Digital transformation with the Power Platform — it doesn’t have to be difficult
“Digital literacies: concepts, policies and practices” by Lankshear, Colin; Knobel, Michele (2008) says that “Digital Transformation is the novel use of digital technology to solve traditional problems.” In the country I work in, Finland, a Finnish language term that is used for digital transformation is more often than not ‘digitalisaatio’ which could translate to digitization, which in turn is “the process of converting information into a digital (i.e. computer-readable) format.” I’m not sure if it’s because of the language, but too often I’ve seen these two terms and definitions mixed up when talking about transforming a business with the help of digital tools and IT.
Digital transformation is all about problem solving using digital technology. I would emphasize the problem solving part here instead of the technology, since too often digital transformations are treated as just that — transforming the business processes into bits and bytes. If a business has problems, displaying those problems on a screen instead of a sheet of paper is not going to make those problems go away. To be fair, digital transformation should just drop the ‘digital’ part altogether. We have new tools available so we should use those new tools to develop our business, simple as that. This is why digital transformation partner companies must also be more about helping the customer succeed, rather than just providing technology. If you need medicine for your illness, wouldn’t you rather get a consultation from a doctor instead of just visiting the pharmacy?
“Why should we take our business to the cloud?” is something I’ve heard plenty of times. It’s a valid question from the customer. A company won’t be willing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of euros to do something that has no other value for them than being a new and shiny thing. You would probably not move to a big city apartment if you’re happily living in your small country home just for the hell of it. In this case, the cloud transformation should provide significant value for the customer i.e. solve a problem.
A cloud transformation is a big solution to a hopefully big problem. Maybe the scaling of the business in the next couple of years requires it or maybe the costs of the on-premise servers is too high. That is a train no customer will lightly hop on if the two sides don’t already have a good and trusting relationship.
But what if you already were using the cloud but you just didn’t realize it?
I’ve been involved with different Microsoft tech for 7–8 years now and it’s likely that anyone reading this has at least some experience with Microsoft tools (Not counting Windows, d’uh.) namely with Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office tools are currently being offered as different tiers of Office 365 subscriptions. This might not be anything new for you and it’s also likely that if you are using Office tools (Word, Excel) in your daily work, your company might have a licensing agreement for Office 365 subscriptions with a service provider. But what you might not be aware of is all the possibilities a simple Office 365 Enterprise (or Business) subscription plan may offer, on top of text editing and emails.
Microsoft Power Platform is a suite of tools mainly consisting of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow (and PowerBI). And yes, this suite is included in a variety of Office 365 subscriptions. So it means you can use it right away, for “free”! Would you also believe that almost everything, from applications to data and tools in the Microsoft cloud offering can be integrated and utilized as a comprehensive business development platform? Well, it’s not a question of believing or not, because that is what the Power Platform is all about.
Microsoft PowerApps is a solution to create low-code browser based applications to run on either desktop or mobile that offer access to data in Office 365 (Sharepoint) or Dynamics 365 (CE, Unified Operations) or even to popular 3rd party web/cloud applications such as Dropbox, Facebook, GitHub, Google Calendar and more. You can also access data from Azure storage or just plain SQL databases. With an advanced subscription plan, you can also create your own custom connectors to cloud or on-premise RESTful interfaces.
You might want to combine PowerApps with Microsoft Flow to provide automated workflows and business processes for handling that data in the services I just mentioned. If you already know what Azure Logic Apps are, you can think of Flow as similar, slightly simplified version of that.
Microsoft offers browser development environments for both PowerApps and Flow, where you are able to manage, design and script applications and share them for use throughout your organization.
Even if Microsoft is marketing PowerApps and Flow as “low-code” or even “no-code”, some of that is, to be fair, a bit overblown. If you have a need to build more advanced tools you quickly run into needs for, if not programming, at least complicated scripting and technical understanding. That is not to say that you could not do anything without programming knowledge, because you can. A simple list view CRUD application (Create, Read, Update, Delete) can be implemented in pretty much ten minutes. But even only that might be all you need to start the journey of digital transformation!
I got a bit carried away and this turned into almost like a sales speech. But I guess I’m trying to sell you on the idea of the Power Platform because I’ve certainly bought it to be part of my digital transformation toolkit.
Next time I’ll tell you more about PowerApps and Flow, and I will also go into explaining the Common Data Service. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the Power Platform, or something else about digital transformation, just ask!
The article was originally published in Medium.
Photos via unsplash.com