Tech Thursdays: Building PowerApps with Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement

Since their general availability in October 2016, Microsoft have been consistently developing and investing in the PowerApps platform to introduce new functionality and expand the possible use cases for your bespoke business apps.

In this post, we chat to our consultant Alex about some of the strengths, considerations, use cases and roadmap for PowerApps, with particular focus on their interaction with data in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement.

Alex Hayward

Alex Hayward

Senior Consultant

When do PowerApps work best?

PowerApps work best for simple, task focussed processes. A good example of this is interacting with open cases in Dynamics 365, including completing forms, taking and attaching a photograph or updating notes.

We have found that PowerApps are great for field workers who need to quickly interact with data in Dynamics 365, as they can show all and only the information relevant to the tasks at hand. By surfacing Dynamics 365 data into a PowerApp, your users can interact with live data without having to learn how to use and navigate Dynamics 365.

What are the benefits of PowerApps?

PowerApps can be very simple to use and require little to no training. They can also be downloaded to users’ phones as individual apps, making them very simple to navigate to when on the road.

One of the biggest benefits of PowerApps is that they can be created really quickly, and don’t require a large amount of technical ability.  Using the client to get started, you can connect to your datasource and pick a template that gives you an app almost immediately. You can then begin tweaking the app by changing the fields that are displayed in the user interface. When you are comfortable with this, more complex tasks are achieved using excel style formulae. The barrier to entry is low and the learning curve is not too steep.

Once you’re comfortable with how to build them, you can expect to be building apps for simple processes within a day or two. This means they are perfect for rapidly prototyping ideas and playing these back to your users for feedback. Changes can be made quickly in response to suggestions from your user group, meaning they work really well in agile project delivery.

Can you give us an example of a PowerApp you’ve built for a customer?

We work closely with lots of local authorities, and we’ve recently been building apps to open Dynamics 365 data up to operatives working in the field, such as those responding to reports of fly tipping or graffiti.

As an example, we’ve created a fly tipping app which council operatives can download onto their mobiles to help them complete their daily tasks.

Residents can report fly tipping using a map via their personal portal account with the council, which is powered by Dynamics Portals and Evolve LRG (our Dynamics 365-based solution for local government).

Once an issue is raised it can be assigned to a relevant operative, triggering the work order to appear in the operative’s PowerApp. Through this app, the operative can navigate to the location of the fly tipping using Google Maps to show the exact location the resident reported, read the case details and view any images that have been uploaded by the resident when reporting the issue online.

When they have removed the fly tipping, the operative can take a photo as evidence, add notes and mark the work order complete. They can then select their next task from the list and move on to their next location. As the PowerApp uses live case data in Dynamics 365, office based workers can see operatives’ progress in real time and make any required changes to scheduling.

Overall, it’s a simple and quick way to ensure office and field-based council staff are working from the same set of data, in a tool that can be quickly updated and enhanced whenever there is a change to council process.

What are the current limitations when working with PowerApps?

PowerApps expect to have an internet connection by default, and offload as much work as they can to the server side in the interests of having an app that responds quickly to users. It is possible to make an app that works offline, but this is currently some extra overhead to build, test and maintain. PowerApps also work best for simple processes, so if you are looking for a way of enabling field based staff to carry out more complex tasks, there may be options available that are less time consuming to build and maintain.

If you need your app to work offline, or if you are planning more of a complex app, a great alternative is the Dynamics 365 for Mobiles app. This app works offline out-of-the-box and requires no development, providing it is kept in mind while you design your forms in Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement. The even better news is that the Dynamics 365 for Mobiles app is included in your licencing costs for your normal Dynamics 365 licencing.

What does the future look like for PowerApps?

Currently, deploying PowerApps from a development environment through to testing and production environments requires a lot of manual steps, which can introduce risks to a project. Microsoft are currently previewing a feature that allows you to export an app as a package which includes any related flows. Microsoft has also announced in their October release notes that they plan to allow a more granular level of solution component management, which will improve the deployment process and make it more enterprise grade. I feel this will bring huge benefits to customers.

You can find out more about PowerApps and Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement by getting in touch with our team at info@pythagoras.co.uk.

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