Introduction to PowerApps: Business Applications Everywhere

Since 2014 (and even before then) it has been clear that Microsoft’s approach to providing a customisable forms experience for Office 365 was no longer oriented around InfoPath.  InfoPath had been their key offering in this area since they first introduced it as part of the Office 2003 family.  In the intervening years, Microsoft has not been to clear on its long term strategy for replacing the product which goes out of support officially in 2023.  However, that position has changed now with Microsoft officially badging PowerApps as the successor to InfoPath.  But what is PowerApps?

PowerApps is a suite of services, connectors and a data platform that provides a rapid application development environment to allow you to build custom applications (Apps) for your business needs.

PowerApps - Design rapid applications for multiple device types

PowerApps - Design rapid applications for multiple device types

Microsoft announced the public preview of PowerApps in April 2016. Six months later in October 2016, they announced the general availability of the PowerApps platform.

You can implement PowerApps that integrate with data from many sources including a vast array of Software as a Service (SaaS) data sources such as Microsoft’s Office 365 services or SalesForce and on-premises data sources including your own custom databases.

Apps built using the PowerApps platform can provide rich business logic and workflow capabilities to transform manual business processes quickly into digital, automated processes.

The way we work today is different from just a few years ago. Today we work on many devices; mobile phones, tablets or laptops. Work happens everywhere from a meeting room to an aeroplane.  PowerApps provides us with a flexible environment and responsive design surface enabling the creation of applications which can be easily accessible from the multitude of devices you need to use to get your work done.

Apart from this, PowerApps provides the flexibility to create business applications within a few clicks. We don’t need to have the highly skilled staff or developers to create a simple application.  The PowerApps platform provides a fast and consistent user experience to the end users, developers and administrators.

Here are a few advantages of PowerApps for employees, developers and IT professionals.

PowerApps for Employees

  • You can quickly create an App using Out of the box templates.

  • Built-in connectors allow you to connect data from many systems.

  • Document sharing is easy and you can share PowerApps across your entire organisation as simply as sharing a document.

PowerApps for IT Professionals or developers

  • Reduces development time and costs

  • Produces easy to create native mobile apps.

  • Supports governance of corporate policy by controlling data access over Apps.

PowerApps can dramatically accelerate how business Apps are built, reducing the time to create a solution from weeks (or months) to minutes and empowering a new breed of App creators. It balances functionality for both IT service enablers and business users. 

There are limitations to scenarios for which we would recommend the use of PowerApps and we have summarised our ‘Golden Rules’ in a recent blog post.

Here at Cielo Costa, we have highly qualified experts, advisers, architects and developers who specialise in PowerApps. They can understand your challenges and suggest to you the best, most suitable approach to move forward and help you to get to grips with PowerApps. 

Contact us for more information on how we can help you with your PowerApps journey.

5 Golden Rules of when NOT to use PowerApps

By Ben Weeks

Here at Cielo Costa, love PowerApps. We use it both internally and externally for our clients. It enables fast application development without the use of full traditional pure “development” tools and skills. This allows for the potential to deliver solutions quicker than traditional pure development projects. However, that’s not to say it’s always the most appropriate technology for a project. From the large number of projects that we have now used PowerApps for, we have drawn up a loose set of rules we use at Cielo Costa when considering the use of PowerApps. Therefore, here are our 5 “golden” rules of when NOT to use PowerApps:

5 Golden Rules.png

In a little more detail, the rules are as follows:

> 2000 items

If there are likely going to be more than 2000 items that you need to display within the app then consider the use of a different solution. PowerApps allows for the delegation of queries for larger data sets, however, these can be difficult, limiting, and the documentation is lacking (in particular with regards to limitations to SharePoint).

Long forms

Proceed with caution if there are more than say 50 questions as this can be difficult to maintain (such as the positions of these questions).

More than 5 screens

Proceed with caution if there are going to be more than 5 screens as this can be difficult to maintain (you will end up with repeat logic in the various screens). It can become tricky to maintain a consistent navigation, aligned, and look and feel across multiple screens.

Advanced logic

Keep the forms simple. Advanced logic can be difficult to maintain and debug. There are also no easily re-usable functions. You may find with complex apps that as you fix one issue, you create another. Dealing with permissions (e.g. enabling or disabling buttons for users) can be tricky. In addition, it’s not so easy searching and navigating through the app to find the area that needs to be amended. Lastly, the editing experience compared to your usual tools such as say Visual Studio Code can be frustrating.

Application LIFE-CYCLE Management (ALM) required

PowerApps is a power users tool. That is, they can be built by technically savvy users who aren’t necessarily developers. This allows for solutions to be built quickly for the business. However, it does have some limitations if you want to integrate this into the Application Life-cycle Management of a Solution. For example, trying to integrate PowerApps into your release pipelines can be difficult (not all steps can be automated and connections need to be repaired making it time-consuming to do a release). This process may not also be compatible with your power users (as a very development orientated process) and make supporting it slower and more difficult.

At Cielo Costa, PowerApps forms part of our solution, but we don’t as a general rule build all-inclusive “super PowerApps” that contain the whole solution, rather it forms a valuable part of the whole, where we often also make use of Microsoft Teams, Flow, Power BI and SharePoint Framework development. In addition, this will often mean we break down a PowerApps into small components.

It should be noted that PowerApps is a fast-moving development, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these rules will need to be addressed again in the next 6-months (so take the “Golden” with a pinch of salt!).

We would be interested to hear if you are also using PowerApps, and what you deem as the point at which you look to more traditional or other development platforms to complete a application/project.