How To Become An Expert In Business Applications


A question I often get asked at conferences or via LinkedIn is how did I become an expert in Dynamics/Business Applications. The answer is pretty simple. I was on a bootcamp for Microsoft CRM 1.0 beta and have been tinkering with it ever since, focusing mainly on doing crazy things with Workflow. That bootcamp was back in 2003 and, to show how long ago that was, here is a screenshot of a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculator they provided us with the biggest competitor at the time, Saleslogix (Salesforce was not even a blip on Microsoft’s radar back in 2003.

Everything was on-premise back then so, as an implementer, you also had to know how to set up SQL Server, Exchange and all the other server components Microsoft CRM relied on. We have come a long way. The good news is if you are looking to become an expert in Business Applications today, you can do it much faster than the 16 years it has taken me.

How The Game Has Changed

It used to be the case that, to be an expert in Microsoft/Dynamics CRM/365 you jumped on board with a version of the product and then just incrementally updated your knowledge as the new version came out. The version cycle used to be every 2-3 years, back in the old days, so it was very easy to keep up with all things Sales, Support, and Marketing. Then, to meet the expectations of the SaaS market, Microsoft changed the way they released software. Firstly, around five years ago, they committed to an annual release with a six-monthly mini-release. This slowly evolved into a six-monthly/unscheduled release cycle and now, for the online version of the product, it is a continual release.

How does this change the game? Because it is simply impossible to keep up to date with everything that is happening with Business Applications and the Power Platform. The pace of innovation is too fast. Moreover, much of the knowledge gained over the years is now redundant (in my case Workflows are becoming less and less relevant so it is time to carve out a new niche).

Let me state this very clearly: The MVPs who used to know almost everything there was to know about Microsoft/Dynamics CRM/365 are, at best, experts in one area or module and have a broad understanding of the rest. Business Applications has, for the purposes of understanding all of it, moved beyond the Technological Singularity.

The Opportunity For You

With no one being an expert in all things Business Applications, and new additions coming out literally all the time, anyone can grab hold of an area of the ecosystem and become the expert.

To highlight an example, I am going to pick on a friend of mine, Elaiza Benitez. Now Elaiza is no newcomer to Dynamics, she has been blogging about it since 2014 but, in my opinion, what has catapulted her to fame is her YouTube series #WTF (What The Flow). When I was at UG Summit EMEA earlier this year, Elaiza was mentioned in presentations and people asked me about her, and it was all because of #WTF.

#WTF was only started a year ago and exclusively focuses on tips and tricks for Microsoft Flow. Her recent passion is linking Flic buttons to Flow for creative and practical applications.

Anyone could have dug into the details of Flow and made a name for themselves. The barriers of entry were low because Flow requires practically zero coding but it was Elaiza who took the plunge and chose to own this piece of Business Application real estate and bring it to YouTube. She was the one who chose to devote the time to understand it and devise ways to make it accessible to the rest of us. Similarly with Flic buttons; to connect a Flic button to Flow requires zero code. The immense value Elaiza brings is in coming up with entertaining, meaningful and practical examples demonstrating the value of this elegant technology and inspiring others to improve the world with it.

OK, enough of this fanboy adoration of Elaiza, what does this mean to you? It means you can do the same. There are so many products being released begging for someone to take them up and show how amazing they are and how they can transform the world.

What Products Are Begging For Experts?

Here are some examples of products in the ecosystem begging for someone to grab them with both hands and show the rest of us how it is done:

  • IoT: The barriers of setting this up are reasonably high with Azure subscriptions and setup but this means whoever takes this ground will be unassailable
  • Talent: From what I understand it is not complex and should be fairly easy to get across. It has hooks into both F&O and Dynamics 365 CE (or whatever the new name is for the CRM modules) so it is open to being attacked from both sides of the Business Applications fence.

STOP PRESS: The gracious Megan Walker has pointed out that there is a Talent MVP who reigns as the queen of Talent, this being Malin Donoso Martnes. Apologies for this oversight Malin!

  • Retail: This has received significant investment with the soon-to-be-released Commerce which claims to be everything you need to run a store both online and offline. If I was running my own consultancy and wanted to focus on a solution which I could roll out to companies across the country, this would be it.
  • AI: With the new AI Builder making AI available without a line of code and the pre-built Insight solutions, this is a piece of territory which will soon be taken but is large. A few people could focus on specific areas in AI without getting in each others way. If you want to become an expert in something which Microsoft is investing heavily and which will provide tremendous value to those who adopt it, AI is for you.
  • Mixed Reality: There is some hardware investment and likely need for coding in this one but, like IoT, for those who invest, their position will be hard to approach. The biggest problem is understanding how it will benefit business to do what they do better. The person who cracks that nut and makes it accessible to the masses will be hailed a hero.
  • Fraud Protection: A lesser known offering in the Dynamics 365 collection. For the person who becomes the expert in this, they will, in my opinion, be able to write their own checks. It is very easy to demand top dollar when you have just saved a company a few million in fraudulent transactions.
  • Azure Cognitive Services: Spinning up an Azure service and using Flow’s Connectors to talk to it is codeless and very simple. There is so much power here and all it is waiting for is the next #WTF for Cognitive Services.

What Is Stopping You?

There is very little preventing you from being an expert in any of the above technologies. All it takes, in many cases, is focus and time. If you are willing to devote a few hours a week to tackling your chosen territory, you will be ahead of 99% of the people out there.

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