The three parts of Microsoft’s Power Platform have been taking shape in their own way for some time now, Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow). Each of them individually can be used to create powerful and versatile solutions to business pain points. Integrated as part of the Power Platform, however, they represent a revolution in empowering users to liberate data from their Enterprise Resource Planning system and beyond.
This new capability envisions non-technical users being able to create small, bespoke business tools, automate common "business as usual" tasks and visualise data in ways previously not possible. If you fall into the non-technical category of business user who’s been itching to get their hands on this kind of power, your previous attempts might have gotten you into the realms of Shadow IT. However, with Power Platform to achieve such self-service you won’t have to suffer the fate of Prometheus. You can get the power from the data gods without being punished for it.
Casting a Light on Shadow IT
We have previously written about Shadow IT and why it’s an issue for businesses. Although we specifically covered the example of financial planning spreadsheets, Shadow IT refers to any ad-hoc, improvised solution which is set up to handle a specific business problem, frequently in a slipshod way.
A Shadow IT solution falls outside a company’s technical standards and data governance policy. It comes about due to a gap in the capability of existing enterprise systems and an ambitious yet non-tech savvy team member. There are many problems caused by these ad-hoc systems, including lack of documentation, compromised system security and plain old glitches caused by poor technical implementation. Some estimates claim that on average up to half of IT resources in large companies fall into the category of Shadow IT.
The Microsoft Power Platform has the potential to radically diminish the scope and impact of this issue by allowing users to fabricate very specific and powerful solutions while at the same time not compromising data quality or security standards.
Why the Common Data Model is Important
The Common Data Model (CDM) supports the Microsoft Power Platform by standardising and centralising your data and making it available across your apps. The CDM is a set of standards established within Microsoft Azure that govern frequently used data elements. Before this standardisation, each tool and app had its own data structure, regardless of whether they were part of the Microsoft suite or not. This sort of siloing would mean that building pipelines between applications would often be a long and technically demanding process.
With the Common Data Model there is no need to manually stitch together different data structures, a technical hurdle that needed to be overcome before anything could be built to share data. It is now an afterthought that involves deciding whether or not any custom entities are required beyond the 120+ that come pre-configured and already cover the majority of useful data fields.
Build an App Without Coding in Power Apps
The Common Data Model is especially powerful when it comes to using Microsoft Power Apps. A suite of business apps can be created all focused on different problems within different departments. All of them will be using common elements without a database administrator ever being involved. Because of this, apps built using this framework will utilise best data practices, conveniently avoiding the pitfalls of Shadow IT and making it easier for everyone to adhere to a data governance framework.
Likewise, there is no need for an app developer to be involved when using Power Apps. Following the Power Platform model of radical emancipation for the non-technical user, Power Apps follow the principle of “if you need it, you can have it” in an entirely self-serve capacity. In situations where it may have been cost-prohibitive to go through an app development process, a bespoke app can be created by anyone simply familiar with the business logic involved.
Automating Your Own Workflow in Power Automate
A flowchart is much more universally understandable than endless lines of code. Previously known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate permits non-technical users to actively automate common, repetitive business tasks. This makes a tremendous amount of sense, because who best understands workflows than those who are actually performing them?
Previously, this process might have involved the drafting of Product Requirement Documents or going through lengthy consultations with developers in order to translate from business jargon into the technical specifics. With Power Automate, triggers, rules and pathways can be set up through an intuitive GUI. Over 250 connectors to an assortment of commonly used tools and apps enable effortless creation of workflows within and across system. This can all be within the prerogative of the stakeholder with the clearest business understanding of the problem being solved.
This is just a small example of how the Microsoft Power Platform can empower non-technical users to create functional solutions to technical problems that don’t become a Shadow IT liability. Watch our free webinar on Intelligent Automation to get a deeper understanding of what is possible as well as the direct benefits of implementing Microsoft Power Platform within your organisation: