Microsoft rolled out PowerApps as part of Office 365 late in 2015. Its objective was to enable businesses to build customized apps quickly without needing any coding expertise or experience. Let us take an in-depth look at it, how it works and how you can accelerate business app development with PowerApps.
What Is Microsoft PowerApps?
PowerApps is essentially a specialized Platform as a Service – a part of the Microsoft Power Platform that is built on Azure cloud infrastructure. It is a software development environment with an intuitive visual builder that does not require any coding. PowerApps achieves interface design through a drag-and-drop function, while commands and instructions are given in the form of formulas similar to those used in Excel.
PowerApps is available to Office 365 Enterprise E1 and above subscribers.
Without the help of a developer, organizations can utilize the “what you see is what you get” design principle to create powerful Android, iOS, Windows and web-based business apps in a matter of days or even hours. PowerApps has built-in responsiveness that enables apps to run seamlessly on any web browser, desktop or mobile device.
PowerApps also utilizes APIs hosted on Microsoft Azure to enable integration with the underlying data repository or various Microsoft-based and on-premise data sources such as SharePoint, OneDrive, Office 365, Google Docs, Dropbox, Oracle, SAP and SQL Server.
What Does PowerApps Do?
MS PowerApps supports the development of two types of apps – canvas apps and model-driven apps. The only difference between the two is the data source and structure, which largely dictate the app’s architecture and layout. Model-driven apps require a common data service database, and the data structure and components associated with each app determine its design.
On the other hand, the designer has full control over the app’s layout when using canvas app development. A canvas app starts with a blank screen onto which UI features such as input fields, controls, interactive components and media can be added through the drag-and-drop function. Unlike model-driven apps, canvas apps are not necessarily built upon a common data service, in which case, they need connectors to support external data sources. It is also possible to create an app based on both models.
Once published, the app runs on the PowerApps container, which provides a sandbox runtime environment and handles compatibility with various user platforms. The fully developed app resides on Azure, where it can be shared and used by a closed community of users.
Creating an App on PowerApps
To develop an app, you can either use the PowerApps Studio – a downloadable client application – or the web-based development environment via a browser. Follow these steps to create your first PowerApps app:
1. Pick a Template
We recommend starting with a pre-built template to make the work easier. Make sure that the template fits the desired layout and works well on the target platform. You can customize most of the models by adding or removing some features. Then, personalize the canvas with your brand’s theme and colour scheme to ensure consistency from the start.
2. Build the UI
At this point, you should have a clear idea of the app’s UI design based on its expected functions and features. Once you have decided on the layout and structure, you can start to drag-and-drop various UI components such as forms, buttons, text fields, images, text and camera controls onto the canvas. You can place and arrange the elements however you like, but you should prioritize convenience and ease-of-use when putting the interface together.
3. Connect to Data Sources
After the UI build comes the tricky part of embedding formulas and attributes and connecting the app to a data source. The PowerApps library contains around 150 formulas. If you have already mastered Excel’s expressions, then this stage should be a walkover.
Connecting the app to a Microsoft-based data source via a common data service is relatively straightforward. But integrating a third-party data source such as SQL Server or Oracle requires a gateway that must be uniquely configured for the source in question and its connectors.
Once you have successfully integrated the data and are satisfied with the design, you can finally publish the app and share it with other users in your organization.
The Benefits of Using PowerApps
Microsoft PowerApps is a low-code development environment that, above all, promotes rapid app design, development and deployment. One can create a range of essential business solutions from simple data management tools to complex integrated systems. The platform also reduces app development costs since you only have to create one app for all mobile and web clients. Listed below are some of the main benefits of using PowerApps:
- Fast and easy app creation
- Integration with Office 365 tools and services
- Easy automation with Microsoft Flow
- Universally compatible user interface
- Over 180 standard connectors to link various data sources
- Ready and customizable Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure
- Efficient and highly optimized development process
- Control over app’s usage, security and compliance
- Multi-lingual support
- Offline working capabilities
PowerApps is truly a game-changer in business app development, but its approach may be a bit restrictive in some aspects. Firstly, PowerApps is designed for internal business use only. It cannot be used to build commercial apps, mostly because sharing any app with external users is technically limited, and the licensing model does not allow it. Besides, customizing PowerApps for general use would mean modifying the underlying code, which is impossible.
Secondly, although PowerApps is highly customizable, the pool of available functions may be limited for some particular business requirements. However, Microsoft regularly updates and enhances PowerApps features and services, so the platform progressively evolves through the addition of new, richer capabilities.
Get Started With Microsoft PowerApps
PowerApps is a powerful app development platform. It is particularly suitable for creating business solutions that utilize Office 365 features. If you are an Office 365 user, then you probably already have PowerApps at your disposal. So, fire up the platform and start creating custom digital solutions to boost collaboration and productivity in your business.
Softlanding can help you deploy Office 365 in your organization and take full advantage of its tools – including Microsoft PowerApps. We can also help you accelerate business app development with PowerApps.
Get in touch with us to learn more.