Microsoft constantly innovates, updates, and releases new products and solutions. And one of the biggest and most effective of them is the power-packed group of products called the Microsoft Power Platform. This platform is filled with tools that help develop and build complex business solutions, analyze and draw data visualizations, automate a business process, and create virtual agents that ease communication. Furthermore, they have no coding requirements and use simple GUIs for building apps, thus making them easy to use by both developers and businesses.
This blog will help us understand the Microsoft Power Platform and the products under it.
Microsoft Power Platform – An Overview
Microsoft Power Platform combines the power of Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents into a single powerful application platform for quick and easy app development and retrieval of data insights. It provides the ability to manipulate, surface, automate and analyze data and can be integrated with Office 365, Dynamics 365, and other third-party apps and Microsoft services. Furthermore, its underlying data platform, Common Data Service (CDS), provides a unified and simplified data schema that allows its apps and services to interoperate.
What Makes Microsoft Power Platform Important?
This digital era has made us extremely reliant on data. Companies are constantly creating data, leading to a massive amount of it stored in the digital spectrum. However, companies consider them useless unless they provide useful insights and meaningful information to help them gain tangible value.
In the past, data analysis, app creation, and automation were done by IT or Development teams. The staff has to outline their requirements and aims, submit them to the IT departments or external partners, approve them, and wait for them to be built. This process is extremely time-consuming and would use up valuable internal resources or be cost-consuming if fulfilled externally. Furthermore, since these requests may be due to immediate need, waiting for weeks could cause internal delays.
This is the reason why Power Platform is so important. It enables data democratization and access to digital transformation by typical or non-technical end-users. Additionally, it also provides four powerful technologies that allow staff to do more with their collected data without coding. Though it does not allow the intricacies and flexibility of custom coding, it does provide users with a simple method to create, automate and analyze their data in ways that were never possible for an average person.
Power Apps, Power BI, Power Automate & Power Virtual Agents Explained
Microsoft Power Platform contains four vital and power-packed tools, and all of them have low-code environments that tackle and connect data problems.
Microsoft Power Apps
Power Apps takes a low-code approach toward custom app development. It is a collection of apps, services, connectors, and data platforms that creates a quick and easy app development environment to build customized business applications. Furthermore, you can connect it to business data stored in the Dataverse platform under it or various other online and on-premise data sources. Power Apps allows users to build apps with rich business logic and workflow capabilities and can be run on a browser or mobile device.
Microsoft Power BI
Power BI is a data-driven analytical engine that connects various data sources to display information visually. It is a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn unstructured and unrelated data into structured, visually appealing, and interactive insights. In general, Power BI integration enables users to connect different data sources easily, discover and visualize important information, and share it with anyone.
Microsoft Power Automate
Power Automate, previously known as ‘Flow’, is a powerful tool that businesses can use to create automated workflows in their apps and services, and integrate with third-party and non-Microsoft applications. Automation workflows help organizations synchronize their files, get notifications, collect data, etc. Microsoft Power Automate provides two types of flows: Cloud Flows and Desktop Flows. While Cloud Flows are executed in the Power Automated service called Digital Process Automation (DPA), Desktop Flows run on a computer’s virtual or physical machines and are also known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
Microsoft Power Virtual Agent
Power Virtual Agent is a service that enables businesses to easily create powerful bots using a guided, no-code graphical interface without the need for data scientists or developers. It helps organizations solve common customer and internal-facing issues, allowing staff or team members to focus on more complex requests and high-value interactions.
Data Sources/Databases To Integrate With Microsoft Power Apps
There are many types of databases available in the market. However, most third-party databases like MySQL, Oracle, AWS and more are not used in combination with Power Apps. Below are some of the commonly used Microsoft products that you can integrate with Microsoft Power Apps.
Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets hosted in either SharePoint Online or a OneDrive for Business is a great option for small teams to store data. It is the smallest scaled database and is sufficient for personal use of Power Apps or if you only plan to store data up to a few thousand rows. The major benefits of using Excel are that it is quick to set up and does not require an Office 365 Admin to create an area for data storage.
Microsoft Lists/SharePoint Lists
The most commonly chosen and highly-recommended place for storing data is within Microsoft Lists. These Lists are essentially stored on SharePoint sites and are great for small organizations to store data up to one hundred thousand rows. Another reason for choosing Microsoft lists within Office 365 as the data source is that since SharePoint Online is included within most Microsoft 365 licenses, it does not require any additional costs.
Microsoft SQL is a great data source option that you can consider when you need to store hundreds of thousands of data rows when using your PowerApp. However, it has a few downsides, including additional premium license requirements for end-users to access SQL data. In addition, setting up your PowerApp with a new Microsoft SQL environment can be costly if it was initially built to interface with an existing SQL database. Therefore, it is better to opt for Dataverse when you want to store large volumes of data.
Microsoft Dataverse, also called Common Data Service, is the best option if you need to store large volumes of data. It has scaling capabilities and therefore is a great data source option. One of the key differences between Dataverse and other options is that it is a relational database like Microsoft SQL. Therefore, it allows you to form relationships and lookups at other data tables. However, it can be quite expensive as it requires premium licenses.
Pros And Cons Of Using Microsoft Power Apps
Some advantages of using Microsoft Power Apps.
- You can integrate Power Apps with Microsoft Flow or Power Automate.
- It is an alternative to info-path forms and you can use it to create responsive custom forms and connect them to different data sources.
- Power Apps have a responsive UI and support mobile devices as well.
- It can integrate with Office 365, Microsoft Power Automate, and Power BI and can easily get data in and out of SharePoint, Excel, or any other 365 apps that the business depends on.
- Power Apps can connect to many data sources like SQL, SharePoint, Power BI, Excel, Ms Access, and more.
- You can easily make apps within seconds using fast track mode if you have an Excel background and logic concept.
- Power Apps has drag-and-drop capabilities and works as a PowerPoint. Therefore, it does not require CSS writing.
Some disadvantages of using Microsoft Power Apps.
- Though it is possible to run multiple app instances in play mode, you can only run one instance in edit mode.
- You cannot publish apps developed using Power Apps in the Win Store, Apps Store, or Google Play. It has a separate app for android and iOS through which you can access the power apps developed in the Office 365 Platform.
Microsoft Power Platform With Dynamics 365 Business Central
Dynamics 365 Business Central is an Enterprise Resource Planning solution that aims to help small and medium-sized businesses to grow. Through seamless Office 365 and Power Platform integration, you can stay productive by completing tasks using familiar products. Additionally, Microsoft Power Platform provides Dynamics 365 Business Central users with tools that help them build no/low code applications, visualize data, and automate processes, all with real-time data. Furthermore, this integration provides endless scenarios where users can easily create apps, interact with real-time data dashboards and automate processes.
Additionally, the Business Central Virtual table, a virtual data source in Microsoft Dataverse, enables you to create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) operations from Microsoft Dataverse and Microsoft Power Platform. However, since these data sources reside in the Business Central itself, you should make them available as virtual tables in Microsoft Dataverse to enable CRUD operations on them.
Microsoft Power Apps VS Traditional App Development Approaches
As more and more developers begin to shift to Power Apps, we may wonder what the differences are between traditional app development and Power App development. Though each has its strengths and weaknesses, we have listed a few differences in various fields.
Development using PowerApps is much easier and faster when compared to traditional approaches as it does not require extensive coding skills. Traditional methods, on the other hand, require specialized app development skills.
User Interface Customization
Power Apps has all the commonly used controls, and new ones are added regularly. However, traditional app development is a better option if you want more detailed UI customization. It has many granular controls for page design, user experience and an extensive controls library.
Power Apps supports mobile and tablets across all platforms, whereas traditional app development requires additional framework support like Bootstrap to achieve a responsive design.
Power Apps can integrate with many out-of-the-box connectors under Microsoft technology. On the other hand, traditional app development requires significant effort and third-party products with connectors for integration.
Power Apps will have to capture business logic as custom REST APIs and interact with external web pages while maintaining context for complex business applications. However, traditional app development frameworks provide complete flexibility and are much easier to extend.
Power Apps integrates with Power Automate and simplifies decision-making processes by providing notifications, collecting data, and automating approvals. In contrast, traditional app development approaches cannot integrate with other workflow engines, requiring custom implementation.
Top Microsoft Power Platform Alternatives
Neptune DXP is a leading low-code app development platform that easily digitizes and optimizes business processes and user interfaces at a large scale. It offers enterprise mobility and the best low-code app development for SAP customers. Furthermore, it also provides IT departments with the best tools to build the apps they need.
Neptune DXP provides a fast, cost-effective, and future-proof way of industrializing custom application development, especially SAP Fiori and SAP mobile applications. It turns IT organizations into an app factory, saving time and money on enterprise app development, app integration, and enterprise app operations.
ELMA365 is a low-code Business Process Management (BPM) platform that accelerates business automation. It enables automation of corporate processes, creation of custom‑built CRMs, and delivers business apps 3 times faster and using less programming. Furthermore, ELMA365 allows you to integrate BPM and RPA without any coding requirements. As a result, it enables you to quickly and easily automate front-office and back-office processes, thus making your day-to-day processes much more efficient. Additionally, you can use software robots to effortlessly integrate existing IT systems and automate repetitive tasks like data validation, document scanning, and filling out screen forms. This makes your employees free from routine tasks, thus increasing business efficiency.
OutSystems is one of the most popular low-code platforms designed to help users build and deliver better and faster apps. It combines the power of low-code development with advanced mobile and enterprise integration capability to help users visually develop and manage their entire app portfolio and stage interdependent apps and components. It further allows seamless integration of existing systems and streamlines DevOps processes.
Vinyl is the first no-code enterprise app development platform. It allows you to create beautiful and powerful applications and charts from multiple data sources, including complex analytics, all on the same screen without writing any code. Furthermore, using this platform will help you unleash limitless innovations across all levels of your enterprise. You can leverage existing systems and applications data to deliver robust business apps with dynamically responsive designs and a modern, flexible UI. In short, VINYL empowers business analysts and IT professionals to build, iterate, and deploy real-time applications within a few days and turn web and mobile into one.
Quickbase is a low-code app development platform that unites organizations and IT teams by enabling technical problem solvers of any background to work together to safely, securely and sustainably create an ecosystem of applications. It also delivers workflows and real-time visibility across all operations. Furthermore, Quickbase allows you to extend and connect data, processes, and workflows to drive deeper insights. It also provides automation across complex processes and disparate systems. In short, Quickbase helps businesses accelerate continuous innovation of unique processes by allowing citizen development at a large scale across one common platform.
Top Use Cases Of Microsoft Power Platform
Here are some practical use cases of the Microsoft Power Platform-
Achieve Operational Excellence In Financial Service Sector
- Card Scanning
Microsoft Power Apps, with its camera control support and Vision API, enables business card scanning using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and translates the elements in the text and includes them in the CRM contact list. Traditionally, this process needed manual assistance or third-party app assistance.
- Capturing Meeting Summary And Notes
Banks and other financial firms use Power Apps to create applications that show users the meeting they are involved in and allow them to capture meeting notes and create follow-up actions, all in the same module. Furthermore, Microsoft 365 allows organizations to summarize the company background and meet attendees concisely.
- Automating Manual Processes
Organizations rely on Power Apps to create digital forms that clients can fill out through any mobile device. This information is automatically updated within the central database using Power Automate and can be securely stored, accessed, and updated as needed.
Accelerate Growth In Automotive Sector
- Increase Organizational Productivity
In case of a post-accident claim, companies can use Power Apps to facilitate the creation of a mobile-first platform where you can submit all the necessary information using a secure sign-in. For example, it would include all the fields required for a quick assessment and details about the incident and images of the damage caused.
- Seamless Mobility Across the Board
With the help of Power Automate, companies can create an automated email through Office 365 for claims processing stating the specifics of the repair work quotes. Then, you can use the same automated system to send the approval on quotes through a confirmation email to the selected garage and policyholders to facilitate the completion of repairs.
- Enhanced Customer Experience
Businesses can use Power Automate to conduct surveys to record customer experience and feedback on both the claims process and garage repairs, thus enhancing customer service and satisfaction levels. Additionally, you can use Power BI to generate granular reports on CX and provide detailed insights on the volume of claims processed, costs incurred, the extent of damage, vehicle model, garage satisfaction rating, and so on.
Enhancing Data Management And Mitigating Risks In Healthcare Sector
- Centralized Communication
Leveraging Microsoft’s Common Data Services (CDS) alongside Power Apps will allow medical staff to access medical records from Outlook, One Drive, Excel sheets, Dynamics 365, SharePoint & many more. This easy access allows care providers to share vital data anytime and anywhere.
- Real-time Data Visualization
Hospitals can use power BI-based solutions to gain valuable insights into the number of beds available and the number of supplies needed over a centralized location to enhance their good decision-making capabilities.
- Increased Operational Efficiency
Several tasks like patient onboarding, online registrations, clinical handovers, payment processing, and many more can be automated using Power Apps.
Security In Microsoft Power Platform
Power Platform provides professionals and non-professional developers with the ability to quickly and easily create end-to-end business solutions. Unfortunately, this results in major security risks, and Power Platform eliminates these risks by providing industry-leading protection.
With more organizations transitioning towards cloud computing, more employees working remotely, and customer demands soaring. As a result, the traditional on-premise app security is no longer enough. Power Platform provides a cloud-native, multi-tiered, defense-in-depth security solution for businesses to solve this crisis. Therefore, national security agencies, financial institutions, and health care providers entrust Power Platform with the most sensitive information.
Power Platform service is governed by the Microsoft Online Services Teams and the Microsoft Enterprise Privacy Statement. Furthermore, it follows the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), strict practices that support security assurance and compliance requirements. Some of the common security concepts for all the services included in Power Platform are as follows-
- The Power Platform service architecture, or the flow of information throughout the system.
- Authentication, or how users gain access to Power Platform services.
- Connection and authentication of data sources, or how Power Platform services connect to data sources and gain access to data.
- Data storage in Power Platform, or how data is protected, whether at rest or in transit between systems and services.
Microsoft Power Platform Licensing And Pricing – An Overview
Microsoft 365 provides a comprehensive platform that allows ease of use and customization. As a result, it includes some of the capabilities found in Power Platform. If you have a Microsoft 365 license, you will be able to get the following capabilities as part of your license.
- You can use PowerApps to create Canvas apps with standard ‘free’ connectors.
- Use Power Automate to execute flows within the daily API limits with standard ‘free’ connectors.
- You can use dataverse for Teams, a scaled-down version of Common data services, to build rich apps running inside Microsoft Teams within the size and constraints limits.
- Use Power Virtual Agents for Teams, a scaled-down version of Power Virtual Agents that runs inside the Microsoft Teams client.
- Customize SharePoint/Microsoft lists using Power Apps.
- Use Power BI professional if you have Microsoft Office 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 E5 licenses.
In case you require additional licenses, here are a few scenarios.
Power BI Licensing
Power BI licensing is straightforward and comes in three editions- free, professional and premium.
- Free is limited to building reports and dashboards for yourself and embedding them in the Dataverse for Teams.
- Professional version gives you the ability to share reports and dashboards in your organization through the Power BI service and embed it into any applications within the capacity limit. It is licensed per user and costs $10/user/month (if you have Office 365 or Microsoft 365 E5).
- Premium is useful for an organization with many users where licensing per user would become cost-prohibitive, for organizations with large reporting needs, and those with larger and dedicated compute capacity needs. You can purchase this plan on a per-user basis ($20/user/month) or in dedicated scenarios starting at $4,900/month. However, most organizations under 500 users would likely choose the per-user pricing.
PowerApps licensing is more elaborate and has three distinct user interfaces: Power Apps Canvas, Power Apps Model-Driven, and PowerApps Portals.
- Power Apps Canvas
They are free form apps where you can create mobile applications using standard free connectors available in Microsoft 365 environment.
- Power Apps Model Driven
They take a data-driven and component-focused approach to app development. However, the design is limited to predefined layouts and components and is mostly used for Dynamics CRM apps and Customer Engagement applications.
- Power Apps Portals
These apps address the need to create externally-facing web portals like communities and customer services portals with various ways to identify users or browse content anonymously. They are a rebranded version of Dynamics Portals.
So, when you need a larger capacity, a premium connector, want to build a model-driven app or a portal, you need a PowerApps licensing. You can get three types of licenses- per-app-plan, per-user-plan, and consumption-based plan (pay-as-you-go).
- PowerApps Per App Plan
In contrast to the name, this plan provides a license per user per app with a maximum of one application. So, for example, if you have 30 applications in your tenant, but a portion of your users only need access to one of those apps, you can license a part of your users based on a per-app model. This plan allows you to use Dataverse CDS as a data source with basic capacity and costs $5/user/per app/month.
- PowerApps Per User Plan
This plan allows unlimited apps and provides a license per user per month. In addition, it gives you the right to use Dataverse CDS as a data source with a larger capacity and costs $20/user/month.
- PowerApps Consumption-Based Plan (Pay-As-You-Go)
This is a new plan and is extremely useful for organizations not yet ready to fully commit to user-based licenses. The licenses are dynamically billed per active user/month in this plan.
Power Automate Licensing
PowerApps is also extendable to add more capacity, higher limits, and access to premium connectors. Here is how.
- Power Automate Per User Licensing
This allows individual users to create unlimited flows with premium connectors according to their needs. However, you need a license to activate the flow, meaning if one user creates a flow and someone else activates the flow, they also need to be licensed either individually or through a per-flow plan. This plan costs $15/user/month.
- Power Automate Per User with Attended RPA
This provides you with an attended RPA (use of UI Flows). It also includes 5000 service credits for AI Builder and costs $40/user/month.
- Power Automate Per Flow Plan
This allows unlimited users to use a flow. However, you need a minimum purchase of 5 flows, and it costs $100/flow/month (With a minimum of $500/month).
Microsoft Power Platform lays out exciting possibilities and implications. It is a complete package that enables businesses to build apps, discover critical insights and automate business processes. It is a tool that you can leverage to enhance your organization’s goals and promote long-term cost savings. Furthermore, it allows you to transform your digital workspace by optimizing your team’s day-to-day work experience with some of the best tools.