The business benefits of the Microsoft PowerApps platform and associated tools are changing faster than ever so making sure the whole team understand the tools available, their strengths and their weaknesses is key to us being able to make informed decisions when recommending technology to our customers.
Microsoft PowerApps is a key tool within the Power Platform suite, allowing us to build two types of app: Model Driven Apps and Canvas Apps. We’re all familiar with Model Driven Apps as these are the building blocks of Microsoft Dynamics 365 which we all use day in day out. It’s come a long way from Microsoft CRM 1.2! Evolving from a basic, classic, CRM tool in 2001 to the complete business applications platform we know today, keeping up with the pace of change has been a constant challenge. Doing so has allowed us to stay at the forefront of these exciting new technologies and in doing so be one of the first Microsoft Dynamics practices in the UK to adopt the new tools and features available such as Remote Assist, Connected Field Service, Project Service Automation and Field Service.
The introduction of the Power Platform has opened up a world of opportunities to us to quickly build and deliver apps to solve a multitude of business problems. The addition of Canvas Apps, which we can embed into Model Driven Apps has given us the tools required to build bespoke user interfaces to solve complex problems, evolving the Power Platform to the next level.
Using a simple web-based UI Canvas Apps can be quickly built, leveraging data from your key line of business applications. With a multitude of controls available to present and interact with data, as well as a comprehensive framework for building custom controls, the user experience can be tailored to the specific audience using the app, offering targeted and simplified user journeys.
If you’d like to trial Canvas Apps you can sign up for free here.
In line with our passion for learning new technologies and being at the forefront of the product we work with, we decided to hold an internal hackathon, pulling together our team of Microsoft Dynamics 365 consultants from across different specialisms exposure to the new tools and features available.
The format of the hackathon was simple, everyone got together in teams of 2, were given a problem to solve using Microsoft PowerApps, and set to work building the best app they could in just 2 hours.
The problem to solve was one which we experience internally to add some real life meaning. Using the Model Driven App user interface in the Project Service Automation app within Microsoft Dynamics 365, adding Time Entries is a laborious task, with lots of options to complete and no visibility of data already entered. We wanted to beat this with a custom Canvas App which pulled together more information and offered a slicker data entry experience.
The hackathon participants were given the following ‘high tech’ design to work from:
As the hackathon progressed, challenges were faced retrieving filtered data from Microsoft Dynamics 365 to be used in the app, as we needed to filter existing time entries based on the current user and the current week.
Working as a team, these challenges were overcome, but it made for interesting discovery and identified some clear limitations versus Microsoft’s pitch of ‘anyone can build a PowerApp’. We certainly learned that some of the more complex data operations required a developer’s mindset, albeit it written in Excel like formulas rather than traditional ‘code’.
Here are some of our Functional Consultants working out the solution;
Using the out of the box controls available (we didn’t need to write any of our own which is lucky given the 2 hour limit) we were able to quickly create the required user interface, then it was just a case of pulling in the data we needed.
The end results in the designer was the following app. Obviously some polishing still required, but this was a hackathon!