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Increasingly popular Power Apps. How to start on your own?

Author: Heikko Kukk Time: 11.07.2022

Starting from the creation of their cloud-based package, Microsoft has brought to the market very exciting combinations of using different apps. One of the most interesting tools is the so-called Power Platform, which comprises three main apps.  

  • Power Apps: apps with ‘simple code’ for various smart devices and for online use. A convenient possibility to create home-made apps for company use. 
  • Power Automate: a tool for automation of business processes in the form of workflows. Approve, decline, forward. All that and more can be done by one tap. 
  • Power BI: business analytics making it possible to turn confusing data arrays into tables and charts understandable for people. 

What is it then about when speaking of Power Apps?  

Technically, all started from Microsoft wanting to replace widespread applications like Infopath and SharePoint designer when moving to the cloud. The idea was that the more IT-wise users do a little hocus-pocus, the source data is in SharePoint, a little code-tweaking, and in a few days or one week you have a modern tool to facilitate some business processes. Filling in holiday applications, expense reporting, performance reviews or inventory lists – Power Apps can be of great help with all that. 

Handling of Power Apps has become easier and easier in time. Leaving aside the knowledge of code, with some concentration and learning you find that the solution is rather logical, and if the interest is there, you can quickly start creating on your own. Here the old Estonian proverb applies, of course: measure nine times and cut once. Thus, before you roll up your sleeves, you should first determine the business needs.  

I will list here some of the things I have experienced and that should be considered when creating different apps. 

1. Why do it in the first place? 

Usually, the goal of an app to be created is to solve a hot issue, save time, give insights, or audit data. Here, it is best to think of the processes that different apps used in the company do not cover yet and that involve a lot of manual work. The best example is various applications we fill in on a daily basis. Sometimes you fill in an application, it is printed out, signed, and forwarded to a third and fourth colleague. Finally, some poor fellow must re-enter all the data into the system, and perhaps the whole procedure will need an approval as well. In short: there is work for several people for quite some time.  

However, Power Apps helps to create a form accessible to everyone, we can add several different forms in one place if required. When the form has been filled in, a workflow follows that saves the data to a required location for creating summaries later on, which can be SharePoint or another app. We can automatically forward data for approval already during the same process, and finally, the automation created enters the information in the required format into the software used. No papers, no manual input, just check and approve.  

2. Technical planning and alignment with business needs 

Once the need is clear and we had an unexpected eureka-moment, what should we do next? The main question is how the data is created? Does a user enter the data? Can we show some pre-filled data in the form already? Where is the pre-filled data located? That is, we need an overview of the data we will collect. Where does it start and where does it end? 

An important question is also where the data will be stored, and will it be possible to use it later on for another app? For Power Apps, registers located in SharePoint are the best for the beginning. Those are easy to read, analytical tables can be created based on those, and the data can also be used in other apps created based on Power Apps. 

The process followed must be detailed. What happens when a user fills in a form? Who (if anyone) should approve it? Once approved, who shall the information be forwarded to? Does the information have to end up in an HR programme? It is good to visualize such processes and draw them on a board, for instance.  

At every stage, we must also know all the possible steps within the process itself. Once an application has been sent for approval and stamped, who will the information be forwarded to? What happens if an application is declined? Should it be submitted again with corrections, etc.?  

Consideration of various limitations or possibilities is just as important as the processes. You should definitely think through the possibilities that the app offers in comparison to a paper form. Copying the format of the current paper form may not be the best option, and it makes sense to update the process as such.  

A process from ten years ago may seem nice, familiar, and convenient, but needs change in time and some things should probably be left out and replaced by new ones. Old practices should not be followed just because people are used to them. Thus, whenever we create something new, I suggest thinking big, and if you cannot create an all-encompassing solution, you can still do something that may already be more than you had. 

3. Involve colleagues 

It always makes sense to involve the people who will use the solution most frequently. It is best to ask people to test it before it is implemented. A small group of prospective users can give you very valuable feedback. However, do not fear feedback that you get during the implementation of an app either. Considering the current capabilities, we can say that no app may ever be fully completed and enabling new functions or better user experience is an ongoing process. 

You should definitely consider that companies often employ people with very different computer skills, and thus, in essence, the solution created must be easily comprehensible. Giving a clear message where users can get help is another extremely important part of successful implementation of an app.  

A good thing about Power Apps is that it is available to all the licensed users, and you can start to learn it immediately, checking out the app templates provided by Microsoft, for instance. However, the license requirement means that all the users for whom we create the app must have Microsoft licenses. Users without licenses are offered a possibility to use the trial version of Power Apps.  

To conclude - just go ahead and try it out!