PowerApps and Microsoft Flow users, who are not using Dynamics 365, should be aware that there is a myriad of features on the horizon that will have a major impact on what you do and how you can deliver business applications. June 10th marked the start of the Microsoft Business Applications Summit. Announcements include a host of new and improved features landing in Microsoft Power Platform 2019 Release Wave 2. These are expected to be available between June 2019 and March 2020.
Not using Dynamics 365?
Here at Silversands we specialise in and work with Microsoft 365. This means that while we work with the Common Data Service to create applications, we do not provide Dynamics consultancy. The Power Platform includes PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, Power BI and, whisper it, Microsoft Forms, which I personally see as part of the platform. We uniquely use elements of the Power Platform as services within Office 365. This allows us to utilise Power Platform capabilities, as well as those that Azure Cognitive Services provide, without having to go anywhere near Dynamics 365.
Yes, with the correct license we can create Model Driven PowerApps and Business Flows that take advantage of the Common Data Service, without having to use Dynamics 365. The PowerApps for Office 365 licence allows for the development of solutions that can utilise over 200 different data sources. That’s the power of the platform. I can create an app that talks to a SQL database and posts things into Twitter, all through my PowerApps for Office 365 licence. The success of this approach has led to Silversands becoming one of 26 Charter Members globally in the SharePoint Business Applications Partner Program.
So from the extensive PDF published as the summit began, let me highlight the upcoming changes to PowerApps and Microsoft Flow that will affect and enhance your investment in Office 365?
PowerApps is a service that allows for the connection of multiple data sources to create applications that work across mobiles, desktop and the web using a point-and-click approach. Using PowerApps, you can quickly build custom business apps that connect to your business data stored either in the underlying data platform (Common Data Service) or in various online and on-premises data sources (SharePoint, Excel, Office 365, Dynamics 365, SQL Server, etc).
An exciting new feature announced is the AI Builder. This will provide a new capability to automate and predict outcomes. It will be integrated into PowerApps to utilise the same point-and-click approach that is so intuitive in the application already. This means that on creation of your application you will be able to choose an AI template, connect to data, tailor your AI model and then train it to empower your app. A demonstration during the summit’s opening Keynote showed how you could train the model to recognise a type of bottled soft drink and tell you how many bottles of that type appeared in any given image. When you couple this with PowerApps’ ability to be delivered to a phone without the need to download your application and go through the mobile stores, it provides a powerful tool for end users. They can simply take a photograph with their phone and the AI Builder analyses the results.
Easier to deliver high-quality apps
- Build and consume reusable canvas components
Components are a really exciting new feature that will allow app makers to build and share commonly repeated elements like headers and footers on multiple screens of the same app or in multiple applications. These components can be quickly and easily built directly from within the PowerApps studio, using the same point-and-click methodology as always, thus building on the skills the app maker already has. There are a few ‘gotchas’ with components to bear in mind. For example, you cannot work with data sources within a reusable component. However they are extremely powerful and will be a fantastic time-saver for any app makers.
- PowerApps component framework for canvas apps
The component framework for canvas apps is a slightly different feature. This will allow ‘professional developers’ to build custom controls and elements for use in canvas apps via custom code. This is a controversial one for me. Why? Well firstly I object to the phrase “professional developers” as this undermines app makers doing some serious and complex work in PowerApps. Secondly, one of the plus points of PowerApps is that it allows people to quickly build applications in a safe and robust development environment using supported and tested code. Within this environment, the user has confidence in the core functionality of the service. Introducing custom-code into this environment opens a Pandora’s box, potentially allowing issues outside the control of PowerApps to cause faults in applications, causing users to blame PowerApps and lose faith with it. It would be a shame to return to the days of ‘ScarePoint’ when SharePoint was blamed for issues caused by developers. There is a place for custom components, but it should be approached with caution.
- Build responsive, reflowing canvas pages
When creating a PowerApp, typically the maker decides the type of device for which they are designing the application. Thus, they choose either a mobile or tablet layout from the outset. With this new change, app makers will be able to build pages that are fully responsive to screen size and orientation regardless of the original device chosen, which in my view gives the app maker a third choice when creating an app. There are still good reasons to create a PowerApp targeted to a given device as the amount of extra development time to create a responsive app should not be underestimated.
- Office 365 suite header for PowerApps
When a user is working within Office 365, it can be a jarring experience to move to a PowerApp as doing so appears as to take the user outside of Office 365. By aligning PowerApps with the new Office header, users will have access to all the Microsoft applications, notifications and messages from a consistent header, creating a seamless experience.
Scalable enterprise solutions
- PowerApps test framework
- Runtime telemetry
- External users can access apps on the PowerApps mobile app
- The PowerApps Checker includes rules for canvas apps and flows
PowerApps for External Users – The Portal takes centre stage
PowerApps Portal provides the ability to build low-code, responsive websites which allow external users to interact with data stored in the Common Data Service. This allows organisations to create websites which can be shared with users externally, either anonymously or through the login provider of their choice. For instance LinkedIn, a Microsoft Account or other commercial login providers. Combining this with Microsoft Flow will provide a way, over and above Microsoft Forms, for external users to input and work with data inside your tenancy.
It is worth noting that some of these features will be available as an opt-in to early access on August 2, 2019; this will include all mandatory changes that will impact end users.
Microsoft Flow is a process automation and workflow product that allows for hundreds of data sources to be connected to automate processes across your organisation.
The aforementioned new AI capabilities will be rolled out across the Platform including Power BI and Microsoft Flow. This means that the ability to easily add AI into Flow will be available over and above the existing connectors to cognitive services.
New capabilities for Microsoft Flow makers
- Flows that use other solution components
The Microsoft Power Platform is continuing to adopt a single packaging mechanism. Canvas apps, flows, connections, custom connectors and environment variables will now follow the full end-to-end lifecycle; coupled with the new testing framework for the platform. This means a solution built using these services becomes not just an enterprise–ready application but an enterprise-ready, managed application.
The Power Platform is constantly evolving, and new features are added all the time. Understanding not just what is being released, but how it is licenced and how it affects your existing investment in either Dynamics 365 or Office 365 can be difficult. Silversands can help with this. We run regular seminars that provide an introduction to the platform and keep you updated on changes.
We run regular workshops and webinars and frequently post blogs with updates, but if you want to discuss your organisation’s specific requirements now, simply complete the form below to speak to one of our consultants.