AppSource Test Drive

Everybody knows about AppSource by now. Everybody is also struggling how to make AppSource work for them, and especially how to provide customers and prospects a trial of their functionality. You could create a sandbox environment and try things out in there, but that doesn’t have test data that is specific for your product. You could install the product into a production tenant, but then you have an app in there that you might not want after all.

One of the lesser known features of AppSource is the Test Drive. This feature provides an ISV partner a completely isolated trial experience  of their product, in an environment that is completely in their control. What’s even better is that the Test Drive can be done in a number of different ways, so you can tailor it exactly to your requirements.

The Test Drive can be a part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, in which you can implement an environment that can showcase even the most complex features of your software, in a way that provides ample opportunity to your customers to learn how to use your product in a non-production environment that is still in the cloud, without having to get a team of consultants onsite.

The way that it works is essentially that the Test Drive is a standalone tenant that has a template company. This template company has your product already installed, and it has proper test data already populated. You can create all the data that you need for your product to run properly. Then, through the SaaSification techniques, you would implement a path into the features of your product, taking the user into your product one step at a time.

If you are interested in providing a Test Drive, please watch this video, in which I go into some more detail about this feature.

To find out more about the test drive, and other information about apps for Business Central, visit http://aka.ms/ReadyToGo

Signing an App Package File

One of the cool things about my work is that I get to participate in some things very early. This is often really cool, but it also comes with some frustration when things don’t go very smoothly, or when there is little information to work with. One of those things, which I had absolutely NO knowledge of, was signing an app file… I had not a clue what this means, and no clue where to go to get this information.

The page where Microsoft explains how this works can be found here. It looks like a really nice and informative page now, but a few months ago it was confusing as heck, and it was not very helpful to me. At the time, I was working on an app for one of our customers, and one of the steps to get apps into AppSource is to sign the app file before you submit it.

Electronically signing a file is essentially a way to identify the source of the file and certify that the file comes from a known source. The ISV partner that develops an app must register with the signing authorities, and then every time that they release a file, they have to stamp that file with their identifying attributes. The process to do this is to ‘sign’ the file.

I’m not going into the details of how to get this done, the resource in Docs.microsoft is quite good now, so you can read it there. One thing I do want to share is that you should ALWAYS timestamp your signing. If you don’t timestamp the signature, your app will expire the same date as your certificate. If you DO timestamp, the signature will be timestamped with a date that was within the validity of your certification, and your app file will never expire. You do have to keep your certificate valid of course, but at least by timestamping the signature, the files that you sign will not expire.

During the whole process of getting the certificate and the signature, I worked with someone at Microsoft, who helped me get my customer’s app signed, and he also took my feedback to improve the documentation. I noticed something about the documentation that I think should be pointed out.

Documentation for Business Central is now in a new space called ‘docs.microsoft.com‘. In contrast with MSDN, Docs is almost interactive with the community. Maybe you’ve noticed, but each page in Docs has a feedback section. Scroll down on any page in there, and you will see that there is a section where you as a consumer of this information can leave your feedback.

I did this, and to my surprise I got an email. As it happened, the person that was working on the signing page knew my name and knew how to get a hold of me, and we worked together to make the page more informative. It was a coincidence that we knew about each other, but what was no coincidence was that there are actual product group people at Microsoft that are responsible for the documentation. There is a team of documentation people that watch out for issues on Docs, and they pick up issues within days of submission!!

The feedback system links back through GitHub issues, so if you’ve ever submitted something to the AL team, you know that this is pretty direct communication. I am wondering though, if Microsoft will take this a step further, and open up Docs as a public repository where people can make suggested changes. I think yes, but I’m not sure because there’s not really a history of direct collaboration like that. I have good hope though, because the culture at Microsoft is getting more collaborative by the day.

Microsoft 365 Business Central

For about a year now, we have been talking about “Tenerife”. Despite going to great lengths to calm down the partner channel, the name and what it stood for has caused massive misunderstandings and great anxiety. Hopefully that anxiety will come to an end because today the new name has been announced: Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (click here for the announcement and click here for the overview page). A catchy, easy-to-pronounce, 14 syllable name, and it is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2018.

I just wanted to put this out there, and I don’t have a ton of things to say right now, but watch this space for much more stuff to come. This week is Directions Asia in Bangkok, and there will be plenty of information coming out of that event. With the release of the new product there will be some new requirements for partners to get their IP into AppSource, and I will have plenty of things to share about that. Microsoft is working incredibly hard on getting all the information out there, including new material in the learning portal (the link that I had wasn’t working when I wrote this, so I owe you that one) and a ton of new and updated content in the new technical documentation site called ‘docs’.

I am in a very fortunate position to be involved in the very early stages of Business Central, I’ve had the pleasure to be working with the new product for a while now. I have to say I was skeptical of the Web Client and having everything in the cloud, but as I’ve gotten used to how it all works, and how the new ecosystem is forcing to improve our internal processes, I can’t help but be happy about the way that my industry is taking me into a more professional approach to my business. No longer do we get away with flying by the seat of our pants, and do whatever we can get out there in a short term, quick and dirty way. We must adapt and get ALL of our ducks in a row. Our approach to design, architecture, coding, marketing, delivery, automated testing, EVERYTHING must be in top shape in order to be successful in the new age.

This is the time where you have to adapt, or be disrupted. For me personally, it scares the heck out of me, but I also welcome the challenge. I am looking forward to what is to come next, I hope you are too.

Dynamics 365 and AppSource

I read this blog today, and I tweeted about it too. What struck me about the article is how it talks about how Microsoft wants to help you focus on your business while providing a connected set of systems that seamlessly work together for you.

You might have read about ‘Project Madeira’, for instance on Waldo’s blog, or Erik Hougaard’s blog, or many more just like it. Even Marko Perisic, the General Manager for Dynamics SMB wrote about it. Today’s announcement is about where Madeira leads, and it’s called “Dynamics 365” and the new “Microsoft AppSource”.

The landing page for Dynamics 365 is still very confusing to me. There seem to be a lot of products underneath it all, like ‘For Sales’ or ‘For Operations’ and more like that. Then on the pricing page there is another subdivision into  an “Enterprise Edition” and a “Business Edition” where you can play around with some configurations. Now some of those are based on NAV and some of those are based on AX. What always annoys me is that it is not clear at all to figure out what is what. If the Business Edition is based on NAV, how come I can only see a small subset of the functionality?

The part that does seem to be clear is that there will be a store of some sort where you can purchase, and they have called this store “AppSource”, check out this link. They even created a video with one of those supremely irritating cute little Ukulele ditties.

The article goes into some marketing fluff like “Helping customers transform with a new approach to business process” and “technology is transforming our lives”, but overall it does a pretty good job I think to talk about how business processes interact and how you need different systems to execute those processes. There are a lot of moving parts, like PowerBI, Cortana, Office 365, common data model, work flow, and a bunch of other ones. The purpose of the article seems to be that Microsoft is working on putting together a set of cloud solution that can help you put it all together.

Two new names to keep track of: Dynamics 365 and Microsoft AppSource. I’m sure in the months to come there will be a lot of new information about these. If you are a NAV partner, I would certainly consider going to Directions this year, and as an end user I’d look at the NAVUG events.