How would you like to make your own phone app? Microsoft Dynamics 365 PowerApps, a PaaS model available in the cloud, makes app creation easy.
PowerApps was introduced in April 2016 as a way to allow any business to harness the power of app technology for their organization. According to LightningTools, more than 124,000 people from 46,000 organizations around the world have used the tool to make web and mobile applications since it was introduced. Last year, TechRepublic reviewed the app by using the program, and the author said he had a new, fully functioning app that was up and running in an hour.
That’s the whole point of PowerApps—you do not have to be a programmer to use this software. The software eliminates the cost associated with engaging a professional app developer to create a mobile or web application. Microsoft has opened the world of app development to non-programmers. Anyone can design an app, and it is a quick, fun process that cuts the red tape associated with engaging your IT staff.
This is a functional app in minutes for web, mobile, laptops, tables, phones, Android, iOS, Windows – Yes, PowerApps bridges all of these digital venues.
That’s because the Dynamics 365 PowerApps user interface is more like Microsoft Office and less like a programming language. It uses visual cues, drag and drop, and an intuitive framework called Flow as the engine to help you create and automate real apps, really quickly. You can add controls, like text fields, media including video and camera controls, forms and screens.
Dynamics 365 PowerApps is included in Office 365 and Dynamics 365 subscriptions, or as an a la carte feature for businesses ready to capitalize on the app phenomenon.
How Dynamics 365 PowerApps Works
After you install Dynamics 365 PowerApps, the user interface allows you to enter the PowerApp Studio. From there you can change layouts or customize the application. While you can certainly build from scratch, the beauty of PowerApps is its accessibility; anyone can use it.
Behind the scenes, PowerApps runs on Microsoft Azure, linking with Azure Active Directory, App and Media Services. There is a Microsoft Graph API (Application Programming Interface) connecting to the data that you’re using—wherever it may be.
Dynamics 365 PowerApps is broken into three component sections:
- The App section allows you to click your way to a real digital application. It will have some basic defaults attached to functionality, but there is some customization available to help you make the app your own. You can change how the data interfaces with users. Or, you can improve upon the detail by adding images and descriptors.
- Connections to your data sources. These connections are effected simply by Microsoft asking what data source(s) that you want to use to interface with the app. Some of the data sources you can use include:
- SQL Server
- Dynamics 365
- Google Drive
Just a couple of clicks and you can connect to customer data, then drag/drop to organize the data on screens for record detail or by search parameters. PowerApps Studio supplies a template based on the data tie-in that you choose, but you can also create your own interface.
You could create an app for your sales team to keep them cold calling by integrating Salesforce data. Or, a marketing app for customers that allows them to rank their experience with your company by linking data from Dynamics 365. It’s easy to create department-specific budget apps, sales estimators, or inspection reports. Really, you can create whatever you want in a few minutes, and then tweak it as needed after launch.
- Flow, which are workflows launched by the app, are the backbone of the process. Apps are basically automated actions, or workflows, that allow user interaction. The Flow controls user screens, button controls, and app activity. Flow can automate a response to a triggering event. In fact, Flow seems to mirror IFTTT, which is a well-used tool that programmers use to create if-then commands within apps. Microsoft calls these statements “flows” and they basically are the underlying code behind how your app functions.
You can use Flow to automate files from OneDrive to SharePoint. Or, use it to notify you when a file is uploaded in Slack. Or even, automated an SMS when your employer sends you an email.
When you’re done designing, you can publish your app to the cloud or share it with people or groups. You do not have to suffer through the rigmarole of publishing to an app store.
How to Use Dynamics 365 PowerApps
The Microsoft Blog in the business/tutorials section has some great app ideas that actual customers have made. One tells the story of creating an exhibit giveaway inventory list. If you’ve ever worked a booth in a big exhibit hall, you know how hard it is to keep track of your “swag” giveaways. One big problem is that you may simply have too much traffic and run out of swag. This can be a real problem if you’ve done some pre-conference advertising inviting visitors to stop by and claim their free gift!
So, Microsoft created a Swag Inventory Management app. It allows you to record the name and email of the person taking the goodie. The menu gives you several giveaways to choose from, so with a tap, you pick what item you’re handing out. Then it removes that item from a connected database, so you can instantly see how many swag items you have left and if you need to order more. Go here to see the step-by-step instructions for creating this app.
Getting Started with Dynamics
There are some decent online tutorials on the Microsoft website. We recommend running some of the samples, and experiment with templates, as you’re considering what your app will do.
As is typical, Microsoft has been working to improve the Dynamics 365 PowerApps experience. The June 2017 update (v.650) increases the functionality of web applications, allowing you to publish updates for users to test. Some of the latest improvements include:
- New templates that are accessible on the web interface.
- The ability to edit or add Flows via the web interface.
- Authoring can now be undone from the browser. This gives you an immediate fix of a mistake.
- The older versions rolled out app changes to end users simply when you hit “save.” This was a little annoying when you were working on an upgrade that you weren’t quite ready to roll out. The problem is now solved with the addition of a “Publish” button alongside the “Save” key. Don’t worry—you can still see your work at PowerApps.com on the App versions page. You can select any of the versions, work on them and publish, or just save them for the next time.
- Prior to Version 650, updates to PowerApps were applied to your published applications automatically. In many cases, the end users benefited from the updates. In some cases, it caused app side effects that changed how the apps behaved. Now, the only time your published app receives an update is when you edit them in the PowerApps Studio and then save and publish it. How this should change your workflow is simple. If you don’t test your app after changing it, you should now make that a habit before you hit “Publish.”
- Here’s another cool update: If you’re trying to connect to a database on SharePoint online, you may notice that not all list types appear in the drop down menu. That’s a bad thing if you have a custom SharePoint data list that you’re building your app around. With this update, you can simply scroll to the bottom, and type in the name of your custom list.
You can even collaborate on building an app by using PowerApps inside Microsoft Teams—a chat and collaboration space within Office 365. Now you can add an app to a channel for your team to use. Here’s a cool example of an ideas submission app that is functioning within the chat channel.
Why You Need Dynamics 365 PowerApps
Microsoft Dynamics 365 PowerApps is a powerful tool that democratizes the app building process. You no longer have to rely upon programmers to bring your good idea to life—you can build it yourself. What this means to your enterprise is that any employee could have the power to create apps to change a department or business. For a small to mid-size business, PowerApps continues the Microsoft commitment to taking enterprise level tools and making them available to everyone in an affordable cloud-based subscription service.
No matter the size of your business, today’s workforce needs to be mobile while still empowered to be creative and collaborative. Dynamics 365 PowerApps allows everyone to participate in the digital revolution by creating useful and interesting applications that can improve your business.