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, we’ve 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 Teams, Microsoft 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. There’s 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 organisation’s unique user needs and the way your employees work.
Similar to Flow and other Office 365 automation tools, PowerApps comes with features and tools to help create apps that don’t 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 you’re creating from scratch.
More recently, the model-driven approach for creating apps has been introduced. Originally a feature of Microsoft Dynamics, this approach leverages Microsoft’s 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 Microsoft’s 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.
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. We’re confident that you’ll 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 you’d like to discuss with us how you can use PowerApps to help your business then get in touch!