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Demystifying the Common Data Service & PowerApps – Hackathon Summary

On the 28th of July, Those Dynamics Guys held a Hackathon to help people demystify the Common Data Service and PowerApps. The goal of the Hackathon was to educate the audience in various elements of the Common Data Service and PowerApps and then provide them with a task that required various levels of technical and business skills to complete.

The hackathon was timed in such a way that it took place right after Microsoft Inspire and The Business Applications Summit, where various elements of the Microsoft technology were focused on. The Microsoft Power Platform got a particularly large amount of focus due to the nature of the product and how it is perceived to change the very way people within the Microsoft family (Employees, partners, ISVs) work.

There is unfortunately no way for me to make this a short post, buckle up…. This will get interesting.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with terms such as “PowerApps” and “Power Platform”, allow me to take this moment to briefly educate you. For those of you that are familiar… Skip the section full of product definitions and go on to the Hackathon bit.

The Section Full Of Product Definitions

Microsoft Power Platform is the term used to describe the Microsoft Business Application platform which includes PowerApps, PowerBI, Flow, the Common Data Service (CDS) and a series of gateways & connectors. This platform is used to customise both Office 365 and Dynamics 365 and utilises Microsoft Azure. For the less technical people, it is a platform that enables the creation of relevant applications across all areas of a business and promotes their utilisation by all types of users.

PowerApps is the term used to describe a service within the Microsoft Power Platform that enables users the ability to build and use business applications that connect you to data and work across various devices without the need for expensive software development. Basically, you can build AWESOME looking applications that work on all your devices and connect you to the data and functionality you need in order to do your job more effectively.

The Hackathon bit

On a very sunny Saturday just over 60 people from Microsoft, Various partners, users and students gathered at the Microsoft Reactor in Shoreditch to learn, teach and evangelise all about Microsoft PowerApps and the Common Data Service. They came early and enthusiastic about getting to grips with this amazing technology.

The participants were split into teams that were branded by a certain colour: green, Red, Pink, Yellow, Brown, Orange, Blue and Purple. The participants were split based on a skills survey that was filled in prior to the event. Unfortunately, some people did not arrive, which left some teams with only four people. A MASSIVE thanks to those that did arrive and give up their Saturday!

Each team was assigned a Power Platform environment with PowerApps, PowerBI and Flow enabled, as well as a configured instance of the Common data service that was fully populated with data. There was also an example of a model driven application that was linked to the demo scenario positioned below.

The Presentations

The teams were taken through various elements of the technology by some amazing folks from Microsoft. Bruce Nicholson, Anna Waight, David Reid and Craig Bird. They absolutely wowed the attendees with the Microsoft roadmap, some amazing technology and kick-ass demonstrations of what the tech could do.

My partners in crime, Will Dorrington and Kyle Hill did some fantastic demonstrations of what could be done with Canvass Apps and Model Driven Apps, which gave the audience an idea of what was possible when utilising Microsoft Power Platform to create business relevant applications.

Anna and Bruce did a stunning presentation opening up the event, talking about the Power Platform Roadmap and how it fits into the different partner communities such as partner and user. The two of them really set the mood and tone of a very interactive ad exciting day.

I took the teams through a scenario based solution that surfaced data and functionality to various user types utilising all elements of the Power Platform. The demonstration of this process can be found on the PowerApps Bank.

David Reid came on next with a brilliant presentation on the Common Data Service and how it is technically structured, as well as how to add new entities, views, fields and more. David also dipped his toes into how the CDS surfaces data within a Model Driven App. I’m sure David’s brain just oozes excellence! Download David’s presentation HERE.

Kyle came on next with a pretty sweet looking model driven app and spoke about how the data could be surfaced from the CDS within a functionally rich user interface that promotes process driven interactions with the data. Poor Kyle was massively jet lagged after just getting back from BusApps summit, so we had to heckle him as much as possible. You can download the CDS Data Structure and Model Driven App HERE. You can download instructions on how to setup your own environment with all of the relevant data HERE.

Next on were Craig and Will, which was a riot! They explored the deep functionality available within canvass apps and how data could be surfaced from CDS as well as LOADS of other data sources. This was coupled with some pretty alternative functionality, shown in the form of different connectors to different apps and data sources. There is an example Road Side Assist Canvass App that is connected to the CDS which can be downloaded HERE.

The concept was around Road Side Assistance and how you could use services within Power Platform to handle a breakdown process. The concept was very light touch due to the fact that the participants didn’t have a lot of time to form a bond and work together as a team. This is also why a large amount of the configuration was also pre-built. Road Side Assist was also selected because it’s a common scenario and most participants understood the concept as well as how the process could work, without having too much explained to them.

The Judging Criteria

Based on what was demonstrated, the goals were set for the afternoon where the participants had to deliver an innovative solution that worked with the data structure provided and show how Microsoft Power Platform could assist in the management of vehicle breakdown calls. There were two key criteria that the judges were looking for:

  1. Team work: How well did the members of the team work together to generate a cohesive story and solution.
  2. Innovation: What did teams do to build on the provided structure? How did they leverage the platform?

A massive thanks to the Hitachi Solutions team who came through and did the judging.

Sajeel Afzal

David Singh

Jesmond Giordmaina

Let’s hack Stuff!!!

The teams had lunch and got cracking during the lunch break on networking, planning and even starting the build on some of their solutions. After lunch the teams only had 3 hours to build something amazing… which THEY DID! In fact, some of the stuff that came out of the different groups was amazing. The Microsoft and Those Dynamics guys team members were roaming the floor acting as support for all questions, both technical and non-technical. The teams really put us to the test with a number of questions… Which means that the boundaries of the product were really pushed!

There were some REALLY awesome apps that were created with a massive focus on utilising the canvass apps to surface data and functionality. All the teams had very well thought out stories and themes for their apps, which made the judging really tough.

We saw everything from bright pink user interfaces (WHICH WAS AWESOME) to an actual integration to the DVLA (WTF…that’s crazy). Teams were using all sorts of combinations like Microsoft Flow, PowerBI, Microsoft Forms, SharePoint, Twilio SMS and loads more. Basically, it was a tech fest! 😀

Ultimately, there was a lot going on in the room. Lots of chatting, disagreeing (in that cuddly, healthy way), lots of tech talk and many flow diagrams going on.

Speed Dating for Apps

After the countdown clock had completed its cycle each team then had 5 min on stage to show us their awesomeness. Each team showed no fear, got up and spoke about what they had done. They told the judges their story and showed us evidence of what they had built. I gotta say, most of them put me to shame from a demo point of view. It was just amazing to see all these proud new “App Parents” showing us how cool their creations were. I almost shed a few tears of joy 😀

Without handing out participation medals, I need to say that each team smashed it! Each team had both similar functionality and functionality that really stood out from the rest of the teams. Some were technically stronger than others and some had a better story.

You can download each teams model & canvass applications from the Those Dynamics Guys PowerApp bank!

Wrap-up, high fives and Prizes

After all the presentations were done Sajeel Afzal from Hitachi Solutions, our primary sponsor, came up and spoke a bit about the magic he had seen happen in the room and how proud he and Hitachi were to be part of such a collaborative event. He pointed out that no matter if you were a partner, user or student, everyone came together to participate in a very cool event, which is what Hitachi Solutions is about.

After a VERY tough decision the judges finally decided on who the winner was. Taking into account the two key criteria, the judges selected the RED team as the winners. They were selected because they worked together as a cohesive unit, they had a strong plan, they had a great story, they were able to present a solution that utilised the Power Platform in an innovative way through the creation of a VERY strong canvass app and Model driven app. The red team also had three students in the team that had never even seen the product stack before, which just goes to show that the citizen developer tag given to PowerApps is a real thing. Great job RED team.

The red team won a Philips hue starter set each and a sweet award which can be used as a paper wright, door stop, weapon and many other useful things.

There were two other awards that were given out to two members of the blue team who the judges felt were incredibly collaborative and worked hard at bringing their teams together. Incidentally, this team had the highest number of members… So a great job to:

Ryan Mclean

Laura Graham Brown

And finally, the social award went to Marcus Mattus for his incredible contribution on social media and getting our event out there to the rest of the world.

Ultimately, what we were hoping to achieve during the hackathon was to create that “Penny Drop” moment for all types of users, which was to realise that this platform is so robust and dynamic; the sky is the limit here. Together, we can create almost anything! We don’t all need to be software developers to do this. People from all backgrounds can get stuck in here and enjoy it. It is as simple or as complicated as your knowledge and skill level allows.

 

THE PUB

We finished off the day at a pub in Shoreditch called Flight Club where many delicious pints were consumed and many high fives and handshakes were portioned out amongst the participants for a job well done.

A Big Thanks is in Order

To each and every participant, thank you so much for giving up your Saturday to come and play with technology and learn about how epic the Microsoft product stack really is!

THANK YOU to Hitachi Solutions UK for sponsoring this event. We could not have done this without you. You were amazing in fronting the cash needed to do this, putting up with my nonsense and must rolling with the event because you believe it grows the community and the perception of the product and how it can be used. You are amazing!

To The Cognitive Group… Thanks for the delicious drinkies and snacks at the bar at the very end. They were needed! AND for the amazing VR headset that went to Ryan… he loves it!!

Anna, Bruce, David and Craig from Microsoft, you were unbelievable! Thank you so much for giving up your time to us and for sharing all of your amazingness. It was amazing having you there representing such a strong brand.

The Microsoft Reactor team; a massive thanks for all of your hard work and for helping us through the event process. You were fantastic, the venue was fantastic and you were incredibly hospitable. Amazing job.

To the TDG Team… great job boys! Hugs! 😀

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chrishuntingford


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