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Power Up with Power Apps

Rob Ulaszek // November 3, 2021

Microsoft
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The value and purpose of a computing platform is the capability to bridge the gap between simple solutions and the complexity of full-blown custom development. To fulfill this need, Microsoft augments its cloud-based productivity suite by offering the Power Platform that shifts the workload from IT to citizen developers to reduce development costs. As part of the Power Platform, Power Apps provides the ability to create low code applications that can interact with enterprise data and processes within Microsoft 365 to create functionality that provides immediate business value.

The Basics

Designed with the primary motivation of making it easy to develop internal mobile apps, Power Apps also offers the option of a larger desktop viewport more suitable for complex applications. Apps can also be embedded in Teams, SharePoint, and other areas throughout the Microsoft 365 platform. Already the preferred method for customizing functionality within Dynamics 365, the portals option allows the simplified creation of publicly accessible web applications that securely expose relevant Dynamics 365 data. 

The starting point is to select a mode: most commonly canvas apps for unlimited creativity or model-driven apps that use the underlying structure of Data-verse entities to automate app construction. Working in the cloud-based development environment, developers drag and drop from a gallery of modern controls to build WYSIWYG user interfaces without the typical technical complexities of client-side applications.

Geared towards power users, application control and business logic can then be added using a formula-based language that will be familiar to those proficient in Excel. Integrated access to a vast palette of specialized application service components like AI for object recognition and language translation makes it even easier to build robust functionality.   

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Connectivity is paramount when creating business applications. Power Apps offers a continuously growing inventory of hundreds of connectors that make it easy to access virtually any cloud data source or on-premises data within the organization, from Excel files to SharePoint lists to SQL databases from any vendor. It is also straightforward to incorporate other elements of the Power Platform such as Power BI for data visualizations or Power Automate for workflow capabilities. Access to popular third-party cloud services such as Twitter, Workday, and Service Now is also available.   

Common authentication concerns are handled seamlessly by the Microsoft 365 operating environment. Access control can be granted broadly by group management or linked to Azure Active Directory profile properties for finer-grained requirements. The Power Apps Admin Center offers a centralized location for managing the deployment and lifecycle of apps throughout the enterprise. Licensing to enable the use of Power Apps is included with several Office 365 subscriptions, Dynamics 365 licensing, or is available on a standalone basis. 

Use Cases

MOBILE APPS

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After installing the Power Apps app from the iOS or Android app store, users log in using their established Microsoft 365 credentials to view the Power Apps permission for their use. This makes it easy to provide secure access to interact with enterprise data and processes from anywhere in the world.   

A major airline uses Power Apps to provide a simple tool for the cabin crew to report maintenance issues encountered when preparing a plane for its next flight. To start the process, the worker uses their phone or tablet to take a picture of the issue and complete a simple form with a few key details. From there, the app integrates object recognition AI to confirm the affected part number and details before triggering a Power Automate flow to forward the request to the appropriate technical team or procurement specialist.   

LARGE FORMAT APPS

For apps with data entry or display requirements that are not practical for a mobile device, a larger app display format can be used to provide the screen real estate needed. Larger format apps are integrated into the digital workplace by being embedded within Microsoft Teams, Modern SharePoint pages, or Dynamics 365. 

The digital transformation of the performance management process for a plastic parts distributor is accomplished by using a large format Power App. Data gathered via the Power App is stored in SharePoint lists and Power Automate flows are used to coordinate the process of setting performance goals, gathering input, and displaying progress to date. The solution leverages Microsoft 365 integrated Azure microservices to combine the collected information into a printable PDF format for signature and archival. 

POWER APP PORTALS

Portals are publicly accessible websites that allow users to safely view and interact with enterprise data stored in Data-verse entities. Users can log into Power App Portals with a variety of authentication modes including existing Microsoft, Google, or Facebook accounts.   

A consumer appliance manufacturer has been using Dynamics 365 to manage orders but wanted a simpler process for representatives at international sales offices. A Power App Portal was established to enable these remote offices to electronically submit orders directly into Dynamics 365. Because the portal accesses the same entities used by Dynamics 365, the system was able to avoid common data entry errors that would slow the fulfillment process. 

SHAREPOINT FORMS

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Microsoft uses Power Apps under the hood to provide list and library item entry forms for sites using the Modern SharePoint Experience. This special type of Power App is managed by a given list or library but still provides the same ability to create custom functionality to improve the user experience. 

With numerous locations across the country, a large construction company uses a Modern SharePoint solution to standardize the common tasks of onboarding, offboarding, and promoting employees. Customized Power App data entry forms for the list and libraries make it easy for hiring managers to streamline the process. Power Automate flows alert involved departments who then use their own Power App SharePoint forms to track progress on tasks they need to complete.   

Things to Consider

While Power Apps brings a lot to the table, experience working with the product has brought to light several things to consider: 

  • The boundaries and limitations required to excel at quickly delivering functionality make it less practical for pixel-perfect solutions.  
  • There is a good power user development story, but complex applications may still need resources with a developer mindset. 
  • Seasoned developers accustomed to working directly with JavaScript code may feel limited when using the formula-centric language. 
  • Portals enable external use, but the product is most effective when used to deliver functionality to users within the enterprise. 
  • The platform uses integrated lightweight source code control which can make it challenging for multiple developers to work on one project at the same time without significant coordination. 
  • Following the continuous improvement model with new releases every 30-60 days, the product is still maturing and continuing to evolve. 
  • Client-side apps are dependent on the quality and performance of each user’s web browser, and their operation can sometimes be affected by caching.

Conclusions

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Power Apps helps fulfill the promise of the Power Platform for Microsoft 365, making it possible to deliver enterprise business functionality quickly without the typical effort and expense of custom development. While there are some minor limitations, Microsoft continues to mature the product and emphasize its role going forward.

Power Apps delivers the rapid application development, data connectivity, and interoperability that make it a compelling option for a variety of use cases. If you would like to learn more about Power Apps and how to include it in your organization, reach out.

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