Microsoft reveals new plan to support local user groups for Dynamics 365 and Power Platform

March 12 2021

Microsoft is launching a new user group program for Dynamics 365 and Power Platform that includes new technology investments and plans to get more new customers involved in local user group involvement.

As part of the new approach, will be Microsoft providing the structure and guidelines for forming and managing groups while continuing to rely on the community to run the individual groups.

Some of the major independently run user group organizations like Dynamic Communities, Inc (DCI) and Dynamics User Group have already agreed to wind down some of their own local user group efforts and encourage local leaders to align with Microsoft's plans.

Microsoft's Alysa Taylor and James Phillips at MBAS 2020

Microsoft employees involved in launching the local user group platform include recent hire and former Microsoft MVP Heather Newman and company veteran Gordon Macdonald. Executive support for the initiative comes from the leaders of the business applications group, James Phillips and Alysa Taylor, Macdonald explained in a briefing to the DynamicsCon advisory committee. The presentation was one of several meetings Macdonald and Newman have held in the community in advance of the public preview. (Note: I am a member of the DynamicsCon advisory committee.)

Macdonald and Newman said their team will take an approach that empowers and supports community-led groups. Microsoft estimates there are approximately 700 local user groups globally today. 

"We are happy to engage with user groups regardless of what platform they are organized on … but we’ve heard loud and clear from customers that they would prefer a more complete community experience with more connection to Microsoft," Macdonald told MSDW. "We’ve heard from UG leaders that they want more support to grow their groups."

The initiative to centralize leadership of user groups should align Microsoft and its business applications group more closely with the community programs of other major enterprise software providers like SAP, Salesforce, and Oracle. Those vendors all provide a level of centralized visibility and support for user groups that has been a challenge for Microsoft with its network of independent and often overlapping community associations and membership organizations.

With the new model, user groups that align with Microsoft will get access to online tools that includea new web-based platform and the option to add Teams as a component of their local user group experience. Teams tenants will be assigned specifically for group events, which will keep activities separate activities from customer or partner tenants.

Users can expect to see a public preview in April of the new platform. General availability is planned for summer 2021.

John Stypula, president at Dynamics User Group, which runs DynamicsCon, told MSDW that the change still allows independent organizations to serve the community.

We’re excited about Microsoft’s new plans to take a more direct role in leading community engagement with Dynamics and Power Platform.  As a longtime supporter of our amazing community, I believe it’s great whenever anyone works towards building new relationships, or growing awareness, around the business applications suite Microsoft ships globally.  And though the newest announcements show that Microsoft will be increasing their outreach, I strongly believe there will always remain a need for an independent lens, like Dynamics User Group, to provide balanced support to our community.  With 25 years of serving this community, DUG will continue to offer programs for users and professionals to grow their skills, troubleshoot problems, and network with colleagues.  We think our programs pair well with what Microsoft has planned and hope to expand upon our DynamicsCon events as well as our new Skill Up platform to compliment the enhanced community activities on the horizon.  

As part of the transition, Microsoft representatives said they expect existing local groups to continue to operate normally. While there will be new meeting tools coming, each individual group remains free to organize how it chooses and, Microsoft says, use whatever tools suit them. 

But aligning with Microsoft's new plans could have other ancillary benefits in addition to the new digital tools. For example, the community team plans to support groups in a variety of ways like streamlining efforts to get access to local office facilities for meetings and events when possible and connecting Microsoft employees with group meetings.

The community team's efforts are not without challenges, too. So far, the team appears to be quite small, though they have noted plans to bring in more resources. Historically, local user group networks in the Dynamics and Power Platform space have required a larger team of people, some dedicated to individual products and others focused on cross-group organizational needs. And user groups are known to sometimes suffer from interpersonal and inter-group conflicts that require resolution through mediation or more heavy-handed measures.

The use of Microsoft Teams in concert with the community web site should prove another interesting challenge. Teams has been adding new integrations and quickly evolving with other features like a webinar format, but the needs of cross-organization user groups could require even more unique use cases.

Microsoft will be talking more about their user group plans on the first evening of DynamicsCon 2021 on March 16 at 6pm EST (GMT -5). And you can expect to see even more about the plans later in 2021 at the Microsoft Business Applications Summit 2021 virtual event and beyond. 

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jefflfrye's picture

This seems like an awful lot of work just to get more local user groups to quit using Zoom and start using Teams. I am surprised Microsoft didn't throw in access to Bing, Cortana, Money, Xbox Live, and Zune to local groups.

Thanks Microsoft, but we know what you really think of us when you killed off Convergence and other customer-facing activities and resources and started the destruction of experienced staff in Fargo. (The replacement event with a CxO focus bombed big). I take it from the flailing that the cloud overlords are not happy with our lack of "upgrade" to 365. Welcome to your digital transformation.