Recently, I went to the 2019 Business Application Summit and was taken aback at the strides Microsoft has made in improving the (already great) Power Platform. In breakout sessions and the pre-day conference, I spent a considerable amount of time diving into some of the deeper features of PowerApps such as custom connectors, learning about the roadmap for their market-leading Power BI product, and expanding my knowledge of the Common Data Model and Microsoft Flow. While I had experience with these products before (see Derek’s most recent blog post for my most unique project to date), my biggest takeaways were the agility that these products afford no-code, low-code, and pro-code developers, and how Microsoft has worked extremely hard to fully integrate their Power Platform to make sure all of the applications, while strong on their own, create a unified platform to improve business processes.
Upon coming back, our practice began two new PowerApps deployments that exemplify the two factors I discussed above – one project focused on reducing our client’s need for paper forms required by regulatory agencies in their industry, and the other project focused on building a mobile order entry app that will integrate with their non-Microsoft ERP application. Both projects require many of the things that I learned at the 2019 Business Application Summit – custom connectors, integrations and development in the Common Data Model, and complex flows to move data in and out of my client’s ERP system.
The first project is the first of several phases of application development and deployment to capture the data that is currently recorded on paper and inaccessible in business intelligence tools, improve the efficiency of their production processes by decreasing the entry time for various forms, and reduce their expenditures on labor, paper, and storage. What made the company finally decide to change after these years was the agility that the Power Platform provides – as opposed to a slow and expensive application, our development cycle was only about a week and a half of effort for the first phase, which will be tested by their users in the next few weeks. This project leveraged several of the amazing features of the Power Platform – signature and photo capture, custom connectors that pull the images into flow in an accessible format, and a complex Flow that renders the data entered in the form into a PDF that is stored and organized in Sharepoint for easy access if need be. Most of all, the company now does not need to hunt through hundreds and thousands of paper forms and then manually enter this data to access it and analyze it.
The second project I mentioned above will be an ecosystem of apps for the various roles that employees and their customers play in their order entry process. My client’s requirement was that they can enter orders on the go, capture the customer’s signature either on the spot or at a later date, generate an itemized work order in PDF format emailed to both parties and stored in Sharepoint, and finally import the order into their ERP system. Relative to other solutions, our client was attracted to a number of the benefits of the Power Platform – the customizable nature, the value-add of a generated PDF that includes the captured signature, and, most of all, significantly less licensing fees resulting in the ability to give their customers access to the app as well. Like the previously described application, this too relies on a lot of the same technologies – an integrated common data model, Flows to bring in and export the data, and custom connectors that will give us the ability to capture the signature and add it to the PDF in real-time.
Overall, these projects have been exciting and enjoyable to develop and implement – the Power Platform is easy to use and customize and allows our customers to avoid the expensive cost of creating custom applications that also require significantly more time to develop. On our end, it is rewarding to see our end-users work become easier with the use of these applications. The platform has given us a sense of excitement to find new ways to expand our knowledge – whether that be training and networking opportunities like the Business Application Summit or the incredible Power Platform community where we tend to spend more time than we’d like to admit. Most of all, we look forward to hearing from our clients and getting new and exciting use cases to make their lives easier.