In the era of digital transformation, businesses need application development capabilities that open up the build process to everyone - not just developers.
PowerApps is Microsoft’s latest solution that streamlines app development and addresses growing demand for faster ways to develop and customise enterprise-grade applications without significant IT investment or input.
In 2018, PowerApps has received several significant updates to integrate and solidify its useful role further with other key Microsoft services such as Flow and Power BI. This article takes a look at the current state of PowerApps, how it helps build better business solutions faster and easier, and the many ways it can benefit your business today.
What is PowerApps?
PowerApps is a powerful enterprise tool used to create business apps that run on almost all Web browsers and operating systems - Android, iOS and Windows - with a simplified interface that doesn't require coding experience.
As part of Microsoft’s business application platform, now called Power Platform, PowerApps is natively integrated with workflow engines like Microsoft Flow to add logic and automate your processes easier. You can also pull data from Dynamics 365 or Office 365 seamlessly to create customised apps that solve problems specific to your business, or fulfil various processes normally limited to on-premises or dependent on corporate connected PCs.
For instance, manual paper-based business processes are noted to still be a common efficiency issue in Forrester’s ‘The Total Economic Impact of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow’. One company used PowerApps to reduce the time to took to deliver reports to customers (over 30 days) to eliminate this manual process, reduce the delivery time and use less resources - their in-house developed app now generate these reports automatically within four days.
How does PowerApps work?
Like Office 365, PowerApps has a simplified drag-and-drop graphical tool for users to begin creating their apps. You can add controls (text fields), forms, media (photo, video) and screens, connect your mobile app to external data sources and publish your app to the Web and across multiple mobile and desktop devices via user-friendly menus.
- Install the PowerApps Studio app from the Windows Store
- Login with your Microsoft account
- Choose a pre-built template and select whether it runs under a phone or tablet layout (the latter ensures your app automatically runs in a Web browser)
- Configure a connection to your desired data source such as Dropbox or OneDrive (to pull your desired data to the app)
PowerApps actually copies an Excel file to whatever source you chose containing sample data, and generates the app from the template you picked. This helps give you a preview of how it runs, and an idea of what you need to customise to align it better with your business’s needs.
Which apps can PowerApps create?
Apps built under PowerApps usually fall under two categories.
Model-driven apps are for functions using your business data, run across all devices with a responsive design, and often display data in dashboards, forms, checklists and charts for enhanced user experience.
Canvas Apps can also be created from the ground up, following more specific business processes. You can use Azure Functions to extend your app’s capabilities into the cloud, embed your apps directly into your other SaaS tools or website to make integrated solutions, and create Excel-like expressions to add logic and define the business rules that run automated workflows, validate your data, and drive your processes.
Essentially, non-developers can bring together data across solutions and workflows easier, while programmers can still build powerful custom apps on top of the platform from a blank canvas. Using PowerApps means you can get easier in-house developed business apps onto the devices of your staff faster compared to using traditional tools.
Why would I need PowerApps?
Application development has historically been a difficult task for businesses. Before PowerApps, traditional tools often had high-coding requirements, limiting the development of apps to IT. This often meant business ideas were often put on the back burner due to lack of expertise and cost.
The reality is off-the-shelf software solutions cannot suit every enterprise process or solve more specific business problems. Sometimes we need custom solutions to suit our evolving needs, but without in-house expertise or a versatile platform to enable developers to build their own bespoke apps, the typical application development pipeline is faced with numerous problems.
- Data integration issues with other apps and systems
- Expensive and time consuming process
- Security and compliance concerns
The typical development pipeline often entails increased development, high resource and support costs, and less time innovating and gaining valuable return on investment (ROI).
With PowerApps, these problems are reduced significantly. You can integrate your data much easier and ultimately get your business apps onto the mobile phones and tablets of your staff much faster compared to traditional development tools - we breakdown several more benefits of the service below.
1. Creates apps from scratch or with templates
The easiest way to understand PowerApps is to approach it as a collection of templates with pre-set functions you can further customise to make it more specific to your business needs.
You can quickly create and deploy an app using desktop or mobile templates in just a few clicks because the pre-made templates are designed to perform the most popular processes required by businesses, like budget tracking, cost estimations, invoice managing and site inspection.
Using these templates helps you learn how to configure common actions, such as submitting data from forms, leveraging camera and GPS functions, running your app on multiple devices incorporating pen controls, and how to connect your numerous data sources.
2. Connects and manages your data easier
Businesses who have undergone digital transformation typically use a variety of different services and solutions, which often means you have business-critical data stored in multiple cloud-based and on-premises locations.
PowerApps provides a way to bring all of that data together in a single application to run processes spanning your organisation, thanks to its extensive list of built-in and custom connectors. Currently, PowerApps has over 230 connectors to the most popular enterprise SaaS solutions, which includes both Microsoft-developed services and third-party apps such as Dropbox, Dynamics 365, OneDrive and Office 365.
Non-developers don’t have to write any code to source business-critical data from your existing SaaS solutions, while your IT team can create custom connectors to proprietary sources using OData API, and Open API, Rest API.
PowerApps is also beneficial for businesses still operating apps or data via on-premises workloads. The service seamlessly connects to your local hardware using the On-Premises Gateway, meaning you can connect to your data sources here and use them in your apps like you would with your cloud-based data sources without problem.
3. Integrates app data across your organisation
PowerApps is fully integrated with Microsoft’s Common Data Service (CDS), which allows you to to bring your business data together across multiple applications and sources and achieve enhanced mobility, all under a compliant and scalable data service.
The CDS standardises your data through the common data model, which means you can build and run your apps using the same data across your organisation.
All apps created with Dynamics 365 are natively built on the CDS, which means you can also build apps with PowerApps and take advantage of its app management and security features without needing additional data integration efforts.
4. Reduces your application development costs
Software development and management, as we’ve already pointed out, can be quite costly.
For those who want to bring down the spend, the Forrester study on Microsoft PowerApps and Flow found that the average cost to develop an application using PowerApps is 70% less.
The overall costs of app development are further reduced because PowerApps allows you to develop in-house without vendor licensing costs or outside expertise for building and maintaining your business apps, meaning you can expect increased ROI of up to 362%.
5. Improves your workflow automation and efficiencies
PowerApps are easy to build and fast to deploy across mobile and desktop devices, you can create apps that perform various manual functions automatically using Flow and pull your business data effortlessly.
Instead of budget tracking by pen-and-paper or sending manual alerts when sales numbers spike, for example, a pre-built PowerApp template can be quickly deployed and fulfil that process for you.
Forrester noted improved efficiencies on average by 15% for 1,575 users by the third year of its study.
6. It’s secure and compliant
All applications created with PowerApps automatically tie into Active Directory (AD) and Microsoft identity management and security solutions. Your IT team can easily configure permissions at both the application and data levels, and keep the development pipeline under one manageable environment. Because PowerApps are built on the CDS, they’re also automatically GDPR compliant.
Why use PowerApps: Key takeaways
PowerApps ultimately lets your business drive digital transformation on your terms at your pace.
Its extensive capabilities ensure app experts get the most out of Microsoft’s integrated business development platform. It’s also straightforward to set up, reduces overall IT effort, and can help create apps that solve your very specific problems on-the-fly, without having to spend significant money and time on traditional app development.
As it’s integrated with Dynamics 365, Teams, SharePoint, Common Data Service and is part of the Microsoft Power Platform (Flow and Power BI), PowerApps is best for businesses planning to or currently leveraging the Microsoft ecosystem and who want to customise their app business platform to suit their requirements.