Meet PowerApps – Microsoft 365’s new application suite

Alexander Darcy



Alexander Darcy

In this article

    Microsoft has been integrating its productivity tools into a cloud based Platform as a Service over the last few years to compete with Google AppMaker and Appian. In 2017, it introduced a low-code business workflow solution called PowerApps.

    What is special about PowerApps?

    Integrating internal communication, decision management and enterprise-level productivity into one environment reduces duplication of data sources while enhancing security. PowerApps provide this level of functionality as they work on top of Microsoft’s Common Data Service.

    Through PowerApps integration tools and apps, employees can fill out forms which are aggregated for supervisors to review and forward decisions to finance and HR. All these steps can be automated and designed to be compatible with a desktop environment, tablet and phone with a few clicks.

    Low code development platform

    PowerApps are designed to be used by the business executive with little to no code. They can be developed on multiple platforms such as Windows, Android and iOS among others. This means the non-technical business user has the same experience whether they are using a browser or the installed apps on their phone.

    Even though there is minimum requirement for coding, PowerApps tools are designed to allow complex yet intuitive business logic. You can design end to end workflows that transform manual business processes into scalable applications for a department or the entire enterprise.

    How do PowerApps work?

    The key features of PowerApps are the data sources as the base of the apps and the development options available by combining entities, triggers, workflows and connectors.

    Each of these features has been developed to allow easy integration with Microsoft 365, Power BI and Azure, among others.

    PowerApps Data sources

    Microsoft offers the Common Data Service to house enterprise data to be used across its platforms.

    The Common Data Service comprises data storage modules called entities that are purpose built for the familiar use cases encountered in a business environment. For example, adding the Calendar entity to an app gives it scheduling and reminder functionality.

    External data sources like MailChimp and Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning can be connected to apps to increase their functionality.

    App development options

    There are a number of approaches you can use to develop PowerApps including canvas apps, model-driven apps and portals.

    Canvas apps provide full freedom to design the full user experience (UI/UX) from a blank slate using all the tools available, including development of data structures and entities.

    Model driven apps start with a defined data source within the Common Data Service from which you can create forms, views and business flows. Anyone familiar with Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint will quickly pick up on the visual cues such as toolbars as well as the drag-and-drop tools. The PowerApps site can automatically configure your apps to work on desktops or mobile devices.

    Portals are websites that use Common Data Service as a data source, allowing external users to use various entities and browse content securely and anonymously.

    Making a PowerApp is quick and easy

    After signing up for a free trial or paid subscription, you immediately have access to apps, workflows, integrations, connectors and notifications. There are many templates for different use cases that are recommended for a new user instead of building everything from scratch.

    Subscription to the standalone service only costs $7 per user per month for business users without programming ability. Plan 2 costs $40 per user per month and is suitable for developers as it provides deep data modelling tools as well as complete enterprise policy management.

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