Five Things To Consider While Building PowerApps

If you are in the Business Applications realm, you know what PowerApps is. When it started popping up innocently a few years ago, it was easily dismissed (actually, not even considered) by many because of how limited and broken it was. However, when Microsoft announced last year that PowerApps would become a part of Business Applications along with Dynamics 365, it was time to give it a little attention, if not a lot.

Within a matter of months however, it became a lot more prominent and relevant, and before we even realized how that even happened, it became a lovable force to reckon with! Well, not completely lovable because it still had major issues, but it showed everyone what it was capable of. (a lot!) For us Dynamics 365 maniacs, it showed us how it could plug holes created by Dynamics in an easy, quick and cost effective manner. Not only that, it made it so easy to build solutions that interact with many systems. In the Dynamics world, the word “Integration” played a major role when it came to making two or more systems talk. PowerApps, somehow, was managing to make integrations as we knew them seem not so rigid and difficult. (“just use a connector to connect to SharePoint..”)

With the sky literally being the limit, and possibilities being endless, a lot of us dived right into PowerApps development and started building “low code/no code” apps. Very soon, we learnt that low code/no code was somewhat of a lie ( :-)), but we will talk about that on a different day! What we did stick to was the default UI/UX PowerApps came with. That was and is (if you are still sticking to it) a bad idea! The default look is forgettable and irritating – bland, boxy, and mediocre. However, many folks who work in technology tend to shy away from colors, and anything beautiful. They tend to focus more on function – make things work rather than look good.

Why?

Why is it not important to put thought into how things look and feel in addition to how they work? Anyone who is developing an app in PowerApps has direct access to the UI/ UX, especially with canvas apps. Then why is it that we don’t want to enhance how the app looks? Not only that, it becomes really important that we make the entire experience pleasant. Remember, when we are using an app on the phone, we are literally using just A thumb to interact with the interface. Then why are we adding too many text boxes in our app, for example? In the grand scheme of things, we are not building an app for someone – we are making them more successful at their jobs. The app is just a gateway to their success, which comes from them being a lot more productive and efficient than they already are.

With that said, there is a lot more we can do to make apps a lot more user friendly with nicer UI/UX. Even if you are not a UI/UX person, you can still get inspired by the Internet, and create something much more pleasing to the eye, and easier to the thumb.

Do Not Use Default PowerApps Interface

Recently, a client of mine told me that one of his developers created a PowerApp that was “ugly as sin”. I couldn’t help but laugh. He said it not once, but twice! He was so upset about the design. The developer, who built the app, is a C# guy, so, one might say UI/UX is not his forte, to which i say why not? He doesn’t have to be a top notch designer but he can definitely make a few tweaks here and there to the god awful default interface and make it a lot more pleasant.

Default UI

Consider the default UI for a second.

BARF! Yes, that is the biggest sin right there. That UI should only be used if you want to burn holes through your end users’ eyes. If you are developing PowerApps, you need to promise yourself never to use the default look, controls and colors. How about changing some of the properties to make it completely different? Something that’s pleasant AND professional, and makes the user actually use the app.

Depending on what you are building, it is so easy to have a design that’s something like this:

Free design at pinspiry.com

There are lots of free designs and inspirations all over the Internet. Do some research before you start building the app, and start envisioning how you want the app to look.

Avoid Textboxes

For the love of god, don’t make people type with their thumbs! Every time they are designing and building an app for someone, they should first think about how they use an app, ANY app! How often does an app make you type? It’s needed only when, for example, someone is entering an address to go somewhere (Lyft), searching for something like restaurants (Yelp), or adding a comment to a post (Facebook).

In most cases, typing is absolutely minimal. In case of apps for business users, a “note”, “description” or “details” screen probably warrants a text box. Maybe first and last name too. But for the most part, textboxes can be avoided. Even in the case of multiline textboxes, a user can invoke the mic on the phone keyboard and speak their notes into the field. If you really want to eliminate that step (click) too, you can write an Azure function that uses the Speech to Text API to convert what you bark into the phone to words.

Dropdowns

BARF!

I prefer to avoid dropdowns too. Dropdowns are always two clicks – one to bring up the list of values, and the other to select a value. You can easily eliminate a click in this scenario by using a gallery in various creative ways. Also, dropdowns are ugly. 🙂

Avoid Clicks, Scrolls, Swipes

This applies to business users for sure. There is a general consensus around clicks, scrolls and swipes in that they are hated by practically everyone. “Don’t make me click so much!”, “Don’t make me scroll so much!” are common frustrations I hear from many. For this reason, when you are designing your screens and navigation, see how you can eliminate these actions. Should I keep adding fields on a screen and make it overly scrollable? Or can I use an overlay for some extra fields or options? How about I provide some sort of a menu on the footer so every user has access to all options all the time? [Hint: use reusable components] Depending on where the user is, can I provide them a menu of related entities so they can navigate to any related area with minimal clicks? (one!)

A lot of thought needs to go into this. We are creating an experience for the end user, not just screens with fields on them. Making them navigate away from where they are to get to somewhere else definitely causes frustrations that can be avoided easily.

Work With UI/UX Designers

If you have access to designers, please use them! Designers are awesome, and they can make an app look really slick with their creativity and talent. Sometimes customers have their own designers too. If they do, see if they can help you. In many cases, they would want control over the design of the app so the UI is consistent with their corporate branding, so it becomes even more important to work closely with them.

If you don’t have access to designers, and you think you are a dummy when it comes to design, just remember that there is help out there. All you have to do is ask.

Think Beyond Dynamics

If you are predominantly in the Dynamics 365 realm, it’s time to get a little uncomfortable and get out of the little bubble you’ve been living in for the longest time. Why? Because it’s amazing out there! Things that were not possible a few years ago with Dynamics are now easily doable with simple PowerApps and Flows. For example, a lot of people drive every day to meet their clients because of which they expect route optimization. A simple Flow can actually provide you that in your app using Google’s Transportation API. If your customers are asking for something that seems unreasonable (because you are still in the Dynamics bubble), step back, and research a bit before you say “it’s not possible” because it’s quite likely that not only is it possible, it can be achieved in a very quick and inexpensive manner too.

Bringing It All Together

At the end of the day, we should not forget that we are not just building an app so end users could enter data, we are building an experience that gives them access to the information they need, and make them successful at their jobs.

Save their thumbs and eyes!

Featured Image by picjumbo.com from Pexels

Zen And The Art Of Using PowerApps For Exceptional Customer Experience

There are several touch points that a customer or prospect goes through when they are inquiring or buying a product or service. These touch points can be with a sales person, technical engineer, financial adviser, retail store employees, field technician, and many others. Through all these touch points with the company’s employees, the customer is expecting to have a smooth, easy and great buying experience. For this to happen, all internal employees need to make sure that they provide the right information at the right time to their customers.

But do our employees have access to the right information, tools, and people to provide good and accurate information to the customer? Many times, it’s not even just about providing information to customers or prospects – our own employees may not be familiar with the process in place, and they themselves may need help in getting their questions answered to get comfortable with the process.

“What PowerPoint template should I use for my presentation with the prospect? There are so many!”

“Do we give discounts to not for profits?”

“My prospect is asking for a demo this week. How do i get technical sales involved?”

“Is there a document I can read to get familiar with our sales process?”

These are some questions that typically come up in a selling process. Note that these questions need answers from a subject matter expert internal to our company. Also, know that answers to these questions are ultimately relayed to the customer. What does that mean? A timely response to your own employee’s questions result in 1) your customer getting the right information in a timely manner, and 2) at least providing a satisfactory, if not exceptional customer experience.

Our employees, who accompany our customers in their customer journey, always have such questions. How do we make sure that they are empowered in every step of the customer journey? How do we make sure that they have access to the right information at their fingertips?

PowerApps + Chat bots

Let’s first talk about chat bots real quick and debunk some preconceived notions about them. Whenever i talk to people about chat bots, I realize that they automatically and immediately associate it with customer service – picture a customer wanting an update on their delivery status. They go to a website, start a chat, ask a question about  their delivery status, and boom! They immediately get a response back that was powered by a bot. It’s great that customer service for end consumers is the first thing that comes to people’s minds, however, chat bots can be used in several many scenarios besides just tier 1 customer service.

Let’s revisit one of the questions we posted above: “What PowerPoint template should I use for my presentation?”

An innocuous question asked by a sales person. Can we not have a bot answer that question for them?

Yes. Of course we can. Not just this, but many other process, product or service related questions.

What this means is that your employees are not emailing, texting or calling each other or their bosses to find the right information. In times of needs, a beloved bot can be at their service and help them out immediately!

A Financial Planner goes to an investor, institution or partner meeting and pulls up production-sales data on their mobile device. Can the Financial Planner ask the bot for recommendations  on next best action, product or investment approach?

Yes. Of course they can, and a bot will provide them with responses and guide them through the process.

A consumer walks into a retail store. If they want to know where the slim fit jeans are or where the new fall collection is, can they just walk up to a kiosk and ask these questions?

Yes. Of course they can.

The scenarios, people involved, and circumstances may be different, but a bot can instantly provide the right information with the right context.

So, how do i create a chat bot?

There are various ways you can create a chat bot. What we are talking about here is a very specific bot from QnA Maker.ai. Why are we talking about Qna Maker? Two reasons:

  1. It is a no code solution. Yes, you read that right – it does not require any coding.
  2. It can be surfaced easily in PowerApps through an out of the box connector

QnA Maker is perhaps one of the easiest chatbots out there. All you do is go to QnA Maker.ai, sign in with your microsoft account, and head to “Create a knowledge base”. The page walks you through some very quick and easy steps, and before you know it, your bot is ready!

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Once your QnA Maker chat bot is ready, you can use the QnA Maker connector in PowerApps to surface your bot in your app. Now, anyone, either on their phone, tablet or computer can access this bot to get answers to their questions!

In PowerApps, using the QnA Maker connector, we can surface this bot in our app so that anyone can access this knowledge base at any time, and get prompt responses.

Note: I will write another post with instructions on creating a Qna Maker bot and surfacing it in PowerApps. It is super easy though, and if you don’t want to wait for my post, head to QnAMaker.ai and try it out for yourself!

What is the experience like? See it for yourself.

Sales people, financial planners, field technicians, customers at a store kiosk – everyone has the ability to get their questions answered in a matter of seconds.

Who is it for?

Currently, PowerApps’ licensing does not allow for apps to be exposed to customers, and you must have an Office 365 login to access an app. This means that definitely internal employees can use this bot app to enhance customer experience. In addition, you can also have these apps in a kiosk or computer in a store, office branch or location where anyone (customers) can walk up to it and get answers to their questions. So, even though customers cannot access the app directly on their own devices, you can provide them the ability to “self-serve” at your business’s stores or locations using PoweApps on your devices.

Bringing it all together

Businesses of all sizes have various employees interacting with customers at several stages of their selling process. The goal of any business is not just to close a sale but while doing so, wow their customers and gain their trust for a long lasting relationship. None of this is possible if we don’t provide our own employees with the right knowledge and ability to help our customers. To enhance that experience, solutions like chat bots and PowerApps play a small, yet crucial role. What’s really interesting is that “no code/low code” (which are also no cost/low cost) platforms are becoming more and more viable solutions for many business scenarios, and PowerApps and QnA Maker (and many other) are fine examples of that.

If you are wanting to empower your employees with the right knowledge and abilities, definitely explore these platforms for your needs.

Embedding A Power BI Tile in A PowerApps App For Rich Analytics On The Go

The one thing that Microsoft’s business application platform does is create an amazing amalgamation of things brought from various sources. PowerApps, makes rapid development and deployment of mobile business apps easily achievable. What it also does , very beautifully and easily, is bring in very rich analytics and insights from Power BI, Microsoft’s business intelligence solutions that makes reporting and decision making a breeze.

If you have a lot of visualizations in Power BI, you can easily add them to your PowerApps app with literally a few clicks. Let’s see how.

In Your PowerApps canvas, go to the Insert menu option and select Controls. Scroll to the bottom of the Controls list to find Power BI Tile. Click that option to add it to the app canvas.

Once the tile is on the canvas, another pane opens up that asks you to choose a workspace, dashboard and a tile from that dashboard to be displayed in the PowerApps Power BI tile.

Set those values, and hey, your Power BI tile is now embedded in your PowerApps app! You can add as many Power BI tiles as you’d like.

 

Bringing It All Together

PowerApps has its own visualizations capabilities but they are extremely limited in what they can do and display. The ability to bring in Power BI tiles so easily gives access to very rich analytics. This also lets PowerApps developers use visualizations created by someone else – possibly someone on the data side who understands analytics needs of users better than the developers.