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What is the Microsoft Power Platform?

October 14, 2020
5.5 min read
What is the Microsoft Power Platform?

Since its inception in November 2016, Power Apps and Microsoft Power Automate have focused on the mandate to help organizations support business transformation. They provide a foundation that empowers the non-IT user to take their day to day activities and automate their business processes.

Let’s take a quick tour to meet the members of the Power Platform family.

Power Apps

Power Apps supports organizations to create responsive user interfaces to capture and present information in various devices and connect to data sources – obtaining or sending information.

There are 3 main ways to create custom apps with Power Apps:

  • Canvas Apps – for apps where you want full control of the app design.
  • Model-Driven Apps – component-based apps that focus on the business data models
  • Power App Portals – external-facing websites that can surface business data.

Canvas Apps

With canvas apps, the world is your oyster! You have an empty canvas (pun intended!) to design your app just the way you want to. This may be a bit daunting at first, however, if you start from an existing data source (say, a SharePoint List for example) Power Apps is smart enough to give you a head start and create starter screens for you to browse the list, view or create/edit new items.

Model-Driven Apps

For model-driven apps, the focus is on the data itself and the business process around it. Instead of designing how the screen will look, you define the entities, business flows, forms, views, and/or dashboards around a specific business process. Model-Driven apps use the Common Data Service as the data repository for your entities.  

Power Apps Portals

Power App Portals, also part of Power Apps, is one of the (old) new kids on the block that comes to provide a fresh new take on building external-facing portals for your organization.

Portals provide the means to create low/no-code responsive websites. These websites cant can be used with any major commercial (think Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or enterprise login provider (such as your own local credentials or work accounts such as your Office 365 account) and presents the user with a simple WYSIWYG interface to create static and dynamic web site pages based on information stored in the Common Data Service.

A few highlights of Power Apps Portals include:

  • Building Blocks – Pages, templates, and components to build your Portal.
  • New Page Experience to create great looking pages and a theming engine based on Bootstrap to quickly define a familiar look for your Portal.
  • New Page Experience to create great looking pages and a theming engine based on Bootstrap to quickly define a familiar look for your Portal.
  • Custom Domain URLs!
  • List components to present or capture information stored in your CDS
  • Form components to leverage model-driven forms (think of forms as part of a business process).

Power Automate

Power Automate on the other hand provides the ability to automate workflows that orchestrate business processes that gather data from disparate systems, make decisions and or transform the data into actionable tasks that can affect services in and out of the Office 365 or Microsoft ecosystem.

Based on actions, triggers, and conditions, you can build flows that run on a schedule or are triggered by an action (such as receiving an email, tweets from an account, a message from other systems, etc.). Once the flow is running, you can take action by reading the initial data from the trigger, manipulate it, make decisions based on it and act on other systems, for example, saving a new item into a SharePoint List, sending out an email, creating an approval task, etc.

Over 300 connectors are available for you to compose your flows in Power automate!

AI Builder

As you build new Power Apps or Power Automate flows there will be times where you want the power of artificial intelligence to support you in parts of the process. AI Builder provides capabilities to easily implement predictive AI capabilities that can speed up decision making based on historical data.  

Currently, in preview, there are additional capabilities to explore around object detection (identifying and counting items on an image), forms processing (read and capture information in standardized forms for digitizing the content of the form) and text processing. These capabilities can support you to identify key trends and/or categorize content based on your business needs.

Power BI

Let’s not forget their older but also quite powerful cousin, Power BI. A suite of tools (desktop client, web client, and the Power BI service) released in July 2011 that have grown to be a key resource for building interactive reports and dashboard experiences.

Common Data Service

I mentioned earlier the Common Data Service, or CDS for short, is a cloud data repository that is primarily leveraged by the Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite of tools (and the Power Platform, of course ) which can also be used to create your own custom entities to store your company data.

CDS provides a robust security mechanism that can help you secure your data and provide appropriate access to each group that needs it. CDS is based on the Common Data Model schema and a standard set of entities that Microsoft has defined and is aligning with others such as Adobe and SAP as part of the Open Data Initiative. Another key benefit of the CDS is that it doesn’t need any infrastructure or administration, it is all managed by Microsoft.

On-premises Data Access Gateway

For those at home (see what I did there?), with the use of the Data Access Gateway, organizations can also connect to local services and information stores to effectively report on data sources (local SQL Server instances, SharePoint lists, and libraries, etc.) stored on-premises as well as create/update information in them in Power Apps or Power Automate.

For a while, that’s all we had… Until now!

Power Virtual Agents

The main premise of Power Virtual Agents is to support subject matter experts to create, manage and optimize chatbots by providing a no-code, easy to use interface that allows users to define topics where the bot can assist by providing accurate responses and even initiate a process by integrating with a Power Automate Flow.

The interface also supports quick testing of the bot and provides a dashboard with various key metrics to assess the engagement and effectiveness of the bot’s configured topics.

This is a game-changer, as previously it required a highly specialized team of IT, Data Scientists, Developers, and AI experts to have a baseline bot experience built and released.

Once you are done testing, you can easily publish your bot to a website (for external use), Microsoft Teams, or Facebook. With a few more additional steps, you can extend the reach to other canvases by using Azure Bot Service channels, allowing you to other services such as Skype, Kik, or Slack to name a few.

Great, so where to start?

Now that you are more familiar with the capabilities of the Power Platform, it will become easier to identify areas where these pieces can support your team to automate and make decisions day-to-day.

One key step towards your journey to business process improvement starts with understanding what the process actually looks like. Very few processes are accurately documented (if at all) and it is key to map out the business process, inputs, and outcomes before automation work should start. There are also various methodologies for mapping and optimizing business processes, one of which is the value stream mapping exercise, one of the tools of Lean methodology.

If you’re looking for the latest Power Platform updates, take a look at our YouTube playlist.

We’re here to help

Would you like to learn more? Have you identified a key business process that you can automate and transform the way you work? Reach out to us, we will be happy to support you on your journey towards business improvement.

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