By Anthony Baratta
Build Mobile Interfaces for your SharePoint Lists
We're currently in the midst of a blog series highlighting some of the new apps that have come to SharePoint this fall. The first blog highlighted Microsoft Flow, a handy app that allows enterprises to integrate (and create workflows between) SharePoint and a range of other programs and services, from Dropbox to Google Calendar and beyond. Today's blog looks at the second of the new apps: Microsoft PowerApps.
On the surface, Microsoft PowerApps is exactly what it sounds like - an app that makes it easy to build new apps without coding experience. Like MS Flow, PowerApps exists on its own outside of SharePoint and integrates with other Microsoft services as well (such as Office 365). Also like Flow, PowerApps has been tightly integrated with SharePoint and can be accessed directly from the SharePoint online interface. Specifically, you can find a "Create PowerApp" option while working with your SharePoint lists.
Using PowerApps with SharePoint Lists
The big question, then, is what PowerApps will actually do for SharePoint. What can this new app bring to your enterprise that wasn't possible before?
The first important thing to understand is what an "app" actually is in this context. Most of us think of apps as programs that we download onto our mobile devices and use for specific functions—from gaming to social media to organization.
The apps you build with PowerApps aren't exactly those kinds of apps, but they aren't far off. What you can do with the "Create PowerApp" function in a SharePoint list is take the data from that list, and create a custom "mobile app" view of it. In other words, you can take that data and present it in a way that is optimized for easy mobile access and use. The app is a way to deliver relevant information to your team members quickly so that they can check it and update it on the fly no matter where they are.
PowerApps as a standalone application also lets you build business apps from scratch, in which case you get more features and options then you do when just using an out-of-the-box SharePoint list. However, if you are using PowerApps as a SharePoint feature, you will likely be using it to collect and present data for easier employee consumption.
Essentially, the goal of PowerApps is to make SharePoint more mobile-friendly. In the process, the application should give enterprises the opportunity to develop more business apps—or develop their first business apps. While mobile apps are wildly popular in the consumer marketplace, they haven't quite taken off in the business world. As a result, business systems—including documents, data, collaboration tools, and more—tend to be difficult to access with mobile devices. Microsoft PowerApps seeks to solve this problem, at least partially.
Using PowerApps to Create Workflows for SharePoint
Creating mobile apps is not the only feature that Microsoft PowerApps brings to the table. On the contrary, the new application also allows the option for creating workflows in SharePoint. Microsoft classifies these workflows as "Logic Flows" within the PowerApps feature.
Logic Flows aren't the same kind of workflows that you can build using the new Microsoft Flow app. Those workflows allowed for automated integration across multiple different apps and online services. Logic Flows are workflows that you can set up to monitor what goes on in your apps. For instance, if a user accesses a document in one of your PowerApps mobile applications and changes it, you can set up a workflow so that you receive an email notification.
You can make it so virtually any user action in the app will set off a workflow. For instance, if a user taps a particular button in the app, you can automatically set up a workflow that retrieves the person's email address and sends them a meeting request. The specific details of the workflows you might design with this function—or why you might find them useful—will obviously vary a good deal from person to person or enterprise to enterprise. The point is that PowerApps makes it easy to apply SharePoint workflows to the platform's growing mobile segment—an important aspect of recognizing if you are going to start using PowerApps to make your enterprise more mobile-friendly.
Microsoft PowerApps—both the actual apps feature and the Logic Flows feature—are supposed to be intuitive and user-friendly. Most mobile developers are working in the consumer app market, not in business IT departments. As a result, many companies just don’t have the capacity to build functional mobile apps. PowerApps makes the process possible—and fast—without excessive need for technical skills. However, the PowerApps feature still has a learning curve. Learning how to use this new application—and why you might want to use it—will take some time.
For a deep dive into all that SharePoint has to offer and how we can assist you with any functions and capabilities, check out our topic page SharePoint Consulting: Experts reveal SharePoint mysteries, eliminate confusion.
2Plus2 Partners can help you get started in setting up PowerApps and using it to build your first SharePoint apps or Logic Flows. If you'd like a hand getting used to these new features, give us a call at 510 652-7700 to schedule an appointment, or fill our free consultation request form.