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The Process of Picking Up the Power Platform (Part 1)

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In this Podcast, The Process of Picking Up the Power Platform (Part 1), we discuss…

MinTopic
:50Introduction
3:45Power Platform
4:48Power Automate
5:18Power BI
5:25Power Virtual Agents
6:50Employee Engagement Survey


Danny Ryan:Hello, and welcome to the ThreeWill Podcast. Today, I have Sir Bruce Harple here with me. Hello, Mr. Harple.

 

Bruce Harple:Hey, good morning, Danny. Glad to be here.

 

Danny Ryan:Glad to have this extra time here with you. I know we spend lots of time together, day in, day out. And today I’m looking forward to finding out a little bit more about your meagle.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah.

 

Danny Ryan:And finding out you’re refreshing some of your skills here. I love it. I love it. Good stuff. So let’s go ahead and get started with this topic. I almost want to call this what happens when a Kubool developer finds Power Apps.

 

Bruce Harple:I like that.

 

Danny Ryan:You can teach an old dog new tricks. Right?

 

Bruce Harple:I like that. Yeah.

 

Danny Ryan:So tell us, give us a little bit of background about what you’d like to talk about today.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. So yeah, you mentioned Migos, which is something that ThreeWill, we started doing this year, which is really giving each individual a chance to set some kind of a growth goal each quarter, and for us to enable people to take the time to grow personally, professionally, wherever they choose. And as I started thinking about what I wanted to focus on, I mean, there’s a lot of areas I could have gone. Right? But yeah, you know what I mean, I started my career back in the day, right, the 70s and 80s as a COLOL and assembler developer, rightS working for EDS. And I actually loved it. I used to love writing code, used to love, debugging, troubleshooting, and just had a lot of passion around that.

 

Danny Ryan:We’ve read about you guys in history class, so yeah, we can remember that.

 

Bruce Harple:That’s right, back when it was a mainframe computer, right? Which still live, there’s still a couple of more similar out there for sure.

 

Danny Ryan:Hey, when I started out at PricewaterhouseCoopers, that’s the first language that they had us learn because there was more COBOL out there than anything else.

 

Bruce Harple:Absolutely. Well, and I know obviously, all that it changed, right? The development platforms and the tools, even the code just really dramatically changed since then. And I haven’t kept up. I was a hands-on developer as you know. But Microsoft talks about this new thing in Microsoft 365 called the Power Platform. Right? And it’s supposed to be this platform that a business user can use to create solutions for-

 

Danny Ryan:Even old COBOL developers could use it.

 

Bruce Harple:Even old COBOL developers can pick up this tool and create applications. And it’s really targeted for, I think primarily a more simple line of business applications, but it’s piqued my interest. So okay, I guess a part of me is saying, “Well, let me prove whether that’s really true or not.” Can a business user really pick up the Power Platform and create solutions on that platform? So yeah, I thought this would be a good topic for this podcast. And maybe what we do each quarter, Danny is maybe part of what I’m doing is providing an update on what I’ve learned. Right?

 

Danny Ryan:That’s great.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, because I would consider myself more a business user at this point in my career versus a developer. Right? So I’m a non-developer for sure.

 

Danny Ryan:That’s awesome. I love these things where you have somebody’s first experience with using some of these technologies because it’s just good information. It’s almost like you’re doing a little primer on what you need to know as a COBOL developer to pick up the Power Platform. Good stuff. Get us started. So what was this whole process like?

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. So what I did is I just started out just trying to understand what is the Power Platform, right? What does it include? And it includes four key components. There’s Power Apps, which is where I decided to focus on. So Power Apps, the idea there is you have this rapid low code development environment to create custom apps. And the beauty of it is when you create something, when you create an app in Power Apps, it really is already web-enabled and mobile-enabled. Right? So it’s already, out of the box, will run on any device, anywhere, any device, which is kind of cool.

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:You don’t have to worry about developing a web app and then figuring out how do I make that thing work on a mobile device? It’s going to work this way.

 

Danny Ryan:So that’s sort of built into the framework.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, it’s built into the framework.

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:And so there’s also a power automate, which is really just automating workflows between applications, between services. And with what I’m doing as I get through building an app, I’ll probably throw some power automate in there at the end and try to have some simplistic workflow.

 

Danny Ryan:And that’s the replacement for Flow, right?

 

Bruce Harple:That’s right, it replaces Flow.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep, got it.

 

Bruce Harple:Yep.

 

[crosstalk 00:05:10].

 

Danny Ryan:That’s number two. What’s number three?

 

Bruce Harple:Pardon me?

 

Danny Ryan:What’s number three.

 

Bruce Harple:That would be Power BI. Right? BI being business intelligence, so that is the analytics and insights component here. Right? So if I build an app that’s collecting data of some kind, I could put Power BI on top of that data, slice it and dice it, and get different views into that, so I can share with others. Right?

 

And then the fourth element or piece of this is Power Virtual Agents. Right? So this is all about creating chat bots, right? Chat bots being little code snippets that can go out and do certain things, so you’re behind the scenes. Right? So those are the four elements of the platform, right, the Power platform. And again, what I focused on is, is power app.

 

Danny Ryan:You forgot the last, the fifth one, which is Power Builder, right? Now, does that bring back … This is where we connect, right?

 

Bruce Harple:There you go.

 

[crosstalk 00:06:14].

 

Danny Ryan:Power Builder was one of those things that was one of those initial tools that was out there. So everything’s power. I was taking my notes here and it’s like power this, power this. Where’s Power Builder?

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, that was one of the first client server-based application development platforms. Right? Wow.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep. Did that jog some memories out?

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, but not good memories, Danny.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep. So go ahead. Sorry. I just had to ask. It just seemed like the next things to add.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, so what I thought I’d do, Danny is maybe just walk through 50,000 foot-level what in Power Apps, right? And then I started tinkering with a little application, and I thought I could at least show a little bit of what I got and what it took to get to where I am.

 

Danny Ryan:Cool, so this is like a little line of business application that you ended up, you’re building probably something that we can try out within ThreeWill?

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, yeah. So actually it’s an employee engagement survey, so it’s a way for us at the end of the year to have a survey where we can assess what our employees think about ThreeWill and areas that we can improve upon, and just their careers and-

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:So, yeah. And I got a few questions out there now, but a lot more work to be done on it. But I thought that way it’s something that we could potentially use internally.

 

Danny Ryan:Very nice.

 

Bruce Harple:So the foundational pieces of Power Apps, so one is the data sources. Right? So if you’re going to build an application, you’re typically going to have to build it with some kind of backend data store. Right? And the nice thing about Power Apps is that data store could be in Excel, which will actually be my data store for what you’ll see here in a minute. It could be SharePoint, right? So back in SharePoint lists, there’s something called a common data service, which is a more baseline relational data store.

 

And then obviously, their SQL server, right? SQL server being more something that might be more perfect for somebody that’s got higher volume. Right? And you need to take advantage of a more powerful database, imagine a system like SQL server. A lot of different backend data sources, right? And that’s key, right, and making that simple, making that connection simple. And they also have, Connector, right? So a connector is just a bridge between your app and some data source, or workflow, or dashboard. And Microsoft has like 270 plus connectors already that you can leverage.

 

So an example of a connector would be for me to store data in SharePoint, right?

 

[crosstalk 00:09:08] SharePoint. Or I can push data to outlook or pull data from outlook. I can do the same thing with YouTube, Salesforce, MailChimp. Right? So all these connectors that are already there that you can leverage, you don’t have to build a connector. Right? It’s already there for you to use.

 

Danny Ryan:Is that using ODBC?

 

Bruce Harple:Boy, Danny? I don’t know.

 

Danny Ryan:[crosstalk 00:09:35] I’m just trying to bring up old technologies, Bruce.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good one actually, right?

 

Danny Ryan:No, but seriously it sounds like this is just-

 

[crosstalk 00:09:46] What’s that?

 

Bruce Harple:It’s all API based, for sure

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, it’s sounds like this is nice for prototyping something out. You could use like an Excel, and then once you’ve got it nailed what you want to do, then you can move to SQL server, or move to a SharePoint list based on the number of people accessing it and other requirements that come into play.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. No, and that’s a great point, Danny. I mean, the way it’s designed is you can change that backend data store as you need to scale. Right? And as you need to have performance requirements, you could switch the backend data store pretty easily without changing your front end. Right? Or with minimal changes to your front end, that’s the beauty of it.

 

Danny Ryan:As ThreeWill moves to hundreds of thousands of employees, you can scale it up.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. And you’ll see the app as I’m working on this employee engagement survey, the backend data stare is Excel. Right?

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah.

 

Bruce Harple:It’s a pretty simple survey. It doesn’t require a ton of data. That makes sense when start with that.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep. Yep. Cool.

 

Bruce Harple:And then the other thing, the other piece of Power Apps is there’s something called Canvas App. And canvas app is where you create the UX or user experience and Canvas, you kind of think of an artist, right? You can choose to start with a blank canvas. I’ve got a blank screen in front of me, and then you just start dropping in different UX controls on that canvas. Right? Whether it’s a text box, whether it’s a box you’re going to capture data, whether it’s a set of like a drop-down list thing, or whether it’s radio buttons, whatever it might be, you can start with a blank canvas and build it from there, and connect it to a backend data store or data source.

 

Or they have something called Model Driven apps, and that’s where you start with your data model. Right? And you kind of tell Power Apps, “I’ve got this data model, and this is what I want to use.” I want to now create the front end to interact with that backend data model, automatically bring it in and create a starting UX for you, so a lot of flexibility there.

 

Now for me, the other thing, Danny is when you go into the Power Apps, there’s all kinds of templates. Right? I mean, they have a whole library of starting templates. So for me, like when I started on this employee engagement survey, I started with a template that they had, which was great because it gave me a jump start.

 

Danny Ryan:So they had something that was like a survey or an employee engagement survey that was a starting point for you?

 

Bruce Harple:That’s right.

 

Danny Ryan:Now that’s my kind of development right there.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. Yeah. So maybe what we’ll do, Danny is let me-

 

Danny Ryan:Oh, show and tell time.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, let me share my screen here. Let me see what to do. I will share my desktop. And I’m going to go over to Chrome here. Yeah, so this is my canvas, what you’re looking at right here. You see the employee engagement survey? That’s my canvas. And so what I can do is I’m going to run what’s they’re today. So if I hit this, so this is it, right? I hit get started, it tells me a little bit about what I’ve got. I’ve got five questions. What is your practice? And you’re familiar with that, right? I mean innovation practice. Are you proud to work at ThreeWill? Well, I’d better answer definitely there.

 

This was one of the default questions, obviously. I’m not going to keep this one in our survey, but we’ve got that. Do you see yourself working here in a year? Yes. I can say, love it, love it at ThreeWill. Bam, done.

 

Danny Ryan:Cool.

 

Bruce Harple:Pretty simple, right? And for me, I needed to start with something simple. And even when I started this, there is a backend data store. Right? So if I click over here, so this is in my OneDrive, and this is where it’s pulling the questions. Right?

 

Danny Ryan:Oh, that’s awesome, Bruce.

 

Bruce Harple:Let me refresh this. Here’s the questions, and then here was the choices. Right? So for question one, I had, you remember these were my choices, right?

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah, nice, nice.

 

Bruce Harple:And then the responses are over here as you collect the response. And it was interesting when I … Let me go back to the app here. Where was it? Here. And when I first started this, when I picked the template, I actually didn’t know that it already had created this data store in Excel for me on the backend. And that would have been here like if I go down here on my left, this is my navigation. So there’s question one, and then if I expand that out … And I was changing stuff over here, and it wasn’t changing my questions. And I was like, “What the heck is this thing doing? Because I didn’t know-

 

Danny Ryan:You didn’t know it was hooked up to the backend.

 

Bruce Harple:And I finally poked around enough and said, “Oh, wait a minute, there’s a data store that’s got the question, got the choices. And then you can see if I click through the different pieces here, you can see it’s highlighting. These are all the components that are on here. Right? And then here’s my radio button. Right? So I’ve got here, and then with each one of these, if I go to the right, you can see I have different properties here.

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:I can control some of the properties of that text box. Right? So I mean, it’s one of those things, Danny, where you definitely … And there are some good learning modules out there that Microsoft has, [inaudible 00:16:15] has. And I did a few things, but I’m kind of a just let me just get in there and poke around kind of guy.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah.

 

Bruce Harple:So it helps if you’re, you’re curious and you’re willing to do that.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep.

 

Bruce Harple:It’s not always easy and intuitive to figure out how to … Changing things isn’t so bad, but if you wanted to add things like I added these radio buttons, and it took me a while to figure that out. Maybe if I take more training, I would have been more efficient at it, but I chose to take some training and then to dive in because I was curious and wanted to play around and get some things going.

 

Danny Ryan:This is great. I could see how for our client, I mean because we’re typically helping folks with transforming, so getting stuff over onto Microsoft 365, and then setting up the digital workplace. And I could see this as a part of what we’re teaching for the no code, low code line of business solutions that need to be maintainable and change over time. This is a great thing because part of this is just going to be a training that power user community to be able to use these tools and take advantage of these tools.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. And if you think about it, Danny, we talk about our customers today, the way customers innovate today, especially business users, the tool of choice for innovation is Excel.

 

Danny Ryan:Yeah.

 

Bruce Harple:Right? We describe it as the Swiss Army Knife for business, right? And think about that. If you took an Excel spreadsheet, so I chose to build a canvas path, right? But if you did a model-driven app and you had an Excel spreadsheet, and you wanted to get more of a front end on top of it, and then you want to layer BI on top of that as well to be able to present it in a more dashboard kind of way, man, I mean the platform for those kinds of business users that are having to go in and handcraft Excel to put a UX on the front of it that more than one person can use, you have to put some flow with it to put a dashboard on top of it.

 

I mean for that, there’s huge value and opportunity here, right? It’s super simple to use. I wouldn’t say that necessarily, for sure, but the potential is there for sure. I think there’s tremendous opportunity. And a Microsoft goal is to create more “solution developers”, right, through this platform. Put tools in the hands of business users to create their own line of business app.

 

Danny Ryan:Are you to the point where you’re looking at where this gets deployed or using some of the other stuff like Power Automate, Power BI, the virtual agent stuff?

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of next, right, is to publish this because there’s a publish step that you can go through to actually publish it. So yeah, that’s coming. Well, I want to build this out some more-

 

Danny Ryan:Perfect.

 

Bruce Harple:… get it published where I can get others to poke at it. And then, at the end, I might add a flow so when somebody completes a survey, a notification goes off to HR to let them know somebody has completed a survey. And then with the survey results, that’s a great opportunity to put some BI on top of that. Right? And create a little dashboard, so as a leadership team, we can slice and dice the survey content and understand what feedback they’re providing to us. Yeah that’s later on.

 

Danny Ryan:That’s great.

 

Bruce Harple:And for me, Danny, I’ve got to get to this point of finding the template, figuring out how to connect it to Excel, starting to change some of the questions around. I could say I didn’t invest more than a couple of hours to get where I am. Right?

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:So yeah, from that perspective, I got pretty far in a short period of time. So if someone would sit down, focusing on this for several hours a day for a week or two, you could get a lot done. And I’m sure, like anything else, you’re going to get more efficient as you work with the tool.

 

Danny Ryan:We have just proved you can teach an old dog new tricks. There it is, people.

 

Bruce Harple:You can teach an old dog new tricks. He might be a little bit slow.

 

[crosstalk 00:20:40]

 

Danny Ryan:So great, his will be like a part one of this series. And the next time we’ll get together, you’ve got what is, I guess, for your me goal for this next quarter. Is it to add on Power Automate, add on Power BI? What are the goals to get people prepped for the next one that we do of these?

 

Bruce Harple:Well, I mean my next quarter goal was really to get a certification around this.

 

Danny Ryan:Okay, cool.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, I’ll do that, but I think I want to keep pushing this forward. Right?. I think probably I want to get this app built out a little bit more, maybe add a flow on to the end of it.

 

Danny Ryan:Nice.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, something like that. So I just want to keep working on it, chipping away at it a little bit at a time.

 

Danny Ryan:Cool. That’s great. I love these little sort of build them up types of demos. And yeah, maybe even next time as you go through that certification, give us some pointers on that because I’m sure people would be interested in that as well, like what was the exam … What was the certification exam? Anything you learned there? So this is great. And you’ve seen other tech companies do this, which everybody needs to keep their hands dirty because if you’re so far away from ever doing development, everything sort of just looks easy.

 

And I think it’s just great that you’re continuing to … I know this is a low code, no code type of thing, but as I tell Austin, and as I tell other people at ThreeWill all the time and different people that I work with, ain’t nothing easy when you’re doing it for real, especially where you’ve got this demo, now you need to deploy it. And then what happens if you need to make changes to it? There’s always little things that you need to learn and you’re reminded of that ain’t nothing easy when you’re doing it for real.

 

So I appreciate this time with you, Bruce, look forward to getting together with you next quarter. Thanks for keeping your hands dirty. I think that’s a wonderful thing. It keeps us engaged and it’s just great to learn new things. And it’s great to see Microsoft’s direction with this as well. This is powerful stuff because-

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, yeah. I know it is, and I’ve enjoyed getting in. I think I just dipped my toe right at this point. I need to get up to my ankles next time.

 

Danny Ryan:We’ve seen so many times where we help a company deploy SharePoint and the rest of Office 365, and nowadays, Microsoft 365. And we come back maybe a couple years later and we see all these applications that they’ve built themselves, and that’s good stuff. I mean, that’s real. You’re teaching them this to enable them to have this as part of what they’re doing is just, is a great thing. Even if we’re not the ones building it to give them these capabilities, I think it’s a wonderful service to provide people.

 

Bruce Harple:Absolutely, yeah.

 

Danny Ryan:Yep. All right. Thanks, everybody for listening, and have a wonderful day. Thanks, Bruce.

 

Bruce Harple:Yeah, thanks, Danny. Take care. Bye-bye.

 

Danny RyanThe Process of Picking Up the Power Platform (Part 1)

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