What is the Power Platform?
Microsoft Power Platform is a collection of tools – a suite of ‘low-code’ solutions – designed to support your business in different ways. The platform is made up of three Microsoft products which will be discussed further within this piece:
- Power BI: for detailed analytics and reporting
- Power Apps: for building bespoke business and mobile applications
- Power Automate (previously Microsoft Flow): for automating business tasks
The beauty of these tools, is that each of them is designed to integrate with hundreds of data sources (including the Common Data Service), allowing you to leverage your data across multiple third-party and other Microsoft applications.
Within this blog we will cover the following areas – if you want to skip to that section, just click on the name:
What is the Common Data Service?
Throughout this article we will refer to the Common Data Service so let’s clear up what that means. The Common Data Service is the secure storage service for data held within the Power Platform, as well as the data from online versions of Microsoft Dynamics 365. This means that you can pull data between applications easily and leverage it as desired, so no need to worry about different data in various places.
Microsoft Power BI is a data and analytics reporting tool which essentially brings together disparate data – anything from basic Excel spreadsheets to databases, including both cloud-based and on-premise apps. This is then presented in dashboards & reports with visual, easy-to-read graphs and charts, allowing businesses to drill down and gain valuable insights.
Why use Power BI?
One of the main uses of Power BI is to create dashboards demonstrating business performance, however there are multiple ways organisations can use the tool. Here are just a few examples:
- Visualising the appropriate data to track and manage IT assets within your business, such as devices, software licenses, equipment, etc.
- In the sales department, you may have a view which shows each team members performance against their monthly targets, encouraging a bit of friendly competition
- It’s crucial that department managers have a full view of team performance throughout the month, so Power BI can be used to generate dashboards which show this data quickly and visually; this will save time having to manually pull these metrics together from various sources
- View revenue and financials figures and make more strategic decisions
Visualistions in Power BI
As you can see from the image above, there are plenty of ways to visualise your data within Power BI. The most popular ways are:
- Bar charts: Standard for looking at a specific value across different categories
- Combo Charts: Combines a line chart and a column chart allowing you to make a quicker comparison of data
- Doughnut Charts: Similar to pie charts, these are best used for making comparisons between categories
- Maps: Used to show geographical locations of data points on a map. The ‘Basic Map’ visual can show precise geographical locations of data points, or the ‘Shape Map’ is used to show comparisons of regions on a map by using different colours
We’ve written a blog post about how to visualise data in Power BI, so check that out here.
Standard for looking at a specific value across different categories
Combines a line chart and a column chart allowing you to make a quicker comparison of data
Similar to pie charts, these are best used for making comparisons between categories
This visualisation is used to show geographical locations of data points on a map
Power BI Data Sources
There are hundreds of data sources that Power BI can connect to; way too many to list, so check them out here – Power BI Data Sources (Microsoft). Some of the most popular connectors include:
- Common Data Service
- Microsoft Office Apps (Outlook, Excel, etc)
- SQL Server
- Google Analytics
These are Microsoft Certified Connectors, but there are also options to use third-party connectors, or if you can’t find what you are looking for, then custom connectors are also an option. It is also worth noting that some of the connectors are premium and require a different licensing plan.
Power Apps allows businesses to create bespoke applications, which can be accessed via mobile/tablet devices or browser (where they are published as a web site). These apps can be built for a range of processes, which we will review down below, but they can solve a range of business problems where you can’t find a suitable off-the-shelf solution.
What sets Power Apps apart from other offerings is the ‘low-code approach to app development’ so essentially anyone can build an app, even without technical experience. Although it’s worth noting that there’s actually quite a learning curve for those who want to build their own apps, so unless you’re a developer you should ideally work with your Microsoft partner to design and build anything but the simplest applications. Microsoft categorise Power Apps into 3 different types:
- Canvas Apps: Like working from a blank canvas, users start with the data source, add workflows and then finally create the design. This approach offers more flexibility than model-driven apps.
- Model-driven Apps: With model-driven apps, much of the layout is controlled by the data connected and information entered into the app – what you feed in generally decides the outcome. This approach is more commonly used if the app you’re designing requires complex business logic.
- Portals: for creating web portals (websites) that can be shared both internally and externally, allowing users to interact securely with data stored in the Common Data Service
How can my business use Power Apps?
Apps can be created for pretty much any business case and the possibilities are endless, but here are a few examples of apps that you could create:
Create a holiday app for employees to input their holiday. Introduce an approval procedure from Power Automate to approve or reject requests
Enabling field workers to enter data when out in the field – E.g. logging repairs needed or notes relating to site inspections
A customer support portal, linked to Dynamics 365, that allows customers to submit and track support cases, view knowledge articles, etc
An onboarding app to streamline the onboarding experience for new team members. Track member profiles, relevant tasks, documents, etc. instead of managing this process manually
Create an event reistration app which enables attendees to register, check-in and then automatically gather their details in your database
An employee expenses app, allowing your employees to enter details of any expenses and attach photographs of receipts for easy tracking There are a variety of templates available from Microsoft, such as the ones below, so users can easily build an app using their selected template, then tailor it to meet specific needs.
Power Apps Data Sources
As with the Power BI data sources listed above, Power Apps can be connected with the same extensive list. See all options here – Power Apps Connections List (Microsoft).
Power Automate (previously Microsoft Flow)
Power Automate allows businesses to create automated workflows across multiple applications. In simple terms, repetitive tasks can be automated which saves time and means your staff can focus on more important things. These automated workflows are called flows and trigger when a specific event occurs. Users can build flows by using pre-built automation templates (these can be found in the ‘Flow Gallery’) or create their own by connecting applications (E.g, Outlook, Dynamics 365, SharePoint, Twitter, Mailchimp, etc).
Examples of Power Automate
As we said above, there are plenty of templates available of commonly created apps, which can be customised to fit your business. Here are a few of our favourite examples:
- Automatically save email attachments to SharePoint when they arrive to your inbox
- Retrieve details from Companies House API on request and store in Dynamics 365
- Introduce an approval procedure to approve or reject requests in a holiday Power App
- If your business is using Microsoft Forms, you can set up a flow to automatically record form responses in SharePoint or Dynamics 365
- Get an email summary of all the events you have in your upcoming week, so you never miss a thing
As with all the Power Platform tools, there are so many possibilities with what you can create. We have written a blog that details the benefits and uses of Power Automate, which you can read here.
Get in touch
Hopefully what you’ve read in this article has provided you with a good understanding of what the Power Platform is and the potential of what’s out there, giving you an insight into the exciting possibilities ahead. But, we understand that it can be difficult to know where to start and how it may work for your organisation.
If you would like to learn more about any of the applications within the Power Platform, please get in touch with us. We’d be happy to talk you through further details and how this can fit in with your business, or you may have an idea you’d like to discuss. Fill out the contact form below and a member of our team will be in touch shortly, or if you’d prefer, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01908 038110.