How to work with option set in PowerApps

In this article I’ll share my experience and everything I learned about Option Set in PowerApps. Check out my cheat sheet.

Prepare for a battle

Before I start a project I prepare myself and gather all information that helps me to avoid getting into technical dead ends, improve project delivery pace and work efficiency. I read documentation, articles, watch tutorials and do proper exams (for PowerApps & CDS I can recommend MB-200 exam). Like Abraham Lincoln once said:

Image result for abraham lincoln give me six hours meaning

At the same time, no matter how hard you try you won’t be prepared to everything. Especially in IT projects where you can expect the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll need to solve those corner cases which are “very specific only to your project & to this very unique setup” only you have. But sometimes you just try to do some “ordinary operation” (at least as you think about it) and you discovered that it’s not possible or at least is not easy. The common reason for such situations is that the functionality or feature is so new that documentation does not cover it sufficiently and you can’t find ANYTHING (video, article, blog) that completely covers the topic.

Option Sets for PowerApps Canvas apps are one of those topics and this article is about to group all information together.

CDS Option Set cheat sheet for PowerApps

Did you know: You can contact me if you need my help with PowerApps and Flow. I conduct trainings, consultations, build PoC or Solution and also make an audit of your PowerApps app.

What is Option Set? A field type
What it contains? List of text values
Technical synonyms A dictionary, an array of enums
Main pros Centrally managed
Dynamic extending No, only predefined values
When not to use it? Case 1: 
If you need to reference to Option Set values without creating connection to Entity with this Option Set.
Solution:
For local usage use Collection.
For global usage use Entity.

Case 2:
You need additional metadata to Option Set values (ie. Country Population)
Solution: Use Entity.

Option Sets in PowerApps

In PowerApps Option set is one of the field types you can use in your Entity. The information type that Option Set stores is a list of text values. And here comes the Option Set advantage – once you define its text values you can centrally managed it.

Imagine you have a list of countries you have offices in. Once you define such list you can use it in any of your apps. And even more than that – you can use it in PowerBi reports, Flow, Dynamics365 and all other applications that can integrate with CDS.

CASE 1: You’re doing so well that you’re opening a new office in a new country. Would you update all solutions that use your Option Set? Of course not! You only need to update your Option Set definition.

Case 2: You’re doing even better and your office in England start to operate all over United Kingdom. Would you add new text value to a list and update all solutions that use your Option Set? Of course not! You only need to rename England to United Kingdom. And that’s it – this is possible because technically speaking Option Set is a table with 2 columns: Id and Text.

The Text column is only for us – the humans. The Id is used by them – computers, programs, solutions etc. And this is where all misunderstandings begins. People are confused “why I can’t use a text value to set Options Set value? Machines are confused “why humans does not appreciate I can distinguish 2 options even if they have the same text value?”

Yes, in CDS Option Set you can have 2 items with the same name. CDS will use Id value to differentiate them.

How to work with the field in PowerApps and Flow?

Let’s split the above question on 2 parts:

  1. How to reference an Option Set Value in Microsoft Flow?
  2. How to use Option Set field in PowerApps?
    • Option Set with Dropdown
    • Filter by Option Set field
    • Update Option Set field using Patch function

How to reference an Option Set value?

Long story short: use the item Id. How to find it?

  1. In PowerApps website open Option Sets
  2. Open your Option Set
  3. Click on “…” > View More

Elaiza Benitez recorded a video where she shows how to use option set value in Flow so I’ll skip reinventing a wheel and just give you a link to the video already starting in the right time.

How to use the field?

Option Set with Choice dropdown

Using Choices function with a name of Option Set works great.

Filter by Option Set field

Use special [@ColumnName] reference that directly point to the Option Set. You’ll see the Option Set values you can easily choose from.

Disclaimer: Last year there was anupdate that improved how PowerApps makers could reference to Option Set field values but…somehow it doesn’t work for me no matter on how many tenants I tried that :(. But I’m sure sooner or later described in above article method (that is reference using ‘OptionSetName (Entity Name)’.Value) will work so stay tuned and treat my post as workaround.

To turn this feature on go to App Settings > Advanced Settings > “Relational data, option sets and other new features for CDS”

Update Option Set field using Patch function

Use the same method as I’ve described in previous section (use [@ColumnName].
Following formula works for me like a charm:

Patch('MyEntity',Gallery1.Selected,{cr10a_country:[@Country].France})

Hope this will be useful for you.

If you have any questions – let me know.

Add fields to SharePoint List using Flow

Last week I’ve explained how to create SharePoint list or library using Microsoft Flow. This time I’ll show you how you can add fields to your SharePoint List using Microsoft Flow, and add items to your list. This will complete the scenario so you’ll get a full solution for dynamic creation SharePoint List along with fields and values.

Automation is the key

Just before I’ll deep dive into the details let’s first cover the question of: why you may even need such dynamic list creation with fields and values?

So imagine you have multiple PowerApps apps for different purposes each ie:

  • time tracking
  • resources booking
  • goals review
  • team members praise
  • retrospective meetings notes

Each app stores data in SharePoint and is team specific – this means some team may want to have it, others not. Also the app data should be team related.

Other often scenario is when you have an app that you want easily deploy in your client’s environment. This was my case when I’ve created my Delegation Playground app that uses SharePoint list – I wanted to automate the process of list creation so app user don’t need to create it manually. I wanted it to be as simple as possible.

In PowerApps there is a Solution concept but it applies only to PowerApps with data stored in Common Data Service (which I highly recommend – check this post of mine) so if your app works with SharePoint Online lists or libraries you may need the below Flow.

The Plan

Ok, so last time we end up with created SharePoint list. Now we need to:

  • Add Number and Boolean fields
  • Add 3000 rows to the list
Image result for over 9000 meme
I wish to make it 9001 but…there are some limits 🙁

Add new fields to SharePoint list using Microsoft Flow

To create new SP field we’ll going to use SP REST API (by using Send an HTTP request to SharePoint action). However this time we need to use new Uri – the one dedicated to list modification. As you can see in this POST request example we need to know list guid to make proper operation. The Uri need to be like:

http://<site url>/_api/web/lists(guid'<your_new_list_guid')

But how to get a newly created list GUID? Oh that’s simple – make a sample call of the Flow we’ve made last time and use data it returns.

Disclaimer: Some of you may already know that there is a simpler Uri API endpoint _api/web/lists/GetByTitle(‘<list name>’) as described here but the way I present brings an additional learning value.

Just follow guideline below 🙂

1. Run Flow that creates list in SharePoint site location
2. Copy its output JSON
3. Add Parse JSON action
4. Put “body” in Content property
5. Click “Generate schema”, paste JSON and click Done
6. Add new string variable
7. As value add id field
8. Selected it and paste into the Expression field
9. Remove closing } and opening @{
10. Add split( on the beginning – we’ll use Split function and use id field value as first argument
11. Add ,’_api’)[1] on the end – we’ll split the string by ‘_api’ substring and take second element from the output collection
The whole expression looks like this:
split(body(‘Parse_JSON’)?[‘d’]?[‘__metadata’]?[‘id’],’_api’)[1]

Now once we have the Uri of our newly create SharePoint list we can use example from this documentation page and use a field type value related to expected field type (all possible sharepoint field types values are here).

Disclaimer: As you can see we’re now working a lot with Microsoft official documentation. I recommend this as a really well written and complete reference source for any O365 developer.

Your action should be configured this way now:

Warning: please note that for number field I used Number field type type value, not the Integer field type value. The latter won’t work

Create similar action to create Boolean field:

Protip: Use copying action to clipboard – it’s new and fancy and I love it. And everyone was waiting for it 😀

Add SharePoint items to SharePoint list using Microsoft Flow

To add 9001 items we’re going to use Microsoft Flow “Do Until” loop. It will do defined operations and at the end of the iteration it will increase the iterator. Once the iterator exceed 9001 flow will know that it’s the right time to go out of the loop.

So add new variable called “Iterator”

Now add Do Until loop and select Iterator variable as value property. Set the check to be “is greater than 3000”. Remember also to unfold Change limits section and increase Count to 3000 items and Timeout to PT5H (just in case 1 hour will be to short)

Warning: Do Until has hard limit on 5000 iterations at maximum.

At this point we’ll normally use “Create item” action for SharePoint in Microsoft Flow. However we’ve just created the list and the mentioned action won’t work with dynamically created list. So…for the forth time we’ll use Send HTTP request to SharePoint 🙂

Protip: “Send HTTP request to SharePoint” is sooo universal and powerful. You can do almost ANYTHING using this action. One of my favorite.

You can find here documentation page where the example Create List Item POST HTTP request is made (see? I told you it’s well written and helpful). Let me show you configured action and code first and then I’ll describe it:

{
  __metadata:  
            {  
                type: "SP.Data.Delegation_x0020_PlaygroundListItem"  
            }, 
Title: 'Item @{variables('Iterator')}',
Integer_x0020_Field:@{variables('Iterator')},
Bool_x0020_Field:@{if(equals(mod(variables('Iterator'),2),0),'true','false')}}

So what I’ve done is (follow my steps):

  1. Add “Send HTTP Request to SharePoint” action inside Do Until loop
  2. Fill Site Address, Method, Uri and Headers as in the screenshot
  3. Paste above code but please make sure to:
    • swap Delegation_x0020_Playground with your list name
    • have ListItem suffix. So for your list named “MyList” the type string will be SP.Data.MyListListItem
    • swap all special characters (like space) in the list name. Good article about it was written here by Stefan Bauer
    • When providing field names remember about special characters rule described above
    • In my case I used expression with modulo function so every even item has Bool field = true

Last thing we need to do is to increase the iterator by 1 inside Do Until loo to not end up with infinite loop.

AND THAT’S IT!

WOOHOO!

You’ve just created flow that create list with fields and list items. And everything done with one push of a button to trigger your flow 🙂

Automation is beautiful.

And just in case you want to download ready made solution – you can download it from here 🙂

Hope this post was helpful. Write me a comment if you have any question or used my flow.

Create SharePoint list using Flow

Microsoft Flow is a great automation tool. It integrates with over 230 services using connectors where each of them contains multiple triggers and actions. One of those connectors is a SharePoint Online connector with a set of 10 triggers and 47 actions(!). Such big set allows to create many scenarios. Starting from managing simple resource list to invoice approvals along with permissions on different levels. Even though, SharePoint Online connector does not contains actions like “Create list”. Such actionmay be useful if you want to create those elements dynamically. Before you think “what a bummer” and turn your eyes on custom code solutions please read this article. I’ll show you how you can create SharePoint List or SharePoint Library using Microsoft Flow.

Create list from list template

Before I’ll show you how I did that let me explain why I need this kind of solution.

Last week I’ve publishing Delegation Learning App. The app was an extension to what has been described in article How to overcome 500 items limit in PowerApps. Using my app a user is walkthrough different integration scenarios – static data, excel from onedrive and SharePoint Online. To make all steps easy I wanted the data sources to be already prepared for the user. With static and excel data there was no problem – I’ve simply attached them to app package. But how to prepare SharePoint Online list? I had 2 options:

  1. Give access to my environment – however I didn’t want to add external access for anyone who want to use an app. I didn’t want to create an account which I would be shared to others too.
  2. Prepare an excel that a user can import to his SharePoint Online – however this option has some import column limitations and I my aim was to create an universal solution.
  3. Create a list dynamically using Microsoft Flow – for me this method was perfect. I could defined any list definition and add items to this list. The only thing that the user had to do is import import flow (which is done automatically if you import PowerApps package) and run it.

Now you know why I decided to go with this option. Now let me explain what I’ve used and how it works.

Create SharePoint list using Flow

To achieve my goal I need use “Send as HTTP request to SharePoint” action which allows to execute any action that is available through SPO REST API.

SharePoint Online REST API is a special way of sending instructions to SPO using HTTP requests. I.e. by making HTTP GET call to https://<Site ABCD url>/_api/web/lists you can get a list off all lists in ABCD site.

Did you know?
Your browser is constantly using such way of communication. Every time when you open some web site your browser is making an HTTP GET request. Go ahead, open a new browser tab and try it: paste https://<Site ABCD url>/_api/web/lists URL (of course swap <Site ABCD url> with your own SPO site url) to see the XML representation of all lists that exists in the site along with metadata

To create a SharePoint list I need to do what is described in this section. In above section you can find below example:

1. url: "http://<site url>/_api/web/lists"
2. type: "POST"
3. headers:{
            "content-type": "application/json;odata=verbose",
            "accept": "application/json;odata=verbose"
}
4. body: { '__metadata': { 'type': 'SP.List' }, 'AllowContentTypes': true,
 'BaseTemplate': 100, 'ContentTypesEnabled': true, 'Description': 'My list description', 'Title': 'Test' }
           

Let me quickly translate it for you.

1. Hey SharePoint, I'm going to do something with your lists...
2. ...and that'll be a modification (create or update)...
3. ...And in step 4 (that is body) I'll send you the details using JSON notation ("content-type" header). If you want to communicate with me please use the JSON notation ("accept" header)...
4. Ok, so the message is this: <the body>

Normally you would also need to authorize yourself providing an token – OAuth token to be precise – but thanks to MS Flow action, the connector is taking care of it 🙂

The last question you may have now is: “how should I know what to put in the body?”. There is a wonderful resource that explains everything you can do using SharePoint REST API: REST API references and samples (add it to your bookmarks, trust me).

Now, in above knowledge base there is a sub-page where you can find all properties you can use in the body: List Properties. You can find there the definition of all used properties. I.e. Base Template represents a ListTemplateType value (see ListTemplateType reference for template type values).

So the last thing is to…

Bring everything back together

Now let’s convert theoretical knowledge into our Microsoft Flow solution.

Disclaimer: Normally I would paste some image below and describe what it shows + what you need to do to achieve the presented result. But thanks to Clarissa Gillingham I realized that if an image is worth a thousands words, a movie is worth a thousands images (23 images per second to be precise #GeekContent). That’s why I’ll just leave with a movie – I hope it’s self explanatory 🙂

Code used for Send an HTTP request to SharePoint is below:

URI:
_api/web/lists

HEADERS:
content-type = application/json;odata=verbose
accept = application/json;odata=verbose

BODY:
{ '__metadata': { 'type': 'SP.List' }, 'AllowContentTypes': true, 'BaseTemplate': 100, 'Description': 'List with items to work with delegations in PowerApps', 'Title': 'Delegation Playground' }

Ready Flow you can download from here.

PERFECT! Now you can click Flow button, provide ANY SharePoint Site URL you have access to and the defined list will be created there. Is that everything? OF COURSE NOT! A list with the default settings contains only built-in fields which won’t be enough in 99% cases. So now we should add some fields…but this part I’ll cover next week 🙂

Stay tuned!

Multiple RSS feeds to LinkedIn using Flow

In this blog post I’ll show you how you can build your own Microsoft Flow that is triggered by RSS feed and then re-post it to your social media channels eg. LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. I’ll give you example scenarios as well as show how you can aggregate multiple RSS feeds and handle them using Microsoft Flow.

Oh, and I also share my flows – download them, import and use them 🙂

Keep updated

Today, it is not enough to be good at something. To be an expert in technology, to sell services / products or to be an influencer (vloger, blogger, podcaster) one should constantly observe changes in the area subject he specializes in. And here comes the challenge – we have a lot of sources on the Internet (news sites, blogs, internet forums, facebook groups, twitter etc) that create information content. Some of them, especially the most official ones (eg the official PowerApps blog), create content at irregular intervals. So in order to be up to date you can:

  • Check manually every day using a web browser if the new content appeared on the site. However, this solution is not very scalable (at 10 sources it starts to be uncomfortable. At 30 we start to think about the meaning of life).
  • Use tools such as Feedly, which observe the latest content using a special summary page with the latest information, the so-called RSS. Today, RSS has the majority of blogs, forums and information services. However, such a solution still requires that we regularly check the selected tool in search of new content.

But if it could be more…

“Keep updated” automated

I love automation. I really do. Automation free my brain memory and processing units so I can focus on more important things. It’s like setting up the alarm instead of constantly checking “what time is now?”.

Some examples of how a one can automate being update:

  1. When a new post appeared on Microsoft Flow blog add me a task to my Todoist (or any other task organizer). BUT! If the new post has been published after 12 PM add the task for tomorrow (so I can keep myself well organized).
  2. When a new app appeared in Power Users PowerApps Gallery reshared in on my LinkedIn

Create RSS feed to LinkedIn Flow

Using Microsoft Flow it’s very easy to do.

3 steps:

  1. In Microsoft Flow portal go to templates and search for RSS (and LinkedIn in my case)
  2. Hit “Create Flow”.
  3. Provide RSS URL

Done.

Want to do it from scratch? No problem.

3 steps:

  1. Add a new Automated Flow and use the RSS trigger
  2. Provide RSS URL
  3. Add LinkedIn (V2) action and fill up the fields

RSS feed connector

The heart of the Flow is the RSS connector. It contains multiple fields which you can use in further Flow actions. The list of all fields is displayed below:

If you’re curious how the example RSS trigger data would be look like check code below – it contains everything I received in the Flow once my previous article has been published:

{
  "id": "https://michalguzowski.pl/?p=1544",
  "title": "5 steps that increased Office365 adoption",
  "primaryLink": "https://michalguzowski.pl/5-steps-that-increased-office365-adoption/",
  "links": [
    "https://michalguzowski.pl/5-steps-that-increased-office365-adoption/"
  ],
  "updatedOn": "0001-01-01 00:00:00Z",
  "publishDate": "2019-07-05 16:42:42Z",
  "summary": "<p>Implementation of the Office365 environment in an organization is a complex process. It is not enough to create a company account in Office365, buy subscriptions, add users and connect the organization’s domain. You also have to take care of the transfer of company resources, as well as transfer the solutions used in the organization (or … <a href=\"https://michalguzowski.pl/5-steps-that-increased-office365-adoption/\" class=\"more-link\">Continue reading<span class=\"screen-reader-text\"> \"5 steps that increased Office365 adoption\"</span></a></p>\n<p>The post <a rel=\"nofollow\" href=\"https://michalguzowski.pl/5-steps-that-increased-office365-adoption/\">5 steps that increased Office365 adoption</a> appeared first on <a rel=\"nofollow\" href=\"https://michalguzowski.pl\">Michał Guzowski Consulting</a>.</p>\n",
  "copyright": "",
  "categories": [
    "Flow",
    "In english",
    "IT",
    "Microsoft",
    "PowerApps",
    "SharePoint Online",
    "Teams"
  ]
}

Multiple RSS triggers

Once you’ll use RSS trigger you’ll notice that it allows only to put one and only one RSS URL. What to do if you have 3 or 10 RSS feeds to follow? Is there a way to subscribe to multiple RSS feeds using Microsoft Flow?

Answer: yes there is but instead of using simple action or action configuration you need to use a bit of architecture pattern of your whole Flow solution. For reference and instruction please check my video below:

#ProTip: it’s good idea to pass an extra information from a RSS triggered Flow to your Aggregator Flow with the name of the origin Flow. When something goes wrong this field shortcut the time of inspecting the communication flow (which flow send the specific data to aggregator).

And that’s it – hope you find this post helpful. If you have any question feel free to leave a comment below or DM on my twitter account.

P.S.

Thanks to Brad Sams for an inspiration of this post

5 steps that increased Office365 adoption

Implementation of the Office365 environment in an organization is a complex process. It is not enough to create a company account in Office365, buy subscriptions, add users and connect the organization’s domain. You also have to take care of the transfer of company resources, as well as transfer the solutions used in the organization (or take care of their integration) – that is, make the so-called migration. However, it does not guarantee the success of Office365 implementation. In order for the entire operation to be successful, it should be persuaded to change the person in the organization. In this article, I will present 5 steps that will increase your chance for effective adoption.

Disclaimer: The steps have been written as a retrospection of the cooperation with one of my clients. Each company is different and requires an individual approach. I encourage you to make an informed decision whether all, some or none of the following steps will be useful to you.

Step 1: Discover the product you bought

Office365 is much more than Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Even if we add OneDrive, SharePoint Online, Microsoft Flow and PowerApps to this list, it will not be half as much! And based only on the platforms mentioned above, you can achieve a lot (examples can be found here). How many of these products are in Office365? A very successful combination was made by the jump365.com team:

Be sure to try the interactive version! https://app.jumpto365.com/

It is worth remembering that each of the products has a huge range of its own functionalities and various configurations that allow you to cover countless scenarios.

Finally, the maximum use of the built-in capabilities of Office365 returns with interest – Microsoft constantly improves its products and adds new opportunities, so the answer to the question “build yourself or wait a while” is not at all obvious. Np recently appeared the possibility of integrating the Common Data Service with Outlook, which is another argument to use the CDS database as a data container instead of SQL or SharePoint.

Tip # 1: Make sure you have used the maximum of Office365 built-in features before you approach the development of custom solutions

Step 2: Keep it Simple and Straightforward

We consultants know that everything can be achieved in various ways. For example, sharing the file can be done from the level of SharePoint, OneDrivem application, synchronized folder on the computer, Teams etc. For many people a lot of options are freedom of choice and high integration. But for many, it’s chaos (“means again, how many ways can I do it?”), Lack of coherence (“why do you share from the browser and once from a folder on your computer?”) And this makes them return to “safe places “: the methods they used so far – they were simple, transparent and consistent.

That’s why:

  1. Choose the best and the only right way to proceed. At least at the beginning of implementation. For example, to share a file with people outside the organization, you must first synchronize the OneDrive folder on your computer. Period.
  2. Create instructions for the most key scenarios. For us, these were:
    • Document scanning (using the mobile application)
    • Synchronize all team files on your computer
    • Providing a file to a person outside the organization
    • Submitting the attachments from the email to the channel in the team
    • Planning a meeting with the Teams conference
  3. The statement can not be based on an action that has not been described. For example, if you need to synchronize a folder on your computer at some point, remember to create an instruction to set up such a synchronization

Tip # 2: Choose the best and only right course of action. Clearly communicate it in the organization.

Step 3: Segmentation of users

The language of the needs is important (see the next paragraph), but if the organization is of medium size (more than 50 people) or more, it is impossible to talk to each employee. So one should approach the topic methodically.

  • group employees according to the areas they deal with, for example: finance, processes, IT
  • identify “key units”, ie people who have a high impact on others and / or decision-making and have resistance to implementing new solutions
  • identify “influencers” or people who will be promoters of change. They will help others adapt change not only out of a sense of duty, but they will also realistically see the benefits of the upcoming changes. Important: do not choose these people for strength!

Step 4: Learn the language needs

Users themselves will not start using ready-made tools. Even if the company thinks otherwise, for some employees, “excel on the local computer is enough”. The reason is simple – tools are just tools. They are there to meet needs. So in order to implement tools effectively:

  1. Understand the needs of users: get to know the context of their work. See what difficulties are currently. Understand why new solutions would not help them (if they say so)
  2. Express your needs: explain to users the needs for which change is being implemented (see scenario 1)
  3. Speak the language of the users’ needs: show them what benefits they will get thanks to the change. How this change will affect their work (see scenario 1)
  4. think out-of-the-box: declaring the user that something can not be done is not testimony. Because what the user actually says is “it can not be done differently for the adopted assumptions, limitations and understanding of the whole process”. He built a wall around his process. Your task is to move every brick of this wall and remove one after another until the wall collapses. It is important that it involves the process itself (that is, the business would continue its goal). (see scenario 2)

Scenario 1 (real life example)

    null
  • [User] “Using OneDrive is pointless, I already have all the files on my disk and when I need it, I send them to other people by email. Why should we move all the files to another place?”
  • [Consultant] “We want to limit the e-mails we send in the organization, and we also want to archive all documents and maintain version history.”
  • [User] “Nothing is lost in emails, but I understand. I will send messages less frequently”
  • [Consultant] “Hm, and remember how much time it takes you to find the last version of the document in email messages. And imagine that you work on the document for 3 days and it was supposed to be sent in an email, but suddenly the computer broke down and you are not able to recover your 3-day job … “
  • [User] “Eh … I understand … maybe it’s actually better. But I have all the shortcuts on the desktop, how do we transfer the files, where are they going to be?” [here was the real reason for the resistance]
  • [Consultant] “Do not worry, we’ll do all the files will be available from your computer and all desktop shortcuts will work. Only the place where these files will be stored will change.”
  • [User] “super!”

Scenario 2 (real life example)

  • [Accountant] “We can not digitize the invoice circulation, because every invoice requires a president’s stamp, unless it is possible to attach a picture of such a stamp … but this is only an additional step in the whole process.
  • [Consultant] “Why is this stuff?”
  • [Accountant] “For the accounting department to know that the president read and accepted the invoice”
  • [Consultant] “And the invoice with the stamp stays later inside the company only?”
  • [Accountant] “Yes”
  • [Consultant] “And if the president came and said:” I read and accept it”, that would be enough?
  • [Accountant] “Yes”
  • [Consultant] “So you use stamps, because it’s faster than personal confirmation and also faster than writing an email. If it was just as simple as: The president gets a notification on the phone and only clicks “accepts” or “reject” and all further communication takes place automatically?
  • [Accountant] “Hm …. well … all in all it could be so …”

Bingo! 🙂

Tip # 3: Challenge “because we work like this”. Inquires. Be inquisitive. 5x Why.

Tip # 4: To learn about the needs of users, conduct a training / workshop with them. At the beginning of the group, and then carry out ad hoc consultations 1: 1.

Step 5: Apply with small spoons to one plate

When you enter a lot of new tools, some users may be scared of the number of changes. They will feel lost and will return to the old known processes in which they felt comfortable. Therefore, add new tools and improvements slowly, one by one. If possible, do not multiply new applications. Integrate everything in one place. A good idea is, for example, to start with communication through Teams and define teams there. Then incrementally build a daily work process around Teams. Then talk to the identified employees / employee segments and slowly move the subsequent processes.

Tip # 5: Keep your finger on the pulse – Office365 is constantly evolving.

10 tips I wish to know before I’ve started with PowerApps

When you’re doing something for the first time there is always the same feeling of chaos. So many new things, uncountable number of topics to learn, mechanisms and concepts that are similar to nothing. How to know it all? Where to start? Of course, from one side, when it comes to IT, every software has its documentation (and in case of PowerApps it’s truly well written). However from the others side…show me at least ONE person who have read the whole documentation before started with something (programming, using tools, develop new app in PowerApps) :). Of course there is none – otherwise people like me, consultants & trainers, won’t have much to do. That’s why I’ve created below a list of 10 tips I wish to know before I’ve started with PowerApps.

Image result for heroes of might and magic 3 war fog
When you do something for the first time you feel like a hero in my favorite game from the childhood – HoM&M3. You see gems & crystal, mines and powerful artifacts (that was the promise) but you don’t know how to get them. The fog of war covers the paths. You have to find it by discovering unknown areas. Most of the time you just travel, searching and trying. From time to time you fight an imp or zombie and finally (but rarely in comparison to other activities) you pick your dreamed artifact.

Learning PowerApps

If you read the image description above you probably see a lot of similarities to learning anything. Let’s take PowerApps for example. You want to build an app, create a solution to support your process or build that powerful customized SharePoint list form. For the most of the time you try different approaches, different controls and just discover new functionalities of the platform. From time to time you need to solve an error or warning (eg. my favorite one: delegation) and rarely (in comparison to other activities) you’re completing your dreamed app. And that’s ok – you’re learning. You need to get an experience. Is there a way to increase the effectiveness of your learning path? Yes there is. Follow me 🙂

Minimal effort to maximum effect

To shorten your launch with powerapps I’ve noted down 10 things I wish to know earlier – on the beginning of my PowerApps adventure. Treat them as my footprints you can follow to get your “artifact” quicker.

1. Templates

In PowerApps portal when you go to “Create” page you’ll see bunch of tiles. First three are for creating your app but all the others (28 tiles) are ready-made applications. They presents final solution to a specific requirement (Help Desk, Budget Tracker, Leave Request etc). By clicking on them you’ll add them to your environment and be able to use them. But that’s not all! You can edit them and see how they’re were built! It’s an awesome opportunity to investigate the app structure, logic, used controls and functions to learn the PowerApps. Moreover you can copy app parts and paste into your solution – why not!

Play, test & analyse at least 1 of them.

Tip #1: If you’re beginning with PowerApps focus on templates with the “Canvas app” label

Tip #2: There are two app templates you can’t miss: PowerApps Training and PowerApps Training for Office. A must for everyone who wants to know PowerApps better.

2 . Controls & Properties

There are many controls you can use in your app. Text input, Slider or Timer are just few examples. Use them to interact with a user on multiple ways: display information, gather some data or even record video or take a picture. All controls are under the “Insert” ribbon tab and grouped in categories (Text, Controls, Media etc). Take 10 minutes to discover all the controls in PowerApps. In most cases reading control label is enough to get the general context of it. However take in mind some controls are more complex (eg. gallery or forms).

Another great things about controls are their properties that are for customization. Want this label text to be red? No problem! You don’t like those rounded corners of a button? Sure thing, I don’t like it neither. Properties extends capabilities of the controls. Thank to them you can use a control in multiple ways and in different contexts.

Tip #3: Hardly abused controls are: label, text input, icons, button, gallery, forms. Starts with them. Almost any application needs them.

Tip #4: Check the Advanced tab from the properties pane (the above image). It contains much more properties than Properties tab.

3. Functions

Interaction with a user is one thing but what will happen if a user click this button? And how to show error message once user forget about providing required data? You won’t do much without a logic in your app. And that’s what PowerApps functions are for. Controls, properties and functions are PowerApps bread and butter. Without knowing them you’ll be like a kid in the dark.

There are 155 functions and they are fully described here. In documentation each function description contains a note what it does, when to use it, required arguments and some usage examples. And to be honest probably never use all of them. But below list is really worth of those 30 minutes to check them in documentation.

Tip #5: Some functions are unknown even to those who builds PowerApps professionally. They waste a ton of time to make workarounds for I’m solving in a minute. Some of those functions: User, Param, Language, HashTags,ColorFade, PlainText. Make sure you know them 🙂

4. Connectors

True power of PowerApps (and PowerPlatform generally speaking) lays not in the platform itself but in the integration with other platforms. Thanks to that your app can use the capabilities of another service. I like to think about integration as “borrow the power of other service” in a way. PowerApps contains over 230 connectors to different (! not only Microsoft) services.

You can find list of all connectors here.

From that list few connectors deserve for special attention because of their flexibility and how they greatly improve PowerPlatform extendibility:

  • Office 365 Users
  • Power BI
  • HTTP with Azure AD
  • HTTP / HTTP Request (available as an action/trigger via Flow)

Tip #6: You want to integrate your own service? Check out Custom Connectors

5. Store data in the right place

Ok, before I’ll say anything more I have to announce one really important thing.

Generally speaking. Ok to store simple tabels. Perfect to store documents. But for storing tabels with relationships model? Absolutely not!

Side note: why some people pick Blob Storage over SharePoint? Versioning, Permissions model, Sharing capabilities, Integration with Teams and Onedrive – SharePoint has it all!

Uf, I’m good now.

So when it comes to storing data there are few places you can do it: OneDrive (Excel), SharePoint and common database (CDS, SQL). First two are a common pick for PowerApps adepts and after some time they always search for help. Because neither excel nor SharePoint are not relational database. But CDS and SQL are! And from my perspective, after last updates, CDS is the first pick when it comes to PowerApps solutions. I won’t dive into my approach details in this post but I’ll definitely cover that in the nearest future. CDS made huge progress and is safe and trustworthy relational database.

Tip #7: Files? SharePoint. Relational database? CDS.

6. Delegation

When it comes to data source connection there will be a moment in time when you’ll see below warning.

But don’t worry! It’s the delegation thing. The delegation mechanism is well described in the documentation. However sometimes delegation is not a solution. If you’ll get to such point read my post: https://michalguzowski.pl/500 . I’ve described 4 workarounds for the 500 limitation (whereas delegation is only 1 of them) + 2 extra my own methods which you won’t find in the Microsoft official resources 😉

7. Turn on Advanced Settings

If you want to build your apps more efficiently and faster there are few options hidden from you by default(!). But as a app maker you can easily turn them on.

Go to File -> App Settings -> Advanced settings

There are awesome functionalities that will boost your productivity. 2 examples:

Components

It’s a group of controls that you can reuse across screen and apps! It’s like you build your own control! Example:

If you want to read more about how to build components and my best practices, patterns and tricks check this blog post.

Formula bar result view

Normally there is no way to see what your filter function will actually return in result unless you display the data using some control (eg. gallery). However turning on “Enable formula bar result view” allows you to see first few results right in your formula bar. Like this:

8. Extra content

The old saying says: “Don’t reinvent the wheel”. When you start with something it’s impossible to always avoid this mistake of reinventing the wheel. Because finding out what has been already made is actually a part of the learning process, right? Sometimes you’ll read about it in documentation, sometimes you’ll see it in one of the PowerApps templates and sometimes you read about in a blog post. That’s why I’ve put this part here 🙂

  1. 10 Reusable Components: tab control, calendar, dialog box, map control and more
  2. Experimental tools from Microsoft: PowerApps Review Tool, Theme Editor, App Merger, Phone to Tablet Layout Converter
  3. Templates from PowerApps portal are not enough? Then go to PowerUsers Community Gallery for more.

9. Community

Remember those times when a 3 hours task already taken 6 hours and you’re not even in the middle of it? That’s the moment when your time management (plan control, reality observations, taking action based on measurements) is crucial but what’s even more important is…your self-control. Quit the berserker mode. Stop the “ohhh…I’ve already spent so much time on this task that now I HAVE TO finish it”.

Follow below:

  1. Your app/task is estimated to be done in X hours
  2. Make a checkpoint every 1/4 * X
  3. Define what you want to have on the particular checkpoint.
  4. If there is “expectations vs reality mismatch” -> ask for help. PowerApps Community & #PowerAddicts are here for you.

Protip #8: don’t be obsessive, know when to quit. Ask for help earlier

10. Practice practice practice

This is universal but very true sentence: “To make apps you have to make apps”. In other means no knowledge gives you as much expertise as practice. If you want to make great apps there is no other way than just make 100 of them.

Every 100 starts with 1.

Task for today: make a simple app.

Eg. with a button that sends you an email on click. But make it so good you could use it in the future. Eg. email can be send to your family member with a random message:

  • “Will be late – traffic today is horrible”
  • “Sorry for late, had some bugs in one of my projects but I’m close to fix them. Need ~30 minutes more. Love you!”
  • “My client asked me to help him in emergency case: they have some problems on production environment! Will be in 2 hours :(”
  • Can’t find the keys – did you see them?

Was it helpful? Or maybe you think I’ve missed anything?

LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS! 🙂

When to use PowerApps and Microsoft Flow

In my last post I’ve described how security & compliance are solved in PowerPlatform. This post is a summary for all posts series. Moreover I want to give you simple rules when you should and when you should not use PowerApps and Flow. The main reason is just to avoid the dead ends. I hope you’re curious so let’s move on!

What we already know about when to use PowerApps

The whole post series started in affect to the discussion that followed my post about Low-Code platforms (why they’re so popular and the overall market demand constantly increase). During this post series you could read:

  1. What are Low-Code Development Platforms
  2. Real examples of Low-Code solutions
  3. Who can build on Low-Code platforms
  4. Is the PowerPlatform secure?
  5. Summary & Key Takeaways (this post)

I recommend reading them if you’ve not already done that. They cover big picture of Low-Code development platform, especially PowerPlatform (PowerApps, Flow). In case you would like to have a simple bullet-list to follow by, please keep reading – I’ve prepared it for you 🙂

When the PowerPlatform should be a No-Brainer

There are situations in your work or in your personal live when using PowerApps and Flow should be the first thing that comes to your mind. Let me exposure such situations:

  1. Simple repeatable operation occurred frequently and it takes a lot of time in total of a user (e.g. scan business card and import to CRM, book company resource, get holiday approval)
  2. You want to integrate different components or platforms of your digital workplace (e.g. SharePoint + Outlook + Mailchimp)
  3. Occasionally you have to do a mass operation (e.g. update status of all items in SharePoint lists)
  4. You want to save time by cutting down the overall implementation time
  5. From my experience most of task-oriented processes (get data from user, add a task in planner, send email…basically things you could define as a tasks list) can be implemented on PowerPlatform.
  6. You want to improve productivity in your Office365 environment
  7. Security and contextual data trimming is important for you
  8. You have a business process implemented in Excel 😉

Of course PowerPlatform is not a universal tool. Having that said it’s crucial to be aware when using those platforms may get us into a dead end (if you’re no developer).

When you need to reconsider using PowerApps or Microsoft Flow

There are specific limitation of PowerApps and Flow – if you meet any of these then be careful and think twice if the PowerPlatform is the right tool. Disclaimer: It doesn’t mean you cannot achieve any of listed below but rather providing such functionality may require advanced software developer skills.

  1. If the UX design (i.e. front-end) has very restrictive requirements (specific controls, drag-n-drop support, support for legacy browser or mobile devices without PowerApps app)
  2. Your application need to support multiple users interaction in real time – yes, you can simulate simple chat in PowerApps but to be honest – PowerApps is not for that.
  3. Gaming – even though you can create simple animations in PowerApps (and sometimes it is very desired), the general purpose of PowerPlatform is far from it. And in the first place performance of the apps does not suit to gaming industry requirements.
  4. Complex calculations in Microsoft Flow – as I tested and confirmed PowerApps has much higher computing power than Microsoft Flow. (even 30x!). This is possible because PowerApps use user device for the computations. However if you need good computation capabilities outside the user device use Azure Function or Logic Apps instead (Logic Apps has so called Integration Service Environment (ISE) which allows for adjusting processing efficiency)
  5. App need to be used by anonymous users or users outside your organization. Although there will be some support for such cases (PowerApps Portals has been already announced) it will provide some limited functionality over normal PowerApps apps.
  6. Role-driven forms and screens in Canvas Apps – this is however greatly supported by model-driven apps
  7. When compliance & logs are very important for you and your business – so for now PowerPlatform has simple support for security and compliance management. But that would definitely change in time.

If not PowerPlatform – then what?

The last questions is if you may not want to use PowerPlatform- then what? You have few options:

  1. Change business requirements – it’s a common misunderstanding that business requirements are untouchable. They are! And sometimes it’s easier and even desired that business could adjust to the whole software solution (application or process)
  2. Use 3rd party solutions for automation – there are other solutions and software tools ready to be use (e.g. UIPath, CodeTwo)
  3. Develop your custom app or script <developers applause> – yes, when your toolbox is not enough you need to manufacture your own tools. C#, React, Frameworks: GO!

Hope this post clarifies few things related to PowerPlatform, PowerApps and Flow.

Thank you for reading up to here.

Let me know if you like it or not!

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow target – part 2

In my previous article, I’ve introduced the most important features of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow platforms, basing on examples of three different organizations. In this part, I will present who these platforms are addressed to. Moreover, I will also explain what are the reasons for the growing popularity of Microsoft Low-Code platforms. Let’s start with the basic question.

Who can build solutions in PowerApps and Microsoft Flow?

Ever since these platforms have appeared on the market, they tend to be described as Low-Code or even No-Code platforms. There is no full accordance regarding its naming. Similarly, there is no agreement whether all people or only technical persons can work on the platforms mentioned above. Do people outside of IT as sellers, traders and managers can benefit from these platforms? To answer these questions I will discuss 2 issues:

  • Is PowerPlatform a No-Code platform?
  • Is PowerPlatform for everyone?

There is no No-Code

By definition, No-Code concept does not require writing ANY code. The whole process of building the solution is based on the use of a special wizard where it can be built using the drag-n-drop method. It would imply that the above-mentioned tools are so simple that ANYONE could use them to build solutions. In this case, the application developer does not even have to be a programmer. Then such a person starts using one of the platforms mentioned and surprisingly it turns out that:

  • platforms use a specific function language with syntax
  • they have IF condition blocks
  • they have loops
  • they use the concept of variables and collections.

For those of you who first time see above items, I’ll explain – these are universal concepts that characterize all programming languages. Below a conclusion of one of my favorite influencers, Jon Levesque:

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are not a No-Code platforms.

DISCLAIMER:
Of course, I do not mean that Microsoft does not have any No-Code platforms. They have quite a lot of them, and in order to not looking far enough, I’ll give an example of Microsoft Forms (an interesting review of this platform was written by Tomasz Poszytek on his blog). But certainly, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow do not belong to them.

Now let’s deal with the second, hotter issue, whether anyone can create solutions on these platforms.

ANYONE can’t do programming

Since we already know that PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are not No-Code platforms, can we still recommend them to everyone? I intentionally used the word ‘programming’ rather than ‘coding’ in the headline . To build solutions, you do not have to write code, but still you use programming skills. It is enough to build a solution based on the fact that it is:

  • a repetitive process (not necessarily a business one)
  • based on the capabilities of a specific platform or platforms
  • implements a repetitive sequence of cause-and-effect events
  • a complete solution carries the marks of uniqueness (ie not the functionality out-of-the-box platform)
  • (probably you could add something more, but it’s enough for my needs).

In this perspective, even No-Code platforms require programming skills. Both Microsoft Forms, SharePoint, MailChimp and WordPress etc. need a certain degree of understanding of knowledge (often technical) and learning about the capabilities of platforms. I would like to put a special emphasis on “UNDERSTAND”, because this is often an overlooked aspect. Please note that with increasing complexity of solutions increases the likelihood of errors. And then the skill of the so-called debugging, the process of finding and repairing errors, will be needed. Unless you want to run every time to your IT department with a request such as “DO NOT WORK HERE! REPAIR!” … but I guess it’s not that the whole idea of No-Code / Low-Code platforms. I will not mention that sometimes much more sophisticated skills, such as reverse engineering, are also useful.

To illustrate the issue even better, let’s look at what Bob Reselman, a programmer, architect and journalist with many years of experience says about it, in one of his articles:

For example, imagine using a low-code visual composer to bind data from a poorly written SQL query to a UI. All should work fine, right? That’s the promise. Everything should be peachy keen, except that the app is slow as molasses in February. Why is it so slow? DB? UI code? The network?

Most likely, the low-code software developer won’t know. He was not hired to know. He was hired to drag and drop components to create business forms, not to do data performance debugging.

TechTarget, Bob Reselman

And although I do not agree with everything that Bob wrote in the whole article, this piece has some truth in it. Low-code software developers are not software developers. But all in all … is not that just the point? Because…

Not everyone can create solutions based on the Low-Code platform, but definitely more people can do it than just developers.

Did you wonder why the ideas of Citizen Developers (programmers of Low-Code platforms) and the possibility of easy building solutions are propagated so intensely? It seems to me that there are 2 reasons for this.

1. CREATING IT SOLUTIONS IS EXPENSIVE

I have already written about the problems on the developers’ market in my article ‘What are Low-Code platforms‘. Huge staff shortages (it is estimated that in 2020 there will be a shortage of 500,000-600,000 programmers on the European market), which means that developers, as befits luxury goods, have a high price. Implementation of IT solutions is often an extremely expensive undertaking (requirements analysis, architecture, infrastructure, licenses, programmer’s hour of work, adoption, maintenance, etc.). To make matters worse, the work of programmers is not effective, because they repeatedly implement the same parts of the application (login layer, permissions, data link layer, etc.). This raises the following conclusions:

  1. Developers need relief in simple tasks. More vividly, to replace a wheel in a car, you do not need rocket engineer services.
  2. Ideally, if we would only once create a given functionality. Do not reinvent the wheel. Let us use parts of solutions repeatedly.

And with this in mind, Low-Code platforms were built. In particular, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow emphasize the following:

  • maximum coverage of repetitive parts of the application (login layer, permissions, data link layer, etc.)
  • integration support by using a wide range of “connectors” (not only for Microsoft platforms)
  • extensibility (the ability to build your own connectors based on generally accepted IT standards)

2. IT KNOWS IT ON

When in 2018 along with a friend for almost a year we were conducting a start-up after hours, life gave us a valuable lesson. We had an idea for solving a problem of the HR industry, and more specifically for career counseling. It seemed to us that we had everything to get from the so-called side-hustle to build a real value wrapped in a scalable product:

  • We had an idea of what effect we want to achieve
  • We had technologies: me and my colleague worked in IT, programming and machine learning algorithms were not a problem for us.

Our plan was to obtain funding, but investors’ doors still did not want to accept us. When finally came time for reflection, we understood what was missing. Technical skills and the target effect are not everything. You still need to know HOW. In our case, there was no specialization in the field of career counseling – we did not have a person who would be able to develop an appropriate psychometric test and interpret its results.

Many companies have a similar problem. They have IT that can implement everything but does not know what. They also have non-IT departments who know what they need, but they do not know how. It is enough to combine both, right? Exactly – and then suddenly it turns out that IT is expensive (see the previous paragraph).

Screen from  http://www.fressadi.com/blog/the-art-of-building/design/what-the-client-wanted/
Screen from http://www.fressadi.com/blog/the-art-of-building/design/what-the-client-wanted/

SUMMARY

The whole concept of Low-Code platforms in the PowerApps and Microsoft Flow area is designed to solve the issue of high costs of IT projects and to eliminate problems resulting from narrow specialization.

Microsoft’s Low-Code platforms reduce the costs generated by IT solutions and support the interdisciplinary work environment.

Thanks to PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, non-IT people who have technical skills (a necessary condition!) can easily show and even build what they need. On the other hand, developers and administrators can support them in more difficult areas, help in integration and even expand the capabilities of platforms (through Custom Connectors).

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow developers = Low-code developers = Citizen Developers
PowerApps and Microsoft Flow developers = Low-code developers = Citizen Developers

You’ll be surprized at how many people outside of IT in your organization are doing great with technical topics. All you have to do is help them get started.

It’s all in this part. In my next article I will discuss issues related to the security of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow solutions.

Stay tuned!

Target dla PowerApps i Microsoft Flow cz.2

W moim poprzednim artykule pokazałem na przykładzie 3ech różnych organizacji najwazniejsze cechy platform PowerApps i Microsoft Flow. W tej części wytłumaczę Ci do kogo kierowane są te platformy. Objaśnię także jakie są moim zdaniem przyczyny rosnącej popularności platform Low-Code Microsoft. Zacznijmy więc od podstawowego pytania.

Kto może budować rozwiązania w PowerApps i Microsoft Flow?

Od kiedy tylko tytułowe platformy pojawiły się na rynku, mówi się że są one platformami typu Low-Code, a nawet No-Code. Tutaj nie ma pełnej zgodności. Tak samo nie ma zgodności czy z w/w platform mogą korzystać wszyscy czy tylko osoby techniczne. Czy osoby spoza IT jak sprzedawcy, handlowcy i managerzy mogą czerpać korzyści z tych platform? Aby odpowiedź na te pytania omówię 2 kwestie:

  • Czy PowerPlatform jest platformą typu no-code?
  • Czy PowerPlatform jest dla każdego?

There is no No-Code

No-Code, to pojęcie zgodnie z którym narzędzie nie wymaga pisania ŻADNEGO kodu. Cały proces budowania rozwiązania opiera się o korzystanie ze specjalnego kreatora w którym za pomocą metody drag-n-drop można zbudować rozwiązanie. To miało implikować, że w/w narzędzia są tak proste, że KAŻDY może z nich korzystać do budowania rozwiązań. Wystarczy, że chce – twórca aplikacji nie musi być nawet programistą. Wówczas taka osoba uruchamia którąś z wymienionych platform i ku zdumieniu okazuje się, że:

  • platformy korzystają ze specjalnego języka funkcyjnego posiadającego składnię
  • posiadają bloki warunkowe IF
  • posiadają pętle
  • wykorzystują koncepcję zmiennych oraz kolekcji

Dla tych z Was którzy pierwszy raz widzą na oczy powyższe pozycje wyjaśniam – są to uniwersalne pojęcia cechujące wszystkie języki programowania. Trafnie ujął to swego czasu jedej z moich ulubionych influencerów – Jon Levesque

PowerApps i Microsoft Flow to nie są platformy No-Code. Kropka.

DISCLAIMER:
Oczywiście nie chodzi mi o to, że Microsoft nie posiada platform No-Code. Ma ich całkiem sporo, a żeby nie szukać daleko wystarczy podać za przykład Microsoft Forms (ciekawe review tej platformy napisał swego czasu Tomasz Poszytek na swoim blogu). Ale z pewnością PowerApps jak i Microsoft Flow do nich nie należą.

Teraz zajmijmy się drugą, znaczniej bardziej gorąco kwestią czyli czy każdy może tworzyć roziwązania na tych platformach.

ANYONE can’t do programming

Skoro już wiemy, że PowerApps jak i Microsoft Flow nie są platformami typu No-Code, to czy nadal możemy je polecić każdemu? Nie przypadkowo w nagłówku celowo użyłem słowo “programowanie” a nie “kodowanie”. Żeby budować rozwiązania wcale nie trzeba pisać kod, aby wciąż korzystać z umiejętności programowania. Wystarczy, że buduje się rozwiązanie w oparciu o to, że jest ono:

  • reprezentacją powtarzalnego procesu (niekoniecznie biznesowego)
  • oparte o możliwości określonej platformy lub platform
  • implementuje powtarzalny ciąg zdarzeń przyczynowo-skutkowych
  • kompletne rozwiązanie niesie znamiona unikalności (czyli nie jest funkcjonalnością out-of-the-box platformy)
  • (pewnie jeszcze można by coś dodać, ale na moje potrzeby to wystarczy)

W tym ujęciu nawet platformy No-Code wymagają umiejętności programowania. Zarówno Microsoft Forms, SharePoint, MailChimp jak i WordPress itp. do budowania na nich rozwiązań potrzebują pewnego stopnia zrozumienia wiedzy (nierzadko technicznej) i poznania możliwości platform. Szczególny nacisk chciałbym położyć na “ZROZUMIEĆ”, bo to często pomijany aspekt. Należy pamiętać, że wraz ze wzrostem złożoności rozwiązania rośnie prawdopodobieństwo wystąpienia błędów. A wtedy obowiązkowa będzie umiejętnośc tzw. debugowania czyli procesu odnajdywania i naprawiania błędu. Chyba, że chce się co chwila biec do swojego działu IT z prośbą typu: “TU NIE DZIAŁA! NAPRAW!”…ale chyba nie o to chodzi w całej idei No-Code/Low-Code paltforms. Nie wspomnę o tym że czasami także przydają się znacznie bardziej wyrafinowane umiejętność jak np inżynieria wsteczna.

Żeby zobrazować jeszcze lepiej opisywaną przeze mnie kwestię spójrzmy jak na ten temat wypowiada się Bob Reselman, programista, architekt i dziennikarz z wieloletnim stażem, w jednym ze swoich artykułów:

For example, imagine using a low-code visual composer to bind data from a poorly written SQL query to a UI. All should work fine, right? That’s the promise. Everything should be peachy keen, except that the app is slow as molasses in February. Why is it so slow? DB? UI code? The network?

Most likely, the low-code software developer won’t know. He was not hired to know. He was hired to drag and drop components to create business forms, not to do data performance debugging.

TechTarget, Bob Reselman

I choć nie zgadzam się ze wszystkim o czym pisał Bob w całym artykule, to ten fragment ma w sobie trochę prawdy. Low-code software developers, to nie software developers. Ale w sumie…czy nie o to właśnie chodzi? Bo…

Tworzyć rozwiązania w oparciu o platformy Low-Code nie może każdy, ale zdecydowanie może więcej osób niż tylko programiści.

Czy zastanawiałęś się czemu tak instensywnie propaguje się idee Citizen Developers (programistów platform Low-Code) i możliwość łatwego budowania rozwiązań? Wydaje mi się, że są 2 powody takiej sytuacji.

1. Tworzenie rozwiązań IT jest drogie

O kwestii problemów na rynku programistów pisałem już w swoim artykule poświęconemu zagadnieniu “Czym są platformy Low-Code“. Ogromne braki kadrowe (dla przypomnienia szacuje się, że w 2020 na rynku europejskim będzie brakować 500.000-600.000 programistów) powodują, że programiści, jak przystało na “towar” luksusowy, mają wysoką cenę. Wdrożenie rozwiązań IT to często niezwykle drogie przedsięwzięcia (analiza wymagań, architektura, infrastruktura, licencje, godzina pracy programisty, adopcja, utrzymanie itp itd). Na domiar złego często praca programistów nie jest efektywna, bo wielokrotnie implementują oni te same fragmenty aplikacji (warstwa logowania, uprawnienia, warstwa łącza danych itd). To rodzi następujące wnioski:

  1. Programiści potrzebują odciążenia w prostszych zadaniach. Mówiąc bardziej obrazowo do wymiany koła w samochodzie nie potrzebujesz usług inżyniera rakietowego
  2. Idealnie by było, gdyby tylko raz tworzyć daną funkcjonalność. Nie wymyślajmy koła na nowo. Korzystajmy wielokrotnie z powtarzalnych części rozwiązań.

I z tą myślą zbudowane zostały platformy Low-Code. W szczególności w PowerApps i Microsoft Flow jest kładziony nacisk na:

  • maksymalne pokrycie powtarzalnych fragmentów aplikacji (warstwa logowania, uprawnienia, warstwa łącza danych itd)
  • wsparcie integracji za pomocą szerokiej gamy “connectorów”(nie tylko do platform Microsoft)
  • rozszerzalność (możliwość budowania własnych connectorów bazujących na ogólnie przyjętych w IT standardach)

2. IT zna się na IT

Gdy w 2018 roku wraz z koleżanką przez prawie rok po godzinach prowadziliśmy start-up życie dało nam cenną lekcję. Mieliśmy pomysł dotyczący rozwiązania pewnego problemu branży HR, a dokładniej doradztwa zawodowego. Wydawało nam się, że mieliśmy wszystko by z tzw. side-hustle zbudować realną wartość opakowaną w skalowalny produkt:

  • Mieliśmy pomysł jaki efekt chcemy uzyskać
  • Mieliśmy technologie: ja i koleżanka pracowaliśmy w IT, programowanie i algorytmy uczenia maszynowego nie stanowiły dla nas problemu

Chcieliśmy pozyskać dofinansowanie, ale drzwi inwestorów wciąż nie chciały nas przyjąć. Gdy w końcu przyszedł czas na refleksje zrozumieliśmy czego nam brakowało. Umiejętności techniczne i docelowy efekt to nie wszystko. Trzeba jeszcze wiedzieć JAK. W naszym przypadku zabrakło specjalizacji z zakresu doradztwa zawodowego – nie mieliśmy osoby która byłaby w stanie opracować odpowiedni test psychometryczny oraz zinterpretować jego wyniki.

Podobny problem posiada wiele firm. Mają IT, które umie wdrożyć wszystko, ale nie wie co. Mają też działy nie-IT, które wiedzą co potrzebują, ale nie wiedzą jak. Wystarczy więc połączyć jednych i drugich, prawda? Dokładnie – i wtedy nagle okazuje się, że IT jest drogie (patrz poprzedni akapit).

Screen from  http://www.fressadi.com/blog/the-art-of-building/design/what-the-client-wanted/
Screen from http://www.fressadi.com/blog/the-art-of-building/design/what-the-client-wanted/

PODSUMOWANIE

Cała koncepcja platform Low-Code w wydaniu PowerApps i Microsoft Flow ma za zadanie rozwiązać kwestię wysokich kosztów projektów IT oraz niwelować problemy wynikające z wąskiej specjalizacji.

Platformy Low-Code Microsoft zmniejszają koszty generowane przez rozwiązania IT i wspierają interdyscyplinarne środowisko pracy

Dzięki PowerApps i Microsoft Flow osoby nie-IT mające jednak zdolności techniczne (warunek konieczny!) mogą w łatwy sposób pokazać, a nawet zbudować to co potrzebują. Z drugiej strony programiści i administratorzy mogą wspierać je w trudniejszych fragmentach, pomagać w integracji a nawet rozszerzać możliwości platform (poprzez Custom Connectory).

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow developers = Low-code developers = Citizen Developers
PowerApps and Microsoft Flow developers = Low-code developers = Citizen Developers

Zdziwisz się jak wiele osób spoza IT w Twojej organizacji świetnie radzi sobie z tematami technicznymi. Wystarczy tylko im pomóc zacząć.

To wszystko w tej części. W moim następnym artykule omówię kwestie związane z bezpieczeństwem rozwiązań PowerApps i Microsoft Flow.

Stay tuned!

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow target – part 1

In this article, you will understand the context for PowerApps and Microsoft Flow. You will learn examples of implementations and whether those platforms are safe. You will also find out what are the advantages and disadvantages of the solutions built based on them. Finally, I will present you with a simple set of rules: When to use the PowerApps and Microsoft Flow applications, and when to not.

Disclaimer: it will be honest.

This article is also available in Polish 🇵🇱

Understand PowerApps i Microsoft Flow

Two weeks ago I published an article about what the Low-Code platform is and when you may need it. In the mentioned article, apart from the title issue, I briefly outlined what the purpose of the Low-Code platforms is and what the future is waiting for. The article went to the group Microsoft 365 User Group Poland, and there a very interesting discussion was initiated by Nataniel “nExoR” Zieliński.

nice article, I understand your approach as a fanboy … but personally I think it’s a small niche (I’m talking now about flow + PA) due to the performance of solutions, gruesome debugging and quite a lack of control over the entire process, depending on the connectors, and mass of intermediate elements. imho for a long time it will be only for small, frontend solutions, support processes or hobby applications. A bit like Access or even Excel instead of a normal database. which ‘biggest’ application did you have the opportunity to see? And out of curiosity – what is your opinion on the possibility of writing such a Low-Code application in the finance or security sector? (…)
For a long time I have been wondering what is the target for flow + PA. (…) On the one hand, there are simple templates for some end-user automation, on the other hand are connectors for serious systems that can be hurt in production systems. if I imagine an end-user who tries to connect the service logic and hooks to databases, CRM systems or something … I see the problems right away. I know how much time I sometimes take to write an IFa and add to this error service that I would not accidentally hurt myself … and here is such a powerful tool open to everyone and * giving the impression * of a simple. honestly – I have a serious problem if clients should be advised to take a flow license or not, because what end-user is, everyone knows. On the other hand, the tool is too weak (ok, I have little experience, only subjective assessment) for ‘serious’ use.

Nataniel “nExoR” Zieliński

First of all – nExoR, thank you very much for the extremely interesting perspective. Seriously. If the technologies were built by enthusiasts themselves, such as me, we might have ended up surrounded by insecure technologies. Only different views give the “upper light”. It allows everyone to get a full picture of the technology / solution / name it as you like. And in this context, your comment was like a bucket of cold water – as enthusiasts we haven’t had enough clear and honest communication.

PowerApps and Flow explained

A few issues have been raised, which I have grouped and I’m going to discuss as follows:

  • Examples of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow implementations
  • Who can build solutions in PowerApps and Microsoft Flow
  • Security in PowerApps and Microsoft Flow
  • When to use and when to use PowerApps and Microsoft Flow

Examples of implementations

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Low-Code platforms from the Microsoft stable bring measurable benefits to companies:

1. 70% less application development cost and effort
2. 362% return on investment over 3-year term
3. <3 months payback

Data from “The Total Economic Impact of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow” published by Forrester Consulting in June 2018(source)

In fact, there is no citation of actual implementations. Something that appeals to the imagination and shows that “actually you can”. Will PowerApps and Microsoft Flow prove themselves in solutions for really large clients? Are they suitable for solutions with greater responsibility than the “application for scanning business cards“? Let’s look at three examples.

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The first example is Virgin Atlantic. VA is an aviation company with over 10,000 employees. Manuela Pichler, Business Systems Development Manager and Microsoft MVP have already implemented several PowerApps solutions in VA. One of them is an application supporting engineers during the security audit of machines (more about the solution). The target group is modest and affects about 100 people, but it’s perfect for my needs (VA also has applications used by the entire organization).

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Source
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Another example is the AutoGlass company dealing with the repair and replacement of car windows. Thanks to Martin Lee, the company currently has over 40 applications implemented in production (other sources already provide more than 50) and are used by over 3,000 people! (read more about the solution)

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Source

One of the largest banks in the financial sector has built an application targeted at over several thousand sellers and managers responsible for customer relations. The application was to verify the actions taken by the user in terms of the legislative law prevailing in the area. The app currently operates in more than 10 countries.

REAL Support for the business

As you can see in the above examples, we have 3 different companies operating in 3h different industries and in each of them the use of PowerApps is different:

  • What distinguished VA was undoubtedly the fact that PowerApps were used in areas related to security or a critical factor in the aviation industry.
  • In AutoGlass, it was a scale: 40 applications and over 3000 users, an absolutely amazing result.
  • The last of the examples was characterized by a specific industry which is the banking sector (in this place, you must forgive me that all is shrouded in secrecy, but I’m sure Microsoft will soon send official information on this subject. I do not want to do this by myself)

The above examples prove that, however, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow can really support business. The following thing should be noted here: PowerApps and Flow are not solutions in themselves. What does it mean? What are they?

1. Integration

The purpose of PowerApps in the above examples was mainly to collect data from users and send them to another site (or database). For this purpose, standards such as HTTP protocol, REST API and data format in JSON are used. They are supported by each newly created SaaS service (if it allows integration). And that’s what it’s about building solutions with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow – for integration based on generally accepted and trusted standards! PA and MS Flow are not used to replace specialized applications f.e.: Azure, Microsoft Teams, LinkedIn, WordPress, Magento, Mailchimp, Clickfunnels, Leadpages, Jira, Github to name a few. In the same way you shouldn’t try to use PA and MS FLow for integration with protocols like SIP or POSNET.

In building PowerApps and Microsoft Flow solutions, it’s about integration different services based on generally accepted standards

2. Scale over complexity

The applications themselves did not carry out operations with high risk of error and with high computation cost. They were displaying or collecting data and sending it on – little can go wrong here. These are universal platforms for communication with the user and automation of business processes.

To use a simple analogy, imagine that a company is a human. The brains of such a “man” are his employees. Then PowerApps would be his senses: eyes, hearing and voice. These senses receive signals or allow them to be verbalised. MS Flow, in turn, would be a nervous system: it sends signals between the decision center (brain) and specialized units (muscles, organs, receptors). Human eyes do not interpret what they see, and the mouth is not to plan what to say. The brain deals with all this. He makes decisions. Following this analogy, PowerApps in the company is not used to process the collected data – its only task is to collect this data or display it.

But let’s leave the analogies on the side and let’s get back to the main topic – what is PowerApps for? PowerApps works well in applications, where it’s not about complexity as such but about saving time on frequent need. Build 10 forms, each with other fields, and the scrolling list of results can be not only in PowerApps, but also using C #, JavaScript or PowerShell. But thanks to the use of PowerApps, you save time needed to build something very similar once again. This feature does not diminish the efficiency of the platform – I can bet that 80% of processes in all companies are very similar simple cases only differing in a few names, field types and application design. In fact, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn could be built on the same platform. What distinguishes them is mainly destiny (enforced by rules such as short messages on Twitter), not the engine that runs them. Of course Facebook is far more advanced than any PowerPlatform solution but I’m sure you know what I mean.

The effectiveness of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow results from time savings on creating solutions

Conclusion

Low-Code platforms, in particular PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, are used to:

  1. Integration
  2. Time savings

And that’s how much in the first part. And in the next part you will learn who can and should build solutions in PowerApps and Microsoft Flow. Is anyone or maybe just programmers? Is the use of Low-Code platforms free of charge or is it a compromise?

STAY TUNED!

(Featured Image taken from http://pngimg.com)