Microsoft introduced PowerApps at its annual Convergence EMEA business conference in Barcelona this week. Designed with employees, professional developers, and IT departments in mind, PowerApps is a new service that enables employees to create the mobile business apps they need to get work done. Available as a preview, PowerApps has the look and feel of an Office application and, conceptually at least, appears to sit at the intersection of Excel, Access, and the now defunct InfoPath.
A decade or so ago, the knowledge worker's tools of the trade were likely to be a hefty laptop or desktop computer running Windows XP and Microsoft Office. Voice and pen input were the sexy new features of the day, but Excel and Access power users didn't much care for these superfluous distractions. Fast-forward to 2015, and some will say that everything has changed. But has it really?
We use our smartphones and tablet computers on the go to keep work activities moving along, but despite the mobile revolution, many corporate knowledge workers still return to a large screen – typically attached to a Windows-based PC – to complete their day-to-day business tasks. Spreadsheets, databases, forms, and corporate web applications built for the "PC era" persist everywhere. This is because adapting them to sit natively within a mobile-centric, app-centric world is a costly and time-consuming activity that requires specialized developer knowledge and know-how.
With the introduction of PowerApps, Microsoft is offering organizations a way forward. Using a Microsoft Office-like experience, employees can quickly and easily create apps that work on any device. Think of PowerApps as the product of a surrogacy agreement between Excel, Access, and InfoPath. Professional developers can start with a blank canvas if they wish, but Microsoft is providing a collection of templates to help business users' learning curve, plus a visual designer to introduce rules-driven workflow into the mix.
PowerApps can be built using built-in data connections or those managed by the corporate IT department. Microsoft maintains that any savvy Office user can build an app that connects to cloud services, such as Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Dropbox, and OneDrive. Connections to on-premise information management platforms and systems of record are also supported, with the company citing SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle databases, and SAP as examples.
If PowerApps delivers on its promise, it could be used by business professionals to plug the enterprise app gap that exists within many large enterprises. But in so doing, the thought of uncontrollable app-sprawl raises its ugly head. But fear not, because Microsoft has this covered if organizations subscribe to the enterprise plan of the Azure App Service Environment.
Business Strategy for Enterprise Mobile App Development, IT0022-000388 (June 2015)
Richard Edwards, Principal Research Analyst, Enterprise Mobility & Productivity
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