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Digital Transformation

How PowerApps drives digital transformation

Hitachi Solutions > Blog > 2019 > 07 > How PowerApps drives digital transformation

My post today looks at the value of implementing easy to use technology that can have a real difference on your business outcomes. I'll consider how PowerApps can help drive digital transformation and why it could be the best IT investment your business ever makes.  

Digital transformation doesn’t have to be complicated. According to a recent survey by Dell, however, many UK executives say they’re struggling to implement it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Despite all the hype, digital transformation is a fairly simple concept; it’s about using digital technology to improve how your organisation works.

Microsoft’s PowerApps are a great example of this. The straightforward app is included as part of the widely used Office 365 platform and can make a big impact on how your business works. As a means of making digital transformation a reality, PowerApps is a great place to start.

So, what is PowerApps, how does it work, and how can it help with digital transformation?

What is PowerApps?

PowerApps is a tool provided by Microsoft that allows a range of business users, from analysts, and PMs to professional developers, to build business or enterprise applications; and is built on Microsoft’s Power Platform. It gives business users a range of ready-made templates, out of the box apps, actions, forms and even camera controls to build apps which interact with the company’s data . It is included as part of most enterprise Office 365 subscriptions, so if you are running Microsoft’s cloud platform, you can begin building with PowerApps today.

Here’s an example of how PowerApps and utilisation of the PowerPlatform could be used in practice:

Let’s assume you run a private healthcare business. Your teams of nurses currently record patient data during ward rounds using paper files. This information must then be manually entered into a computer system. With PowerApps, a consultant – or indeed a suitably trained employee – could recreate the patient data forms on a custom app which automatically records information to Dynamics 365 using Microsoft Flow, cutting out the paper and manual data entry.

As this example shows, PowerApps can be used to support highly specific, yet (often) fairly simple tasks. Getting an outside software development company to build the equivalent kind of app would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Yet by using PowerApps, this specific tool can be built in-house easily. What’s more, getting rid of paper is a pretty strong example of digital transformation in action.

And the impacts are real – a recent Total Economic Impact report by Forrester showed that the average organisation using PowerApps sees a 70% reduction in application cost and development. The report also suggests that up to 123,000 hours are saved at organisations that use PowerApps in just three years.

How do PowerApps work?

Building an app using PowerApps is relatively straightforward. With the appropriate training, or some past experience building apps, most employees will be able to build useful, practical tools which solve specific problems, accelerate tasks, and improve efficiency.

PowerApps is built on Microsoft’s Power Platform, which also includes of Flow and PowerBI. There are two different kinds of PowerApp:

  • Canvas apps

Starting with a User Interface approach, the developer can ‘drag and drop’ objects onto a blank ‘canvas’, which look and feel like you are creating a PowerPoint deck. Users can write specific commands or actions using Excel-like based expressions and embed the app in different Office 365 applications, like Dynamics 365, Teams etc. Canvas Apps can utilise the 200+ data connections available to users out of the box which allows businesses to collate data together from different sources so that business users can interact with data in a single application.

  • Model-driven apps

Model-driven apps are built on-top of the Common Data Service (CDS) framework, which allows the ‘developer’ to use a wide range of ready-built commands and components such as Forms, Business Process Flows, Business Rules and Custom Controls. This allows the developer to focus on the data structure and modelling the business processes into a logical application.

The process for building a PowerApp would look something like this:

  • Employees define a common problem they face
  • An outside consultant or Business Analyst maps out the process or activity
  • This person then decides which type of App would be suitable – Model Driven or Canvas App (or both!)
  • They select one of the many ready-made templates provided with PowerApps to get started
  • They work with the data:
    • Canvas Apps: Connect to a source such as OneDrive, Social Media (e.g. Twitter), Marketo, Dynamics 365 or even Salesforce!
    • Model Driven: The business data is either already in the CDS environment or requires importing into a structured data model.
  • They then include components relevant to the application such as forms, screens, controls, images, text fields and other interfaces to build out a prototype of the app
  • Next, they publish and share the app to allow the employees to begin using it
  • After gathering feedback, further tweaks and changes can be made to improve the app

This process can, depending on the complexity of the app, take as little as 10 minutes, meaning staff can be up and running with a productivity boosting app in no time at all.

How PowerApps drives digital transformation at your organisation

Digital transformation is not really about technology. Rather, it’s about seeing how processes and tasks can be improved and made more efficient by picking and choosing digital tools which can help. PowerApps is an excellent way of doing this. The platform offers a quick, straightforward method for bringing about digital transformation – and they have plenty of other strengths too:

  • They involve staff

Adoption of new technology is always highest when staff feel they have a say in it. PowerApps offers this – employees can help define the problem and even take part in building the app which they use, creating a real sense of ownership.

  • They integrate with your existing IT

If you’re using Office 365, Dynamics 365 or any other Microsoft tech, PowerApps integrates immediately, which means deployment is very easy with no configuration issues.

  • More apps, less shadow IT

Because PowerApps are built ‘within’ Microsoft’s platform, you get to build a huge variety of technology which is still compliant with your company’s technology set-up. Your staff won’t be using a mix of third-party apps and tools over which you have no control or visibility.

With many UK businesses struggling to implement their digital transformation plans, PowerApps offer an excellent solution. By providing an easy, safe and secure way of building apps that solve specific business needs using smart technology, they pave the way to true digital transformation.

In my next blog, we’ll be looking at the differences between Canvas Apps and Model-driven apps in more detail, along with the different solutions you’d build in each. 

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Matthew Webb

Matthew Webb works for Hitachi Solutions (UK) as a Lead Consultant in the Customer Engagement (Dynamics 365) delivery team for Hitachi Solutions. He is an experienced Dynamics CRM specialist with over 9 years’ CRM experience where he joined the Hitachi family in 2017. Matthew is always looking at how organisations can take advantage of the Microsoft PowerPlatform and associated technologies to help drive digital transformation projects and utilising the new technology to drive changes in business processes to help increase efficiency and usability for employees.

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Author Spotlight

Matthew Webb

Matthew Webb works for Hitachi Solutions (UK) as a Lead Consultant in the Customer Engagement (Dynamics 365) delivery team for Hitachi Solutions. He is an experienced Dynamics CRM specialist with over 9 years’ CRM experience where he joined the Hitachi family in 2017. Matthew is always looking at how organisations can take advantage of the Microsoft PowerPlatform and associated technologies to help drive digital transformation projects and utilising the new technology to drive changes in business processes to help increase efficiency and usability for employees.

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