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Impactful O365 Business Apps in Low Code/No Code Power Platform

Libby Fisette Libby Fisette  |  
Oct 15, 2019
 
In this blog series, Libby Fisette, Director of Skyline Technologies’ Modern Workplace team, explores the current state of the digital workplace and some best practices for leveraging the Office 365 toolset. For a full overview on this topic, check out the original O365/Modern Workplace webinar.  
 
The “Power Platform” is Microsoft’s term for grouping together Power BI, PowerApps and Flow. Individually, these applications fulfill a need within the business, but together they provide a powerful platform for people to easily manipulate, surface, measure, automate, analyze and act on their data.
 
Historically, these services and solutions – whether it be application development, process automation or data analysis – were largely in the hands of IT. Business users would typically create an IT request to help automate a process and then wait through the budgeting cycle or the IT backlog to get something built and in production.
 
Now, Power Platform lets the non-technical Power User quickly spin up simple applications, workflows, or dashboards with little to no code. This directly addresses the trends in the modern workplace and the move toward digital transformation covered in my first blog in this series.
 
Let’s look deeper at the benefits of the business apps within the Power Platform.
 

Power BI

Power BI reports and dashboards enable business users to gain valuable insights from all the organization's data sources. Lines of business owners can build powerful drag-and-drop reports and dashboards in a matter of minutes. Interactive filtering allows users to slice and dice the data through a series of connected visualizations to see what’s happening in a specific business area or across the entire organization.
   

PowerApps

PowerApps is a low-code/no-code solution for simple custom app development. As I mentioned above, PowerApps empowers the Lines of Business to quickly create a tablet or mobile-friendly app to solve a specific business problem.
 
SharePoint users can quickly spin up an app to transform a manual, paper-based process into a digital process by allowing users to input form data that feeds into a SharePoint list. These small, but impactful changes are daily changing the way the Lines of Business work and interact with their data – which is another step towards their digital transformation journey.
 
Another strength of PowerApps is the ability to instantly publish an application to the organization, which users can access via their phones with the PowerApps mobile app.
 
PowerApps can also connect or surface data from other business applications, such as Dynamics 365 and Salesforce. For companies with more structured data, PowerApps can interact with the Common Data Service – the underlying data platform unifying the data schema and allowing applications, data connectors and services to talk to one another. This ability to set the underlying data model makes these tools powerful enough for developers to use to build more complex solutions, Azure Functions and the like.
 
powerapps o365 business app
 
Note: Microsoft has recently released a new pricing model for PowerApps. Therefore, before developing an app with premium connectors, such as Dynamics or SQL Server, you’ll want to understand the impact to your organization.
 

Flow

Microsoft Flow allows you to create workflows between your Microsoft services or other third-party applications. Flow is not only great for automating anything that's happening in PowerApps, but it can also automate activities between other applications as well.
 
You can think of Flow as a personal assistant – making quick work of repetitive, manual tasks. For example, I have a flow that runs when I flag an email in Outlook. The flow creates a Planner task for me with the subject line and email body, allowing me to quickly organize and prioritize my tasks. This (and many other flows) are available as pre-built automation templates within the Flow Gallery.
 
Flow can also be used for specific business process automations by connecting various applications, such as SharePoint, Dynamics 365 or non-Microsoft apps like Twitter, Trello, and Smartsheet. As an example, the MarCom team can streamline communications within all the social media applications by using Flow to post to Facebook or send a YouTube video to Twitter. Setting up triggers, alerts, automated emails, and push notifications allows you or your team to save time and streamline your processes.
 

Flow can streamline:

  • Notifications
  • Approvals
  • Process automation
  • Data collection and organization
  • …and more
 
flow office 365 business app
Flow Template Examples
 

Forms

Although not officially part of the Power Platform, I think Microsoft Forms is a powerful, yet somewhat overlooked, tool within the Office 365 suite. Clients are using MS Forms to quickly collect, correlate, and track data behind the scenes. Some use cases include:
 
  • Customer feedback
  • Employee surveys
  • Event RSVPs
  • Anonymous suggestions
 
A Form is really an Excel file. It places the information you receive into a single file that you can look at and assess. At Skyline, we're using Forms to ask our clients for feedback. After we've completed a project, I'll send a quick form to our clients. Since it typically takes only a minute or two to fill out the survey, we regularly receive valuable feedback the same day.
 

FAQ: What can I do myself without needing a developer?

I’m a power user, not a developer; I don’t know how to code things, but I can make a quick Flow or PowerApp. In either case, many templates are already created. You can search within the Microsoft site to find a template that makes sense for you and then just make a couple of tweaks to meet your needs.
 
PowerApps can also help a power user make a big impact. Using PowerApps, you can create a more user-friendly interface on a SharePoint list or even embed the app on a SharePoint page. That is a simple use case that doesn’t require a developer or consultant.
 
While the Power Platform offers some simple and quick no-code solutions for power users, there are more complicated scenarios that may be out of reach for the average business user. For those situations, developers can extend the capabilities with advanced logic or custom APIs to meet the business needs.
 
For example, at Skyline we have a PowerApp for our credit card holders to submit receipts. If the charge is greater than $75 and in a certain category like “Meals”, the app requires that I submit a receipt. That functionality isn't an out-of-the-box or intuitive PowerApps option; one of our PowerApps experts added that logic to the application.
 

More Powerful Together

The Power Platform applications are even more influential when used in conjunction with one another. Power BI dashboards can be embedded onto a SharePoint page to allow users to quickly visualize data related to a specific topic. PowerApps forms can help users interact with SharePoint list data, which can start approval or notification workflows on the data.
 
Ultimately, whether you have developers on your team or just power users who are getting into the Power Platform space, these apps can deliver a lot of business value. Even something as simple as setting up an automatic approval when an item is added to a list can save a lot of time. When you get into more complicated things (like that credit card PowerApp), you can reduce paperwork, streamline who needs to be doing what, and ultimately get a lot of return on your Office 365 investment.
 
Office 365Power BI

 

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