Have you noticed that people seem to have better applications on their smartphones to manage their home appliances than they do to better their work processes? The difference is that individuals can find apps for their personal life on the market while businesses often need a custom solution to suit their specific needs.
Traditional development of custom apps is slow and cumbersome and ties companies in to keep a web developer on staff or outsource it to a 3rd party – both of which come with high costs for development, maintenance and security. Power Apps can help bridge the gap by offering a low-code development solution with built-in connectors on a managed platform backed by Azure Active Directory.
What is Microsoft Power Apps?
In layman's terms, Power Apps is a development platform for mobile and website applications. It houses a suite of apps, services, connectors as well as a data platform that helps users to streamline their application development processes to meet the needs of their business faster.
Power Apps enables users the ability to act and modify data, it can quickly build custom apps that connect to data stored either in underlying platforms like Microsoft Dataverse or in other various online and on-premises data sources such as SharePoint, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, SQL Server and so on.
Power Apps can be used as a powerful tool on their own or in conjunction with other Microsoft Power Platform services.
What are the benefits of Power Apps?
The benefits of Power Apps are plenty. From a high-level vantage point, Power Apps "democratises" the business-app-building experience by enabling users to create feature-rich, custom business applications without writing code. This ease of use and accessibility has quickly led Power Apps to cement its place as a leader in the low-code application development industry. Its low-code accessibility and development make it a beneficial tool to drive business transformation and boost employee productivity.
The platform lets pro developers programmatically interact with data and metadata, apply business logic, create custom connectors, and integrate with external data and in addition to this, apps built using Power Apps inherit the solutions responsive design format and can work seamlessly in browsers, mobile devices and tablets.
Is Power Apps right for your organisation?
If you're interested in delivering innovative applications quickly, chances are Power Apps is the right platform for your organisation. I've outlined business use cases further down, but in an overview, Power Apps can help your organisation create better, more reliable, and cost-effective internal processes.
Power Apps is designed to be used by anyone. While it can be handy to have a developer in your initial design phase—especially if you're developing a complex application—once your application is created, it is not difficult to adjust and add to it further.
If your business is already well intertwined with other Microsoft data-driven products like Dynamics 365 or Azure, you'll likely see a faster ROI as these products centre around the same Microsoft Dataverse platform. While this is not a prerequisite to using Power Apps, it will save your organisation time and resource when integrating to the Power Platform.
Five Use Cases for Power Apps in your Organisation
1. Process automation
Most organisations have, at some point, had a process that requires so many steps to happen in a specific order that something goes wrong almost every time it needs to be done. Sound familiar?
Instead of a difficult to follow process, you can build a Power App that lets users input the information you need in one place and then set up Flows (or Logic Apps) in the backend to put that data where it needs to go, in the correct order. You can even add in validation to make sure what the user is inputting is valid – such as, “Did you mean to say you spent $3560 on your flight from Christchurch to Dunedin?”. Some processes where we’ve found Power Apps helpful are:
- Generating and submitting PDFs with specific data input throughout the text. The Power App can collect the data that needs to go in the document while Flows populate that data in the correct spots in the document, save it as a PDF and email to who it needs to go to. We often refer to this as ‘letter generation’.
- Adding a new customer (or other data point) to every location it needs to exist for downstream reporting, integrations, and processes. Think about adding a new customer to your general database but also adding it to Xero for billing and Mailchimp/HubSpot for marketing. Again, the Power App is the front-end to collect the data and Flows put the data everywhere it needs to go.
- Submitting expenses or travel requests. You can collect the data in a Power App and use Flows to notify managers for approval with different actions based on if it’s approved or denied. If it’s approved, submit the expense for payout and notify the submitter it was approved. If it’s denied, notify the submitter that it was denied and include an explanation.
2. Consistent data collection
Anyone that builds reporting and data visualisations from large datasets knows the agony of working with free text fields, inconsistent formatting, and missing data. I’d venture to guess that every data nerd has battled it out with date formatting (hello US date format) and different ways of saying the same thing (NZ vs New Zealand).
At Inde, we have found that Power Apps can help mitigate these problems and save your reporting experts from monotonous data clean-up efforts. By creating an interface that dictates what values are acceptable and allows you to choose the format for everything input, you can build out a much more reliable dataset for your downstream activities.
It’s also beneficial for the people providing the data, they no longer need to worry about formatting their Excel columns or knowing which data is required versus optional. Some key areas where we’ve found Power Apps helpful are:
- Using choice/dropdown fields to categorise the type of data being input with free text to elaborate on it. This helps with aggregation for reporting and making your data visualisations look succinct. You can then show the free text information as you drill further into the data but retain the categories for high-level reporting.
- Setting date formats and time zones. Even if your organisation only works in New Zealand, you’re likely using systems that default to a different date format or time zone. In Power Apps, you can set what time zone you’re collecting in and make sure the data is being sent to your database in the format you need.
- Validation of data input. If you have downstream processes that will break if data is input incorrectly, you can create validation to make sure it’s correct in the Power App. For example, if you need an integer but someone inputs “10+”, you can disable the submit button until they remove the unwanted characters.
3. Health and safety compliance
For legal reasons, health and safety incidents need to be reported as soon as they happen—but location and time don't always allow for that. Through Power Apps, businesses can streamline the incident reporting process so that individuals can submit incidents wherever they are, and the data automatically goes to one consolidated place. You can even set your app up to collect data offline if your staff are frequently in areas with poor cellular service. Some benefits of using Power Apps to collect your Health & Safety data include:
- An easy-to-use interface for staff to submit incidents or observations as they happen.
- The app already knows who is using it so you can include the user’s information without having to explicitly ask them. This makes for a quicker experience for the person reporting the incident.
- Similar to above, you can enable location services and capture the coordinates of the user if they’re submitting from the place of the incident.
- You can use Flows to continue the downstream process – notify the relevant people and make sure your team is following the steps they need to after the incident.
4. Offline data collection
So, you’ve decided that Power Apps are great for consistent data collection and automating processes, but what happens when your users spend their time in the field with unreliable data connections? There are a few steps you can take to make sure your app can still collect data while offline and then process it as normal once the user has service again. While it’s not recommended (or possible) to collect massive amounts of data while offline in Power Apps, it’s great to have the assurance that your team can use the app and collect the data the same way whether they’re in the office or out in the field. A key learning for us is that it is much easier to design an app for offline use from the beginning, as opposed to changing an existing app to work offline.
5. Data verification
It’s a pretty general consensus on our team that missing data is better than bad data – finding bad data can sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Another use case for Power Apps is as an intermediary step to check data before it’s sent to your database. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just need an actual person to sanity check the information before bad data ends up in your database. You can use Power Apps to display the data you want to be reviewed and provide editable inputs to fix anything that is wrong. A few scenarios where this can be beneficial include:
- Checking data that has been extracted with Form Recognizer models. These models are excellent for automating processes but sometimes the confidence dips if you have complicated layouts or the data is different from how you trained it. In these situations, you can send the results with low confidence to be verified by a person.
- Reviewing speech to text transcriptions. Are you worried that the transcription service isn’t picking up your Kiwi accent correctly? Send the transcription to the app to be read by someone and ensure it makes sense before sending it along for further use or analysis.
- If you have a process that brings in data from an external source but it’s missing data that you need for downstream actions, you can send it to a Power App for someone else to review and add in the missing data points.
Uncover your business use case for Power Apps
Power Apps has a lot to offer. The examples I've shared above are just a minute number — there are endless use cases to consider. If you'd like to find out what Power Apps can achieve for your organisation, or you'd like to discuss your organisation's application requirements — please get in touch. We're well versed in the Microsoft Power Platform among others and would be happy to help you find a solution to suit your business's needs.