PowerApps, Power BI, Microsoft Flow and Forms are apps that Silversands is using more and more to help transform business processes for our clients. And that has been acknowledged by Microsoft. We were awarded Charter Member status in the SharePoint Business Applications Partner Program, one of only 20 globally. We’re very proud of that and recently we were challenged to show off our skills at a charity hackathon.
A Hackathon is an event in which those involved in software development including computer programmers, software architects and UI designers collaborate intensively on software projects over a set period. The Power Platform (Microsoft Forms, PowerApps, Flow and Power BI) is a set of tools for creating compelling Business Applications with low or no code. Are the two therefore compatible? Can you spend two intensive days creating applications using just the Power Platform. Silversands went to the Microsoft Reactor with 18 other teams to do just that.
The Microsoft Reactor is situated in the trendy Shoreditch area of London. It provides a hub for the Microsoft technical community to come together, collaborate and learn. This environment is great for an event such as a Hackathon as it provides both an area to work and an area to take a break. Before going any further I would like to thank the staff at the Reactor for making all the teams welcome and looking after us so well for the 2 days of the event.
We arrived laptops in hand with all the tools we needed for the event. Notice I did not say all the tools installed! The beauty of the Power Platform, Office 365 and Azure is we do not need anything installed. All we need are the licenses for each and a browser. And we are ready to create and collaborate in the same space.
After a short introduction from Microsoft we were introduced to the Make-A-Wish charity. Make-A-Wish create life-changing wishes for children with life limiting or critical illnesses. Through these wishes they help build memories, build confidence, bring happiness and provide respite from the daily struggles that comes with a critical illness. As with all organisations they have several operational challenges. These range from collecting and classifying digital assets to creating communities to encourage local fundraising.
Silversands get to work
Over a coffee, tea and soft drink we discussed which challenge to take up and how to approach it. After another coffee, tea and soft drink we settled down to work with our newly acquired PowerApps caps on (While looking good these made no appreciable difference to our Power Platform skills). Looking at all the challenges we could see ways in which PowerApps, Microsoft Flow and Power BI could be combined to create a solution. Add in to the mix Azure Cognitive services and we could see how we could create something compelling. These tools allow for such rapid development without the need to create all the infrastructure and UI controls we could start producing our solution straight away. So, what challenge did we take up?
The Wish Maker
When a volunteer ‘Wish Visitor’ goes to see a child to get their one true wish they only have an hour with the child. Within this hour they must get to know the child and ascertain that wish. Not an easy prospect. Add to this that a qualifying child can be aged between 3 to 17 there is a great deal of cultural references and diverse set of interests to understand and quantify in to a single wish. What if you could give the child an application beforehand where they could use a collection of images to help understand their ideas and imagination. Wait, what if you could have two applications for children with different maturity levels, what if the application could learn what images children are using and suggest others based on it and wouldn’t it be good if the entry point for the getting to the first image was an input method the child felt comfortable with? All without code surely not?
Unicorns and Fairies
The first app we created combined SharePoint, Microsoft Flow, Azure Cognitive services and PowerApps. A child with a lower maturity level would be given a tablet with the Wish Maker application on it or they could install the app themselves. As PowerApps’s reside within the PowerApp application there is no need to go through any of the devices stores to get it. The child selects an avatar stored in a SharePoint document library. The choice of this avatar would then show a predefined set of images based on the one chosen. From here the child can decided if they like or dislike the images being presented from SharePoint. This would build up an image map of what the child liked. The images that a child can select are curated by adding them into a SharePoint library. Gotcha! How can you determine which is the next image to show based on what the child likes and dislikes you need to write code! Roll up the sleeves and crack open Visual Studio. STOP. This can be achieved by using the Knowledge Azure Cognitive service. If each image is given a tag, we can then call the QnA maker to give an answer (the next image) based on the tag given. The QnA maker is called from within PowerApps. We have a solution with no code and so we could concentrate on finding pictures of Unicorns and Fairies.
Thor and Ronaldo
The second app we created used the same technologies but was aimed at the more mature child. Rather than using an avatar as the entry point to the image selection we used PowerApps rich set of controls to allow for data entry. They could use the camera to take a picture, the upload control to upload a picture, the text box to enter the idea, the microphone control to record text to speech or the pen to write what they wanted. After the initial entry the words are fed into the Bing Image Search API to return relevant images that can be used to begin the selection process. For images that are entered in the first selection these are put through the Vision Cognitive Service by a call from Flow. This will return keywords that can then be fed to the Bing Image Search API. If required, the images could then be put through the Vision Cognitive Service to see that they are not adult in nature (Note from the screen shot not something we implemented in the time!). When the image is returned the child can then decided if they want to pin the image based on Meet, Be, Go and Get. Cognitive services could also be used to translate any entry the child made and convert handwriting into text.
The Power of the Platform
We were happy with what we created using the Power Platform and no code. We had completed two applications and created a presentation all within seven and a half hours. It went to show how these technologies could be utilised to create compelling solutions in a short period of time. It is always good to see other ideas and what the other teams’ produced blew us away. Using translator services, video indexing, facial detection, content moderation, Microsoft Flow, Power BI, Model driven and canvas apps a set of solutions were created that addressed all the set business challenges. So, can you have a Hackathon for the Power Platform? Yes, you can. Can you create complex solutions that address business challenges using the Power Platform? Yes, you can.
We had an end-to-end solution that we were able to present. The nature of these events is that your mind continues to swirl with ideas afterwards. Especially after you have seen the other teams present. So, what could we do next simply use the Power Platform and Azure AI?
• Allow the child to upload a video saying the things they would like in the wish. This could then be submitted to the video indexer that would allow keywords to be extracted based on what it sees, hears and detects. These could then be put through the image search API.
• Utilise the Profanity Azure service to ensure that no unsuitable words were entered either via speech or text.
• Allow the child to enter the wish in any language and use the detection and translator services to provide input to the image search API.
• Create a custom connector (configuration not code!) for Flow that talked to the Wikipedia API. This could be used to return an article based on any images tagged. Thus, allowing the Wish Makers to gain an insight into what the image pertained to.
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