This article originally appeared on Jan. 23, 2018.
Businesses have a mix of unique processes and problems alongside more commonly found workday tasks. This creates a need for a range of developed applications — from those that are purely custom to those purchased off the shelf.
But our clients consistently tend to have needs that are somewhere in between. They have unique challenges that off-the-shelf products don’t exactly fit. However, custom development would prove far too costly and time-consuming. Enter Microsoft PowerApps, a platform for rapidly building low-code applications for the web and mobile workplace.
When you build PowerApps, you bring together a series of screens, controls and properties (data) to create a fully interactive application. There are options to start from a template, a SharePoint list or a blank canvas. The interface has simple drag-and-drop capabilities to put these components together. PowerApps you design can run in a browser or on a phone or tablet.
With PowerApps, logic is built into apps using Excel-like formulas. Apps are configured to respond to events, handle changes of state and calculate values using easy formula expressions. You can use functions such as Lookup to query information from sources. There are also functions to take advantage of device features, such as the camera and GPS.
The center of an application is often its data. PowerApps has the capability to pull in data from multiple data sources. This is accomplished via connectors. By means of connectors, PowerApps can tap into data from services such as SharePoint, SQL Server, Excel, Azure Blob Storage, DropBox, etc. In fact, there are currently more than 100 different connectors from which to retrieve data.
There is also the option to connect to custom-built services and APIs by registering those connections. PowerApps delivers the ability to read and write to many of these data sources. The capacity for multiple data sources opens the opportunity to build truly dynamic applications.
Many information workers value applications that bring multiple tools together in a central location. PowerApps enables you to integrate services and tools such as SharePoint, Power BI and Microsoft Flow. This gives you the capability to build dynamic dashboards and mashups of data.
It's also quite easy to build PowerApps that are then embedded into SharePoint or the Power BI dashboard. Additionally, you can integrate with Microsoft Cognitive Services to incorporate video, facial expression, speech, vision or text detection into your app.
Administration and lifecycle management
Key to any successful use of a platform is administration, governance and security. PowerApps is equipped with an admin center that allows IT to manage users, roles, data loss prevention and environments. This enables the organization to provide answers to questions such as:
- Who is able to use the platform?
- What data is accessible?
- What environments are created (dev, test, production, etc.)?
There are also powerful analytics built within the product, allowing IT to monitor the use of the platform and understand what apps have been created, by whom and how they’re being consumed.
Lastly, it’s essential that IT teams can manage the application lifecycle by building policies that dictate how applications are published and deployed, as well as where and when bug fixes occur. Good governance should make IT feel comfortable with empowering trained information workers to build PowerApps.
Microsoft PowerApps is an intriguing product that can provide great value to many organizations. The advantage is clear, as it already exists within your Office 365 licensing, making it very easy to get started. PowerApps has an ever-growing community. There are a wide range of apps being created that are enhancing line-of-business applications and processes