Power Apps: How to Turn App Development into a Superpower
The way end users work is vastly more diverse than a few years ago. So much work gets done on laptops and phones, both in and out of the office. Being able to corral all that workflow and build solutions is a premium these days.
Microsoft touts PowerApps as a "no code" method to develop tools. That is quite a statement and in its base form is true. But we all know that project specifications go from "No code" to "YES code" real quick.
In this post, we want to identify and outline what skills you need to learn to be a go-to PowerApps pro. Let us start by looking at what PowerApps is and examples of what it can do before we dive into the skills you need.
What are PowerApps?
According to Microsoft, PowerApps is "a suite of apps, services, connectors and data platform that provides a rapid application development environment to build custom apps for your business needs." Users can quickly build custom business apps that connect to business data in on-premises platforms or in various online and on-premises data sources.
PowerApps can be called a no code solution replacement to InfoPath Forms
PowerApps runs off rich business logic and workflow capabilities. This gives users the ability to transform time-consuming manual processes into automated efficiencies. PowerApps also has a responsive design. It can run seamlessly in a browser or on a mobile device meaning any user in any device, anywhere can benefit. End users can:
- Create apps for any device using preset templates and use a visual designer to automate workflows.
- Build and integrate with existing cloud services such as Office 365, Salesforce, Oracle databases, SAP and more.
- Share PowerApps by simply emailing to others.
Developers and IT pros can add on to these as well. There are numerous things they can do with PowerApps:
- Build powerful data connections and APIs to existing business systems.
- Maintain organizational and access policies data security and privacy controls.
Skill Set Required to Leverage PowerApps
PowerApps is a great product and there simply are not enough skilled people available to build robust business products. Building IT apps and solutions takes more than just coding skills. We have compiled two categories to highlight the skills you need to be successful at building PowerApps: tech and soft skills.
There is NO WAY you are not going to need these competencies. There really is not much more to say about Excel, other than know it and know it well. Keep learning how to improve your Excel skills, and you should never be without employment.
Also, do not be surprised if you will be asked to have what I call Excel spillover knowledge. By this I mean DAX language (a powerful add on to help with any Excel undertaking). And while we are at it make sure you are familiar with formula structure (concatenations, etc.), Excel cell construction, SQL database calls & queries and be ready to respond how you plan to make it all a Dashboard in Power BI.
PowerApps is a math-intensive product. It makes sense because many of the use cases goals are data driven. You will also need to be familiar with algebraic concepts such as variables. I guarantee those are going to pop up a lot when working with PowerApps. Also, make sure you are secure with the use of X and Y coordinates for screen positioning.
Cloud and Networking
Business data is everywhere: on premises systems, in the cloud, and in SaaS clouds. With so much data out there ready to connect with PowerApps, be ready to know how to move in and out and between them. This is going to be a vital knowledge point going forward. Just inside the Microsoft tenant, you have data available in SharePoint, Excel, Office 365, Dynamics 365, SQL Server, and Azure. There are many 3rd parties options like DropBox, Twitter, GitHub and, yes, wait for it… Google Suite apps.
User Interface Design
Having an eye for design will be key when building apps. It may not come naturally to most developers but it can be a make-or-break tool when you turn it over to an end user. This skill sits on the border with soft skills. As much as you need to program them into the tool, you will also need to sketch and wireframe during the design phases.
As mentioned with Power BI above, sooner rather than later you will be asked to set up a dashboard. So, knowing how to design one without excess noise (too much data) will be paramount.
To succeed you need to not only possess good technical chops, but you also will need people skills when dealing with stakeholders. Many times you will have to work with non-technical folks and you need to be able to communicate with them on their level.
Diagramming and Logic
This one, like User Interface Design, straddles both categories. Subject matter experts are not always technical in nature, so even if they say they know how to diagram they may not do it in a logical way. Their versions of a diagram may be meant to be presentation-based and disregard common flowchart programming shapes and logic.
Many times, SMEs may not have Visio and do all their work in PowerPoint. Remember, for them, a workflow is framed more around "how" work moves and "who does it." Not as it would be programmed. You may have to repurpose the entire diagram for them to make sense programmatically.
Understanding and Grit (in other words Project Management)
Building a PowerApp solution could place you in no man's land. The initiation may come from an executive level, the business analysis may be from another department and subject matter experts from yet another. IT support, as you may fund, could lay in another department all together.
You, as the "builder," may be left to fend for yourself, so be ready to knock on a lot of doors. PowerApps is a new technology and you may end up being the one who has the deepest knowledge. Be ready to explain and educate frequently. It may not be easy and may get lonely. But remember you hold the most knowledge. This may put you into an informal leadership role to get a solution built.
Patience for End Users
Patience WILL be required as you pass projects onto end users. Many times, end users are comfortable with existing systems and the PowerApps solution will be new to them. While the goal may be the same in both versions, seemingly small aspects like buttons being in different locations and appearance differences in automated emails will come up.
I can also guarantee that once they get the tool in hand they will come up with any number of suggestions from the banal to the important. Take deep breaths and remember to ask yourself why they may feel that way. If you reflect enough, it will give you further insight into end users' brains and processes, which will help with future projects.
Take a Long-Term Approach
You may think your app is complete and ready to go once you hit publish. But I can tell you from experience it is not over once it goes live. New specifications, updates to PowerApps, and ideas will keep coming in. Keep in mind all the ways this app can grow.
If your app is successful, other lines of business may want one but with different slants. Make sure as you build on you leave yourself room to grow. There is nothing worse than having built something closed to growth and then having to start from scratch when you could have left room for it to grow.
We wanted to provide a high-level look at the skills you need to succeed when building solutions in PowerApps. Each skill set mentioned is packed with layers of need-to-knows. Microsoft built a powerful tool — large in scope and breadth — for you to efficiently build and run impactful solutions. So, there is a lot of room to make a difference.
The good news is that qualified PowerApps builders who possess the skills mentioned above are in demand. And given the trajectory of Microsoft Azure, should be for some time!
If you are looking for a timely example to get some inspiration, check out this Hospital Emergency Response dashboards solution to collect data for situational awareness of available beds and supplies, COVID-19 related patients, staffing, and pending discharges.