Tim Coalson is a Senior Consultant in the Transformation Practice at ThreeWill. Tim has been developing solutions on the SharePoint platform for over 15 years and has been a developer/consultant for over 30 years. Tim has been involved in migrating SharePoint on-premises farms to the Microsoft Cloud, Power Apps, and Power Automate (aka Flow) which are part of the Microsoft no code/low code solutions.
It’s easy to talk about the Power Platform with words, but sometimes the abstract nature of words doesn’t really connect with people. Oftentimes, I am one of those people. Pictures make more sense to me. I’ve worked on several Power Platform applications lately, using Power Apps and Power Automate specifically, that are relatively simple, yet have a great benefit for the business. I’m excited about the benefits this technology can bring to an organization to make work both more efficient and even more enjoyable. However, it seems many decision makers and even the business don’t know what they are missing. So, I’m hoping to paint a picture that helps depict what is possible, so that a decision to NOT use the Power Platform is at least one that is informed. But I’m hopeful it will at least convince you to take a closer look.
A Power App is a graphical user interface (GUI) that has all the modern controls to which you have become accustomed. The screenshot below is a power apps screen displaying a summary of data by fiscal year. You can click on each of the tabs to see the underlying data. You can switch fiscal years using the quarter and year drop-downs. You can refresh the data by clicking on the refresh icon (to the left of the quarter drop-down). Pretty straightforward.
Below is another example that demonstrates drop-down lists and date pickers. The drop-down lists can be populated with values from other SharePoint lists or defined in a SharePoint list as a choice column. A drop-down list can also include employees from your company’s Active Directory. Type-ahead filtering can be used to help narrow down the options.
So, a Power App is a user interface that can be built as a front-end to SharePoint data or to many other data sources. And while SharePoint is a relatively easy tool to use, Power Apps allows you to abstract the details of SharePoint into a simple user interface to allow your business people to focus on doing what they do best instead of learning another software application.
And because we are working in the Microsoft 365 cloud, Power Apps can be hosted within Microsoft Teams which creates a natural place for a department application to live within a department Team. In the screenshot below, the Inspection and Timesheet Management application is being hosted in a tab in the General Channel of the related department Team. So the people in this Team can carry on their normal department business in the posts and files tabs and then click on the Inspections/Timesheets tab to participate in a collaborative department process that gathers data and then guides the data through an appropriate approval process. Any questions that might arise can be handled as a post in the Team or through a chat conversation with a co-worker. No need to send emails back and forth.
Inspections/Timesheets application hosted in Microsoft Teams
Power Automate is the workflow engine that manages any communication between participants in the business process. Using the example above, when a new Timesheet or Inspection is entered, the appropriate person can be notified via email or preferably a Teams notification to let them know they have a timesheet or inspection to review and approve. Power Automate flows can be triggered directly from a Power App when a button is clicked or they can be triggered when a new item is added, updated, or deleted from SharePoint or another data source. Power Automate Flows can also be triggered by the arrival of an email. Lastly, Power Automate flows can also be scheduled to run at specific intervals (each night, once a week, or once a month). A typical scenario for a scheduled flow is to check for overdue items by comparing dates to the current date/time and sending a notification to the assigned person if an item is overdue. There are many other triggers beyond the ones I have mentioned, but these are some of the more common scenarios.
Power Automate flows are constructed in a visual designer. Below is an example:
This flow constructs a notification message based on the type of notification being requested and sends an email to the appropriate person. Instead of an email, this flow could post a notification to the channel of a Microsoft Team that is monitored by one or many individuals.
In the Power App below, employees are able to view tickets to local venues and put in a request for tickets. When the request is submitted, a Power Automate flow sends a notification to a Microsoft Team channel where the Ticket Administrator is able to easily view the requests. And since these requests are stored in a SharePoint list, the administrator can also use the sorting and filtering capabilities inherent in SharePoint to manage the requests. Yet another example of a simple-to-use interface being used to capture data in a central location that can be leveraged by a decision-maker.
With the use of some pictures and words where necessary, I’ve tried to share the power, no pun intended, that comes with pairing an easy-to-use interface (Power Apps) with a powerful workflow engine (Power Automate) to surface and manage data throughout your defined business processes. The possibilities are endless.
If you see the potential for the Power Platform to have a positive impact on your business, let’s talk. We can share how ThreeWill has benefited other businesses and envision how we can help you as well.
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Great way to describe these Tim!