How to Use Power Apps to Design Custom Business Applications

By Scott Frappier | April 29, 2024

Using Power Apps to design and develop custom business applications empowers you to simplify and automate processes and access more technology solutions within your organization.

In this blog, we will give you an overview of how to create applications using Power Apps. We will also highlight key strategies and considerations for you to think about so you can optimize your app development journey.

The Benefits of Building Custom Business Applications with Power Apps

Power Apps are part of the larger ecosystem that is the Microsoft Power Platform. The Power Platform is a powerful low-code tool that allows you to build strong business systems, build customized and branded reports, automate processes, and create chatbots to help with your customer service processes. Power Apps is a tool that lets you build custom applications that can help you and your team work more efficiently. In fact, Stoneridge built a Power App to help streamline time-entry and time-off requests internally.

Here are some key reasons why you should consider Power Apps and the larger suite of tools in Power Platform:

  1. Rapid Development of Business Systems: The Power Platform empowers users to swiftly create applications using low-code or no-code methods.
  2. Expanded Resource Pool: By embracing the Power Platform, organizations can extend development responsibilities beyond traditional developers. Simply put, you don't need to be an expert coder to build apps with Power Apps.
  3. Scalable Database Architecture with Dataverse: The platform features a highly scalable database architecture which incorporates predefined table formats aligned with the common data model.
  4. Seamless Integration Between Tools: All components of the Power Platform—Power BI, Power Automate, and Power Apps—integrate cohesively and effectively.
  5. Reduced Development Costs: Leveraging a diverse team of resources at varying skill levels reduces the overall cost of application development.
  6. Deployment Across Multiple Targets: The Power Platform supports deployment to diverse targets, including mobile devices, PCs, and web browsers.

Potential Hurdles of Building Custom Business Applications with Power Platform

While it's important to keep the benefits of Power Apps top of mind, it's equally important to address any potential concerns that may come up from you or your team. Some main ones include:

  • Polarizing Concept for Development Teams: Transitioning from high-code development methodologies to low-code or no-code environments can be challenging for experienced developers.
  • Introducing New Resources with Varied Technical Backgrounds: Aligning diverse skill sets and expertise levels within a cohesive development framework may require extensive communication and training efforts.
  • Unrealistic Platform Expectations: Manage your expectations and consult a partner like Stoneridge Software to see how it can work for your business.
  • Focus on the Internal Systems of Your Organizations: While it's possible to create external-facing apps, user experience and deployment methods may pose challenges, especially for organizations targeting consumer markets. Focus on using Power Apps for your team.
  • Licensing Considerations: Implementing the Power Platform requires understanding licensing models and associated costs. Reach out to Stoneridge Software to learn more.

Navigating these potential issues requires thoughtful consideration and strategic planning. Assess your development needs, align your team on how to move forward, manage expectations, and provide clarity wherever possible.

The Benefits of Power Apps Outweigh the Risks

Any new undertaking comes with challenges, and the Power Platform is no different. However, it's a very useful tool that offers unparalleled advantages for organizations that want to create applications in-house.

Power Apps has a user-friendly interface and robust functionalities that allow you to create applications to suit your business needs quickly and efficiently. Let's dive into how you can optimize this process and get started with Power Apps.

Designing Custom Business Applications Begins with Organizing Data

When using Power Apps, start with a comprehensive plan focused on data requirements and process alignment. By strategically approaching the planning phase, organizations can lay a solid foundation for successful application development. Let's break down the key steps to guide this initial phase:

Custom Business Applications Planning Data

  • Start with the Business Process Need, Not the Technology: Identify and prioritize the business process you want to build a power app for before you start building it.
  • Identify What Data You'd Like to Capture and How: Define the input and output data elements essential for the identified business process. Consider the type of data (e.g., text, numeric) and the methods for data capture (e.g., manual input, automation) to support the desired functionalities effectively.
  • Walk Through the Steps to Move Data into Different Buckets/Stages: Document and visualize the business process flow, including stages or states that data will transition through. Define data states (e.g., draft, approved) and identify user roles or groups involved at each stage.
  • Finalize the Output Process: Determine the desired outcomes or outputs of the business process. Clarify whether the process is purely functional or if the data generated will be used for reporting, decision-making, or further process enhancements.

Taking a data-centric approach during the planning phase ensures that Power Apps is aligned with business needs and optimized for efficient data management and process automation.

Determine How You Want Your Custom Business Application to Look and Feel

Once your data is organized, the next step is determining how you want to present your Power App and establish how stakeholders will use it. Ensuring your application has a user-friendly interface and navigation is crucial to ensuring it achieves its intended purpose. Here are some key considerations:

  • Control Placement and Arrangement: Determine the layout and formatting of controls such as text boxes, labels, and grids on the screen. Focus on optimizing the arrangement for intuitive user interaction and efficient data entry.
  • Device Compatibility: Decide whether the application should be designed for a single device or multiple devices. Consider responsiveness and adaptability to ensure a seamless user experience across different platforms and screen sizes.
  • Automation in Data Entry: Define automation rules for data entry processes. Determine which actions should be triggered automatically as the end user interacts with the application, streamlining workflows and reducing manual effort.
  • Field Requirements and Conditionality: Identify required fields and their conditional dependencies during data entry. Ensure that users are guided appropriately through the process, with clear indicators for mandatory information and contextual prompts for conditional inputs.
  • Embedding Data Across Environments: Explore opportunities for embedding data in various areas of your environment, such as Power BI reports or Microsoft Teams. Leverage integration capabilities to enhance data visibility and accessibility across different platforms.

Understanding these aspects of data design is essential to creating an engaging and functional user interface.

Identify Your Ideal Platform: Canvas Apps vs Model-Driven Apps

When it comes to building applications in Power Apps, choosing between Canvas Apps and Model-Driven Apps can significantly impact the design and functionality of your solution. Let's dive into each type to understand their similarities and differences to help you make an informed decision. The graphic below offers you a snapshot, but we will dig a bit deeper into them below.

Power Apps Canvas apps vs Model driven apps

Canvas Apps

Canvas Apps represent a flexible approach to application development, offering a "what you see is what you get" design methodology. These apps allow developers and creators to have granular control over the user experience by placing controls such as text boxes, labels, and grids directly on a canvas. With Canvas Apps, you can easily customize the appearance, add colors, and define interactions.

This flexibility is particularly useful for creating phone and tablet-based applications where responsive layouts are essential. One important thing to note is Canvas Apps require a lot of consideration of layout design and responsive behavior. This is to ensure optimal user experiences across various screen sizes.

Model-Driven Apps

On the other hand, Model-Driven Apps offer a rapid development approach focusing on structured data presentation. You can quickly design and populate forms, views, and grids by placing fields in predefined layouts.

While Model-Driven Apps streamline the creation of data-centric applications, they provide less control over layout customization than Canvas Apps. The layout and formatting are predefined, emphasizing efficiency and consistency in design.

Model-driven apps excel in scenarios where data organization and structured navigation are paramount, such as CRM applications within Dynamics 365. These apps inherently support multi-device deployment, adapting the interface seamlessly to various screen sizes without additional customization.

In short, you should determine what your needs are before selecting which type of application you want to create.

Build Iteratively and Often

The key to successful application development is building iteratively and frequently engaging end-users to align expectations with the evolving reality. Here are a few best practices to consider:

Build Smartly to Avoid the Biggest Mistake

One of the most common pitfalls in application development is failing to iterate and involve end-users throughout the process. Attempting to build an entire application based solely on initial learning without frequent check-ins can lead to mismatches between expectations and outcomes. What might seem simple from a developer's perspective could prove challenging or counterintuitive for end-users. To mitigate this, it's crucial to continuously engage stakeholders, report progress, and refine designs based on ongoing feedback.

Embrace Imperfection and Incorporate User Perspectives

Acknowledging that no design is flawless, it's essential to incorporate user perspectives early and often. By soliciting feedback and aligning expectations with reality, you ensure that the final product meets user needs effectively. Testing different components iteratively and gathering user insights allow for adjustments that enhance usability and functionality. That will then lead to a more impactful application.

Implement Source Control: Track Changes for Progress

Throughout the iterative development process, employing source control is vital. Source control enables tracking changes, providing visibility into progress, and facilitating bug identification and resolution. Whether building a canvas or model-driven app, integrating source control ensures transparency and accountability. This will contribute to a smoother and more successful development journey.

Test Your Custom Business Applications

Testing is a critical phase in the Power Apps development lifecycle that ensures application reliability and functionality. It begins with unit testing during development, where developers meticulously examine formatting, data types, logic, and field interactions within the app. This granular level of testing helps identify and rectify issues early in the development process.

Moving to the testing environment, you should conduct process testing before proceeding to User Acceptance Testing (UAT). Process testing involves simulating end-to-end processes to verify that the app performs as expected. It's imperative to test the application on the type of devices commonly used by end users to ensure compatibility and usability.

As part of the documentation process, you should collaborate with users to define test cases that align with business needs. Users then execute these test cases within the app to validate its functionality and certify the app’s readiness to go live.

For larger applications, consideration should be given to load testing to simulate scenarios with multiple users accessing the app simultaneously. This type of testing helps identify potential performance bottlenecks and data integrity issues before the application is rolled out to production.

Mitigate Risks and Manage Issues with Your Custom Business Applications Go-Live

Now that your app is ready, you can go live with it. While that will be an exciting day for you and your team, it's important to remember that there still might be some bumps in the road and not get discouraged. Here are some best practices for going live with your Power App:

Avoid Fixing in Production

Resist the temptation to make fixes directly in the production environment. Real-world scenarios often diverge from best practices, necessitating caution when modifying live data. Whenever possible, replicate production environments in sandboxes for safe testing of changes.

Establish a Clear Chain of Command

Define a structured process for issue escalation. End users should report issues to their immediate managers, who then involve subject matter experts responsible for validating system functionality. Escalation may require engagement with internal or external design resources to diagnose and resolve complex issues.

Engage in Hands-On Leadership:

Actively participate in the go-live phase by immersing yourself in the operational environment. Direct engagement with end users and stakeholders helps streamline issue resolution and fosters collaboration toward achieving operational excellence.

Comprehensive Testing Approach

Conduct thorough testing at every stage, from unit tests during development to process testing, conference room pilots, and joint testing before UAT. Testing on devices commonly used by end users is essential to identify potential usability issues.

Prepare for Large-Scale Deployments

For large applications, consider load testing to simulate scenarios with multiple users accessing the system simultaneously. Identifying scalability issues before going live can prevent disruptions and ensure a seamless user experience post-launch.

Implementing these best practices during the go-live phase can significantly reduce risks associated with deploying new applications or systems. By prioritizing testing, establishing clear escalation procedures, and demonstrating proactive leadership, you can go live with confidence.

Want to Learn More About Power Apps?

Reach out to Stoneridge Software! Our team is dedicated to empowering you through comprehensive guidance and support.

Related Posts

Under the terms of this license, you are authorized to share and redistribute the content across various mediums, subject to adherence to the specified conditions: you must provide proper attribution to Stoneridge as the original creator in a manner that does not imply their endorsement of your use, the material is to be utilized solely for non-commercial purposes, and alterations, modifications, or derivative works based on the original material are strictly prohibited.

Responsibility rests with the licensee to ensure that their use of the material does not violate any other rights.

Start the Conversation

It’s our mission to help clients win. We’d love to talk to you about the right business solutions to help you achieve your goals.

Subscribe To Our Blog

Sign up to get periodic updates on the latest posts.

Thank you for subscribing!