Can the Power Platform be governed? How Microsoft customers are encouraging citizen developers – and guiding them

June 28 2019

Microsoft has made headway in promoting the Power Platform as a venue that expands access to application development and process automation outside of the traditional IT realm. When an intrepid employee tackles a business challenge with a time-saving PowerApp or automates a manual, disconnected process with Flow the results build enthusiasm for the tool set often in a matter of days or weeks. Better yet, the citizen developer gets noticed. Others want in on the chance to finally take care of issues they have been waiting for IT to tackle but which never reached a high enough priority compared to major system upgrades, outages, and executive-sponsored projects.

If the IT department wasn't in the loop on this populist movement yet, they will be soon. And they will be concerned that the users have made a mess of corporate policies in areas like integrations, security, and more.

Presumably, the worst has not come to pass yet for most organizations. Hopefully, no one has deployed a flow that tweets next quarter's sales forecasts or discloses the company's HR files. And IT departments have not all been asleep at the wheel as PowerApps and Flow use have grown, either. Customer stories from the recent Microsoft Business Applications Summit (MBAS) reveal a range of approaches to managing the use of these tools, from full IT ownership to broad distribution of responsibilities and governance.

Power BI report from CoE starter kit | Source

For those looking to create a new wave of so-called citizen developers, Microsoft has even entered the discussion this week with its PowerApps Center of Excellence starter kit, a "collection of templatized best practices" designed to guide companies through the startup of their own CoE. It covers concepts like maintaining control over environments, data loss prevention (DLP), administrative connectors, reporting examples, an example of a product catalog, and templates that users can start off with when building their own solutions.

Dealing with users: "It can be a positive or a challenge"

An IT manager at one energy company attending MBAS explained how his firm has seen Flow usage increase in the last eight months from almost nothing to 20,000 Flow runs per month, with a hundred new flows being created monthly.

Working in a regulated industry and under public company accounting rules, this company has had to fold Power Platform into their governance practices. That meant not only having the policies in place with IT and the regulatory teams, but winning over executive leadership to the idea that the new tools could add tangible value.

After the company started using Office 365, IT wanted to invite users to try to automate their own workloads with Flow, the speaker explained. One factor was to make users aware of the difference between personal and shared flows. The company renamed the default environment to "Personal Productivity" so they would understand the difference between individual flows and those approved for broader use.

To prevent environment sprawl across the organization, IT uses administrative flows to monitor the creation and use of other flows. They have a process that runs daily to identify flow creators and make sure they belong to an existing Office 365 group. If a creator does not have an Azure AD group, that person is added to a group and is sent a welcome email. IT also monitors who is creating and sharing flows, how many are running (so as not to exceed their maximum), and who has access to which connectors – a critical point of control for Data Loss Prevention and other security policies.

"We're more into the empower game than the shutdown game," he said. "The alternative is that they go out to other services to learn, and it is out of our control then."

IT also supported the creation of reference applications that they could show to others in the company who wished to build applications with PowerApps and Flow. One early win involved automating an approval process for hiring new contractors. They were able to replace a fully paper process that required multi-step approvals, including the CFO. If the CFO was on the road, the forms would be waiting g for him (and delaying the hiring process) until he returned to the office. With the new approval flow, he can view and approve contractor requests from his phone as they arrive, then view the overall contractor data in a new Power BI dashboard. The team extended the solution further by using the data to generate a Statement of Work document automatically.

"[Developing this solution] allowed us to show [Power Platform] to other business units. We could say, 'Don't take my word for it, here it is in action.' Or tell them to talk to the CFO, who has become a great advocate for us because he loves his application," the IT manager said. With that application in hand, they brought in a broader cross-functional team to start working on other processes in need of automation. Showing those early adopters the right way to use the tools has set the company on a path that they believe will keep the use of Power Platform both manageable and available to users.

Building a Center of Excellence around PowerApps

For an IT director focused on app development at another multi-national energy company, PowerApps did not measure up to his standards as a professional-grade application development tool, at least at first.

But after a citizen developer in one of their UK offices built a social app for employees that saw thousands of users – and did it with no assistance from corporate – the IT manager was persuaded that PowerApps was worth exploring further.

"We put some light guardrails in place with the default tenant, DLP, and a wait and see approach and we let innovators go out and create. The transition has been amazing," he said.

As a result, his corporate IT team has been rebuilt as a Center of Excellence for PowerApps inside the company. He continued:

It was a wakeup call that PowerApps was professional grade, and the broader strategy around it had to be understood, [including] what Common Data Service and Common Data Model were doing. It turned us around to re-skill and re-organize to build a strong CoE that enables citizen developers to innovate, small IT organizations to build stuff, but also to build pro-dev apps.

The company's approach factored in existing enterprise systems, especially SAP. They then structured a multi-tier corporate strategy to define the types of apps that could be built by either centralized IT or local business units. Some apps could take a year to develop, while the citizen developers in the local offices would be allowed to build apps that require a few weeks to months. And local teams could count on the CoE to support their efforts.

He also recommended setting an expected lifespan for various types of apps, aligned to their level of importance from a corporate hierarchy perspective, level of investment, and the type of team developing them. On one end, the locally created application for a single team's productivity would take only a week or two to create and should not be expected to exist for more than a year or so. On the other end of the spectrum, an app created by the corporate CoE might take a year or more to develop and could be maintained and updated for five years or more.

The company is also encouraging collaboration and exposure to the tools. Developers outside of the CoE can receive support on development and solution architecture to build competencies. A corporate-organized hackathon later this year is expected to include 900 participants in over 100 cities.

The company is already seeing over 10,000 monthly active users of over 1,300 apps in 86 countries. Though they started with apps driven by SharePoint-based data, they are looking to move into using the Common Data Service to manage back end data, the manager said. They will also be scaling out their CoE in 2019 to support the growing development community.

"You have to let people share and work together," said the manager. "Let people go build their own stuff. You'll be amazed at what they can build – and you can leverage that."

FREE Membership Required to View Full Content:

Become a MemberLogin
Joining MSDynamicsWorld.com gives you free, unlimited access to news, analysis, white papers, case studies, product brochures, and more, and it’s all FREE. You’ll also have the option to receive periodic email newsletters with the latest relevant articles and content updates. Learn more about us here
About Jason Gumpert

As the editor of MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason oversees all editorial content on the site and at our events, as well as providing site management and strategy. He can be reached at jgumpert@msdynamicsworld.com.

Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

More about Jason Gumpert