In the rapid transition to remote working, organisations have largely focused on collaboration and business continuity. What comes next will be a shift in focus to long-term adoption of agile working and productivity.
Organisations that leverage Microsoft 365 apps automation to optimise processes will see themselves in a better position to drive productivity and output.
Microsoft 365 is more than just Teams and Office apps like Word and Excel, it also includes very powerful apps that individually can perform enhance specific functions but when combined they can radically transform how organisations operate both on a technological and cultural levels.
Over the years, organisations can amass a multitude of processes for a manner of tasks. We find that some customers have current processes that use outdated and inappropriate tools that add layers of unnecessary complexity. They may have multiple systems and a reliance on spreadsheets, with no centralisation or aggregation of data. Some simply don’t have the tools, expertise or time they need to analyse their processes and have a great deal of duplication and multiple versions of the truth to contend with.
Common complaints include:
- Laborious scheduling and difficult logistics
- Poor use of inappropriate IT tools and convoluted processes
- Unconnected and underused data
- Unnecessarily heavy ‘manual’ workload
- Compensatory but complex guidance
- Strained goodwill and morale
Microsoft 365 as a solution to automation
Microsoft 365 apps, such as Power Apps Portals, Dynamics 365, Common Data Services (CDS) and SharePoint can provide a robust automation solution to support a range of requirements that will transform your organisation’s current systems, including:
- A public-facing interface system
- Apps for collecting findings on the go
- Scheduling and management system
- Business Intelligence solution for reporting against data
- Storage and secure access and collaboration of documents and files
The technologies have independent functions that perform specific tasks but once brought together form sophisticated links in a chain that transforms how a process works, changing the user experience and boosting productivity by creating efficiencies in the process.
This is a high-level example of the Microsoft Power Platform.
Microsoft 365 technology powering automation
This is the platform on which many user interfaces are built. PowerApps allows you to build customised applications that can be used on any device. It provides data about a given process outcome, project updates or schedules as and when required as well as display dashboards, progress updates and more.
Dynamics 365 is comprised of several services, many of which may not be required for a scheduling automation solution. A solution could be created using custom code or in SharePoint or PowerApps (which could save cost in licensing in the long term) there would be significant increase in the upfront development cost and be considerably more difficult to scale and manage internally.
Dynamics 365 has an out-of-the-box industry Schedule and Case management tool. These services are also natively stored in the CDS and can be directly accessed by any of the other services and tools.
Common Data Service (CDS)
This is considered a fundamental technical requirement for any scalable and flexible solution. The CDS is a relational database that is the default storage for Dynamics 365 services. However, it can be run independently from Dynamics 365. The CDS stores multiple ‘entities’, each of which is a table that contains multiple fields. Each entity can be related to another in a variety of ways. Additionally, the CDS entities can have business rules assigned to automatically transform data, hide/show fields and provide data dependencies.
These are similar to how a traditional SQL database functions, but with a couple of key differences. The CDS is incredibly well integrated and accessible from any Microsoft or third-party services. Also, CDS is less complicated to modify and administrate allowing your employees to run and modify the solution without specialised knowledge.
CDS can be used as a single source of truth which provides a clean, reliable and secure data source that can be accessed from anywhere, inside or outside the organisation when required, as well as aggregate data from multiple sources.
The benefit of using the CDS as an single source of truth is uniform data that can be reported on easily by users via a tool of their choosing (Excel, Power BI, QlikView etc.) and the data can be effectively leveraged across the solution, for example using references in the CDS to automatically tag related documents in SharePoint.
SharePoint underpins the storage system for Office 365 Cloud Services. It provides a flexible system for creating secure, scalable, auditable, and version-controlled document libraries and sites. Any documents and files uploaded can be stored and related to a specific project or reference.
The benefit of using the CDS as a single source of truth is uniform data that can be reported on easily by users via a tool of their choosing (Excel, Power BI, QlikView, etc.) and the data can be effectively leveraged across the solution, for example using references in the CDS to automatically tag related documents in SharePoint.
Microsoft Flow can be used to deliver an additional level of automation to processes by using it as an intuitive process-flow like interface that can be handed over and modified in the future by your own employees. Flow can be connected to thousands of Microsoft and third-party services. Allowing the automation of processes, updates, retrieving information, sending emails, notifications and many more in almost any combination. This provides a very flexible automation tool that can be easily understood and followed.
The PowerApps Portals provide the functionality required for external users to access and input into a solution. It provides a secure public website from which data can be uploaded allowing organisations to customise the information collected and securely store it in the CDS and SharePoint.
Teams is a highly adopted collaboration tool in the Office 365 suite. As part of an automation solution, Teams provides a mobile collaboration platform for users to work from, giving them access to documents and files, instant messaging, and audio and video conferencing. It also acts as the gateway to integrated Microsoft 365 apps like Planner, PowerBI, Office 365 and Outlook.
Power BI is a Business Intelligence platform, where reports and dashboards are built from aggregated data sources, and in real-time as well. Power BI would be the tool of choice for generating reports for the ongoing monitoring and operational management for any processes.
How to get started
A recommended place to begin is to find out exactly where you are right now. By fully understanding your current situation you can determine underlying issues and identify what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
By conducting a discovery workshop with Trustmarque, we can show you what technologies are available and how they can be used in certain situations. We will make some high-level suggestions on how your organisation could automate and streamline your processes and methods of working and give your workforce modern business tools and become a more productive as a result.
A recent customer said:
Trustmarque are a great team to work with, we were very impressed with the knowledge across the team and the capacity to work through problems.
To find out more about automation using Microsoft 365 or how you can adopt elements of it to streamline your processes and transform you users’ experiences, complete the form below and we will be in touch to arrange a meeting or a discovery workshop.