We have all seen the proliferation of small scale business apps within the workplace, possibly without realising they were apps at all. Elaborate Excel spreadsheets have grown from our need to get things done whilst avoiding development headaches. SharePoint lists and libraries have been strung together to provide productivity solutions for teams. And then there was the era of Microsoft Access… we still encounter businesses today who’s core operations depend on data managed in singular Access databases!
We think its great that so many options have been available for business users to solve day to day list management, form capture and process automation problems, and we believe all the tools mentioned will continue to provide high value going forward. However, there have been drawbacks to years of this flexibility:
- Networks littered with fragmented portions of business critical goodness, the existence of which can represent risk and an impediment to your software environment upgrade life cycle
- Decentralised business logic and data stored in various places over time can breed inconsistency and error
- Confusion for users over time in understanding how processes tie together, or difficulty in locating accurate information
These are just a few of the potential impacts. Within the enterprise space, the answer to this for decades has been to invest in platform approaches and large scale resource and customer management solutions. Whilst this may be viable for organisations with larger budgets and needs, it does not address those who do not, and perhaps more importantly, it fails to address the special value that comes from enabling individual users to create their own solutions. With everyone banging on about innovation these days it would seem a smart move to ensure your most motivated team members are still enabled to creatively apply their expertise in crafting discrete solutions.
We believe Microsoft has seen into this same conundrum, seen the rise of consumer-oriented web app builders and integration tools (e.g. Podio and Zapier), and made a bold move forward to bring such capabilities into their cloud productivity offerings in a way that the average user can get their head around. The introduction of PowerApps, whilst having had a very quiet start, is now bolting into mainstream focus and wowing the marketplace with its promise. Connecting data sources, building common workflows and generating desired user interfaces across devices are all baked in to the PowerApps design experience, and all without a single line of code.
What excites us most of all is that these capabilities allow us to still leverage our various Excel, SharePoint, or even Access sources, but to bring them together into a fabric of applications where they can be better integrated, managed and standardised, and exposed across a greater number of devices. It’s early days yet for PowerApps, but we will be watching this space intently. We advise you to do the same at https://powerapps.microsoft.com/.