And that was because we didn't have any pipelines created, we ended up utilizing Azure DevOps to create the pipelines and then start pushing the builds every single day .So that what was happening was if we do it at the end of the week, or maybe once or twice in a week, the QA person used to just get  so many user stories, they have to look up and there will be like, I'm not sure if I'm going to finish it in few days. But creating these pipelines really helped us big time. Now, any developer just runs a build whenever they've finished their tasks. QA can just start right away and they don't have to wait.

Neil Benson: [00:19:58] Yeah, that's something that I try and stress on my teams quite a lot is: we want to be doing testing as often as we can, as early as we can in each sprint. Say you've got a 10 day sprint, you don't want to be developing for nine days and then throwing it, everything at your QA people to try and test on the last day of the sprint, that's just never going to work. So I love your idea of doing daily builds, get stuff into our QA environment, as early, as often as we can.

Mandar Zope: [00:20:23] And the other thing which has changed now is also, we have so many tools in our hand, like previously for stuff where you have to create a custom workflow or a plugin, this is not going to be done in one or two days, but now with tools like Power Automate. And even all those low-code features the amount of stuff which a developer actually gets done is pretty faster.

And you have to speed up the whole process from the QA side as well, because it's something new for us as well.

Neil Benson: [00:20:54] Have you got an investment in test automation as well? Or are you still doing a lot of manual feature testing?

Mandar Zope: [00:20:59] Mostly manual feature testing, but we are also using the built-in test tool, which comes to Power Apps as much as we can.

Neil Benson: [00:21:08] Yeah, I always try and get my test automation folks to maybe run a sprint or two behind the scrum team so that they're, hopefully their features are reasonably stable and we're not, we're trying to automate the tests for them, so that then we can run a full set of regression tests  every day or couple of times a day. Make sure anything that we're building hasn't broken, anything we'd built the past.  

What type of scale of data are you playing with when you've got a hundred thousand users?  Have you got hundreds of gigabytes in your Dataverse environments or have you managed to keep the amount of data quite low?

Mandar Zope: [00:21:40] The data is quite low. The company we're working with is actually, they have tons of data capacity already purchased. I believe it's in TBs, but I don't think for our suite of applications, we're not gonna use that much space. It's extremely low.

Neil Benson: [00:22:00] Okay at least you've dodged some complexity there by keeping it reasonably small. I've seen some pretty small implementations, in terms of number of users, 10, 20, maybe a hundred users, but they're using gigabytes and gigabytes of data. And it just build a very complex system. If you've got a small number of users and a large amount of data  and it can get pretty hairy. 

Mandar Zope: [00:22:19] The only place where we end up getting data is if they try to import images into the system, which in our case is fairly low, but that's the only place where you're actually ended up using a lot of data.

Neil Benson: [00:22:33] Are you offloading images on to a file server somewhere? Or are you just letting Dataverse take care of that with its file store?

Mandar Zope: [00:22:39] In our use case we don't actually have that much of cases where we do need to find an alternative. Currently we are pretty on the lower scale of using the capacity. So we haven't been doing it.

Neil Benson: [00:22:52] I'm interested if you've got a team that's been engaged for a year or two, rolling out these enterprise applications, obviously that can take quite a long time. The platform is continually evolving while you're developing the applications. We saw at Microsoft Business Applications Summit last week a demonstration of a new ability to be able to load a canvas app or canvas page into a model driven application. Enhancements and innovations like that, how does your team manage to consume these new features or do you just try and concentrate on what's in production and what was available whenever you designed the applications and ignore what's coming? Are you, how do you manage to balance that?

Mandar Zope: [00:23:30] No, we always try to be sure. We keep an eye on all the new features. I'm guessing you can hear the train.

Yeah, we try to keep an eye on all the new features as much as we can. And we've  gotten lucky sometimes where we were trying to solve a problem. Apparently a feature just shows up that, Oh, you can solve this problem right now for like connection references or even components.

We started using components early last year and that it has been pretty helpful in most of the cases. And to your previous point of actually the current user experience. I can't actually wait for that. I have used a lot of canvas apps inside model driven applications recently, which always reminds me of that. When is that new feature coming in so that I can actually, I don't want to have to.

Neil Benson: [00:24:19] It's been an interesting journey.  I remember years and years ago, embedding iframes into Dynamics 365 forms to try and give a better user experience. Maybe over overcome some of the shortcomings in the forums in Dynamics 365. Now we've got a plethora of choices. We've got virtual entities to bring data in from other places, PCF controls, soon we'll be able to embed canvas pages as well as canvas components.  We're spoiled for choice these days.

Mandar Zope: [00:24:48] Yeah, no it's an effort actually, just to make sure you choose the right things at the right moment.

Neil Benson: [00:24:53] I don't want to call them mistakes, but looking back, have you made any design decisions that you wish you'd done differently?

Mandar Zope: [00:24:58] Not really, I can't think of any, obviously just the performance wise, we ended up creating some improvements, which pre COVID we didn't see some performance issues. When COVID hit a lot of folks in some of the business units, they were using VPNs and all that stuff. And there were cases where the canvas apps were just not loading faster. And it ended up improving our apps even better because we have to actually just clean up and make the app loading and getting onto the first screen extremely fasterwe learned a lot from that as well. 

Neil Benson: [00:25:34] So that's interesting. I remember, many years ago when we were dealing with Dynamics 365 particularly in a global deployment where you've got to plant your flag somewhere. Your data centers, US West or US East and global users have all got to connect to that data center. So if you're on the other side of the world, the experience, isn't great, with a lot of latency. I'm interested to hear that, things with Power Apps, these days are a lot better. I think Microsoft made huge investments. You've found a lot of performance improvements you can make in terms of your application. development and the code that you're using to try and improve that experience as well.

Mandar Zope: [00:26:07] And right now, initially when I started the project, I wasn't aware of, you don't necessarily have to spin up an environment for every other region, until I spoke with Microsoft and found out that every environment, even if it's in North America, I will give you the same performance right now.

From even Europe or some other part of Australia. And that was actually pretty nice to see the platform go to this levels of performance wise, like where you necessarily are not based on the data center.

Neil Benson: [00:26:38] Yeah. I think the tyranny of time zones is gradually shrinking. I don't know what they've been able to do with the laws of physics, but it's getting better for remote users. 

The type of results that your client has been able to achieve, or is there anything publicly you can feel confident about talking about it?

Mandar Zope: [00:26:55] Basically the main goal was to not have several siloed applications being used in different business units all over the world. And the client actually is successful now to onboard every single business unit using the same applications and data is captured at one single place where people can take action on.

Neil Benson: [00:27:17] So you finally got a harmonized global view of what's going on in their business. 

 What other lessons have you and your team learned along the way? You've talked about the application performance, making sure that pages load fast and the optimizations you've done there. Anything else thatis a real lesson that you'll take forward into future projects you can share with our audience as well?

Mandar Zope: [00:27:36] Yeah, I would actually encourage everyone to get involved, involve a design engineer from the very beginning. It really helps a lot, especially if you are trying to create a canvas application because it's hard in the beginning to actually as a developer sometimes to take the whole process or understand the whole customer journey from the very beginning. Mostly just the solution owner and the solution architect they can have those things, but if you actually involve the design engineer and then visualize it to everyone with some wire frames, then it becomes extremely faster for everyone to kickstart everything.

Neil Benson: [00:28:18] So by design engineer, you mean a user experience consultant who's, built those wire frames for you, knows all the application design principles that are going to deliver a great user interfaces. Is that right?

Mandar Zope: [00:28:29] Yes exactly.

Neil Benson: [00:28:31] So I think that's been a weak spot in Microsoft business applications development teams. Before none of us have had to really think about user experience design very much.

Maybe if you're doing portals. Or you're heavy into canvas apps, but I think those of us coming from a traditional model driven application experience, we didn't have to think about it too much. There weren't too many options. So it's great to see you're pulling in those experts from within the Slalom practices that they've got those UX and design capabilities too.

Mandar Zope: [00:29:02] Yes,  model driven apps as you said, they have always been so simple. You don't necessarily have to think too much, but when canvas applications, do have that opportunity for you to actually create that experience for the end user.

Neil Benson: [00:29:19] And does that apply to the Power BI reports and dashboards you're building as well? Did the UX people get involved in those too?

Mandar Zope: [00:29:26] Yes, we did involve the UX folks  with our Power BI reports to some extent.

Neil Benson: [00:29:31] Mandar, it's been a fascinating story, a chat about your energy client. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us before you go? How can we keep in touch with you and people want to follow your work, the best place?

Mandar Zope: [00:29:41] You can always reach out to me on LinkedIn. You can just search, be my name Mandar Zope or on Twitter. My Twitter handle is M Z O P.

Neil Benson: [00:29:50] Great. We'll include links to those in our show notes. And I just wanted to say a quick congratulations. I believe you were recognized by Microsoft recently, by the FastTrack team, as one of their FastTrack Recognized Solution Architects. 

Mandar Zope: [00:30:02] It's pretty nice to get recognized for all the effort. And the whole process was actually even a better experience for just to go through the whole process of getting a FastTrack nomination and then interviewing with the PowerCAT team. It was fun.

Neil Benson: [00:30:19] Did you learn anything along the way? Where they were they asking you tough interview questions you had to research beforehand?

Mandar Zope: [00:30:24] I didn't prepare at all. basically I just made sure that I have some architecture diagrams I have created like a simple PowerPoint of some of the projects I have done and just went with it was actually just ended up having a lot of conversation and it was just a fun chat.

Neil Benson: [00:30:42] So you just brought along some evidence and some of the projects and the deliverables you've worked on and then discuss those with the team.

Mandar Zope: [00:30:49] Yes. Majority of those discussion was just as if, like, how did you approach this kind of, how did you approach security? How was your custom code?

Neil Benson: [00:31:00] If somebody in the audience wanted to participate in the FastTrack recognition process, how do they get started? How do they get nominated for that?

Mandar Zope: [00:31:08] I heard about this process from our partner channel and someone from Slalom asked me to nominate. And when I went to the nomination link, which I was given to, I basically had to submit all the list of projects and who was the customer, and what kind of a project you did and basically just submitted my application.

And after some time I found out that, okay, I was accepted and then this interview process started. And then after the interview process, the results came in and then I found out that, okay, I was actually selected.

Neil Benson: [00:31:45] Is there any relationship between FastTrack and the Microsoft certifications? Do you have to have a solution architect certification and Power Platform Dynamics 365 in order to be nominated or be successful in your nomination through FastTrack?

Mandar Zope: [00:31:58] Yes, there are actually some requirements right now that you need to have at least two years of experience with Power Apps and a minimum of five years of experience with the Dynamics. And also you need to pass PL600. Back then, it was, for me, it was MB600. I think. Now they have changed it to PL600.

And the other also one of the key requirements this program has is that you need to be involved in the project where the PowerCAT team was managing. 

Neil Benson: [00:32:29] Not just the FastTrack team, but it has to be a PowerCAT team project as well. I didn't know that.  Mandar I really appreciate you sharing your experience with us. Best of luck on the rest of the project. It sounds like you're not done yet. Good luck with that. so much for joining us.

Thanks Mandar for joining me on the Amazing Applications show. It was great to hear that the Microsoft practice at slalom is growing again. 

Some of the key takeaways for me were the, the idea of using a Power App to aid a user onboarding and adoption. That was a neat idea. 

Others were using Dataverse as a backend data store if you're going to have more than a couple of hundred users so that you can use Dataverse's security infrastructure, and finally getting a user experience designer involved, especially if you're anything like me with underdeveloped user interface design skills.

Remember you can get show notes for this episode at Customery.com/034. 

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