What Are PowerApps and How to Get Started with Them
Do you keep hearing about this PowerApps thing but not really sure what it is? Did you play with it for five minutes but couldn’t really figure out what the heck to do with it? Or worse yet, did you try to build an app and got overwhelmed by all the options and choices? If any of this sounds familiar, then you found the right article to help you get over the hump and get productive.
I will admit, I am guilty of pimping PowerApps, I even went as far as to declare 2018 the year of PowerApps. Then I ran off, made all of these beginner PowerApps videos on YouTube, started a PowerApps Consulting company but never really considered that some people need to better understand why they need PowerApps. <sigh> My bad people, my bad.
What Are PowerApps
That is a fair question. Microsoft has a goofy definition that is on every piece of content it produces, so I will not recite it. Instead, I will give you my definition. PowerApps is an enabler that lets Power Users create and publish fully functional apps in a simple editor that doesn’t require you to write code. Seriously, if you can use Excel, InfoPath, Access, or in my case PowerShell, you can use PowerApps. And while the tool can be used to build anything and everything you can think of, the primary use I see is to enable non-technical people to collect information.
If I look across the portfolio of Apps I have built or assisted customers with, the most common theme by a long shot is replacing paper. Here are a few of the apps:
- Mobile App for Commercial Door Installers
- A commercial door installer built an app for their installers to record installation progress on large jobs via their mobile phones. This app increases accountability and enables the office staff to receive real-time progress updates. There may be 1,000 doors in a commercial project, so knowing who is doing what and when is a game changer over the old manual paper process.
- Web App for Product Testing
- A product manufacturer tests every single unit they make before they ship to customers. For years, this was all done with pen and paper, which caused double entry and errors. Now they have built a single App that automates the collection, timing, and reporting of the product testing. For the tester, it went from a multi-step, multi-touch process to a simple PowerApps app to start the test.
- Apps for Inspections
- With PowerApps, the tablet or phone is becoming the new clipboard. Countless people are using these easy to build apps to collect inspection data without someone transcribing it later. The trees say thank you.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because figuring out where to get started is sometimes the hardest part. And don’t get me wrong, PowerApps can do much cooler, fancier things but for most of us, that isn’t where we are today. A great example of fancy is my buddy Daniel’s app that is a fully functional Chatbot for SharePoint. Check out the video here if you want to see it. The solution combines PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, and a cognitive service (not even sure I know what that means).
Because I said so? It was worth a shot. The reason why you would want to look at PowerApps is what it replaces and what it works with. Namely, it replaces InfoPath, Access, and paper while working with Microsoft Flow, Power BI, and I believe somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 other connectors.
Let’s be real honest, InfoPath has needed to go away for quite some time and finally it has delivered a product that will do so. And yes, I know there have been some false starts but not this time. PowerApps and friends are here for the long run as a major component of the Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics platforms.
Start Simple and Then Go Crazy!
Now that you are excited where do you go from here? I would recommend you start with my previous article on Getting Started with PowerApps. I will walk you through all of the steps to build your first PowerApps app from a SharePoint list. Not a SharePoint person? No problem, you can do the same using Excel, on-premises data, or SQL. Just use a data source you are comfortable with to get started. Too many people try to boil the ocean with their first app. Don’t do that. Build something so simple that it insults your intelligence and learn the mechanics. Then get fancy.
And let’s make one thing clear. I am not asking you to commit hours or days to this. You can make your first app in minutes and your first production app in hours. That’s right, most of those apps I listed earlier were all made, tested, and deployed in less than 10 hours. That is the power of this no-code tool.
Speaking of fancy, that is where we are headed. Remember PowerApps is the future (according to me), so we are going to be at this for a while. And as we mature, you are going to find that building scalable apps on SharePoint or Excel isn’t really the best thing. The best thing is CDS. CDS stands for Common Data Service and that is where you get a fully relational database system with predefined entities that allow you to store and use your data in much better ways than the flat lists we use today. CDS also introduces things like better security, data with embedded business logic, and the ability to maintain all of that in another spot. Pretty cool but we will save CDS for when you get through the basics.
Now go build an app and fall in love like I did.