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Minimum privileges in model-driven PowerApps

When you’re building an app in the Common Data Service for Apps, how do you keep it secure?

I was digging around for answers to a customer question on the docs.com site when I ran across something that made me stop in my tracks. If you’re planning on making a model-driven PowerApp, you should pay attention.

Microsoft offers a minimum privilege security role that you can import to your environment and build upon for your app.

You might be wondering: Why should I leverage this when making an app?

Keep your app secure

PowerApps harness the world-class identity management and security provided through Azure & Office 365,¬†while offering it though an easy to configure and deploy interface for your own app. If you’re an app maker, you don’t need to understand the mechanics of managing database security, tracking activity, and offering single-sign-on to users. The PowerApps platform, backed by the Common Data Service for Apps takes care of the heavy lifting for you.

The part you’re responsible for is to set up security definitions based on what you want your app to do. This is where the minimum privilege security role makes life easy. It’s a starting point with all of the basic level permissions that let a user log into an app, navigate, and use core actions and capabilities that are shared across apps.

From there, you add incremental privileges to a copy of that. For instance, a standard user may only be able to see and modify their own records, while a manager may be able to see and modify the records of everyone on the team.

Make your app more modular

Previous methods have existed to do this same thing, the most common two being:

  • Copy one of the out-of-the-box roles, like Salesperson, then strip away the Sales stuff
  • Assume users will have another security role with the minimum privileges

The first one is the approach I’ve preferred in the past, but it takes extra work to make sure you remove every little dependency to the Sales app. Suppose you want to deploy to an environment where Sales isn’t deployed.

The second app is less and less viable as the Common Data Service and PowerApps platform stand more on their own, separate from the 1st party apps. Frankly, unless a user is going to leverage capabilities that are part of the 1st party apps it’s tough to assume users will be assigned one of the out of the box security roles. Are you willing to make that assumption?

Make your app easier to deploy

I was having a discussion with a colleague about a community project we’re working on to build out some capabilities to extend the Health Accelerator. He was asking why we’d include security roles with our solution, since customers can tailor security for their deployment anyway.

The discussion we got into was on driving a quicker and easier deployment of the solution. Sure, an administrator (or partner) could analyze the specific needs for their deployment and tailor roles…in fact, they still can. But what about the customer that wants to install and get going right away?

By having these predefined security roles, customers can install and test the solution with minimal up-front work–without impacting their ability to tailor later. These predefined roles also serve as a template for basic user types (like those of the Dynamics 365 1st party apps like Sales, Service, etc.).

Take action!

If you’ve read this far, it’s time to get hands-on.

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The top 4 reasons I love docs.com

Your first question might be “what is docs.com?” and that’s fair. You may have heard of docs.microsoft.com, which is what it redirects to (or maybe you already figured that out by typing it in your own browser…).

Over the course of the last year (?) Microsoft has made a very notable push to consolidate their public-facing documentation all to the docs.microsoft.com site–and I love it! These are the top reasons I’m a big fan.

Consistency in documentation

Part of good reference documentation is that it isn’t radically different from one product to the next–especially in the case of the Microsoft clouds of Azure, Business Applications, and Office 365 where the products are engineered to work with each other. Having consistency across these helps connect that experience. A few places this is evident includes:

  • Navigation / outline
  • Style guide
  • Easily searchable text
  • Better cross-linking
  • Visual ascetic of the page
  • Separation of product feedback and documentation feedback
  • Release notes aren’t buried elsewhere

Searchability

It seems to me like there’s been a significant effort to make this site SEO-friendly (SEO-focused?). I get high-ranking hits of this documentation using the major search providers–which is great considering how fresh much of the content is.

navigation tree search

searching through the outline of the current section

Within the site, the outline (navigation) for each item includes search (if you’re trying to find something within this logical area, with the top-level search just a click away.

top level search with filter for product

Note that this global search also has a product filter based on where I am…slick!

Less fragmentation

This same documentation used to be scattered around a bunch of product specific pages, TechNet articles, MSDN, product manuals, separate roadmap sites, “official” community sites (and probably more).

Now it doesn’t take heroic efforts to track this stuff down. Resources for end users, admins, IT pros, and developers are all here–which is especially great since so many people who would go looking for this don’t fall neatly into just one of those buckets. A huge amount of content is out there already, with some still pointing to old articles (that are being ported and retired).

Date stamping

Every page has the date stamp right at the top of the page, giving a quick heads up as to how fresh the content is or when it may have last been reviewed. In this same area it calls out the people who have contributed to writing the page as well, which for some reason just feels good to remember there are real human beings behind the updates ūüôā

Final thoughts

I also find it interesting that all of the documentation is written in Markdown and maintained on GitHub repositories. It’s very open to be able to see edit history, publishing over time, and all sorts of other stuff out there.

github page for PowerApps documenation

Would you have even known the documentation is managed through github?

Have fun!

Dynamics 365 Business Edition: What’s in store?

It’s not often that Microsoft holds a webinar where they cover so many upcoming Microsoft Dynamics 365 features that are in preview (unless it is shown under the cover of a nondisclosure agreement). But in late June, it was like Dynamics Festivus came early.

There were many exciting details shared during the June “Executive Briefing” from Microsoft…but it also left some questions.

What’s the big deal?

With the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 (9.0) there will be two different flavors of Dynamics 365

  • Dynamics 365 Business Edition
    Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition

(If you’re using Dynamics 365 today–July 2017–you have Enterprise Edition)

Okay, that might not seem like that big of a deal, so allow me to elaborate. The Business Edition will be released with a greatly improved user experience (called the “unified client”) for web, phone, and tablet which comes with a grip of improvements over the current experience. There are many more features that will be available for Business Edition customers when it is released.

What’s the catch?

If you’re on Enterprise Edition today, you can’t just switch to Business Edition. This means that some new features will be immediately available to Enterprise Edition clients (including notable things like the unified client.

You might not want to anyway (even if it were allowed) because there will be some limits imposed in the Business Edition. Things like a limit of the total number of Users, Account records, and custom entities (with specific details to come).

The custom entity limit is a bit misleading, though, since it appears that the entities in apps available through AppSource will not count against this total. Effectively, this message is to look for a chance to buy an app instead of rolling-your-own when it comes to meeting your requirements.

Should my organization be thinking about Business Edition?

If you’re an existing Enterprise Edition client…there’s a pretty good possibility the answer is “no”. Plenty of clients may have a low number of users, but the record limits and custom entity limits will likely cut down the number of people who would even be able to consider the change. Not to mention that it would be a separate instance of Dynamics that would need to be configured and have data migrated to it.

Instead, I think most Enterprise Edition customers should look forward to getting features as they’re made available (and keep your eyes and ears open for the Private and Public Previews that Microsoft mentioned).

If you’re still considering¬†the Dynamics platform–then the Business Edition will have a lot to offer as you get rolling (and an upgrade path to Enterprise in the future).

Are you considering Dynamics 365 Business Edition in your organization? Share what you’re most excited about in the comments!

Enable the Hidden Microsoft Outlook QueryBuilder

After discussing Search Folders in a recent episode of ProdCast, Joel pinged me after the episode asking me about some more advanced search options. Specifically, he wanted to create a search folder with a little more complex logic behind it (like using AND or OR for several potential criteria).

Microsoft does support this without any extra add-ins, it’s a feature called Outlook QueryBuilder, but it’s not very obvious how to turn it on. In fact, it’s hidden¬†and¬†is enabled by adding a key to the Windows registry. I wasn’t able to find a video on creating this key, so in an attempt to give back I present the following brief how-to.

As a word of caution, editing the registry does carry some risk with it. In case you’re not familiar, the registry is where a lot of critical details are stored that makes Windows (and your installed software) work as you would expect it to. Making edits can have unintended consequences. That said, the update in this video is pretty safe, but always be careful whenever you go into the registry ūüôā

1

Create an Outlook Search Folder (and only search one folder)

On the most recent episode of the ProdCast: The Personal Productivity Podcast, Joel Lindstrom and I talked about Search Folders as part of a strategy for dealing with the deluge of email.

In case you haven’t already listened to the episode,¬†I was talking about setting up special¬†folders inside of Outlook 2016 (or 2013) that¬†look through your whole mailbox for a match (even if it’s in a¬†sub-folder, or sent items, or wherever). In simple terms: a search folder is a saved search that saves you time by storing several search terms, allowing you to find matching emails in just one-click.

Joel asked me if the Search Folder could¬†focus that search to look inside¬†of just one specific folder (e.g. “only mail in your inbox” and not any¬†other folders). The answer is yes…but after recording the episode, I¬†felt like I made it sound over-complicated to set up a search folder that only searches through a certain set of folders. I whipped up the following video to show just how easy it is!

If you’re not familiar with ProdCast, it is a podcast about personal productivity, getting more done with the time you have, avoiding procrastination, and being more efficient. We separate the hype from productivity tools and talk about ways to use your email and task list to become more productive. If you’re interested you can subscribe on iTunes.

How the real secrets of inbox zero put hours back in my week

When someone catches a glimpse of my email inbox, they usually make a comment about how few emails are there. Co-workers especially, since they have an appreciation for how much email we get in an average day–and they know that I do in fact respond to emails. Just a little over five years ago, the concept of inbox zero, having literally no email in your inbox, seemed like complete fantasy.

matt's actual inbox with inbox zero

Here’s a screenshot of one of my inboxes. As of this writing my primary work and personal inboxes each have one item in them.

In my work inbox alone I was getting 200-300 emails every work day–with about half of them ending with some sort of to-do item or request from me. The sound of an email arriving on my iPhone 3GS (back before you could set your own sound) actually made me physically cringe. It seemed like all I could do was fight through it to make sure that the “important” emails didn’t slip through the cracks. This was a battle that I was not winning.

To put some numbers to this–an average of 30 seconds per email (including responses, if needed), that would be up to 2.5 solid hours per day just dealing with email. That doesn’t include any of the research or real work that needed to be done.

It was with that realization that I started a journey to see what was in my control to try solving the problem. That’s when I found an article about Inbox Zero.

I didn’t actually save the that first article I read, but I very badly wanted that better future where I wasn’t drowning in email. I tried really hard to follow the advice to set up filters, automate similar replies, and identify the appropriate action for emails. There were still a lot of important emails coming in that demanded my attention.

I had become more efficient with processing email–but the speed and volume of email wouldn’t let me get to inbox zero. I didn’t have a chance as long as the circumstances stayed out of balance.

The first secret I learned: Slow the flow of email

Before you say, “hey Matt that’s great and all, but I can’t change how fast email is coming in” just give me a chance to explain what I mean.
By analyzing my email (through a categorization exercise that initially added to my email time) I found that there were a few categories that stuck out to me:

  • Emails asking about the status of previous emails
  • Rapid-fire back-and-forth emails (almost like exchanging text messages)

Depending on the day, up to 1/3 of my email fell into one of these two categories. That’s up to 100 emails a day! What seemed especially notable was that both of these are areas where I might be able to cut down the amount of these emails. I did!¬†I won’t sugar-coat it–this isn’t an easy process, but it was a total game changer that made inbox zero within reach.

The method I used was to work with people to reset expectations with people that were sending me email requests. Setting expectations is so important in life, even with things like how you communicate through email. Doing this virtually eliminated this type of email–saving me an average of nearly an hour every single day.

The second secret I learned: Living in an inbox zero mindset

By slowing the flow of email and using techniques to efficiently process email, I have been able to get my inbox nice and tidy. But here’s the thing–it’s not always at zero emails. It’s usually between one and 20 emails, but sometimes it rises above that level.

An important part of inbox zero for me is recognizing that I don’t need to fret about whether I literally have zero things in my inbox. There will always be another email that comes in, sometime, whether it’s in 3 seconds or 3 hours, it’s coming and it’s completely outside of my control.

Focusing my energy on the things I can control is a core part of how I manage my time. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that I regularly¬†remind¬†myself of, and an important practice to keep in mind with respect to inbox zero.

I very much can control how deliberate I am when processing my email. I don’t let myself go into my inbox constantly looking for new email. In fact, I turn notifications off for a lot of the day. Even 2-3 seconds spent looking at a new email alert has an additional cost of 5-6 more seconds as my mind darts to another couple of related thoughts before I refocus on my active task. 8 seconds per email for 150 emails is nearly 20 minutes daily. Instead, I let it pile up for an hour or two, then I process email and take-no-prisoners in dealing with the new pile-up in my inbox.

Final thoughts (for now)

I was in an extreme situation with how much email I was getting, as well as the supposed importance of those emails. There were certainly other factors that added to the stress, but my email dilemma weighed heavily on my daily life both at work and outside of work. Embracing the inbox zero mindset was a total gamechanger once I learned to reduce the flow of email, set expectations, and focus how I deal with email.

Are you drowning in email? Have you tried something like this before (and what worked for you)? Is something getting in your way? Share your experience in the comments.

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Evernote – The first freemium service I paid for (and still do)

If you’re anything like me,¬†you¬†process a ton of information throughout the day.¬†I used to find that a lot of that stuff went in one ear and out the other. I was (and am still) pretty good at remembering the important stuff, and frankly some of the not-so-important stuff too, but there’s just way too much out there to remember all of the details after a quick glance. This is when I turn to Evernote.

Evernote is software that helps me capture notes (text, recorded audio, photos/scans, documents, web pages, etc.) and provides a service that lets me access them from any device using a great text search. It’s easy to capture notes and just as easy to find them later.

Every note sits in a “notebook” which¬†is kind of like a simple folder that the notes sit in. Evernote lets you have as many¬†notebooks as you want.

I started using Evernote as a free app back in the late 2000’s, then in 2010 I made the decision to¬†start paying for their premium version to get a few more features. It’s the first time I¬†was¬†wooed by a freemium service and I have been¬†extremely happy with my investment!

Evernote is the first app I install on my mobile devices

That's my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

That’s my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

Yup–the very first one. Before anything else.¬†Not only that, but¬†on my Android phone I set up their little widget so I can¬†launch the app, capture a note, capture an image,¬†or record some audio each with only a single click.

It’s a tool that¬†frees me from having to carry a bunch of extra stuff around. I don’t have to save¬†some little scrap of paper that I (or that a friend) scribbled an idea on. I don’t¬†have to tear that ad or article out of a magazine. I don’t have to¬†send an email to myself with that¬†web page or quote I want to reference later.¬†Instead I can send¬†it to Evernote (when I’m on my¬†phone or tablet) or¬†use the desktop app or “web clipper” (when I’m in a¬†browser on my laptop).

Evernote did a good complete reworking of their mobile apps a year or two ago which got rid of a lot of the issues that plague older apps.

The app itself is snappy even on older devices. I have an old phone from a few generations ago that I keep around as a media player and note-taking device which still does just fine running Evernote.

One thing that does cause me¬†occasional issues is that, because I have so many notes in there, space can become an issue. While the app is smart enough to only download the contents of my notes when I need them,¬†the amount of¬†storage space used on¬†the device grows as more and more notes are opened. I’ve dealt with this by clearing the downloaded files, but it’s something I’d like to see be a little more user friendly.

I’m a huge user of Microsoft OneNote, and yes I still use Evernote

It feels important to call this out. I’ve been a OneNote user since Office 2003 (embarrassingly long since it wasn’t that great in 2003). I use OneNote nearly every day and yes I use Evernote¬†just as often.¬†They both work well for different purposes, largely because of the way they are architected.

There are plenty of blog posts out there comparing the two services so I won’t bother with that here. Instead, I want to comment on a couple of the¬†reasons that¬†Evernote continues to be worth the¬†investment even when compared to OneNote which¬†wouldn’t have an incremental cost.

  1. Evernote notes are fantastic containers for all sorts of information. Evernote acts as a simple database for me, but it allows for unstructured data to live inside of these notes, as well as a limited amount of structured metadata like the title, dates, URL (source of a clipping) notebook, and tags.
  2. Evernote¬†provides a more consistent experience across the various platforms (desktop, web, mobile).¬†There’s a trade-off that both Microsoft and Evernote make when it comes to¬†how rich the text/photos and complexity of the way they’re laid out in a note. Microsoft provides a richer experience¬†on the desktop, but¬†those don’t translate as well to a mobile device or to a pure web version.¬†Evernote’s approach, while more limited in the layout features, provides¬†a consistency that I really appreciate.

I got started with the free version, and you can too

I wrote a blog post back in 2010¬†where I¬†talked about how they had a very compelling offering even with the free version. It wasn’t¬†a crippled version of their product–in fact at the time they included just about every feature, but limited the¬†total upload storage space I could consume each month.

The big feature I wanted when I started subscribing to the premium version was to be able to extend the search to return results inside of attachments like PDF files and pictures. So when I wanted to find a PDF file and the only thing I can remember is that Boba Fett was mentioned in it, I can search for his name and it’ll find the note and the PDF.

Since I¬†became a user, they’ve added a ton of features to the premium offering, but the basic service still¬†lets you¬†create, save, and search notes from the web, a mobile device,¬†or your desktop. When I tell friends/co-workers/random people about Evernote, I usually¬†suggest they just try it out since the free version is so representative of what you get with the paid services.

evernoteversions-2016I grabbed a screenshot of their free vs. paid models. They’ve added a middle tier into the mix as well. The¬†most important reasons I see¬†for the paid versions are:

  • Text search inside of images (plus) and PDFs (premium) — like I said before, it’s a big part of what got me to move
  • Offline notebooks on mobile devices (plus or premium) — There are only a few notebooks I keep offline, but¬†but when I do need it it’s invaluable.
  • Sync with more than 2 devices (plus or premium) —¬†I have too many devices.
  • Remove upload limit of 60MB/mo. (1GB/mo plus, 10GB/mo premium)– This was a thing for me back in 2010 (when the free cap was an at-the-time-generous 40MB). 60MB will probably¬†suit you just fine for text notes and the occasional web page or picture, consider that¬†snapping a quick picture will take up 4MB…yeah that cap is just itching to come off

I could go on and on about how I use it…

…but I¬†don’t want to bury my more detailed stories inside of this post (which¬†feels kind of like unpaid advertising, but I really can’t say enough good things about their service).

In short, I’ve been¬†using the premium subscription for over 6 years and I’m¬†as satisfied now as I was when I started. There aren’t many services I’ve been that happy with–especially when it includes desktop apps, a cloud app, mobile apps, all connected with a cloud-based service. Seriously,¬†when I think of how many¬†freemium services have seemed great and then¬†faded with subsequent releases, I’m really glad they’ve been¬†such a solid team.

Do you use Evernote or perhaps know of something else that’s better? (I question whether the latter is possible…but I am curious) Leave a comment and let me know.

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