One of the most interesting sessions during the Microsoft Analyst Summit last week was one on PowerApps. The look and feel leverages the fonts and other features most of us are familiar with in MS Office. It’s in Microsoft lingo “True WYSIWYG”. They leverage a Common Data Service and come with hundreds of standard business entities already defined. They include workflow automation with Microsoft Flow. Finally, they have connectors for over 200 cloud services and on-premises data sources, including SharePoint, SQL Server, Office 365, Salesforce, Twitter, and more.
All this is being leveraged by Microsoft ISVs to build production quality apps, but this ease of development has resulted in proliferation of citizen coders and those at small resellers
Charles Lamanna, General Manager, Application Platform at Microsoft described several PowerApps use cases but three of them in the middle really stuck out for me.
Each is progressively more complex
a) Brian Dang (aka mr-dang / @8bitclassroom) is a third and fourth grade teacher in Southern California. This story is not a business story, but rather a passionate individual, a teacher, who has transformed his classroom and won over hearts and minds with his PowerApps solutions.
Brian taught himself PowerApps when it was in Preview and has continued to stretch what is possible with the platform. In the second half of 2017 he decided to take a one year sabbatical from his teaching role to focus on building apps and evangelizing PowerApps.
All the kids in Brian’s class use Google Chromebooks. This usage of PowerApps is an example of Microsoft technology being used in a district which is otherwise mostly run on Google products and services.
b) Hawkary distributes pharmaceutical products to doctors in Iraq. Several hundred field representatives call on doctors across the country to educate, place samples and take orders for pharma products. It employed Excel and email to collect “daily reports” from these reps. Sorting through emails to find attached Excel files, then opening hundreds of Excel files to glean insights from the reports was time-consuming. It was nearly impossible to do meaningful analysis across all these sheets – how many times was a product promoted, how many daily visits were sales reps doing in a certain region, trends over time on a particular product sample uptake, and so on.
Mohammad, a pharmacist by training, considers himself a “tech enthusiast” – in the past he taught himself how to use Microsoft Access, then discovered and began using PowerApps, Flow, Power BI and the Common Data Service. Leveraging these tools, and learning through videos and help on the community forums, he built a solution combining all the Business Application Platform products.
c) A solution developed by partner firm, Confluent. IPS is North America’s leading provider of services for electric motor and generators used in continuous process industries, including power generation (fossil, hydro, wind and nuclear), petrochemicals, metals, air separation, mining, paper, cement, oil and gas. Headquartered in Greenville, SC, they have 20+ repair facilities across US and Canada serving 4,000 customers.
Repairing customer equipment is a lengthy, multi-stage process inspecting and disassembling customer equipment, quoting the customer on equipment service, performing repairs or maintenance (sometimes parts are in three different locations at one time), reassembling repaired equipment; performing a final test, and shipping the equipment back to the customer. Much of this was supported by passing paper dockets around. Photos were uploaded to a server but filed using a manual naming process. Scaling photo aspect ratios for tablets was cumbersome. Reports were manual.
In six months, IPSS and Confluent created an electronic process that is independent of its ERP system, doesn’t use paper forms, and works no matter what language their data is in (SAP, Oracle, etc.). Storing data in the Azure cloud allows for much easier tracking of equipment across repair, winding, or machining phases.
Of course, there are many more sophisticated apps being developed with the tools – see here.
I asked Mike Ehrenberg, Technical Fellow at Microsoft if we were unleashing a new torrent of uncontrolled apps to the world. I told him of our proliferation experience with Lotus Notes apps at PwC in the early 90s. He smiled and talked about Ray Ozzie, the architect of Notes and later CTO at Microsoft.
We have come a long, long way since!
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)