Microsoft Power Platform: The future of app-building has arrived

November 30, 2021

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Low-code, citizen app-building is an excellent way to meet your organization’s desktop and mobile app requirements while alleviating the strain on IT. In this three-part series, we explore how Microsoft Power Platforms can streamline your efforts—and how to deploy the solution effectively. This is the first article in the series.

Paul Witherow, PMP, MBA, is a Partner and leads MNP Digital’s Customer Platforms COE, which includes our Digital Experience, CRM, and Low Code Application Development solution teams. Drawing on more than 25 years of management, strategic advisory and systems integration experience, Paul leads strategic change initiatives and technology-enabled transformation.

As work becomes more digitized, and the information held within our organizations continues to grow exponentially, companies are fervently looking for ways to more efficiently leverage, organize and make sense of it all. For many, this effort has resulted in an influx of desktop and mobile apps.

While the purpose of these apps is to make it easier to access, collect and distribute important data, many workplaces now have apps for every line-of-business system and security product—leading to an uncoordinated digital framework. In fact, research shows that today the average information worker uses 36 different cloud services at work, creating countless sources of distraction and hours of lost productivity.

To exacerbate the issue, the demand for new apps is growing, led by a new generation of digitally-savvy employees entering the workplace. Requests are currently coming in five times faster than existing IT capacity can accommodate which, unquestionably, is putting a strain on IT resources—forcing many companies to invest in expanding their teams. Even then, they’re running into roadblocks, as 57% say the number of staff needed for software development is increasing while the cost of software development is rising (61%).

Fortunately, there is a way to both build apps that create true organizational value and achieve a coordinated digital transformation to maximize data. And for Microsoft business customers, that solution already comes with their existing license in the form of the Microsoft Power Platform.

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Power BI
Business analytics

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Power Apps
Application development

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Power Automate
Workflow automation

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Power Virtual Agents
Intelligent virtual agents

How Microsoft Power Platform helps

Microsoft Power Platform is a unified platform of integrated low-code tools that includes Power BI (business analytics), Power Automate (process automation), Power Virtual Agents (intelligent virtual agents or website chat bots) and Power Apps (application development). While all of these tools play a role in helping organizations coordinate their digital transformation, Power Apps is the main player in enhancing app-building and reducing the associated IT bottleneck.

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"This shift to citizen-led development has created a whole new world of digital opportunities."

Essentially, Power Apps is designed to help organizations take the app-building responsibilities off the shoulders of the IT department by putting them into the hands of citizen developers. With the solution’s low-code platform, virtually anyone in an organization with minimal technical knowledge can build an app to meet their unique business needs—whether they’re in human resources, finance, sales, marketing, customer management or another department entirely. 

This app-building solution offers a middle ground between commercial off-the-shelf offerings and customized in-house offerings built by IT. Through a streamlined, drag-and-drop platform, in-house teams simply require basic logic and preliminary coding skills to build functional apps for mobile phones, tablets or desktops. These apps can track or manage complex business processes on a desktop or be purpose-built for a specific task to be executed on a mobile device.

This shift to citizen-led development has created a whole new world of digital opportunities. With the help of Power Platform, HR departments are integrating information from Microsoft Office to create employee onboarding apps that allow new hires to access everything they need to hit the ground running—like policy guides, team member contacts and detailed job descriptions. By building apps that allow team members to quickly and easily submit claims from their phones, finance departments are streamlining time-consuming activities such as expense approvals. And in-house service teams—including IT, maintenance and HR—are able to easily triage and resolve organizational needs through service request apps.

As an added bonus, Microsoft Power Platform enables users to centralize their app-building efforts and identify opportunities for consolidation, coordination and oversight.

A new frontier

While the world of citizen-led app development definitely has its advantages, it’s not free from risk. As you can imagine, allowing just about anyone in your organization to create an app without any oversight or guidance can lead to less-than-ideal results.

Common errors individual app developers could make:

  • Use data incorrectly
  • Build apps without the proper security measures in place
  • Expose organizational data, or an entire network, to costly breaches
  • Integrate miscalculations or errors into their app
  • Exclude important KPIs
  • Violate company policies—like those around style, branding, business rules or IT requirements for documentation and app support

In short, without the proper governance structures in place, an organization’s attempt to alleviate some of the pressure from IT could end up creating more headaches in the long run. That’s why this type of initiative shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Bringing order to the Wild West

So how do you leverage the full capabilities of Power Platform while mitigating the associated risks? The key is to implement the right governance and planning practices from the outset—and create a strong framework and environment to allow citizen app building to flourish.

We’ll delve into how to do that in our second installment of this three-part series. In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to avoid a “wild west” scenario at your business, MNP Digital has the knowledge and expertise to help you implement Power Platform effectively. Contact us to learn more.

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Power Platform in action

Just before the City of Ottawa was ready to go live with its new electronic public health record, the pandemic hit. Overnight, the priorities of Ottawa Public Health changed, and the department needed an effective way to digitize its infectious disease management processes.

Specifically, the city needed the ability to conduct contact tracing activities, track COVID-19 responses across the city and collect information to help predict future disease outbreaks. While this would require tweaking the new electronic public health record, the city was also going to need new apps to support the data-gathering effort.

In just under eight weeks, with the help of MNP and Power Platform, the City of Ottawa had an app that leveraged the data and functional design of COVID-19 operational database—as well as a user-friendly dashboard, test booking app and facility visit pre-clearance app.

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