A dive into Microsoft Power Platform
Microsoft Power Platform is a family of four separate applications which can be used individually to leverage their specific strengths and capabilities or combined to deliver anything from tactical departmental solutions to enterprise-wide business applications.
Let’s start with a high-level overview of each of the four applications and their individual capabilities before looking at how they work together to form a powerful framework for building business applications.
Power BI is a user-friendly, self-service and robust data analytics and visualisation tool that can connect to a broad range of data sources including Excel spreadsheets, SharePoint lists, Oracle databases or data in an SAP or Salesforce application. A Power BI desktop application builds data models and transforms your business data into visualisations and reports while the online Power BI service securely delivers the interactive, immersive dashboards and reports to users. Power BI is also available on mobile devices and tablets that facilitate users to make informed decisions from anywhere.
Power Apps helps businesses build high-productivity business applications quickly for both web and mobile devices with minimal coding, reducing the app-building cycle duration from many months to just a few days or weeks. It can connect to over 200 content and data sources including Microsoft SharePoint, Excel, Azure, SQL Server and social media applications.
Power Apps is entirely cloud-based and can leverage mobile device features like microphones, cameras and GPS. Power Apps supports continuous improvement by creating a closed-loop process where the data contained in the Power Apps can be returned to the systems and can be analysed by Power BI.
Power Automate is an intelligent process automation solution that enables organisations to automate everything from basic tasks to end-to-end business processes. With the capability to connect over 100 data sources, Power Automate can collect data, send notifications and create, use and share workflows. Power Automate processes can be triggered manually at the press of a button, on a scheduled basis or automatically by an event within another application such as SharePoint.
Power Virtual Agents
Power Virtual Agents empowers teams to easily create bots using a guided, no-code graphical interface without the need for data scientists or developers. It eliminates the gap between the subject matter experts and development teams, and the long latency between teams recognising an issue and updating the bot to address it.
The Common Data Service
Whilst powerful in their own right, the magic of Power Platform is in the way data integration is managed through the Common Data Service (CDS). The CDS manages all data generated by all applications built on the Power Platform; for example, data associated with an app to track training qualifications can be shared with another app built for project management to ensure employee skills align to a project’s requirements.
Integration with Third-Party and Legacy Business Applications
Although the CDS is home to data from an incredible array of business use cases, Microsoft has created hundreds of connectors that provide out-of-the-box data integration, not just to Microsoft services (e.g., SharePoint, Microsoft 365, LinkedIn), but to many popular (and some obscure) third-party services as diverse as Twitter, WordPress, Salesforce, Facebook, and Basecamp.
In keeping with the no-code / low-code philosophy that underpins the entire platform, these connectors allow users and developers alike to splice together data found in the CDS with data resident throughout third-party solutions and legacy business applications. It then leverages that data as part of the interactive user experience through PowerApps, or to visualise and model it through Power BI. The platform further provides the ability for developers to create custom data connectors to services for which an out-of-the-box connector does not yet exist.
Where does SharePoint Fit?
For many organisations, SharePoint has been the go-to solution for no-code / low-code business application development in the enterprise and smaller organisations alike. With over a decade of experience implementing SharePoint and developing custom SharePoint solutions for our clients, we are often asked at ImageFast about the use cases in which we’d recommend SharePoint and the different use cases in which we’d advocate for aPaaS in general and the Power Platform specifically. The answer is simple:
SharePoint is about documents, files, and content. Use it to collaborate and store your content.
Power Platform is about data, intelligent automation, application development, business intelligence, and visualisation. Use it to run your business.
Of course, Microsoft is developing the technology in increasingly complementary ways, establishing strong links between the two and with Microsoft 365 services such as Microsoft Teams. Because all are now running on Azure, the possibilities to extend the capabilities of each into each other are boundless.