There has always been a digital divide between programmers who have the technical coding skills to build applications and the end users who interact with them. Often, we think of coding as a niche skill that requires years of practice, an advanced degree, or a genetic predisposition to sitting in front of a computer for hours. To combat this common belief, many software developers are trying to bridge the gap between coding and non-technical users. Microsoft has a robust and growing suite of applications in this space.
In late 2015, Microsoft announced PowerApps, an offering related to their Business Intelligence and data modeling product, Power BI, as well as Dynamics and Flow. PowerApps is a software that allows users to build custom business applications without experience in the areas of application development or custom coding. It provides a platform for quickly building mobile applications for service workers that work cross-platform and integrates with existing back ends. This means that applications can link to both on-premises data as well as information from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products. The goal of this integration is to deliver user interfaces that are task-oriented and accessible on an array of devices, including smart phones.
Microsoft is able to integrate all of these disparate data sources through the Common Data Service. A simplified database like Access or FileMaker, it combines Microsoft’s ever-increasing set of standard entities as well as users’ own custom data. PowerApps includes tools for managing stored entities and entity relationships. It operates essentially like a relational database, but each entity behaves as if it is its own table with specific fields and views which can be customized for each respective application. This flexibility combines with Common Data Source’s universality to ensure that there is one data model for all applications. Whether using Dynamics, Microsoft Flow, or PowerApps, everything will work with the same understanding of the underlying data.
PowerApps operates as a visual programming environment, where code is built from blocks and User Interface (UI) elements on a web canvas. Through the desktop app, users can engage in some development and design tasks, but PowerApps is only maximized when using the web. Connecting to the internet allows for integration with the aforementioned SaaS products. Aside from its ability to integrate disparate data sources, the major advantage of using PowerApps is that it doesn’t involve intense coding; applications can be built as easily as an Excel macro.
The functionality and feature set of PowerApps does vary depending on licensing. Already have Office 365? Well your license probably already includes PowerApps. If your organization doesn’t have a subscription to Office 365, but you are a Dynamics customer, your plan may include PowerApps for Dynamics 365 or include PowerApps Plan 2 rights. Each level has different features and includes access to different functionality. Flow differs quite dramatically, which may impact your choice of licensing since it is per user. Although PowerApps itself is built for a non-technical audience, it is really helpful to bring an expert on board to sift through the licensing complexities and maximize its value to your organization.
PowerApps is a hidden gem within Microsoft’s offerings that you may already be paying for and could be leveraging for your organization. It offers a non-technical audience the ability to build robust applications to support business processes. These applications can be built on many different sources of data, from on-prem servers to a variety of SaaS products. From the licensing, to data tagging, to deployment and training, getting started with PowerApps can seem daunting. Our experts have unmatched experience to help support your organization’s adoption of PowerApps. Don’t hesitate to reach out to learn more; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630.832.0075 today!