Becoming a citizen developer might seem like an impossible task, but with the right tools, the first step becomes infinitely easier. In this blog, you’ll learn all about the different tools available on the Microsoft Power Platform to help you and your organization on its journey toward citizen development.
How does one become a citizen developer in the first place? Ideally, your citizen developers have a passion for improving the way your business works and an understanding that you can leverage technology to help make those improvements.
From there, it’s all about understanding the toolsets that can help make your team’s ideas a reality. This primer will give you a high-level understanding of each product on the Microsoft Power Platform, as well as when you might leverage each technology. Let’s dig in.
Using PowerApps for Citizen Development
Microsoft PowerApps are low-code, mobile-ready applications that can run in any browser and on (almost) any mobile device. They are meant to be the user interface to any of your data repositories or workflows, so you won’t store information in your PowerApps long term.
When you’re thinking about making a PowerApp, your use case should be all about reading, writing, deleting or otherwise manipulating your business data. The “Power” behind PowerApps, and the reason this is an attractive tool for citizen developers, is that the interface is all drag and drop for adding built-in controls to your App.
This is a “low-code solution,” because all these controls, and the behavior that happens when you click or tap something, can be manipulated by a formula language designed using the same format as Excel formulas. If you’re already a whiz at Excel, you’re ramping up your knowledge for creating PowerApps is a very easy path.
There are two main flavors of PowerApps: “Canvas Apps” and “Model Apps.”
Canvas Apps are the typical apps you would leverage if you use PowerApps with the license that comes with Office 365. They come with the intuitive “drag-and-drop” interface mentioned above, and there are over 200 data connectors you can leverage to connect to and manipulate your data.
For example, you could easily create a PowerApp that connects to your organization’s LinkedIn account on one screen, and its Twitter account on another, and then use some simple formulas to post a news item to both.
Model Apps are the types of PowerApps you would create if licensed for Dynamics 365. Developers typically build these Apps from a data model that lives inside of Dataverse (the built-in data repository for Dynamics, which they expanded to allow users to create any data model they want). Microsoft built Model Apps on the Dynamics solution builder that they rolled into the PowerApps platform.
This can be a bit confusing since it seems like there are two separate ways to build PowerApps. If you’re a beginner, I recommend sticking with the Canvas Apps unless you are already familiar with building applications in Dynamics.
The Power Automate Workflow
Power Automate is your workflow and automation engine for the Power Platform. Sure, reading and writing data is fun, but what should happen to that data after you finish manipulating it? Should you send an approval? Are there specific conditions you need to satisfy before writing the data to its data source? This is where Power Automate comes into play.
Here’s a good example: A client recently wanted the ability to pull the latest Canadian- to- US currency value on a daily basis and write it to their SQL Table. With Power Automate, I was able to pull in that value, run a specific calculation on the value, and write it to SQL in just a few actions.
This “Flow”* executes on a timer to run every day at a specific time and automates something that a person had to do manually every single day. It’s a GUI-based workflow engine, so you can see exactly the actions performed, as well as the inputs and outputs to each action when they run.
*Note: Microsoft used to call Power Automate Microsoft Flow, but they renamed it to standardize the “Power” in Power Platform across their products. You may still hear people refer to these specific workflows as Flows in documentation or training.
Using PowerBI as a Citizen Developer
Your executives — especially your CFO — love PowerBI. It is the Power Platform tool for reporting on and calculating your business organization data to provide insights into what is happening across your organization. PowerBI allows you to create dashboards and applications to get a view into the areas of your business that are pertinent for maintaining an understanding of the metrics most valuable to you and your executives.
PowerBI is the replacement for SQL reporting, so if your organization relied on that or Cognos, or any other business intelligence tools, your learning curve for getting into PowerBI should be relatively easy.
PowerBI is another drag-and-drop tool, where you can add different components to your dashboard (or combine multiple dashboards into an application), to provide different views on different data. It includes the typical components (tables, charts and others), or you can expand it even further via custom visuals available for download through AppSource (in other words, a Word Cloud visual or custom KPI visuals). You can even insert a PowerApp into your dashboard to provide your users the ability to write data directly from PowerBI dashboards.
How Can You Get Started?
The best next step for you on your citizen developer journey with the Power Platform is to understand what licensing you have for with these products. You can begin learning them with either a trial license, or, if you have an Office 365 license, you can begin to leverage these products as well. Check with your IT group to find out what you have access to, and start your journey toward becoming a citizen developer today.