PowerApps: Helping businesspeople get the job done

PowerApps: Helping businesspeople get the job done

David Rubinstein

The business world faces a real dilemma these days. Stated simply, there are a lot more applications that need to be built than programmers or consulting companies to build them. This has created a big blockage in the system to get apps built and out the door.

One way organizations deal with this is by licensing "low-code programming solutions,? which are basically tools that allow non-programmers to create simple line-of-business applications that they need without having to go to IT to get them built. In theory, this advances the needs of the business while not overburdening developers who are working on much more important tasks than creating a vacation request workflow.

Microsoft's announcement last week of PowerApps (formerly Project Siena) is the latest entry into the low-code space. And, according to John Basso, cofounder and CIO of Amadeus Consulting, the company already has a couple of advantages over the competition.

The main advantage Microsoft has is that its low-code solution is tied to the company's robust ecosystem: SQL Server, SharePoint Server and Active Directory on the back end, Azure for the cloud, and Office 365 APIs for functionality.

The first step organizations should take, he said, is to do an analysis up front to determine if the tools are appropriate for what you want to build, and then find people in the organization who are a fit for this. "It's more about breaking down the problem, which is actually a kind of programming,? he said.

Basso sees solutions of this type as akin to the U.S. government's 1040 EZ income tax form. "If your finances are simple and you're not in a life-changing event, you can use the single form to file your taxes,? he said. "About one out of every seven Americans can use the form.?

In time, he continued, people will use the easy low-code tools to create a certain percentage of applications. As for complexity? You just have to stay in the confines of what the platform supports-which, in Microsoft's case, is quite a lot.

Basso believes that PowerApps will fill the need for advanced Excel or Access people. "There is no equivalent to Access for mobile or Web,? he said. "That genre of person could usually build an internal app without advanced logic or interfacing. Anything more than that, and you start down the 'slippery slope' conversation.? That sounds something like this: " 'I have this dashboard, but I want to bring in a new data source.' Basso said, "Now, you're at a whole other level of programming skill.?

There can of course be problems when you bring in a developer at that stage of the game. First, he's probably unaware that there was even a project happening, he has no idea what the businessperson did to create the app (as the business person undoubtedly did not document anything he did), and the developer will now have to drop the more important program he's been working on to deliver this new request.

That's a risk, though, that organizations should take, Basso believes. "More people have to be allowed to participate in what's going to be built out than are participating now. More people have to be able to help build out the business.?

Programmers should feel quite comfortable with these tools, which are based on the "if this/then that? paradigm. What the business will need more of as these low-code solutions grow are people who can translate the business needs into technical needs-the business analysts.

"Solutions like this must be part of the ecosystem for the ecosystem to evolve,? Basso said. "There are so many solutions that just aren't getting done.?

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