Microsoft PowerApps gives employees the ability to create and share business apps without any coding knowledge or IT team input

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© Microsoft

Microsoft is giving employees the power to build and share business-related mobile apps without any coding skills or involvement from the IT department.

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Nicole Herskowitz, Senior Director at Microsoft, unveiled the new tool at the Convergence EMEA conference in Barcelona.

The tool lets Microsoft Office 365 users create apps using existing organisational data on a familiar Office platform without the need to write code. 

The tool itself works using various templates that can tap into a wide range of internal SaaS (software as a service) data sources securely, including Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Dropbox and OneDrive, as well as SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle, SAP and even legacy on-site systems. PowerApp users can also build on existing data connections and APIs.

Users can customise app layouts, manage the data being pulled through and tailor elements (the example used was changing a static discount on an item to a slider). The app can then be built around a workflow, for example a button can be set up so that an approval request is sent to a senior manager automatically. The apps can also be integrated with Microsoft's Dynamics CRM so that all transactional data is logged automatically.

The apps are designed to work across all mobile devices and can be easily shared with colleagues once complete, in the exact same way you would share a document on SharePoint. This can then be downloaded and launched immediately.

© Microsoft/Channel 9

Professional developers can encourage employees to develop their own apps, freeing up time for innovation using the native web and mobile apps with Azure App Service. IT staff can manage the data and app sharing in a controlled and secure way through the Azure Active Directory.

Caterpillar case study

American machinery company Caterpillar gave a demonstration of a PowerApp created for its service staff in the field.

Caterpillar has internal data that can be used to create a predictive model to more accurately anticipate when customer’s machinery needs servicing.

Around this data Caterpillar created an app which allows service staff to scan a barcode on the machine to automatically pull up specific information for that asset. The staff member can then run through a service checklist, toggle a slider if a component (tyres, cooling unit etc) requires repair and then write notes into a text field. Staff can also take photos and annotate directly onto them to send back to office based staff. This report can be submitted back into the workflow remotely, complete with an electronic signature.

Caterpillar says this app will increase prediction accuracy of equipment service intervals, improve customer satisfaction, drive rental business growth and improve service contract profitability.

© Microsoft/Channel 9

Transport for London

Another example comes from Transport for London, which has produced an app for fault reporting by staff. Staff can identify an asset - which are already logged as the app plugs into the on-site asset management system - in need of repair and send pictures of the asset to the maintenance team.

The app securely authenticates staff members with corporate credentials and works offline so that employees underground with limited connectivity may sync changes once they are back online.

What next?

PowerApps is available on preview immediately and will be rolled out to selected users for testing.

Code-free mobile app creators are nothing new, but business apps have often lagged behind due to restrictive internal IT infrastructure. The data has always been there but the skills to code it into a working app and then deliver it, specifically in a mobile friendly way, has been limited.

With PowerApps Microsoft is looking to make it as simple and streamlined a tool as possible within their growing ecosystem of cloud-based Office business tools. 

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