If you are a company that has already invested in Office 365 you can easily create internal apps for your business using PowerApps. A simple to use online development environment makes PowerApps easy to develop and deploy to your existing O365 set up.
To illustrate its functionality a small Skills Matrix App was created in PowerApps to collect and maintain IT staff skills information. The App used SharePoint ‘Lists’ as the back-end data source. SharePoint was used as it provided an easily accessible place to view, analyse and if necessary, download data. Power Apps also has a variety of other data source options available including SQL, O365, Salesforce, MS CRM, Excel, One Drive or Drop Box.
Like all things SharePoint things can get a bit tricky at times and it best to keep things simple data wise. All the SharePoint list fields were left as text and the relationships and validation was handled in the App itself, to prevent fighting with SharePoint’s eccentricities. If you don’t do this, things get complex very quickly, especially if you have to work with option sets or with dropdowns linked to other lists in SharePoint. This strategy worked really well and provided a solid foundation for the App.
PowerApp Apps consist of a series of linked screens with connections to the underlying data sources, with PowerApps seamlessly handling all of the backend connectivity for you. All the usual controls you would expect are there such as buttons, dropdown lists, input fields, labels, date pickers, toggles and sliders etc. There are also plenty of icons you can use as buttons, which helps to give that App look and feel. Screen construction is drag and drop and you create functionality by configuring items you have placed on the screen via their attributes. Programmability is provided by Excel like formulas. This approach is very similar to the heavier weight low code applications mentioned in my previous post.
PowerApps uses the concept of galleries to present lists of information and as you would expect there are detail forms for editing purposes. Editing can also be done inline in the gallery list itself, as you can see in the screenshots above. Data can be easily filtered on the basis of user input, also shown above. Editing screens can be toggled between view, new and edit modes.
Because users already have a O365 account user authentication is already dealt with, so you do not need to handle this, which is good.
It took 2 days to get up to speed with using the tool and to build the App. An understanding deep enough to build most Apps should be attainable in a few weeks.
The App was created for a mobile phone, but could be made available in a wider format for tablets and browsers. The App can be accessed on mobile devices by downloading the PowerApps app from the Apple or Google stores. To use the app you just need to log on once as an O365 user and then you are all set up to go.
PowerApps allows you to rapidly deploy App capability to your company’s staff or partners. It is easy to work with because it forms part of the existing O365 suite and is relatively cheap because it leverages your existing O365 investment. You can also license PowerApps as a standalone product, but that is onbviously less attractive.
It should be relatively easy to stand up a PowerApps development team (or person), perhaps using existing SharePoint specialists or technically savvy business users.
There are loads of IT or business-related Apps that you could create using this tool. Things like IT self-service portals, budget trackers, cost estimators, product catalogues, asset management, project status updating and a company car selector are all possible.
Although PowerApps is great for small lightweight apps it is important to understand its limitations. It is a useful addition to the toolkit but will not provide the full application development capability that more mainstream low code platforms can provide. The best way to understand what you can do with PowerApps is to give it a try yourself.
Power Apps is of course not the only corporate App solution out there. If your company uses Google Docs for example then Google have their Appmaker offering which is heavily integrated with their G Suite. I may take a look as this at a later stage.
Please also see Low Code Development - Insights