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)

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  • [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!

Security and Compliance in PowerApps and Flow

In my previous article, I’ve brought you closer to the main recipients of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow. In the third part I will take a closer look at the security management in PowerPlatform. And as I promised from the beginning: it will be honest. You will learn from me about things that you do not read in the documentation. Also when you should pay extra attention to security and compliance when working with PowerApps and Flow.

Disclaimer

When I started working on this part, I just wanted to discuss issues related to PowerApps and Flow security. With time it turned out that describing the security of a small piece of the service (eg connectors) it is very easy to inadvertently move several threads, each of which should be discussed a little bit more (eg is OAUTH2 secured communication safe? Is the public availability of our services and cloud a good idea?). Not even to say that the security and compliance tools are dependent on the license.

So finally I realized (I admit, a bit too late, hence this post appeared with a slight delay) that in order for this article not to turn into a book, it should be reduced. Therefore, I made the decision that I should only remain on issues related strictly to PowerPlatform. If any topic seems to you that could appear, and it isn’t, then you’re probably right. However, this was a conscious and necessary decision. If you think that it would be worth discussing a topic, let me know in a comment – I will definitely answer. If on the other hand you would like to take a full picture of security, then I recommend watching people like Tomasz Onyszko czy Kamil Bączyk, who in the area of ​​security are one of the best I know.

Security by Design

Going back to the merits.

The reason why I took care of this subject is simple: IT puts a lot of emphasis on security. And the reason is very simple: unauthorized access to data can result in huge property losses. In order not to look far in 2016, it turned out that information on a total of about 3 billion users leaked from the popular (back then) Yahoo site. This resulted in losses of $ 50 million in compensation, $ 350 million in the lower acquisition of Yahoo by Verizon and an additional $ 35 million for dragging the closure of the data leak. A total of $ 435m loss. But this is not the end of problems, because the company’s value is not only a hard currency. It’s also customers. You have been working on their trust for years and you can lose them in a moment. Making up for such a loss is very difficult and very expensive.

Trust is the currency of the future

And that’s why IT engineers put security first. Microsoft even says that it designs its services in such a way that they will be safe first, and then they design the rest: Security-by-design . The questions that appeared in the first part of this series of posts are a living example of the inquisitiveness that engineers apply when it comes to security and management, because they are aware of possible consequences.

Security and Governance in PowerApps and Flow

Security and Governance of solution built with based on PowerPlatform I’ll split on following parts:

  1. Licenses
  2. Connectors
  3. User Context
  4. App sharing & versioning
  5. Environments & Data Policies

Below I will briefly describe what a given form of security is and what to watch out for when using it. However, as I would like to avoid entering into technical nuances, I will refer to more extensive sources.

Licenses

Licenses are a way to assign user permissions to any work with a given platform. In the Office365 admin panel, as long as we have the appropriate permissions, we can easily assign or take away licenses for the product or application to the user.

What to watch out

Licenses specify general access to the application, but do not define the level of permissions (read-only, edit, delete etc.). When allocating licenses to someone remember to ensure the appropriate level of rights in the application (the service) itself .

Connectors

As I described the idea of connectors in thesecond part of this seriesit is one of the foundations of PowerPlatform. PowerApps and Flow users have access to over 200 connectors. And if that was not enough, they can build their own connector or use HTTP connectors to connect to any REST / GRAPH API supporting service

The use of such connectors is very simple and easily accessible. After selecting any connector, the user will have access to its methods. Of course, only to those that the provider implemented. However, the supplier is obliged to ensure that the connector provides the appropriate quality of security (authentication), support and SLA. What is important, the supplier must also prove that he owns the website to which the published connector connects. Thanks to this, there will not be a situation when suddenly third companies will start racing for the title of the best supplier of connectors, producing 10 of the same connections, thus littering the collection of connectors.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT

Connectors in the heads of many give a question whether, besides being easy, they are also safe? While safe can mean a lot:

  • Is the data sent using them will not be intercepted and changed along the way?
  • Will the data reach where we want it to go?
  • How to control from which a connector can a given user use?
  • Where can one find the call logs of a given connector?

First of all, communication with the use of connectors is definitely secure. For this purpose Microsoft enforces the use of proven standards to secure transmission data.

However, at the moment the connectors have a modest layer of managing rights to them and putting down logs. For example, we can define who can create applications (and thus use connectors), but we can not define who the connectors can be used. Similarly, we will not find options to define whiteliste URLs for HTTP connectors or to extract logs containing the URL and body connections made.

Communication with the use of connectors is secure, but their governance is modest…yet

User Context

Basically, this topic fits the previous fragment with connectors, but I would like it to sound good – the user working with connectors works ONLY in his own context. In other words, when working with, for example, PowerApps, you should think of a view of the data to which the user has access. If you should not have something to do or the application would have to work in the context of an account with higher rights, then I do not recommend doing it with PowerApps.

However, theory is just a theory. In life, as everyone knows. I have seen different approaches in IT myself. And I’m not surprised by the serious and large companies that used the usual excel file as their database. Because at the end of the day the effect counts (read: money), not best practices and safe architecture (we only care about it when it starts to threaten the “effect”;)). So sometimes it happens that:

  • you may need to carry out the operation on higher privileges. Then, for this purpose, you can apply the Flow trick that I wrote in this article.
  • based on the group O365 to which the user belongs, you want to limit the visibility of certain controls on the screen. Then you can use the Office365 groups connector available in PowerApps. If the view is limited based on the SharePoint group, the matter gets a bit complicated, but with the help of Flow and Graph API there is a way to go.

If you use PowerApps to control access (eg by conditionally hiding the controls), remember that the user will still have access to the data in the source (eg on the SharePoint list)

WHAT TO WATCH OUT

Some connectors do not use the user context and require a service account – an example is the example of SQL connector. Then, when using the application, the user’s context is not taken into account. The connection works within the context of the given service account. This means that if the user had the additional ability to create an application, he could use the connector to get to any board or view to which the service account has access (!). It is worth remembering. But there is a way shown by PowerApps guru – Shane Young. This method uses an additional environment (so-called environment) and appropriate permissions on it. More in the video below:

App sharing & versioning

For each application, you can define users who can use it and edit it.

In the above image, pay attention to the information at the co-owner checkbox: even if we add the user as co-owner, he will not be able to delete the application or change the owner.

On this occasion, we can observe one more interesting thing – the CDS connector has an additional option of role management:

CDS has extra permissions model (security roles) . Only CDS.

Each application, apart from the sharing option, also has a versioning mechanism.

Each time the application is saved, it will leave a separate entry in the repository. Thanks to this, we can go back to any version at any time. In addition, the publicly available version for everyone is marked with the appropriate label. So the versioning mechanism allows you to sleep peacefully, that if any of the Co-owners spoils in the application, everything will be able to recover.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT

As I wrote, co-owers can not delete the PowerApps application – only owner can do it. But if he does, then there is NO way to reverse it. So it is worth to export your application from time to time in a safe place.

Export full versions of your applications. If you ever lose them for some reason, the exported packages will be your last resort.

Environments & Data Policies

Environment, are special containers for applications and connectors under tenant. Tenant can have many environments, and each environment can contain a lot of applications and connectors. What is important, environments do not share content with each other, and what’s more, each of them can have a unique definition of macros and users. Users can use the content of the environment. Makeers can create their own apps in it. It is easy to imagine the example architecture of environments in the organization: production, testing and development.

In addition to environment permissions, you can also define Data Policies, which are special rules about which connectors can share information with each other.

For the above example, no PowerApps or Flow application can display any of the “Business data only” connectors and the connector from the “No business data allowed” group at the same time. When this happens, we will see an error while trying to add an unacceptable connector

What’s important – the created policy works immediately on all applications. Where they find unlicensed connectors, they simply stop reporting data. In the case of Flow, they will be turned off.

Environments are containers for applications and connectors in the organization. The minimum recommended set of environments is Production and Test.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT

As in the case of connectors, governance of environments and policies is still modest. And sometimes it would be useful to be able to exclude certain connectors from use. Or at least limit the people who can use them. Because the division into business data and non-business data alone does not protect the organization from the fact that someone builds 2 apps and combines them, for example, with an excel file. So if you put the utmost caution to data security, you can still give yourself a moment to improve the above mentioned tools. As I observe Microsoft’s actions, it is a matter of time when the tools for governance and security will be upheld.

So if there are any dangers to be considered with each of the above options, is there any sense now to use PowerApps and Flow?

PowerPlatform is not a cure for everything

If you’ve read my previous entry, you know that PowerApps and Flow are not meant to replace 100% of solutions. They are to replace 80% of these small and simple applications that accelerate daily work, while saving time and energy for programmers. Thanks to this, they can deal with more difficult cases than the hundredth implementation of the task list. Because knowing life will not be a standard implementation anyway. This time, the requirements will be difficult for someone from marketing who will come up with the idea that he wants to have integration with this service whose developer has just left the company and you will need to learn this site first. That is a month of work … unless the quote is raised two times to put an intern behind the keyboard. And then there will only be moans, shock and disbelief that a simple application to organize meetings took 3 times as much and cost 5x more than initially assumed (intern makes mistakes, mistakes must be corrected).

The art of choice

The solutions built on the basis of low-code platforms are therefore about knowledge, knowledge of the possibilities of various ready-made services (not only Microsoft), understanding of their flexibility and, above all, understanding of business. And paraphrasing the famous joke (choose 2 of 3ech: fast, cheap, good), projects in a company operating at the interface between business and IT would like to be done by a person who:

  1. He understands business well
  2. Has a tooling understanding
  3. He has specialist technical skills

Choose 2 of the above.

The art of compromise

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow is a lever that does not give the user more than he could, but allows him to do things more easily and on a larger scale. This, of course, is a compromise between work streamlining and configurability. Between trust and control. But isn’t it a fundamental trend in IT?. If this were not the case, then we would still write in assembler and we would not create languages that would allow us to write faster and easier, frameworks implementing complex operations using one method, and we would not build Open Source solutions. The demand for programmers is not diminishing, so solutions are built up as simple as possible to be adopted by new adepts.

My point is that programmers should be more in number (thus creates a natural stratification). And they themselves are relieved of simple tasks (especially when it can be done by someone else just as quickly and not worse).

Summarizing

PowerPlatform gives you some control and information security mechanisms. So far, it’s still modest, but with time it will certainly be developed (as announced during MBAS2019). But I doubt that they will reach the level of configurability and control that gives us a written inhouse .NET application embedded on IIS installed on our on-premis server. However, it seems to me that PowerApps and Flow does not even start on such a race against full code .NET app. It is like a fast agile car that you can take to move around a city. And if you want to go to war, take a tank.

Bezpieczeństwo w PowerApps i Flow

W moim poprzednim artykule przybliżyłem Ci głównych odbiorców PowerApps i Microsoft Flow. W części trzeciej przyjrzę się bliżej kwestiom zarządzania bezpieczeństwem w PowerPlatform. I tak jak obiecywałem od początku: będzie szczerze. Dowiesz się o ode mnie o rzeczach o których nie wyczytasz w dokumentacji i które podkreślą kiedy należy przyłożyć szczególną uwagę w kwestiach bezpieczeństwa pracując z PowerPlatform

Disclaimer

Kiedy rozpoczynałem pracę nad tą częścią chciałem poruszyć tylko kwestie związane z bezpieczeństwem PowerApps i Flow. Z czasem okazało się, że opisując bezpieczeństwo małego fragmentu usługi (np konektorów) bardzo łatwo nieopatrznie poruszyć kilka wątków z których każdy wypadałoby troszkę szerzej omówić (np czy komunikacja zabezpieczona OAUTH2 jest bezpieczna? Czy publiczna dostępność naszych usług i chmura to dobry pomysł?). No i nie wspomnę, że możliowści zabezpieczania są zależne od licencji. Jednak Zdałem sobie w końcu sprawę (przyznaję, trochę za późno stąd też ten wpis pojawił się z drobnym poślizgiem), że aby ten artykuł nie zamienił się w książkę, to należy go solidnie zredukować. W związku z tym podjąłem decyzję, że należy pozostać tylko przy kwestiach dotyczących stricte PowerPlatform. Jeśli jakaś kwestia wydaje Ci się, że mogłaby się pojawić, a nie ma, to zapewne masz rację. Była to jednak świadoma i konieczna decyzja. Ale jeśli uważasz, że jakąś kwestię warto byłoby omówić szerzej, to daj znać w komentarzu – na pewno odpowiem. Jeśli natomiast interesowałby Cię pełny obrazek security, to polecam obserwować osoby takie jak Tomasz Onyszko czy Kamil Bączyk, które w obszarze security znają się jak mało kto.

Security by Design

Wracając do meritum. Powód dla którego zająłem się tym tematem jest prosty: w IT kładzie sie duży nacisk na bezpieczeństwo. A powód jest bardzo prosty: nieautoryzowany dostęp do danych może przynieść ogromne straty majątkowe. Żeby nie szukać daleko w 2016 roku wyszło na jaw, że z popularnego (wtedy) serwisu Yahoo wyciekły informacje dotyczące łącznie ok. 3 mld użytkowników. To spowodowało straty w wysokości 50mln dolarów z tytułu odszkodowania, o 350mln dolarów niższą kwotę przejęcia Yahoo przez Verizon oraz ekstra 35mln dolarów za przeciąganie zamknięcia sprawy wycieku danych. Łącznie 435mln dolarów straty. Ale to nie koniec problemów, bo wartość firmy, to nie tylko twarda waluta. To także klienci czyli użytkownicy. Na ich zaufanie pracuje się latami, a stracić je można w chwilę. Odrobienie takiej straty jest bardzo trudne i bardzo kosztowne.

Zaufanie to waluta przyszłości

I dlatego właśnie inżynierowie IT stawiają bezpieczeństwo na pierwszym miejscu. Microsoft mówi nawet, że swoje usługi projektuje tak by wpierw były bezpieczne, a potem dopiero myśli o całej reszcie: tzw. Security-by-design. Pytania, które pojawiły się w pierwszej części niniejszej serii wpisów są żywym przykładem dociekliwości jaką przykładają inżynierowie, kiedy w grę wchodzi bezpieczeństwo i zarządzanie nim, bo są oni świadomi możliwych konsekwencji.

Bezpieczeństwo oraz zarządzanie w PowerApps i Flow

Bezpieczeństwo i tzw. Governance rozwiązań opartych o PowerPlatform rozbić można na kilka podpunktów:

  1. Licenses
  2. Connectors
  3. User Context
  4. App sharing & versioning
  5. Environments & Data Policies

Poniżej opiszę po krótce na czym polega dana forma zabezpieczenia oraz na co należy uważać przy jej stosowaniu. Ponieważ jednak chciałbym możliwie nie wchodzić w niuanse techniczne, to będę odsyłał do obszerniejszych źródeł.

Licenses

Licencje to sposób na przypisanie uprawnień użytkownikowi do jakiejkolwiek pracy z daną platformą. W panelu administracyjnym Office365, jeśli tylko posiadamy odpowiednie uprawnienia, możemy w prosty przydzielić bądź zabrać użytkownikowi licencje do produktu bądź aplikacji.

Na co uważać

Licencje określają ogólny dostęp do aplikacji, ale nie definiują poziomu uprawnień (read-only, edit, delete itd). Przydzielając komuś licencje pamiętaj aby zadbać o odpowiedni poziom uprawnień w samej aplikacji (usłudze).

Connectors

Tak jak opisywałem w drugiej części tej serii idea konektorów, to jeden z fundamentów PowerPlatform. Użytkownicy PowerPlatform mają dostęp do ponad 200 konektorów. A gdyby to było za mało, to mogą zbudować własny konektor lub użyć konektorów HTTP do połączenia się z dowolnym serwisem wspierającym REST/GRAPH API

Korzystanie z takich konektorów jest bardzo proste i łatwo dostępne. Po wybraniu dowolnego konektora użytkownik uzyska dostęp do jego metod. Oczywiście tylko do tych które zaimplementował dostawca. Natomiast dostawca ma obowiązek zadbać aby konektor zapewniał odpowiednią jakość bezpieczeństwa (uwierzytelnianie), wsparcia i SLA. Co ważne dostawca musi także udowodnić, że ma prawa własności do serwisu z którym łączy się opublikowany konektor. Dzięki temu nie będzie sytuacji w której nagle firmy trzecie zaczną robić wyścigi o miano najlepszego dostawcy konektorów produkując 10tki takich samych połączeń zaśmiecając tym samym kolekcję konektorów.

NA CO UWAŻAĆ

Konektory w głowach wielu rodzi pytanie czy poza tym, że łatwe, to są one także bezpieczne? Przy czym bezpieczne może oznaczać bardzo wiele:

  • Dane przesyłane za ich pomocą nie zostaną przechwycone i zmienione po drodze?
  • Czy dane dotrą tam, gdzie chcemy aby trafiły?
  • W jaki sposób kontrolować z którego konektora może korzystać dany użytkownik?
  • Gdzie znaleźć logi wywołań danego konektora?

Przede wszystkim z całą pewnością komunikacja z wykorzystaniem konektorów jest bezpieczna. W tym celu Microsoft wymusza korzystanie sprawdzonych standardów do zabezpieczenia przesyłu danych.

Jednakże na chwilę obecną konektory posiadają skromną warstwę zarządzania uprawnieniami do nich i odkładania logów. Np możemy zdefiniować kto może tworzyć aplikacje (i tym samym korzystać z konektorów), ale nie możemy już zdefiniować kto jakie konektory może wykorzystywać. Podobnie nie znajdziemy opcji by dla konektorów HTTP zdefiniować whiteliste URLi czy wydobyć logi zawierające URLem oraz body wykonanych połączeń.

Komunikacja z wykorzystaniem konektorów jest bezpieczna, ale ich governance jest jeszcze skromny

User Context

W zasadzie ten temat pasuje do poprzedniego fragmentu o konektorach, ale chciałbym aby dobrze wybrzmiał – użytkownik pracując z konektorami działa WYŁĄCZNIE we własnych kontekście. Innymi słowy pracując np z PowerApps powinieneś myśleć jak o widoku danych do których użytkownik ma dostęp. Jeśli do czegoś mieć nie powinien lub aplikacja miałaby zadziałać w kontekście konta o wyższych uprawnieniach, to nie polecam realizować tego za pomocą PowerApps.

Jednak teoria, to tylko teoria. W życiu jak bywa każdy wie. Sam widziałem różne podejścia w IT. I nie dziwią mnie już poważne i duże firmy, które jako bazę danych używały zwykłego pliku excel. Bo na koniec dnia liczy się efekt (czyt: pieniądz), a nie best practices i bezpieczna architektura (nią przejmujemy się dopiero wtedy gdy zaczyna zagrażać “efektowi” 😉 ). Tak więc czasem zdarza się, że:

  • możesz potrzebować zrealizować operację na wyższych uprawnieniach. Wtedy do tego celu możesz zastosować sztuczkę z Flow o której pisałem w tym artykule.
  • na podstawie grupy O365 do której przynależy użytkownik chcesz ograniczyć mu widoczność pewnych kontrolek na ekranie. Wtedy możesz skorzystać z konektora Office365 groups dostępnego w PowerApps. W przypadku ograniczenia widoku na podstawie grupy SharePoint sprawa nieco się komplikuje, ale z pomocą Flow i Graph API jest do zrobienia.

Jeśli użyjesz PowerApps do kontroli dostępu (np poprzez warunkowe ukrycie kontrolek), to pamiętaj, że użytkownik dalej będzie miał dostęp do danych w źródle (np na liście SharePoint)

Na co uważać:

Niektóre konektory nie wykorzystują kontekstu użytkownika i wymagają podania konta serwisowego – takim przykładem jest np SQL connector. Wówczas przy korzystaniu z aplikacji kontekst użytkownika nie jest brany pod uwagę. Połączenie działa w ramach kontekstu podanego konta serwisowego. To oznacza, że gdyby użytkownik miał dodatkowo możliwość tworzenia aplikacji, to mógłby z pomocą konektora dostać się do każdej tablicy czy widoku do której ma dostęp konto serwisowe(!). Warto o tym pamiętać. Ale jest na to sposób pokazany przez guru PowerApps – Shane Young. Sposób ten wykorzystuje dodatkowe środowisko (tzw. environment) oraz odpowiednie uprawnienia na nim. Więcej w filmie poniżej:

App sharing & versioning

Dla każdej aplikacji można zdefiniować użytkowników mogących jej używać jak i ją edytować.

Na powyższym obrazku zwróć uwagę na informację przy checkboxie Co-owner: nawet jeśli dodamy użytkownika jako co-ownera, to nie będzie on mógł usunąć aplikacji bądź zmienić ownera.

Przy tej okazji możemy zaobserwować jeszcze jedną ciekawą rzecz – konektor CDS posiada dodatkową opcję zarządzania rolami:

CDS posiada dodatkowy model uprawnień (security roles) . Tylko CDS.

Każda aplikacja poza opcją udostępniania posiada również mechanizm wersjonowania.

Każdorazowe zapisanie aplikacji zostawi w repozytorium oddzielny wpis. Dzięki temu w każdym momencie możemy cofnąć się do dowolnej wersji. Dodatkowo wersja dostępna publicznie dla wszystkich jest oznaczona odpowiednią etykietą. Tak więc mechanizm wersjonowania pozwala spać spokojnie, że jeśli któryś z Co-ownerów popsuje w aplikacji, to wszystko będzie do odratowania.

Na co uważać

Jak już pisałem co-ownerzy nie mogą usuwać aplikacji PowerApps – może to zrobić tylko owner. Ale jeśli już to zrobi, to NIE MA sposobu na odwrócenie tego. Tak więc warto co jakiś czas robić export swojej aplikacji w bezpieczne miejsce.

Rób eksport kolejnych pełnych wersji swoich aplikacji. Jeśli kiedyś z jakiegoś powodu je stracisz, to wyeksportowane paczki będą Twoją ostatnią deską ratunku.

Environments & Data Policies

Środowiska, to specjalne kontenery na aplikacje i konektory w ramach tenanta. Tenant może posiadać wiele środowisk, a każde środowisko może zawierać mnóstwo aplikacji i konektorów. Co ważne środowiska nie współdzielą między sobą swojej zawartości, a co więcej każde z nich może posiadać unikalną definicję makerów i userów. Userzy mogą korzystać z zawartości środowiska. Makerzy mogą w nim tworzyć własne apki. Łatwo więc wyobrazić sobie przykładową architekturę środowisk w organizacji: produkcja, test i development.

Oprócz uprawnień na środowisku można jeszcze zdefiniować Data Policies czyli specjalne reguły mówiące o tym które konektory mogą współdzielić między sobą informację.

Dla powyższego przykładu w żadnej aplikacji PowerApps czy Flow nie może pojawić któryś z konektorów grupy “Business data only” i jednocześnie konektor z grupy “No business data allowed”. Gdy tak się stanie zobaczymy błąd podczas próby dodania niedozwolonego konektora

Co ważne – utworzona polityka działa natychmiastowo na wszystkich aplikacjach. Tam, gdzie znajdują niedozwolone konektory po prostu przestają one zwracać dane. W przypadku Flow flowy zostaną wyłączone.

Środowiska to kontenery na aplikacje i konektory w organizacji. Minimalny zalecany zestaw środowisk to Produkcyjne i Testowe.

Na co uważać

Podobnie jak w przypadku konektorów governance środowisk i polityk jest jeszcze skromny. A czasem przydałoby móc wykluczyć pewne konektory zupełnie z użycia lub chociaż ograniczyć osoby mogące z nich korzystać. Bo sam podział na business data i non-business data wcale nie chroni organizacji przed tym aby ktoś zbudował sobie 2 apki i połączył je np plikiem excel. Więc jeśli przykładasz najwyższą ostrożność do bezpieczeństwa danych, może jeszcze daj chwilę na usprawnienie w/w narzędzi. Jak obserwuję poczynania Microsoftu, to jest kwestią czasu, kiedy narzędzia do governance i security zostaną upsrawnione.

Skoro więc przy każdej z powyższych opcji istnieje jakieś niebezpieczeństwo na które należy uważać, to czy jest sens już teraz wykorzystywać PowerApps i Flow?

PowerPlatform to nie jest lekarstwo na wszystko

Jeśli czytałeś mój poprzedni wpis, to wiesz, że PowerApps i Flow nie mają zastąpić 100% rozwiązań. Mają zastąpić 80% tych małych i prostych aplikacji, które przyspieszają codzienną pracę, a jednocześnie oszczędzają czasu i energię programistom. Dzięki temu mogą się oni zająć trudniejszymi przypadkami aniżeli setna implementacja listy zadań. Bo i tak znając życie to nie będzie standardowa implementacja. Tym razem wymagania utrudni np ktoś z marketingu kto wymyśli sobie, że chce mieć integrację z tym serwisem którego developer odszedł właśnie z firmy i trzeba się bedzie wpierw nauczyć tego serwisu. Czyli jakiś miesiąc pracy…o ile wycena nie zostanie podniesiona dwókrotnie by za klawiaturą posadzić interna. A potem będą już tylko jęki, szok i niedowierzanie, że prosta aplikacja do organizowania spotkań zajęła 3 razy tyle i kosztowała 5x więcej niż początkowo zakładano (intern robi błędy, błędy trzeba poprawić).

sztuka wyboru

W rozwiązaniach budowanych w oparciu o platformy low-code chodzi więc o wiedzę, znajomość możliwości różnych gotowych usług (nie tylko Microsoft), rozumienie ich elastyczności oraz przede wszystkim rozumienie biznesu. I parafrazując słynny żart (wybierz 2 z 3ech: szybko, tanio, dobrze), projekty w firmie operujące na styku biznesu i IT chciałbyś aby wykonała osoba która:

  1. Dobrze rozumie biznes
  2. Posiada rozeznanie narzędziowe
  3. Posiada specjalistyczne umiejętności techniczne

Wybierz 2 z powyższych.

Sztuka Kompromisu

PowerApps i Microsoft Flow to lewar, ktory nie daje userowi wiecej niz on sam by mogl, ale pozwala mu zrobic pewne rzeczy prościej i na wieksza skale. To oczywiscie jest pewien kompromis miedzy usprawnianiem pracy a konfigurowalnością. Między zaufaniem a kontrolą. Ale to chyba fundamentalny trend w IT(?). Gdyby tak nie było, to nadal byśmy pisali w assemblerze i nie tworzylibyśmy języków pozwalających pisać szybciej i łatwiej, frameworków realizujących złożone operacje za pomocą jednej metody i nie budowalibyśmy rozwiązań Open Source. Zapotrzebowanie na programistów nie maleje, więc buduje się rozwiązania możliwie proste do zaadoptowania przez nowych adeptów. Chodzi o to aby programistow moglo byc wiecej (tym samym tworząc naturalne rozwarstwienie) a oni sami odciążeni od prostych zadań (szczególnie, gdy może to wykonać ktoś inny równie szybko i wcale nie gorzej).

Podsumowując

PowerPlatform daje pewne mechanizmy kontroli i bezpieczeństwa informacji. Póki co jeszcze skromne, z czasem z pewnością zostaną rozwinięte. Ale wątpię by osiągnęły one poziom konfigurowalności i kontroli jaki daje nam napisana wewnętrznie aplikacja .NET osadzona na IIS zainstalowanym na naszym serwerze on-prem. Jednak wydaje mi się, że PowerApps i Flow nie pretendują do takiego miana. To ma być szybki zwinny samochód do poruszania się po mieście (że tak pozwolę sobie na porównanie). A jeśli chcesz jechać na wojne, to weź czołg.

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.

Story logo

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).

Story image 4
Source
Story logo

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)

Story image 3
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)

Overview of SharePoint Virtual Summit 2019

In this article I’ll put short glimpse of what has been announced on SharePoint Virtual Summit 2019. Be aware that some of following features may be still in preview but are going to appear later this year. I skipped features that has been announced on Microsoft Build 2019

flow SharePoint Document Libraries

  • Build custom forms using PowerApps
  • Microsoft Teams will gets enriched metadata experience
  • Bulk Actions

    This feature was requested for a long time. And now here it is: you can select multiple items/document and take an action for all of them: update properties, download, delete, approve, move etc.

  • New Flow actions

    There are scenarios in which you need to check-in/check-out documents, get version information, grant access or create folders as a part of larger business process in Flow. Until now you could do that only by calling SharePoint HTTP REST API. But from now on you can do all of above simply by using Flow actions!

  • File request feature

    This is a bomb! You will be able to request files from other users directly from the place where you store your files! The recipients will get email with link. Once they click on it they will see consistent UI with built-in files upload.

  • Organization document templates

    governance becomes even easier!

flow Collaboration

  • Organization Home site

    It’s a communication site with some extra superpowers. It searches for data tenant wide, mark site news as organizational news, enables special SP mobile app. For me it completes perfectly org-wide Teams team. Just add tenant Home site as a tab in an Ord-wide Teams team

  • New page designs
  • New webparts – i.e. Yammer!
  • News links
  • Audience targeting
  • Sync Microsoft Teams files to you PC or Mac
  • Teams apps in SharePoint sites
  • Enhanced SharePoint list experience embedded in Teams
  • Enhanced co-authoring acroos mobile, web and desktop versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel (only for Office 365 and files in the cloud)

flow Governance

  • Rename your SharePoint site (including its URL)
  • Replace the root site within a tenant

    you’ll be able to build a new org site on the side and once completed it swap it with a root site…it couldn’t be simpler.

  • Create SharePoint list using excel file with an option to configure columns types!
  • Share & Forget with external access expiration
  • File restore for SharePoint just as it is already for OneDrive
  • Sensitivity labels

    the mechanism known from Azure Information Protection is now being supported by SharePoint and OneDrive (and it is called Microsoft Information Protection)

  • Decide where your data related to SharePoint and O365 groups will be stored using multi-geo capabilities

flow Search

  • Customizable Search to rule them all!

    The same search experience will be shared across any Microsoft platform. Top, middle, search. Oh and there will be available to add custom verticals, custom refiners and custom display templates! What is more you will be able to search for conversations from Yammer and Microsoft Teams in any search endpoint!

  • Search in Office

    Discover your network of apps, files, folders, people, organization charts, SharePoint sites, site pages, lists and list items

  • Search in SharePoint

    Catch up on news and announcements. Find the sites that are relevant to you without scrolling through endless bookmarks. Pick up on that shared document you were working on

  • Search in OneDrive

    Discover relevant information to help you get work done where you’re working through intelligent results and sophisticated refinement

  • Search in Windows

    Search right from your Windows desktop. This way you can search not only inside your local files but also in Office365, person in organization with smart suggestions based on the people you work with the most

  • Administer your Microsoft Search

    Control organization search using provided powerful admin center and manage all of Microsoft Search endpoints!

flow Misc

As you can see SharePoint is not stopping in getting new capabilities. But what may not see and I have to tell you – many of above changes came from UserVoice. UserVoice is a forum where everyone can submit a bug, an idea or new feature request and Microsoft will implement it if only the post gets enough amount of community support (represented by likes). Changes presented on SharePoint Virtual Summit 2019 are the best prove that Microsoft is listening to its users!

What are Low-Code development platforms?

Rapid Application Development, Robotic Process Automation, Business Process Management Systems – these are all examples of Low-Code platforms. The market has already appeared in the 90s, but their popularity has grown strongly in the last few years. In this article, you’ll learn what the Low-Code platforms are, when you need them, and what future is waiting for them on the example of Microsoft platforms like PowerApps and Microsoft Flow.

Thorough transformation – Understanding ” The Why”

Before we get to know what the Low-Code platforms are, we first need to understand the reasons why we started to work on their development at all. For this purpose, let’s get back to the 90s. At the time, it was the era of computerization that got under way for good. E-commerce, e-government, e-society, e-everything has dominated the world as personal as well as business. It became obvious that there is no other way than to give IT a high priority in computerization of work and activities. Data Management, Information Management and Knowledge Management were gradually digitized, and business processes were transformed along with them. All this so that everyone can use private resources, corporate resources, and communicate with others from anywhere in the world and at any time of the day or night.

Source

Where to get new programmers from?

Such a change naturally required the involvement of a huge number of IT specialists and engineers. IT specializations have become extremely popular and well rewarded. Everyone did what they could to increase the number of programmers:

  • Educate new developers – IT courses in higher education were gaining in popularity. Currently, in Poland, as reported by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, 14% of all recruitment applications for 2017/2018 concerned information technology, the second was management with a result of 7% of all applications!
  • Employees of other specializations were attracted – all-year programming schools, bootcamps and IT courses are doing everything to further reduce the training time of the “complete junior”. Also the employers help in this process eg Aviva, the insurance company, in 2018 organized a 6-month course addressed to all its employees, giving them a chance to get software developer qualifications
  • Experienced developers are tempt – hundreds of recruitment companies flood with offers anyone who on linkedIn has anything to do with IT. They’re offering many benefits besides very good earnings
  • Promote awareness 😉

Despite almost 30 years, the situation has not changed. Reports estimated that in 2020, 500,000-600,000 programmers will be missing out on the European market (source, source)! Only in Poland, my homeland, there is already missing about 50,000 of developers. Demand around the world is huge and Europe Union estimates that it will last until 2030 (source). But it is not surprising. More and more industries involve IT solutions (HR, marketing, art) and the same is for areas of activity (forecasting, chatbots).

Image result for meme when a developer uploads cv

Low-code platforms for the rescue

If the demand is greater than the supply, there are two strategies to keep the balance. Increasing the supply (that is increasing “the production” of developers) has been described above. However, method no. 2 consists in reducing demand for programmers. Is it possible? It turns out that yes and no need to blow up in the air half of the companies ;). It is enough to build a platform for effective, fast and flexible building of applications and processes. The platform itself has to fulfill 5 assumptions:

  1. Ease of use – everyone, not only highly qualified engineers, should be able to use it
  2. Supporting standards – basing the platform’s operation on globally accepted and adopted standards
  3. Integration – the platform should enable integration with any systems. Achieving point 2 is very helpful in this 😉
  4. Accessibility – building solutions and using them should be independent of a user OS (Windows, Linux, macOS)
  5. Extensibility – a platform that can not be easily expanded has little chance of being longer on the market

And that’s what the so-called Low-code development platform [LCDP] – a visual approach to application development. Microsoft has at least 3 such platforms. In the further part of the article I will focus on two of them: PowerApps and Microsoft Flow. They co-exist in a very close relationship not only among themselves, but also with more than 230 other platforms (Microsoft and non-Microsoft).

Examples of Low Code platforms by the Microsoft. Microsoft Flow and Azure Logic Apps are very similar, although they differ in their purpose: Microsoft Flow is mainly used for business processes. Azure Logic Apps is responsible for the integration of data between different systems. I will deal with them in another article.

At LCDP, we build solutions using a drag-and-drop or point-and-click mechanism from the graphical interface. Thanks to this, building, modifying and maintaining it is extremely simple and saves a lot of time, and the effects are visible immediately.

Microsoft Flow example
Microsoft PowerApps example

Using LCDP is a bit like building with LEGO bricks. When you play with LEGO, you use manufactured blocks that are limited in size, color and number of pins. However, these dependencies do not limit the construction of complex and functional solutions.

With the use of LCDP you can build professional solutions supporting the company and what is important, the construction process itself is fast and agile, saving time and money.

Check out the application to scan business cards, which development took me 8 hours instead of 5 days!

This approach must give effects:

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)

Low-Code, High-Possibilities

The possibilities of the platform itself are determined not only by the multitude of available “blocks” from which we can build a solution, but also the openness of the platform for integration. The PowerApps and Microsoft Flow platforms share a set of available connectors that are over 230!

One of such connectors are those related to HTTP query support which actually is synonymous with the ability to integrate the platform with any SaaS solution having a REST API (so the overwhelming majority).

Left: Http trigger which launches Flow when it receives an HTTP query from any source
Right: HTTP action that performs an HTTP query to any URL
(If you’re a developer, know that creating your own SaaS service could not be easier!)

But it is not everything. Microsoft Flow, like PowerApps or LogicApps, allows you to build your own “plug-in” (so-called custom connector). Developers can connect such Custom Connector, for example, with Azure Function, which can perform ANY operations using the C # code, Javascript, Python, etc. A good example is the application for document translation, which consists in:

  • Microsoft Flow sends a document to Azure Function
  • Azure Function decompose the document to separate paragraphs…
  • …and translate each paragraph independently.
  • Then the function merges together translated paragraphs…
  • … and sent back to Microsoft Flow

Thanks to this approach, the document is translated in full, maintaining the formatting and layout of information on the page.

Use the resource according to your the needs

The scenario presented above has one more extraordinary advantage. This approach is definitely beneficial for more than 1 page of the software development process:

  • LCDP developer – Can model the overall flow of the entire process. Determines from which platform the user interacts with the application (eg PowerApps), where the data is stored (eg SharePoint Online) and how the general flow of information related to the translation of the document is going (eg Microsoft Flow). However, he does not know (and does not need to know) exactly how the document is translated
  • Software developer – With the help of a regular code (eg C #) he creates an independent service that gets the document in a language at the input and translates it to any other, returning the translated document at the output. For this purpose, he can use services like Azure Function and Azure Cognitive Services. He does not know (and does not need to know) what is happening with the document before and after the translation process.
  • Business owner – he uses his resources according to their purpose, thanks to which fewer mistakes are made and more value is delivered in a shorter time. People who understand business well and have broad product knowledge can focus on modeling the overall framework of the solution. In turn, programmers can focus on this part of the solution that makes the best use of their specialization.

This is very important: using LCDP you do not give up the possibility of using solutions using a regular code.

LCDP and the vision of tomorrow

The last question is: is it worth letting LCDP platforms into your organization? There are some questions related to that:

  1. The LCDP concept is not new and it was already known in the 1990s. Why, then, have they become popular yet? Maybe it’s just a temporary hype?
  2. Will LCDP platforms be replaced soon by other platforms?
  3. When choosing a single supplier, do not we enter a one-way street?

So let me answer these questions briefly:

  1. That’s true, LCDPs have appeared before, however in my personal opinion their low popularity was associated with the lack of appropriate adaptation of programming standards (REST / GRAPH API, JSON, OAUTH). Such lack of adaptation made it impossible to build a wide range of integrated platforms. At present, the IT environment has clarified such universal standards, and newly-built solutions follow the established good practices. There is one more important reason, more precisely 3 of them:
    • Growth – it is estimated that the value of the low-code market will increase by over 21 million over the next 5 years
    • Diversification – the demand for IT solutions is growing, and at the same time software developers need a relief
    • Integration – solutions need to grow quickly while maintaining integration to be able to use the potential behind AI, robotics and machine learning
  2. In the whole history of IT solutions, a lot of products appeared and some time after sold, changed or killed. Therefore, I personally think that it is best to relate to solutions of large companies whose future is based on the trust of their clients. This trust depends directly on the possessed solutions, as well as their stability, predictability, reliability and security of entrusted data. “Trust is the Currency of the Future” as the title of an excellent Polish book by Michał Szafrański.
  3. Yes and no. On the one hand, actually choosing ANY supplier from the exit procedure, it may be even necessary to rewrite the solution in case of willingness to change. On the other hand, the construction of the graphical interface should not take much time, and in the case of RPA systems, you can implement critical parts of solutions as independent SaaS solutions (eg using Azure Functions or azure hosted web applications)

Conclusion

For me personally, Low-Code development platforms are a must for any company that wants to grow dynamically. They carry a huge revolution that once brought a window interface in operating systems. On the one hand, it’s just a change of interaction with the processor “on the other side.” But on the other hand, it is opening up to completely new possibilities.

If you would like to learn more about these platforms contact me! I will teach you how to use them, and if you want I can design a solution or simply build it for you!