Microsoft PowerApps: do more with your data

Modern businesses generate huge quantities of data, yet not enough companies are really tapping into it. From expenses to revenue, product prices to sales records, website visits to social media engagement; we collect huge quantities of business and customer information. In fact, we collect more information than ever before, with companies able to store it in many diverse places—from a CRM to a server, from cloud-based platforms to the humble Excel spreadsheet on your CFO’s desktop. But, what’s the value of collecting all this data if you don’t actually use it?

Microsoft recently made PowerApps generally available, one of their most exciting releases of 2016 – you can read our detailed introduction to Microsoft PowerApps here. In short, PowerApps are especially designed to help ‘power users’ of Microsoft products build simple, code-free applications which work across any device. PowerApps are rapid, easy to use and let you build apps using a simple drag-and-drop approach. But perhaps most importantly, they let you very easily connect company data from your various sources and start using it in practical, impactful ways. So, why are PowerApps so exciting and what can you do with them?

Are you really putting your data to work?

Last year, the analyst firm PWC interviewed over 1,800 senior business leaders in North America and Europe for their ‘Seizing the Information Advantage’ report. The report revealed that, among other findings, only around 4% of companies are properly set up to get real value from their various information assets. They also found that 43% ‘obtain little tangible benefit from their information’ and a whole 23% derive ‘no benefit whatsoever’. Perhaps most striking was the finding that around three quarters of respondents mistakenly believe that they are well placed to use their information when, in fact, they are using archaic and poorly connected data management practices.

Wow! That’s pretty damning reading. So why do companies struggle so much with using their data? There’s a whole range of reasons:

  • Lack of know-how
  • Lack of skills
  • Lack of time
  • Complexity of data
  • Unstructured information

Another major challenge is the fact that it’s particularly difficult to make data from different sources work together. Having the skills to connect information from SQL Server with data from Salesforce, for example, typically requires a lot of development know-how. And this means that, even if a user realises there could be some interesting insights if they could just connect the two, the size and complexity of the task puts them off.

And this is where Microsoft PowerApps could be a real game-changer. PowerApps makes it incredibly easy to start combining data from your different sources, for you to use it in a practical, tangible manner.

What are Microsoft PowerApps and how do they use your data?

Helping power users (and even regular end users) build functional apps and workflows without any knowledge of code, they connect to your various data sources, and can suggest the best templates for different kinds of information. They then let the ‘developer’ drag and drop different features and functionality into the app and incorporate design elements, too. PowerApps can then be easily shared with colleagues in their teams or right across the business. And, due to Microsoft’s ‘mobile first, cloud first’ mantra, they also work well on smartphones and other devices.

One of the central concepts behind PowerApps is that they are intended to help businesses connect to the data they already have. This does, of course, include Microsoft’s own on-premises and cloud-based data sources (any data in SharePoint, Dynamics, PowerBI, OneDrive, Excel, SQL Server and so on) but also, via ‘connectors’—a huge array of external connections (including Google Drive, MailChimp, Twitter, YouTube, Trello and many more).

There are plenty of examples of PowerApps out there, but what might a simple app, using data from your different sources look like?

An easy budget tracker:

You could use PowerApps to connect with data from all your sources to get the most precise, real time view of your incoming and outgoing expenses. This could include pipeline data from your CRM (such as Salesforce), figures from the company expense claims spreadsheet, salaries from your HR site in SharePoint and so on. PowerApps makes it simple to draw in all this data and start to make sense of it in a joined up manner.

Put your company’s data to work

As the PWC research previously outlined notes, the vast majority of businesses are too far behind the curve when it comes to putting their data to work. One of the major reasons for this is surely because it’s just too hard for regular users to do this – and that’s one of the most exciting things about PowerApps. It will empower users to start making connections between different data sources and really use your company data to its full potential. At Lightning Tools, we’ve been building Business Connectivity Services (BCS) for years which let users draw data from different platforms into SharePoint. So, we’re very excited to see how Microsoft is now opening up to let users access external data too.

Of course, Microsoft PowerApps can only do so much – more sophisticated and complex use of data will require more specialist tools (learn, for instance, about our Data Viewer Web Part for SharePoint here). Nonetheless, PowerApps presents a really exciting way of helping non-technical employees start accessing and using company data and using it to its full potential. This puts more power to use company data in the hands of your colleagues – something which will be a real game-changer for your business and the power of the data you collect.

 

Lightening 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.