An introduction to Microsoft PowerApps

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PowerApps, along with Flow, is Microsoft’s latest attempt to allow non-programmers in the enterprise space access to great mobile-ready applications. Within six months of the pilot programme – introduced in April 2016 – over 124,000 users from 46,000 organisations worldwide have created web and mobile apps using Microsoft PowerApps. Now Microsoft have made PowerApps generally available – that means it’s available in six regions, 42 languages, and backed by Azure and a SLA level of 99.99%.

Let’s consider what PowerApps is, how it works, and the problems it can solve for your business.

 

What is Microsoft PowerApps?

PowerApps is Microsoft’s answer to the growing need in business for a way to build and customise professional-grade business apps quickly, without a need for heavy IT investment or direct programmer input. Or as Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman says, “it’s for folks who use Office but don’t program”. Using visual tools, workflow engines like Flow, and the data already in systems like Office and Dynamics 365, power users can create bespoke apps that solve real business problems.

Available in three different pricing plans: it’s included in select Office 365 and Dynamics 365 plans, or as a standalone product for business users, or for app makers and admins. And all plans are priced per user, per month. See here for the specifics.

PowerApps could be broadly broken down into:

  • The App itself
  • Connections to your data
  • Flows: workflows kicked off by apps

 

The App itself

In PowerApps you can create an app automatically for phone, tablet or desktop-based templates in just a few clicks. The app will be automatically designed to perform certain general functions, by default, based on its template; you can then customise to make it more specific and specialised. Perhaps you would like to show more of a certain kind of data in a different interface? Or add more detail, like images instead of the default text? Part of the power of the PowerApp studio (where you can add and change layouts and other customisable aspects) is that as you build and change the app, the app is compiled and runs so you can simulate what your users will see when they use the app.

Along with the ability to customise app templates, you can also create an app from scratch to get even more flexibility regarding the app’s flow (i.e. what you want it to do) and its design.

Connectors to data

When you generate an app from a template, PowerApps asks you what data source (you have stored across your IT system) that you wish to use for your app. Examples of the data sources are:

  • A SharePoint list
  • A SQL Server database
  • Salesforce
  • Dynamics 365
  • Excel workbook

For example, if you wanted to create an app that allowed your users to access your client contacts on their phones, and do specific things with that information (like setup a meeting with them, for example), you could create an app that was built on data from that SharePoint list (i.e. the client contacts list).

In PowerApps it only takes a few clicks to have a mobile ready app that contains all the information that you need on your customers. And to customise the app, you can simply drag and drop to rearrange details and prioritise specific customer data. When you create an app automatically like this you will have a screen for browsing records, a screen for showing details of records and a screen for creating or updating records.

We have used a SharePoint list as an example, but the same principle applies to the other data sources. Create an app based on the data from your CRM tool that compliments the efforts of your sales team. Or give your Project Management Office an extra dimension with an app based on your data from Dynamics 365.

 

Flows, workflows kicked off by apps

Microsoft Flow is the underlying engine operating behind the scene of the apps you create and run. Essentially, an app is made up of several automated processes (or workflows) that are set off by commands within the app. To put it even more simply, an app is a way to develop forms for viewing and editing your data, and Flow is how you can tell your app to do things. For example, you could set it so when a new document is added to your SharePoint library a message is sent to Outlook, or Slack, or wherever you need it to go, with little or no coding experience.

It’s important to note that to use the apps you have built you will need to download the PowerApps app for your device. It’s from this app that your custom-built version will appear and run.

 

A significant move for business apps

Once your app is ready you can share it with your entire organisation, or with a specific team across a browser or mobile device. For the last number of years, the number of apps we use in our personal lives has seen a huge increase. Think about how many apps you have on your phone and how many of them you use to get your work done. The gap between the personal and professional is enormous. Microsoft PowerApps is step towards closing the gap and enabling businesses to build apps quickly for their users. Along with that they can break down their business data silos that exist – thanks to such high volumes of data across multiple systems, SaaS and the cloud – and more easily streamline business processes.

 

Fast track your solution

At Lighting Tools, we expect to see PowerApps dramatically fast-track how business apps are devised, built and deployed. The time it takes from concept to solution will reduce from months to minutes and in doing so will spawn a new grouping of app creators. PowerApps suddenly gives business users the ability to solve problems with all the power of having their own in-house team of app developers and designers. That means they can build the solutions that get to the heart of their specific business problems, in a way that’s mobile and cloud-first.

 

Lightning Tools is a global provider of SharePoint tools that will ensure you get the most from your Microsoft investment. To find out more about how we can help you get started with Microsoft PowerApps, contact us today.