No code solutions made real with Office 365

Image - Forms - Flow - SP - BI logo flow
By Benjamin Haynes on

The idea of no code solutions using the Office Suite and the creation of “Citizen Developers” has been around a while. Citizen Developers can build low or no code solutions to create routines that help with their daily workload. This ideal while partially achieved with some applications such as Microsoft Access has always required some degree of development knowledge. Click and connect they are not. However, the advent of products like Microsoft Flow has meant that click and connect technologies have arrived. So, is the Citizen Developer about to become a reality?

I believe the Citizen Developer is here. Office 365 now contains several products that allow you to create solutions to problems, traditionally only solved via code. In this series of articles, I am going to present some examples of no code solutions. These show how to think about each of the productivity tools and how they help you build compelling solutions. To start let’s look at a Product Satisfaction survey example. A fictional Orange Juice manufacturing company needs to present real time results to the customer services department.

No code solutions. The Microsoft solution

The no code solutions utilise Microsoft Forms, Microsoft Flow, SharePoint and Power BI.

Image - no code solutions - Forms - Flow - SP - BI logo flow

Microsoft Forms

Microsoft Forms allows a user to create a form to collect information via a survey, quizzes or a poll. It is ideal for capturing user feedback in this scenario because it allows for the creation of simple choice based questions. Using Forms, we can circulate the survey via email to customers who purchased or a QR code on the product itself. A form is very simple to create. Simply navigate to the Forms application from the Office 365 App Launcher then select New Form. Add the questions that you want to the form and it is ready to go.

Image: Survey question building in Forms

Now we could just leave the solution there as Microsoft Forms will provide a summary of responses, charts and a facility for the data collected to be downloaded. However, we want to expose the data to many users who are not administrators of our form. We therefore need to capture the responses elsewhere to the survey.

SharePoint List

SharePoint Lists are a key, underlying feature of a SharePoint site. They enable teams to gather, track, and share information by using a Web browser. Consequently, this makes them a good choice for our solution. The list will act as the data repository for our form. A simple custom list can be created with two columns called Question 1 and Question 2 to store the results.

Image: SP screenshot showing SharePoint lists

Using SharePoint has other benefits other than just saving the data. By storing the results within a Communication Site, we can have a place for weekly and monthly reports, status updates, events and more. Communication sites are easy to create and using simple drag-and-drop web parts to bring to life a site that is accessible across multiple devices.

Image: SP Survey promotion via Communication Site

Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow allows for the creation of automated workflows that connect a multitude of apps and services. Flow is the product that allows us to make connections between the various products we are using. For this solution we use Flow to move the data from the Form to the SharePoint list. Flow has many templates for working with each data connector. If you type in “forms” into the “Search Templates” box, the first template back will be Record form responses in SharePoint. By creating an instance of this template all the heavy lifting is complete except for setting the form we want to use and how we map the question fields to the SharePoint List.

Image: Screenshot of Flow connecting the Form to the SharePoint list

Power BI

Power BI allows easy access to view and gain insights into business data. It is very quick to create compelling dashboards that exposes data in an easily consumable way, ideal for our scenario. We create a view on the data that can be shared with both the team in the SharePoint site and to others in the organisation via a Power BI dashboard. From within the Power BI desktop we connect straight to our SharePoint List and start interacting with the data. Simply select the way you want to expose the data and how you want it to be displayed. For the Satisfaction Survey we select a pie chart for Question 1 and a bar chart for Question 2. Then we set the SharePoint columns to be the values for the charts and Power BI will do the rest. If we add another entry into SharePoint via the form, then click refresh in the ribbon, our charts are updated.

Image: Power BI screen shot showing Visual Tools

We now save and publish our Power BI to Office 365.

Image: Power BI Screenshot Survey results data harts

End to End


Here is the solution running from end to end

image: End to End process showing survey on Mobile to end survey results in BI

You can of course add more to this solution such as additional questions and extra reports in Power BI. However it does show how quickly you can create no code solutions that previously would have taken a developer and lots of code.


How Can Silversands help?

Silversands specialises in Cloud & Hybrid Infrastructure and Microsoft 365. Getting the most out of your IT investment often requires some degree of coding / no-code solutions which we are adept at building. To start a conversation about your needs please complete the form below, or come and talk to us face-to-face at our regular workshops . Also we’re very active bloggers and commentators around Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and Azure, so please do follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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