Old Dog, New Tricks
I am not ashamed to admit it. Quite a few years ago I helped organisations in Australia solve business problems with Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel. In those days these tools gave us an affordable way to address data capture, process automation and reporting outside of monolithic systems. It was great. They were so easy to use, but able to be pushed to do complex things as well.
The availability of such tools to a business arguably fosters a lot of innovation in the workplace. Unfortunately, an era of using these tools has also left growing organisations with landscapes littered with small, ageing applications that trap business-critical knowledge in silos, don’t support fluid and connected processes, and are often unstable. From an IT management perspective, they typically represent risk, headaches and impediments.
Waiting for Godot
Within the enterprise space, the answer to this for a while has been to invest in large-scale ERP, ECM, BPM and CRM platforms and their 3rd party extensions. Whilst this may be viable for organisations with larger budgets and the ability to adopt complex technology, it does not address those who do not. And perhaps more importantly, it fails to offer the value of innovation that comes from enabling power users to derive their own connected apps when it’s appropriate or speeding up the ability of IT teams to service the application needs of the business.
Like many, I have been watching the emergence of Microsoft’s Power Platform (Microsoft PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, Microsoft Power BI, Common Data Service etc.) with cautious optimism. The challenge has always been for Microsoft to enable the creation of apps to extend core systems with as much ease and capability as they find in the Excel, Access and Microsoft SharePoint Site options, but do it in a way that allows for better centralised management, support and exposure.
Wham. Bam. Thank you!
After somewhat quiet starts these tools have emerged in a few short years as a powerhouse of capability, most of which remains bundled into core Office 365 and Dynamics 365 subscriptions. Connecting data sources, building workflows and generating desired user interfaces across devices are all baked in to the PowerApps design experience, with Flow and Power BI doing their bit. And with the pace of improvement Microsoft has kept up, the platform is able to tackle increasingly complex problems.
I am seeing more and more companies start the clean-up of the old silos and list apps, or begin their new app projects, with the Microsoft Power Platform. The power suite of tools is allowing us to do what we used to do, but more cost effectively, and without having to worry about custom development or creating a mess that needs to be cleaned up later. What’s also motivating is that the ease of use of the tools allows us to focus more of our investment energy on good information design and user adoption. The ‘cloud era’ has brought us a long way from where we were as little as ten years ago.
While not all of this revolution’s value is always clear, I for one am completely stoked we are now able to access these kinds of toolkits within our productivity environment. I would encourage any organisation still struggling with paper forms, elaborate coded spreadsheets, Access databases and minefields of small SharePoint apps to take a very serious look. You can learn more here.