What is PowerApps?
PowerApps is an initiative by Microsoft that allows developers and nontechnical users to build mobile applications from selectable templates. Using Microsoft Azure, the platform as a service offering, and built-on development tools that target nontechnical users, users can create, manage and share business apps on iOS, Android and Desktop devices.
PowerApps has connections to various Microsoft-based and third-party applications, including Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint and OneDrive in the Office 365 productivity suite, as well as Dropbox, Google Docs, SAP, Oracle and Dynamics CRM.
Application programming interfaces to enable these data connections, as well as the apps themselves, are hosted on Microsoft Azure.
Here’s an example of how PowerApps and utilization of the PowerPlatform could be used in practice:
Let’s assume you run a private healthcare business. Your teams of nurses currently record patient data during ward rounds using paper files. This information must then be manually entered into a computer system. With PowerApps, a consultant – or indeed a suitably trained employee – could recreate the patient data forms on a custom app which automatically records information to Dynamics 365 using Microsoft Flow, cutting out the paper and manual data entry.
As this example shows, PowerApps can be used to support highly specific, yet (often) fairly simple tasks. Getting an outside software development company to build the equivalent kind of app would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Yet by using PowerApps, this specific tool can be built in-house easily. What’s more, getting rid of paper is a pretty strong example of digital transformation in action.
How do PowerApps work?
Building an app using PowerApps is relatively straightforward. With the appropriate training, or some past experience building apps, most employees will be able to build useful, practical tools which solve specific problems, accelerate tasks, and improve efficiency.
PowerApps is built on Microsoft’s Power Platform, which also includes of Flow and PowerBI. There are three different kinds of PowerApp:
Starting with a User Interface approach, the developer can ‘drag and drop’ objects onto a blank ‘canvas’, which look and feel like you are creating a PowerPoint deck. Users can write specific commands or actions using Excel-like based expressions and embed the app in different Office 365 applications, like Dynamics 365, Teams etc. Canvas Apps can utilize the 200+ data connections available to users out of the box which allows businesses to collate data together from different sources so that business users can interact with data in a single application.
Canvas apps are ideal for building task-based or role-based applications. For example, you might have a team within your customer service department that’s strictly responsible for creating support tickets. Since this team is focused on one task, it likely doesn’t require all of the functionality of the full Microsoft suite — in fact, having access to that many capabilities could be overwhelming, and could impede the team from doing what it needs to. In this case, it would be better to build a canvas app dedicated specifically to the task of generating tickets.
Model-driven apps start with your data model – building up from the shape of your core business data and processes in the Common Data Service to model forms, views, and other components. Model-driven apps automatically generate great UI that is responsive across devices.
Model-driven apps can be built on-top of the Common Data Service (CDS) framework, which allows the ‘developer’ to use a wide range of ready-built commands and components such as Forms, Business Process Flows, Business Rules and Custom Controls. This allows the developer to focus on the data structure and modelling the business processes into a logical application.
Model-driven apps are better for creating end-to-end solutions. For example, after a customer service support ticket has been created, it must be routed, addressed, updated, marked as complete, and so on. There will likely be quite a few teams, roles, and processes involved in this complete cycle of case resolution, which would require a model-driven app.
Power Apps makers can now create a powerful new type of experience: web portals that surface data stored in Common Data Service to employees or users outside their organizations.
PowerApps Portals allow organizations to create websites which can be shared with users external to their organization either anonymously or through the login provider of their choice like LinkedIn, Microsoft Account, other commercial login providers. You can also integrate enterprise login providers using a variety of industry standard protocols like SAML2, OpenId Connect and WS-Fed . Websites can also be created for Employees who can connect using their corporate Azure Active Directory account.