What is PowerApps and how can I use it?

PowerApps is yet another offering from Microsoft associated with the Office 365 suite of tools that delivers exciting opportunities to build custom apps, drive process automation and create efficiencies for businesses of all sizes.  We often find ourselves in conversations with clients and organisations either curious about PowerApps or with business issues where PowerApps could make a real difference.

To give clients an overview of PowerApps and its possibilities, weve written this article to explain what PowerApps is and how you can use it in your business. This is part of our occasional blog series on the fundamentals of the individual parts of the Office 365 universe. You may also be interested in our posts on Microsoft TeamsMicrosoft Graph, and Flow.

What is PowerApps?

PowerApps is a tool that allows you to create custom apps, leveraging many of the features of the Office 365 and Microsoft platform. Apps can be accessed via mobile devices or via the browser.

What sets PowerApps apart from other offerings is that while it can be used by developers, it can also be used by non-technical employees  such as business analysts. This means that it is quite possible for a PowerApps power user to create a custom app. Just like its Microsoft cousin Flow, PowerApps is successfully bringing the power of process automation to a non-technical audience.

Having said that, realistically users will need to have some technical understanding, training and appreciation of the tools and data they are working with. Theres a long way to go before everyone is creating their own apps and realistically you may need to bring in developers to work on more complex functionality.

Microsoft defines PowerApps as a suite of apps, services, connectors and data platform that provides a rapid application development environment apps for your business needs.  While you can add integrations with other applications, a key strength is its ability to build apps based on Office 365 and also Microsoft Dynamics 365. If you have a particular process that uses different parts of  the Microsoft universe, for example SharePoint Online, Excel and Dynamics 365, then an app based on PowerApps has the potential to bring them all together for your users in one handy, convenient experience.

The beauty of building your own app is that you can also make sure it is completely wrapped around your organisations unique user needs and the way your employees work.

 

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Features

Similar to Flow and other Office 365 automation tools, PowerApps comes with features and tools to help create apps that dont require any coding. These include:

  • a library of sample apps that you can work from as a starting point and then customise
  • a library of over 200 connectors to integrate data and systems including those across the Office 365 universe
  • an easy drag and drop interface for the creation of apps
  • close integration with other Office 365 and Dynamics tools
  • good support structures, including an active PowerApps community.

Canvas and model-driven apps

There are two ways to develop PowerApps via the canvas approach or the model-driven approach.  The canvas approach is a bit like working from a blank canvas where you connect data sources, add workflows and create interfaces for your app using the drag and drop interface, potentially relying on the library of standard connectors.

Leveraging the connected world of Office 365 allows you to even create canvas apps within other tools such as SharePoint as the starting point.  Using the canvas approach also gives you complete control over an app youre creating from scratch.

More recently, the model-driven approach for creating apps  has been introduced. Originally a feature of Microsoft Dynamics, this approach leverages Microsofts Common Data Service which already has information on the various forms, data structures and business rules you have already defined, and then allows you to start building your app on top of this. In this way the structure and data lead the creation of the app, a very useful approach when you are relying on potentially complex underlying data for your app, for example stored in Microsoft Dynamics.

How can my organisation use PowerApps?

PowerApps can be used for multiple processes involving workflow, automation, data visualisation and reporting, collaboration and more. It could involve teams, field workers, your management team and even your customers. Use cases can range from the relatively simple to the highly complex. You can both be improving the basics or also be highly innovative. PowerApps can be experienced as a mobile app, a website or even within an Office 365 tool like Microsoft Teams.

For inspiration, our popular article on different ways to automate business processes includes a number of ideas that can be achieved with PowerApps, including:

  • Enabling field workers to enter data when out in the field, for example logging repairs needed or the results of site inspections
  • A Know your Client app used for due diligence on new clients, covering various criteria and interrogating various databases
  • Building model standard documents such as contracts using automation based on different criteria and metadata
  • Building a customised 360 appraisal system with input from a variety of users, workflow and handy reporting
  • A system for IT departments to track assets such as hardware, mobile devices and software licenses
  • A variety of marketing automation tools to follow up with clients based on their interactions and responses.

New powerful capabilities

Like most of the tools and services within Office 365 Microsoft continue to invest in PowerApps, and the latest announcements for near future capabilities are particularly exciting.

An AI Builder capability allows PowerApps to tap into Microsofts AI  and machine learning frameworks and develop smarter, more advanced apps.  For example, Microsoft cite the ability for AI to analyse and categorise your customer feedback responses and then take particular actions, helping to bring marketing automation to the next level. They also quote a real example of how PowerApps injected with AI is helping workers in a manufacturing and distribution unit identify and track product items just by taking a photo. Additionally, there are opportunities to integrate blockchain (via Azure Blockchain Services) to develop even more specialist apps.

Microsoft has also announced PowerApps Portals, the ability to create websites aimed at external employees, in the same way as PowerApps. This feels significant to us, connecting customer actions on a website directly to internal and back-end processes, marketing automation and more. For example. if you set up a customer feedback portal using PowerApps Portals, you could create some pretty intriguing and powerful workflows and actions.
 

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Should you leverage the power of PowerApps?

You should definitely leverage the power of PowerApps. We love working with PowerApps and our clients tell us they love the results. Were confident that youll love PowerApps too, creating compelling apps that will help simplify ways of working, drive customer service and more, potentially becoming more sophisticated as you expand capabilities with AI and website integrations later down the line.

If youd like to discuss with us how you can use PowerApps to help your business then get in touch!

Should smaller companies choose SharePoint Modern out of the box or Wizdom for their intranet?

One of the questions we increasingly get asked by companies is whether they can use Modern SharePoint and some of its constituent parts such as communication sites and hub sites as an intranet, straight out of the box? Or is it a better option to customise it or choose an in a box solution like Wizdom?

Our answer is usually fairly unequivocal. If you are a larger company or have more complex needs, in general out of the box SharePoint just isnt going to meet your needs. Across a wide range of capabilities and attributes including internal communications, collaboration, forms & workflow and branding, weve generally found SharePoint Online alone just wont cut it for you. Thats not to say its core elements wont be a key part of your intranet, but with a purely out of the box approach there is usually a missing feature, an irritating compromise you have to make, or something frustrating for users. Dont underestimate how seemingly small issues can seriously impact your adoption and user confidence in your intranet.

Of course, this situation may change over time as Microsoft continue to add to SharePoint Online and add templates and features which support more sophisticated intranet management. But its also very much the case that your own needs will change too. You need an intranet platform that is going to support your future internal communication and digital workplace strategy.

If youre a smaller company perhaps say of 200 or 300 people and you have what youd classify as less sophisticated internal communications needs, then the situation is less clear cut. Lets look at some of the variables you need to consider, in terms of the suitability of SharePoint Online or Wizdom out of the box for key use cases.

Internal communications

Modern SharePoint has made leaps and bounds when it comes to news publishing and support for internal communications. You can use a combination of communication sites for news and then aggregate these within a hub site, so effectively you can have different teams and departments contributing news. The good news is that the publishing user interface are really easy to use, and news is presented well. Microsoft have also added capabilities around more audience targeting.

For a small organisation with straightforward internal communications needs this may be perfectly serviceable. For example, if you already mainly rely on email for sending messages around the office and dont have a dedicated internal comms manager Modern is probably all you need.

However when you have a more complex communications needs with audience targeting that is particularly granular, multi-language, approval workflow, the need for news to move from a main carousel to a different homepage area and you work off an editorial calendar, its likely youll need the extra features and templates of a solution like Wizdom. Smaller organisations with a diverse and distributed workforce may also find this is the case, although increasingly over time Microsoft are adding capabilities that may help to drive more sophisticated internal communication capabilities.

Publishing and content management

The cornerstone of a great intranet is great content that helps employees get things done. Standard documents, information on how things work, departmental landing pages, product information, information on company strategy and more means that the intranet should be an essential reference guide that supports everything from task completion to driving better customer service.

Despite the transformation of publishing content when comparing modern and classic SharePoint, when it comes to a publishing platform and related content management processes Wizdom wins hands down.

If you want to drive content to higher publishing standards that presents information in a number of different ways and need to ensure that content is always up to date (for example if you are basing sales or customer support staff need access to product information) then Wizdom  provides a more focused set of options, for example having a central policy, procedures and forms library straight out of the box. If you rely on a devolved publishing model with numerous content owners, then Wizdom allows you to build in governance for publishing to maintain standards.

If your content needs are far less important and its just a collection of central documents that need to be maintained and accessed and you dont have a large collection of critical operational content, then modern SharePoint with pages and document libraries will probably suffice.

Collaboration

Of course, Office 365 and indeed SharePoint Online already packs a very handy set of collaboration tools including Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Team Sites. For any small organisation Wizdom is unlikely to add much to this toolset although there is a handy community template also. For most small organisations Office 365 out of the box is going to work fine.

Wizdoms collaboration provisioning engine also allows you to control the type of collaboration site that employees use for different use cases and also establishes approval workflow for sites set up. If youre a company that has a more frequent or structured approach to collaboration (for example an engineering firm with a strong project management methodology) you may find Wizdom has some advantages for you over just using Modern SharePoint Online.

Navigation

Microsoft has recently made building something resembling a more traditional top-level navigation much easier, allowing you to tie together communication and hub sites together into what is more like an intranet experience. If youre a smaller organisation, then youre unlikely to need a massively complicated navigation so SharePoint out of the box will probably work. If you require something more complex such as personalised menus for different groups then Wizdom may be more robust, but again this is less likely to be a concern for a smaller company.

Apps, forms and workflow

Most intranets now have come packed with various apps and workflow capability that work just out of the box. Wizdom is particularly good for this, for example with the ability to manage events and an additional module to manage tickets, as well as simple request and approval processes via forms. However, Office 365 comes with huge capabilities to develop custom apps via various tools like PowerApps and Flow. While you can do some even more amazing things by leveraging their power in combination with Wizdom, in terms of creating apps suited around the way your business actually works and then presenting these through a single-entry point, then both Wizdom and Modern SharePoint / Office 365 deliver.

Integration with Office 365 and other tools

Both SharePoint Online out of the box and the Wizdom product have the ability to integrate tightly with other Office 365 tools such as Teams and Yammer. They also come with customisation options to integrate popular services and other applications.  Generally, youll find both approaches probably support the Office 365 integration options youre considering so if you are a small company, we imagine most of your integration needs will be met.

Other areas

Different organisations need different capabilities from their intranet depending on industry sector, key organisational processes and what systems are already in place. A small companys needs around core intranet staples such as the employee directory and particularly enterprise search may differ from organisation to organisation so the suitability of SharePoint out of the box will also vary. For example, Microsoft have recently made improvements to search which may meet many needs, but other organisations may need something very specialist.

Future needs

Its always difficult to know what youre going to require in the future. Your organisation may restructure or get larger. Your needs may become more sophisticated as you see new possibilities with your platform, or you introduce a new service.

In general, you need a solution thats going to be flexible in terms of being able to scale easily, add new features and integrate with other tools. Both SharePoint Online and Wizdom intranet both provide some flexibility and evolution in this case. Microsoft are definitely ramping up intranet-related capabilities for Office 365 and this is likely to continue. Wizdom intranets roadmap remains aligned to the Office 365 roadmap, but has also continues to add new features and even innovations like AI.  So as a small company, installing SharePoint Online out of the box doesnt necessarily limit all your future options. You can also always upgrade easily to Wizdom intranet if you grow rapidly, especially as Wizdom works independently of your SharePoint sites.

Costs

Of courses, cost is where SharePoint Online and Office 365 out of the box is going to have an advantage over Wizdom. If you are a smaller company with simple needs, then this may be the factor that pushes you towards simply using Office 365.

Our only advice is to beware of hidden costs and false economies. Relying on Communication and Hub sites may look fantastic on your budget plans but if user needs are probably better met by an intranet product like Wizdom,  then you may eventually end up facing additional costs, for example when you start hiring developers to customise Office 365 or when other functions start to buy in other apps to compensate for what Office 365 cant do. Wizdoms reasonable pricing certainly makes it a great investment for most companies.

Still confused?

Whether you use Modern SharePoint or an intranet product like Wizdom will depend on your needs and priorities. Its not always a straightforward choice. If youre still confused, get in touch with us and well be happy to discuss this with you.

What is Microsoft Flow (rebranded as Power Automate) and how can I use it?

Microsoft Flow is an exciting tool that can help you automate simple tasks and more complex processes. But what exactly does it do and how can you use it in your business?

Office 365 has so many moving parts, most of which are separately branded and available

Individually, it can be quite difficult to stay on top of just what does what and how you can use individual applications, tools and services. Customers often ask us to go through the fundamentals of some of the individual parts of the Office 365 universe. To help them weve created an occasional blog series to cover different apps. Weve already covered Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Graph, and this time its the turn of Flow.

What is Flow?

Microsoft Flow is a process and task automation tool that helps connect different applications and services together. Many of these applications that can be used with Flow are cloud-based, although it is also possible to use Flow in an on-premises environment.

Microsoft itself defines Flow as a tool to create automated workflows between your favourite apps and services to get notifications, synchronise files, collect data and more.  Microsoft Flow is available bundled in some Office 365 licenses but also on a separate subscription-basis. Theres even a limited free version for individuals as well as an accompanying mobile app.

Flow is one of a handful of Office 365 tools that helps bring the power of process automation to a non-technical audience.  Because it is relatively easy-to-use and because everything can be done through the browser, power users and content owners can use Flow directly without necessarily the input of IT professionals and developers. When combined with the power of other automation tools in the Office 365 suite such as PowerApps and Power BI Flow can also be used to create custom business apps that can be used throughout your business.

 

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Actions and events

Lets go into a bit more detail about how you can use Flow to define workflows and connect sometimes disparate apps and systems together.

Fundamentally you use Flow to help define an action which is triggered by an event.  For example, lets say you are in Microsoft Teams and you want to create a notification that appears in a Teams channel for whenever somebody sends you a direct message via Twitter, helping you to monitor an inbox you may rarely visit.

In this case the event is you receiving a Twitter direct message, and the action is a notification with appropriate details appearing in Teams. Flow is the tool in the middle where you can define what you want to happen in response to different triggers from a multitude of different systems. At first glance this might not sound very advanced, but when you start to combine multiple events and actions that work together you can start to create relatively sophisticated automation.

In our view this versatility is one of the most powerful aspects of Flow; you can utilise it to help you build core bespoke business applications used by your workforce, but also for individual workflows that might only relevant to a specific function, team or even individual. The fact that both developers but also individual content owners and power users can leverage the power of Flow in this way is impressive.

Templates and connectors

Another strong feature of Flow is the extensive library of connectors and pre-built templates that come with it for popular automations across different systems. These start from simple to relatively sophisticated.

Connectors allow you to connect to a variety of different systems. Many popular platforms are here, from Facebook to Salesforce to Mailchimp to right across the Office 365 suite. The number of connectors is also expanding.

Templates are pre-built popular automations that are easy to install. These range from getting updates about the weather to many more business-focused workflow recipes. For example, there are templates to allow you to receive a weekly update of new opportunities coming from Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, but then there is also automation to trigger the needs to start an approval process using Docusign based on a the status of a sales opportunity status in Salesforce or Dynamics.

You can search the library for templates; this is a nice way to give you some inspiration on how you can make improvements to the way you work.

How can I use Flow for my business?

There are so many processes you can use Flow for its hard to know where to start. At the individual level it may be something relatively simple. For example, a content owner may maintain a page on the intranet that includes a SharePoint list of say approved suppliers across multiple offices.

You could use Microsoft Flow in conjunction with a form to allow office administrators to submit a new approved supplier that automatically adds to the SharePoint list but also then triggers a workflow approval that also alerts procurement who may also need to be involved in some way.

Our article on different ways to automate business processes includes a number of ideas that can be achieved with Flow, including:

  • Ensuring content governance on intranets and in policy libraries to remind content owners and authors to review pages and files to they are up to date
  • Logging support calls on a helpdesk and allowing users to track progress and get notifications
  • Using forms to streamline requests and approvals, and then aggregating notifications in one useful place for users
  • Archiving documents, data and even sites across your digital workplace to align with your governance framework and related policies
  • A whole range of sales and marketing automation features including sending up follow-up marketing emails based on customer actions to updating your CRM system
  • Monitoring external social media across multiple channels.

And then you Flow might also be a part of your bespoke business apps and even enterprise systems based on Office 365. For example, weve used Flow as part of the apps weve created for clients.

 

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Should you go with the Flow?

Were sure you can use Flow to help you improve processes and automate tasks.  Microsoft continues to invest in Flow, adding features, connectors and templates. If youd like to discuss with us how you can use Microsoft Flow to help your business then get in touch!

Wizdom SharePoint Intranet, LiveTiles and Hyperfish are now available on the G-Cloud 11 (within the UK Governments Digital Marketplace)

We are excited to announce that Wizdom Intranet, Livetiles platform and Hyperfish are now available to procure through G-cloud 11, the UK Governments digital marketplace.

More Information about Wizdom SharePoint intranet in a box, Hyperfish solution that automates the collection of Office 365 profile information and LiveTiles bots in a box can be found on the our website.

If you have any questions regarding the framework you can get in contact with us directly or arrange a demo

Introducing Wizdom Interactive Canvas: Your digital workplace dashboard

It’s with great excitement that we today can announce the arrival of Wizdom Interactive Canvas!

Creating a view of applications beautifully displayed in tiles, the Interactive Canvas allows intranet admins to set up a personalized dashboard of content, links, and applications that provides each employee the tools or content he or she needs to get work done, straight away.

Delivering the complete overview

The tiles can behave like links, display an image, render HTML, show rich text, or open a pop-up window or web application. This opens up for endless opportunities to include content and functions in the view. And make Wizdom Interactive Canvas the ONE place employees go to to get the complete overview of all work-related information and tasks.

As an intranet admin, you configure a selection of tiles. Each tile can be set up with its own background color, icon, image, and audience targeting.

From this selection, editors can select which tiles to include in an overview on a particular web page.

In this way, you can use the tiles to deliver users a dashboard with the complete overview of tools and information, or you can use the tiles to create an overview of content and links within a specific area as e.g. a selection of handbooks.

Right there when you need it

Including the Interactive Canvas in Wizdom Power Panel, you can make the dashboard globally available to users who can access their personal overview from everywhere at the digital workplace.

Wizdom Interactive Canvas is introduced for both SharePoint’s classic and modern experiences.

 

The original article was published here

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