Microsoft Power Apps is a convenient solution for building custom apps. Power Apps form part of the Microsoft Power Platform, making it a valuable tool for expanding business capabilities.
The apps created are intended for business purposes only. It might be a custom Power app accessible from a private cloud or as a web-based SaaS accessed only by specific customers and employees.
For clarification, Power Apps is not a dedicated development platform for B2C, home users or for creating an Android app to upload to the Google Play store. Instead, it’s a powerful software tool to create ad hoc, custom apps for business use, instead of relying on expensive, one-size-fits-all solutions.
Brief Overview of Microsoft Power Apps
Software development is costly and time-consuming. For SMEs that do not have a large IT team, it typically means outsourcing app development to a software developer. And then waiting months to see any progress.
Microsoft Power Apps removes lengthy development cycles by putting app creation into the hands of tech-savvy employees willing to learn. Using drag-and-drop actions, drop-down menus, and customising here and there, non-coders are empowered to do more.
The advent of low-code development platforms or, in some cases, no code at all, is here. Whether requiring a pixel-perfect design or open to a functional appearance without the bells and whistles, Power Apps emboldens Power Platform users with the ability to rapidly produce custom applications.
Also, for businesses working with a managed services provider (MSP), using Power Apps allows their MSP to deliver faster solutions because of low-code technologies.
What is Microsoft Power Apps?
The ability to quickly build custom apps is new.
While developers could previously use existing codebases, validated frameworks, and other preexisting tools to reduce timeframes, this only went so far. The more customised the app, the more drawn out the development became.
Whether the CEO requires a precise UI design and will accept no substitutes or be devoid of superfluous features that confuse users, Power Apps can help. Low-code development bridges the gap between off-the-shelf solutions that are not 100% suitable and being forced to wait for an extended duration for a truly custom app.
When creating a new app inside Power Apps, the user first chooses the type of app required. The three types are Canvas apps, Model-Driven apps, and Portals (discussed below). From there, the app is constructed using a simple drag-and-drop interface. Data connectors are also used, permitting the user to access 470+ data stores. Alternatively, create new databases to store information entered when using the live app. No code is required.
In this way, the app creator can produce exactly the type of business app that their company requires. Subsequently, modifications, tweaks, or upgrades are also possible as circumstances change require them.
Types of Power Apps
When creating a Power App, it’s first necessary to pick between a canvas app, a model-driven app, or a portal app.
Below we go into detail about what each of these is:
Canvas apps are pixel-perfect UI designs for all app screens that an end user will see and interact with. This type is for apps where optimal design is paramount, and an object-oriented approach is secondary.
The design is built from a blank canvas. Either a tablet or mobile form factor is selected; the blank canvas is shown, matching the shape and size of the chosen form. From there, design elements (known as components) are added, stretched, and manipulated to produce the desired appearance. For Excel, Word, or PowerPoint users, the approach and creation interface will feel quite familiar.
Once the screens’ design is complete, adding data source connectors is next. This allows access to data from Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM, internal database sources, or accessible third-party ones. This is achieved via the Microsoft Dataverse (formally known as the Common Data Service).
A model-driven app is primarily focused on relational links between data sources. While the UI comes into play too, it takes a back seat to ensure databases are accessible and data connections established, allowing for meaningful use of available data.
Using model-driven architecture, the focus is initially on function, rather than form. Tables, columns, data types, and other specifics needed for the app might be created in a new database. Also, creating data connections to existing databases and establishing the relationships between stored information is done here too.
The front-end interface is produced once the data architecture and data relationships are in place. Unlike Canvas apps, here the app revolves around different Views with data displayed and Forms allowing for data entry by the end user. Components are dragged onto the Form or View and moved into position to create the functionality to bring the app to life.
One interesting feature of model-driven apps is their ability to include one or more canvas-driven apps inside them as widgets. This allows aspects of the former to incorporate improved presentation from the latter to lend it a more professional appearance. For mobile users, this is akin to adding an app widget to the home screen, which pulls in refreshed data.
For example, for a custom HR app, adding the live X/Twitter feed for the job applicant allows HR personnel to look for obvious red flags on social media. The feed display uses a pixel-perfect design, which is first produced as a canvas app, and later added as a widget inside the model-driven HR app. This creates a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
Web portals are the lesser-known third app type available in Power Apps.
It’s useful to think of portals as a type of SaaS with a web interface. These web-based solutions allow office-bound and remote employees, plus authorised third parties, to access a custom portal. These portals allow a customer to log in to check on order progress or to perform other actions.
Portals depend on using Microsoft Dataverse. They do not connect to SharePoint or third-party database systems to access information.
Benefits of Microsoft Power Apps
Whether to improve business outcomes or build complex apps in less time, organisations boost productivity when utilising Power Apps.
Here are a few examples of the benefits of Microsoft Power Apps:
Solving Unique Business Challenges
Unique business challenges are ideally suited for a Power App. When correctly identifying what’s required and how the software will help achieve a faster solution, apps are developed in record time.
Whether requiring ad hoc software for an upcoming expo or an uncluttered sales rep app matching specific criteria, an off-the-shelf package is overkill, won’t fit the need and breaks the budget too.
When creating a new Power App, the form factor (phone, tablet, etc.) is immediately chosen.
For example, Canvas apps are made for phones or tablets/desktops. Power Apps are created with mobile access in mind, supporting iOS and Android smartphones, various tablets, or other smaller form factor devices.
Portal apps also support mobile access for access on the move, not just from the desktop PC. This supports a travelling sales force and remote workers staying updated from their mobile devices.
No Coding Required
Previously, unless you knew how to program, app development was left up to professional developers.
Creating a mobile app for iOS or Android requires knowing 3-5 computing languages, plus being adept at graphic design. Even SaaS app developments intended primarily for desktop use require knowledge of relational database systems, coding database queries, front-end design, etc.
By comparison, the low-code approach to app development removes almost all of the heavy lifting. Laying out each app screen and using data connections to accessible databases is most of what’s required to create a usable business app.
Also, outsourcing the app development to an MSP firm drastically reduces the development time compared to a few years ago.
Typically, an app development partner is sought to create a custom app. While they certainly take advantage of coding frameworks and bolt-on solutions to speed up development time, there is still a lot of code to produce. Then the app debugging sessions begin.
The process is costly because they need a team of highly trained front-end coders, advanced back-end developers, graphics designers, and user experience specialists. And they don’t come cheap!
Power App development shrinks the team requirements and removes most of the complexity. Custom app development now costs a fraction of what it used to. As such, it’s now affordable for SMEs worried about potential budget overruns.
Integration with Microsoft Tools
Power Apps integrate with the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, plus other related Microsoft software solutions.
Depending on the type of Power App, it can access data stored within the Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM. Other customer information stored in an SQL Server database is extractable for use inside a custom app too.
Using Microsoft Dataverse and data connectors, data is no longer stored within Microsoft tools but is inaccessible because apps won’t play nicely with one another. This leverages data to expand the boundaries of what’s possible.
A layered security model is used with Power Apps. Power App creators can only initiate database connections where they have the appropriate security credentials and permissions to do so.
End-user permissions when interacting with the live app are also factored in. This ensures they do not gain read-only, edit, or record deletion rights for data they do not control or manage.
With portal apps, users require authorisation. Login security and other measures are in place to surface only what should be accessible to that end user while safeguarding proprietary or customer information.
Delays with app development are common. Product development timelines get extended to requested features, fix problematic software bugs, and address fresh security concerns.
With a simplified app design approach, point-and-click methodologies, and data connections made simple, building apps is faster than ever before.
Power App development eliminates complexity. For example, joining two tables within a database to find all the orders placed by certain customers is now just a click away, rather than writing an SQL query. Knowing what a “database join” is becomes unnecessary.
The Power Apps interface is based on the Microsoft 365 suite of apps. It’s comfortable and familiar. Sidebars, drop-down menus, and other visual elements display as needed.
The platform is built for non-coders to use. It includes user-friendly design, and clear explanations, and avoids confusing jargon.
Greater alignment between the business process and the application
Specific and sometimes unique business requirements need software solutions to match. The trouble with large CRMs and other software is that it’s a catch-all approach when what’s required is a custom solution.
Using low-code custom app development closes the gap between requirements and software delivery to be either negligible or non-existent.
Need to add a missing field? It’s only a click away, not a week to wait for its implementation.
Just gained access to an additional database? Want to include its data in the app’s search results? Doable without the headache.
Microsoft Office 365 integration
Power Apps use data connectors and Microsoft Dataverse to link up with data platforms and data sources.
Custom Power apps connect directly to data stored inside Microsoft 365, allowing companies to include relevant data while making it more accessible. Indeed, Power Apps are part of this ecosystem, rather than separate from it.
Power Automate, previously called Power Flow, allows users to create automated workflows utilised across various services and apps.
As a cloud-based tool, it brings the power of intelligent automation to the Power Platform. This helps employees work more efficiently on higher-level tasks.
Whether using the trigger/response model or automating regularly scheduled tasks, using Power Automate reduces the workload while improving business efficiency.
Businesses benefit greatly from diving into Microsoft Power Apps. It’s designed to transform custom app development from a task only for specialists to something accessible to many people inside the organisation.
Gain easy access to data stored within your Microsoft 365 ecosystem, other internal data stores, and third-party systems. Spin up new apps or web portals allowing employees or authorised clients to access information faster and in a security-conscious manner.
When seeking business innovation to create transformative change, business operations benefit from adopting Microsoft Power apps.
Contact Microbyte today to start building your dream no code Power App.