In Microsoft's vision of a cloud-first, mobile-first workforce, enterprises have to be able to disseminate and communicate data and information to employees no matter where they are and regardless of the device they are using. This is why the tools provided by PowerApps are so important to enterprises using Office 365.
Microsoft is currently pushing a preview version of PowerApps to select customers. Check the admin page of your enterprise's Office 365 suite to see if you have the preview. The tools in PowerApps allow users at any level in the enterprise to create and publish useful and dynamic mobile apps without any specialized skill in programming or app development.
Data to app
After a bout with pneumonia and stint in the hospital, my doctors asked me to keep track of my weight and blood pressure on a daily basis. And being the tech nerd that I am, I put that data into an Excel worksheet located in a folder on my OneDrive for Business. To see how PowerApps works, I used that worksheet as the basis for creating a mobile app.
I installed the PowerApps Studio from the Microsoft Store and fired up the application. A few clicks later, I was connected to the worksheet and I was using PowerApps to refine my new mobile app. In less than an hour I had a serviceable mobile app that I could publish and share. From that point on, I could update my daily vital statistics from my Android smartphone instead of a computer if I wished.
No programming or mobile app development experience was required.
The PowerApps Studio reads the data source you specify and determines the best template to use based on the format of that data. You can also choose a template manually, if you prefer. And if you do have app development skills, you can start with a blank slate and create your own mobile app.
Besides Excel data, users can use PowerApps to create viable mobile apps from other data sources, like Salesforce, Slack, Twitter, Google Drive, Microsoft Azure, and other Office 365 apps. The key to making it all work and come together is the cloud.
When your app is complete, you can publish and share it with the entire enterprise or with specific people or groups. You can publish your app on the Web or you can publish it as a mobile app useable on iOS, Android, or Windows devices.
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PowerApps is another example of Microsoft's strategy of placing more collaborative tools in the hands of more enterprise employees. With PowerApps, users can more easily create mobile apps that communicate essential data to other employees and stakeholders. They can do this without having to requisition developer resources, thereby cutting overhead, costs, and enterprise red tape.
However, this "democratization" of the app development process is going to require a cultural shift in many enterprises. The various tools Microsoft provides through Office 365 increasingly require enterprise management to unleash the creative and collaborative potential of their employees. For many, relinquishing even a little bit of control is a struggle. This cultural inertia must be overcome and eliminated.
A mobile-first, cloud-first workforce needs to be able to innovate, collaborate, and communicate on many levels and on many devices. Restricting the creative potential of employees in a futile attempt to exert control will do more harm than good. Microsoft PowerApps is just one more tool enterprises are going to have to get accustomed to if they want to be successful in today's mobile business environment.
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Giving users the tools to create mobile apps without developers is a big change in the way things work. Is your enterprise ready for that? Share your opinion with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.