On November 30th at Convergence EMEA in Barcelona, Microsoft unveiled PowerApps, an innovative and compelling new service for building mobile-first business applications. PowerApps empowers users—what we used to call “power users”—to connect to data sources in the cloud and on-prem, and to create targeted mobile applications that can be shared with users on any device, without code.
PowerApps is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) for building business applications. It is a product of the Azure team within Microsoft, and is the final version of what was formerly called Project Siena.
Users can start building an app with one of several pre-configured templates by connecting to data, or from scratch.
Within an intuitive visual designer that evokes PowerPoint and Excel experiences, a user can build an application starting with drag-and-drop simplicity that includes data connections, screens and controls.
An app can include connections to data in cloud and on-prem services. PowerApps comes with a number of pre-configured connections. Third parties or in-house developers can create additional connections.
PowerApps supports workflows, called “logic flows.”
The logic flows in PowerApps do not appear to be as sophisticated as SharePoint workflows yet, but they address common scenarios such as sending a notification email, and they support simple logical elements such as conditions. Unlike SharePoint workflows, logic flows can connect services, as you can see in the examples.
Logic flows can be built from scratch within PowerApps, shown below, or can be created by developers.
The finished application can then be published and shared with other users. Users launch apps from PowerApps, which acts as a launch pad, with links to all of the apps that have been shared with a user.
This is a “first look” at PowerApps, so I’ll do my best to answer questions from the community. Please add your questions and comments below the article!
What connections can be used in PowerApps?
PowerApps supports connections to Office 365 including SharePoint Online, Excel on OneDrive, Salesforce, Dropbox, Google Drive, Dynamics CRM Online, Twitter and Bing. More connections will be made available during and after the course of the preview, including on-premises SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle databases, and SAP. Developers can create connections to systems across an organization.
What platforms are supported by PowerApps?
Currently, PowerApps apps can be run on Windows 8, Windows 10, and iPhone and iPad with iOS 9 or above. Android support will come in the near future.
How are apps shared?
A user shares an app by giving users or groups permissions to the app. Permissions allow users to use the application or to modify it and make their own versions of the app. Sharing is as simple as entering names and selecting one of two permissions.
What does PowerApps cost?
PowerApps pricing will be announced soon. There will be free, standard, and enterprise plans. Learn more about the plans and pricing here: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/. Pricing will be per user, rather than consumption based.
When will PowerApps be available?
PowerApps will be available soon in preview. You can sign up for PowerApps starting today at http://powerapps.microsoft.com.
Microsoft will be letting a few organizations into the preview.
What are the governance considerations around PowerApps?
As it is an entirely new tool, it will take time for the community to flesh out the governance considerations for PowerApps, but there are a couple of points worth noting today.
First, apps built with PowerApps will only give users access to data that they already have, anyway. Apps will be authorized, either by a user or by the enterprise, and data access will follow well-known patterns. Data security and privacy controls are respected by PowerApps, so you can manage data access and maintain corporate policies.
Second, IT management of apps and data connections is available in the Azure portal if you are on the PowerApps Enterprise plan. There may be some gaps initially, but remember this is an MVP. Manageability often comes later in the new, agile model of cloud-first innovation. But it does come, and generally pretty quickly.
Third, PowerApps offers one benefit that I think can’t be said loudly enough: It allows the organization to build apps that store data in Office 365 and Azure, where that data is arguably more secure and certainly more integrated than anywhere else it could be. PowerApps will help reduce “rogue IT” efforts to solve business problems by going to third-party services and storing business data in sometimes questionable and often unmanaged service silos.
How does PowerApps fit into the extensibility story for SharePoint & Office 365?
Before PowerApps, mobile applications that connect and integrate business data had to be built by professional developers. Organizations with developers found that custom applications were often costly undertakings, so they prioritized business requests for applications and many needs went unaddressed. Organizations without available developer resources could not build the applications they needed at all.
PowerApps adds an important and heretofore missing capability for business users to create mobile applications that connect to, consume, and modify data in SharePoint on-prem and in Office 365, across SharePoint Online, calendars, contacts, tasks, and OneDrive for Business, as well as data in other services on-prem and in the cloud.
What does PowerApps mean for developers?
I’m excited about what PowerApps gives to developers. First, it gives developers in certain scenarios a way to rapidly create proof-of-concepts and prototypes.
More importantly, PowerApps will be used, I think, to deliver simpler mobile applications more quickly, and to create mobile applications for business needs that would otherwise go unaddressed due to cost, lack of skillset, or time constraints. Organizations can focus their developers on the more challenging applications that require real developer skillsets.
Organizations can also use development resources to create custom connections for internal data sources that then can be exposed within PowerApps. Developers will certainly play a critical role in PowerApps by creating connections to systems across an organization, so that users can create the applications they need.
I think the most important role that PowerApps plays for developers is to validate the importance of translating business needs into mobile applications.
So while “pro developers” won’t stop using Visual Studio and other development tools, I think PowerApps will be a boon to developers and to mobile application development in general.
What does PowerApps mean for SharePoint Designer and InfoPath?
PowerApps does not replace InfoPath and SharePoint Designer. It creates an entirely new class of capability: building mobile business applications without code.
SharePoint Designer 2013 will still be used, against SharePoint 2013 and 2016 on-premises and SharePoint Online, for the same purposes it has always been used. InfoPath 2013 will still be used to create InfoPath Forms Libraries and to customize SharePoint list forms.
PowerApps can create forms-like applications that connect to SharePoint data on-premises or in Office 365. So there are scenarios in which PowerApps might be used to create an application where InfoPath might have been used before.
Within apps, logic flows create workflow. As mentioned above, logic flows have both similarities and differences to SharePoint workflows. Across an organization, you will use both for various scenarios and apps.
How does PowerApps impact me, my users, and my organization?
PowerApps is a strong indication of where Microsoft is going with power user development tools. The tool itself is modern, slick, and easy for a power user to master. The applications that PowerApps create are modern, cross-platform, mobile and responsive.
Business applications have been built by power users with Office clients (Word and Excel, particularly), Access, SharePoint Designer and InfoPath. Now, PowerApps gives users perhaps the most intuitive way yet to build apps. And PowerApps addresses manageability of those apps, something that was not as easy with previous tools.
The biggest benefit of PowerApps, I think, is agility. Bill Staples, Corporate Vice President, Application Platform, said it perfectly:
“PowerApps will dramatically accelerate how business apps are built, reducing time to solution from weeks or months to minutes and empowering a new category of app creators. It balances power between IT and business users, arming those closest to business needs with tools and services to not just envision but also implement the solution. It moves what has been for decades a set of scenarios that typically only run on-premises with PCs to being centered in the cloud and delivered mobile-first.”
I’ve had the chance to see PowerApps at work and it is an exciting tool, to be sure. But it is an MVP. So we must be careful not to set expectations too high, or to drink any Kool-Aid that positions PowerApps as a silver bullet. It’s an excellent addition to our toolset, and I believe it will solve some scenarios immediately, and many more as PowerApps and the ecosystem around it develops.
The PowerApps ecosystem will be particularly interesting to watch. I expect we will see a flurry of development of connectors and templates from the community and from services wishing to expose themselves to PowerApps. I’m particularly pleased that Microsoft has worked closely with several important SharePoint ISVs during the development of PowerApps, as well.
How can I learn more about PowerApps?
PowerApps has its own microsite: http://powerapps.microsoft.com. On that site you can find:
You should also check out these resources right away:
Several online events will cover PowerApps:
And, of course, we will provide on-going coverage of PowerApps here on IT Unity.
What questions do you have about PowerApps? What are your first impressions? Join the conversation, below.