Microsoft PowerApps Reaches General Availability
After a six-month preview of PowerApps, Microsoft has reached General Availability (GA) with the cross-platform, mobile and web, business application productivity service. PowerApps is now available for production usage in six regions, in 42 languages, with a 99.9% SLA.
The preview attracted interest from many organizations. Darshan Desai, group program manager on the PowerApps team, indicated: “Over 124,000 users from 46,000 organizations in 143 countries have created web and mobile apps using PowerApps.”
The GA release of PowerApps also includes additional PowerApps related services and features including SharePoint Online integrated lists, Common Data Service, Dynamics 365 PowerApps discovery, PowerApps Admin Center, Flow and On-premises data gateway. In addition to these GA features, a preview of the PowerApps application for Windows 10 Mobile has been announced.
SharePoint Online integrated lists
SharePoint Online users can create a PowerApp that will consume SharePoint Online’s CRUD operations without writing custom code. By clicking on the PowerApps dropdown, from the SharePoint Online command bar, customers can launch the PowerApps designer with all of the hooks required to create and modify data within the SharePoint List.
Common Data Service
The Common Data Service provides a shared data store for line of business and PowerApps applications. Desai classifies the Common Data Service as a data backbone that “provides an instantly available and scalable data store and a common data model with standard entity schema and behavior. It also provides a powerful data access layer with support for data import and export, security, and integration with Microsoft Office for Excel and Outlook.”
Microsoft Flow and On-premises data gateway
Organizations building PowerApps have the ability add workflow to these applications through integration with Microsoft Flow, which has also reached general availability. On-premises applications and data sources can be connected to PowerApps, or Flow, through the use of the On-premises data gateway. Currently, this allows customers to integrate with systems such as SharePoint Server and SQL Server while support for other systems like SAP will be included in the future.
PowerApps Admin Center
PowerApps and Microsoft Flow target citizen developers to build cross platform mobile and web applications, in addition to the automation of tasks across different systems and services. For IT organizations who seek to empower this user-class, while maintaining security and governance, Microsoft has made the PowerApps Admin Center available. The PowerApps Admin Center allows administrators to manage user roles and data access, establish data policies that prevent intellectual property leakage in addition to managing multiple environments.
InfoQ reached out to Kees Hertogh, senior director, product marketing at Microsoft about the recent general availability release. Here is what he had to say.
InfoQ: In the GA announcement, Microsoft indicated that over 124 000 users have created a PowerApp. What are some of the more interesting use cases that you have seen customers address?
Kees Hertogh: Specific business problems that could not be addressed before because there was no standard way for building a custom solution or using professional development resources was cost prohibitive. We’ve seen customers increasingly focused on addressing needs in specific business processes or tasks that previously did not get addressed. What is exciting to see is the increased level of sophistication of applications being built with PowerApps, some great examples that come to mind:
- Quality control on and off the shop floor in a large manufacturing organization, not only providing the latest test procedures etc. but also automatically capturing process execution information to enable further process improvement.
- Optimizing the effectiveness of drivers in restocking vending machines. This app aggregates data from many different sources, include IoT signals from the vending machine, route information and getting supply chain information out of the ERP system to build a targeted app for the truck delivery drivers, optimizing their routes as well as restocking processes of the vending machine.
- A targeted decision-making application to that helps operators in an energy company to make the right economical decision if a maintenance crew needs to be dispatched to a remote windmill site for repairs. Again, this app aggregates data across a multitude of data sources, including real time industrial IoT streaming data.
In addition, there are a few common patterns in the application development process we’ve seen with these early, more sophisticated use cases. First, the strength of aggregated data across multiple sources, for example documents from SharePoint, and data from a CRM or ERP system and some streaming/real time data. Then, connect these date sources into a single targeted application to optimize a specific task or process.
We have also seen customers utilize the PaaS capability of Azure to unlock the value of the data and enterprise systems already in-place. This may include a change in the application development process, where either the line-of-business organization instigates the building of the app, and/or the IT teams establishes a deeper connection between the line-of-business teams and the internal IT organizations. We’ve seen PowerApps facilitate a much more hands-on and iterative application design and build process. And lastly, after finishing their first app, customer don’t stop… once they tackle a specific problem, the start finding additional opportunities for improvements that were un-addressed until now!
InfoQ: What are some of the reasons that customers are adopting PowerApps over traditional custom development or cross-platform development frameworks?
Kees Hertogh: I think this comes down to the combination of few drivers we’ve seen consistently with our customers: scarcity of professional development resources combined with the need from business units to address specific business problem and iterate more quickly. Iterations are required, not only to get to a first solution more quickly, but also to be able to respond to necessary change in processes or tasks.
InfoQ: The Common Data Service has also reached the GA milestone. How do you envision customers using this feature?
Kees Hertogh: Great question, we’re excited about the new capabilities we will deliver to our PowerApps customers with the Common Data Service. This new Azure based data service adds powerful data storage and modeling capabilities to PowerApps. Our objective for the Common Data Service is to enable additional capabilities for PowerApps such as a scalable data store utilizing the full power SQL Azure, where app creators can store unique data they need to build their apps. A common data model with standard entity schema and behavior, which speeds up development of new apps. We’ll continue to invest in the richness of schemas including 65+ standardized entities and include a powerful data access layer with support for data import, export and data security and deep integration with Microsoft Office for Excel and Outlook. In addition, we’re planning to release a software developer kit (SDK) to support professional development scenarios.
InfoQ: Enterprise customers are generally concerned with the management and governance of mobile and web applications. What tools exist for IT teams to ensure PowerApps are permissioned properly and secure?
Kees Hertogh: Correct, key to a successful business application platform is its ability to provide the appropriate IT management and government capability to ensure IT can manage data security and access. We’ve done a few things in PowerApps to address these needs.
First of all, we’ve introduced a new admin center, a centralized place of IT admins to establish boundaries and policies around the use of PowerApps in their organization. In this admin center you’ll be able to manage different environments. An environment is a space to store, manage, and share your organization’s business data, apps, and flows. They also serve as containers to separate apps that may have different roles, security requirements, or target audiences. How you choose to use environments depends on your organization and the apps you are trying to build, for example, you might create separate environments that group the Test and Production versions of your apps or you might create separate environments that correspond to specific teams or departments in your company, each containing the relevant data and apps for each audience.
In addition to role based security to manage access to the data in the Common Data Services, we’ve introduce data policies which can be managed through the admin center. To protect the access to data, including data acquired through data connectors, you can create and enforce policies that define which consumer services and connectors specific business data can be shared with. These policies, that define how data can be shared, are referred to as data loss prevention (DLP) policies.
InfoQ: As organizations transition from on-premises data centers to cloud architectures, how can PowerApps integrate, or consume, on-premises data sources?
Kees Hertogh: Users that want to access the enterprise data from their own on-premise infrastructure can use our On-premises data gateway. This gateway acts as a bridge, providing quick and secure data transfer between on-premises data and cloud services like Power BI, Azure Logic Apps and Microsoft Flow. It enables secure access to data stored in on-premise data sources like SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle, SAP Hana and IBM DB2.