Grant Lewis is an Software Engineer with ThreeWill. Grant’s consulting experience consists of using Microsoft technologies to enhance business operations in a manufacturing environment.
All things age and business applications are no exception. What once was a new application that perfectly suited the business need may eventually become an application that is outdated and inefficient. Whether it is an old Access application, legacy SharePoint app, or something else, when it comes time to modernize your application, there are several steps that will be important to consider to achieve an optimal outcome.
1. Do I even need a custom application?
The first step to modernization is to question the basic assumption that you need a custom application at all. Microsoft has spent considerable effort building the Microsoft 365 suite and adding capabilities over the years. Many things that may have required customization in the past may now be able to be done out of the box. The easiest, fastest, and cheapest solution is no solution at all.
If you have not been keeping up with all the changes in M365 (and who can?), spend some time investigating the new features and try to discover whether there is anything that can be leveraged to meet your business needs.
2. Choosing the right target
Once you have decided that building a custom application is right for you, the next step is to determine what kind of custom application you want to build and how the user will access it.
The Microsoft 365 platform consists of an array of applications that employees use to get their work done. Each app has a set of target audiences and use cases. When considering modernizing your application, it is important to consider who the audience is and how the user is expected to interact with it. This knowledge can help determine both the scope and the interface point for your custom application.
Do you need a process that runs on a schedule and does not require user input? Perhaps an Azure function that interfaces with the Graph API would be appropriate. Do you need an application that performs actions on certain documents or list-based information? A SharePoint Framework solution that is accessible from SharePoint or teams might be a good option. Do you want to empower your employees to create their own processes and optimize their workflow? Consider the power platform.
If your app is data-driven, it is also important to consider whether you want to migrate the existing data or start from scratch. If your existing data is on-prem and you want to move it to the cloud, you will have to decide if you want to use a migration tool or if you can achieve the migration with PowerShell or something similar. Data migrations are performed infrequently but can be complex and crucial for the overall success of the project. Due to this, working with a knowledgeable and experienced vendor, such as ThreeWill, would be recommended.
By choosing the correct target for your customizations and deciding on an appropriate data migration strategy, you can increase the usability and reduce friction for your target audience, which in turn makes it more likely that they will use and gain value from them.
3. Empower your users
In many cases where a custom application is needed, the users of the application will have the most domain knowledge about the data, processes, and requirements. Given this, it may make sense to empower these users of the application to make the application, or at least have a hand in it.
The Power Platform is Microsoft’s Low Code solution for giving non-developers the ability to create custom applications with less overhead and domain knowledge than traditional development. The Power Platform consists of Power Apps, which allow the user to create custom forms and applications, Power Automate to create workflows and repeatable actions, and Power BI for building compelling and appealing dashboards, charts, and graphs. There are also connectors for interfacing with multiple data sources. And these applications are not toys; Power Platform is capable of creating quite complex and advanced applications and processes.
It has been said that all companies are tech companies now. While it may not be feasible (or desirable) for all employees to become developers, if your users are willing to invest a little bit in learning the Power Platform it can have significant benefits in the long run.
4. Find opportunities to automate
One of the best ways to improve employee morale and positive job sentiment is to reduce the repetitive and tedious tasks that employees dislike.
When you are designing your custom solution, look for ways to add automation to your processes. Whether it is a Power Automate Flow or something custom, finding ways to automate these tasks can free up time for users to do the work that they feel has a bigger benefit while removing barriers and time sinks.
5. Consider cost and licensing
While I do not think it is anyone’s favorite topic, licensing restrictions and their associated costs are another important consideration when developing Microsoft 365 customizations. Depending on your licensing structure, not all customization options will be available, and certain features may require additional licensing. Licensing is a very tricky topic in M365, and if you have questions about what features are available to you or other questions about costs, we recommend working with a knowledgeable and experienced vendor.
Making the decision of when and how to upgrade your applications is an important step for any company. The M365 ecosystem is vast and can be confusing and you must be ever mindful of the costs of getting it wrong, however with these steps you can have confidence that you have considered the most important decision points.
Whether you are just starting to consider an upgrade to an existing application, or you are already in progress but have some questions, ThreeWill has the resources to help. We are always happy to try to help you find the best solutions for your situation, now and in the future.