Business IT News &
The Microsoft Office Power Platform and YOU
Craig Yellick, VP Business Solutions
Power Platform is an innovative way to leverage your investment in Microsoft Office 365 by supporting a wide range of skills, from beginner to advanced, for developing applications that integrate, automate, collaborate and more.
For beginners, the challenge is getting started. There is a lot to digest and even though using the tools is easy, knowing which tools and which features can be daunting. Blue Net is expert with this platform and is happy to help you get started on the right track.
Here’s a summary of the Power Platform from 10,000 feet:
There are two major sections to discuss. On the left, a range of coding experiences and on the right, the components that comprise the platform.
No Code isn’t just for novices. Even experienced developers will love the rapid process of dragging and dropping functional widgets on a design surface and tweaking their properties. Anyone can knock out a useful solution in very little time compared to traditional software development techniques. For example, monitoring an email inbox and copying file attachments to a Teams channel – that’s a very useful automated workflow solution to an otherwise manual process, and can be easily accomplished with Power Automate. Just drag, drop, and set some properties. Just like PowerPoint.
Low Code works the same as No Code, with the additional ability to add programming logic like IF…THEN, calculations involving dates, dollar amounts, quantities, manipulating strings and so on. As the slide says, very similar to what you can do in Excel. The email attachment to Teams channel example above could be made even better with some logic about what triggers the copy, and possibly routing more intelligently to different teams or channels based on the sender’s domain, keywords in the subject line, type of attachment and more. The reference to Excel-like formulas is accurate but incomplete, Low Code solutions can also do non-formula things like looping through lists and calling web service APIs, activities that traditionally required using a programming language. Low Code is truly a powerful platform and even experienced developers will agree that you can develop and deploy a Low Code solution in the faction of the time it’d take with other tools.
Code First is important because it means that a very important workflow or application can be taken to a higher level should it prove difficult or impossible to create the solution using Low Code techniques. You can get software developers involved after you’ve roughed out the solution and are confident about the solution specifications and the return on investment of getting developers involved. Even better, your efforts to create the initial solution don’t go to waste. Developers can create features and functionality that you then add to your solution. This means you can continue to improve and maintain your solution using No Code and Low Code techniques and not have to continually rely on the developers. Depending on how things are designed you can probably re-use their efforts across many solutions.
Power Apps have a user interface for interacting with the people using the app. Using the previously described drag-and-drop and setting properties techniques, anyone can build a dialog using text boxes, check boxes, drop down lists and more. You can then tie user actions (clicking buttons, making selections, checking boxes) to No Code and Low Code reactions.
Power Automate is used to create workflow solutions involving multiple steps. These can be standalone processes running in the background (the email attachment to a Teams channel is a good example) or can be triggered by user actions in a Power App.
Power Virtual Agents are chat bots that answer questions posed by employees, customers, vendors and so on. They can be deployed as an app tab in Teams or in a stand-alone web app. A simple virtual agent is constructed by creating topics with a list of trigger words associated with the topic, then adding content that answers the inquiry. For example, a paid time off agent might have a topic named Unused Time Off Policy and trigger words/phrases like “what happens to my unused time” and “I did not use all my time”. More sophisticated agents can ask questions, store the response, and use IF..THEN branching to pick topics and possibly ask more questions. Agents can also integrate with data sources and query for details to place in responses or use in branching decisions.
Power BI is a data visualization tool that – you guessed it – uses the drag-and-drop then set properties style of design and development. With support for thousands of data sources ranging from Excel workbooks to relational databases and application data connectors, anyone can use charts and graphs to visualize information. Reports can be interactive, where, for example, clicking on a pie chart segment causes a line graph to chart historical values. You can add filter conditions like date ranges and product names which automatically refresh the visualizations.
Data Connectors allow you to integrate data from various sources into your solution, as well as send data from your solution to other destinations. Data connectors make it easy for your apps and workflows to make decisions and display information stored in databases or retrieved from other applications. For example, a workflow could look up a product ID field in a SharePoint list and use that to query your warehouse management system to check inventory levels, and send a Teams message to the right product management channel.
Dataverse is the Power Platforms answer to the complexities of creating, securing, and maintaining a relational database, where data is stored as rows and columns in tables. A Dataverse includes pre-built tables for common concepts like a product catalog, customers, sales orders, and the relationships between them: customers place orders for items in a catalog. You can create custom tables as well. Before Dataverse you would have to create an instance of a database, create tables and relationships and business rules for validation, and make it securely accessible to your apps. That’s a huge investment and requires deep technical knowledge.
AI Builder is a Power Platform capability to create artificial intelligence (AI) models to guide business processes, help with workflow automations, and extract insights from collected data. As with the Dataverse, AI Builder comes with common business models, and you can also create completely custom models. For example, if your organization process a large volume of invoices, a pre-built AI model can process a scanned image of an invoice and extract invoice number, purchase order number, due date, total due, and so on. Even though nearly every vendor’s invoice format is unique, the model has been trained to “understand” invoices. You can tweak the model and use examples from your own context to train it.
“The Power Platform” is a good name for this collection of technologies. It is truly powerful and is a complete platform. You are continually rewarded for spending time getting to know these tools, because techniques you learn in one area often apply to others. No matter what kind of solutions you’re building, there’s enough power in this platform that you won’t need to step outside and learn some other toolset. The No Code and Low Code techniques are accessible to motivated but non-technical people, yet still very attractive to even seasoned, experienced developers looking for efficient solutions to business challenges.
Call Blue Net today to get started. We’ve got deep experience with Power Platform and the rest of Office 365 and happy to help you get the most value from your investment.