Dynamics Matters Podcast: Ep 52 - How Power Apps changed the life of a bus driver (part 2)

With special guest Keith Whatling, Solution Specialist, HSO

✔ The problems with using traditional applications today
✔ Power Apps vs low code applications - what is the difference?
✔ The use of right technology

Transcription

Welcome everyone to episode 52 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

I’m your host Michael Lonnon and in this episode, we pick up where we left off from episode 51 with HSO Solution specialist Keith Whatling.

Keith tells us how with the right mindset any challenge can be overcome. And we begin this episode with Keith highlighting where the influence of others is so important in shaping our own work and lives.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Keith Whatling

Before she genuinely didn’t have any idea what I did for a living. He does something with computers, but we don’t know what.

Michael Lonnon

You’ve taken the bones of something and thought, what else can be done. You have made the path.

Keith Whatling

Look at James Phillips. Hearing that man speak is one of the most important moments of my career when he showed a picture of a workspace, a computerised workspace back in the 70s, and said that screen is the same screen you’ve got in front of you with business software today its forms over data. It’s not computer games, it’s not AI, it’s not this, that and the other it is quite literally answering, and I’ve added this bit the five business questions who, what, why, when and where and if you can figure out the who, what, why, when and where, for each business problem and you can answer that, then you fill in the data holes. There are so many holes in data and that’s the most important takeaway for anybody today, who is looking into getting into power platform, it’s not about the app, it’s not about the interface, its not about the automation, it’s not about the code you write, it’s about the data, it is always about the data, it will always be about the data, the data is the most important bit. It’s where all the intelligence lies, it’s where all the value lies. Everything else is just decorating that data with something else are enabling you to manipulate that data in easier fashion. That’s what power platform allows you to do, you are just creating a better access database. If you are starting in Excel or access, you’re going to move from Excel, when you realise you need relationships to access, you’re going to move from access to SQL Server when you realise you need to get it to the cloud but at the end of the day, you’re still having the same thing, you’ve got a record and you’ve decorated that record, finding a way that you can identify with something. Power platform allows you to do that beautifully, like that interaction with that data, navigating the data model, doing the actions on the data model with power automate and analysing them in Power BI, and there’s no lid to it. In HSO, the beautiful thing is, is that our cloud application platform department is lidless. So yes, we will look to extend your problem with power platform first, there’s the first layer of extensibility inside of the Microsoft stack, but we don’t cap it and say that’s all we do. We say, right? This workload is coming to power platform, these bits fit beautifully inside of power platform either apps or power automate or Power BI,  however, this specific part of the workload requires a pro code approach where the automotive side of power automate, for example, someone will try and in other places, they will try and use that as power integrate, they’re trying to get it to sort of integrate 1000s of records and that kind of stuff. We have a different approach where we’re levelling the power platform offerings, and saying, yes, they sit beautifully inside the platform, and the workload to the end user appears inside the platform. But some of the machinery that happens behind it requires a much more grown up and mature approach and we also have a lot of governance stuff that we talk about around it as well. That was the other thing as well, in the bus industry, it was when we started building this cool stuff and doing all this really awesome development, other people got interested and then it got to a point where people turn around to me and say, Keith how do we govern the 20 people who all now want to make an app and now those 20 people have made an app, there’s another 500 people who want to make an app.

Michael Lonnon

I was going to ask you, what is stopping other people from taking the same sort of path as you and these other people you’re talking about is there anything stopping them from having a need or having an idea and then building on it and realising it?

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Keith Whatling

When was there ever anything stopping anybody from doing anything other than themselves, the only person stopping you from doing anything is yourself. Anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it but it’s that putting your mind to it. I invested a huge amount of time in learning this thing, it’s not for the faint of heart at all. Emily AMCO, our consultant director, she’s phenomenal and she’s got this phrase, and it’s one of the most important things you can come to realise about power platform where it’s perceived as low code, no code and easier development. Just because it’s low code, no code, doesn’t mean its low complexity, and low quality, it doesn’t at all, you can make a real pig’s ear of something in it. You can have the world’s ugliest Excel workbook, or you can have a beautiful Excel workbook, it’s the same with power platform, you can make it look and function beautifully and sing beautifully and really solve a business problem or you can go and replace a workload with it and create more of a problem when you started through poor implementation. So there is that risk if you’re going and replacing something like Excel, and it’s something I see a lot is people go in there and they’ll go and replace Excel, which is the do anything, go anywhere, do what you like, tool of the century, copy and paste its got all the tools and paraphernalia, they’ll go and recreate it in power platform, they won’t have architected it properly, they want to thought about it properly and they won’t have done the user experience story properly, and they then go and create an additional problem in the fact that the app that they built isn’t as fast, isn’t as robust and it’s now cost people in the business time rather than saving time. So, there is trade-offs that you’ve got to be careful of, and you need an experienced team to do that and luckily, at HSO we’ve got a very experienced team.

Michael Lonnon

What advice would you give to anyone who knows there’s a need, who realises there’s a problem that can be solved but as you say low code, no code doesn’t mean you, can’t go at it and get straight on, you can’t solve problems straight away. Where can they start? Where can somebody like yourself go. Is it just about learning it and spending time on it or was there something else?

Keith Whatling

A lot of the problem with app development in traditional app development, and not necessarily power platform is when you build something, you don’t throw it away. One of the most important things I ever did in Power Apps was to delete an app because it was rubbish, that is so important to realise that you can throw it away and start again, if you’ve not gone too far. I remember having a conversation with someone we were talking about some sort of assessment, I think it was when he was on the buses, and there was an argument about how the assessment was to be done and how we were to score it. I’d put a little star slide down the bottom saying one to five stars and it was more of an argument about what the stars meant then actually it being on the app, and I remember going in running to and from the manager’s office going, so you want the stars in there, okay, I put the stars back in and five stars means good and zero stars means unsatisfactory, well, actually, no, we want to, we want zero stars to be satisfactory, because we don’t want him to do anything unsatisfactory, five stars to be exemplary. We must have changed that about 25 times that day and I just came in and hit publish and I suppose my message is that it is never done, nothing is ever fully baked. In whatever app you build, you’ve got to go back and revisit it, you’ve got to go back and tidy it up, you’ve got to come in and link it all up together. Action exists in isolation, they’re part of a platform, and it’s about all the data talking together. On the buses when you broke down those data silos between the route control and operations and engineering, for example, or the same in the warehouse, between the various bits and pieces of that, if you can have an app over here that tells someone over there what to do, and they can feed back and complete that digital feedback loop that’s where the real import comes, that’s where the real cheddar is.

Michael Lonnon

Where do you think we’ll go next with Power Apps, we’ve already spoken about it’s not quite as simple as low code, no code, but there is a lot more flexibility in Power Apps that allows you to solve a lot more problems and allows you to realise a lot more of your imagination, if you can come up with it. So, what’s next for it, where’s it going?

Keith Whatling

I think we see its ability to handle more complex data increase. I think there will be more places you’ll see power platform natively appearing in Microsoft land. So, if you’re in finance and operations, there’s a little power platform logo in the top right-hand side, in Azure there’s a little power platform thing that says make an app out of MySQL database. If you’re in SharePoint, you’ll see that little thing that it says you want to make power up out of this list. I think that’s going to become more and more the thing. I also think that data first is the thing that underpins the power platforms back end, not that you can have many backends there’s 500 data connectors, one of them just so happens to be data verse, but it is very, very good. I think you’ll see the synergy between Canvas apps, Model Driven apps, power automate the whole thing become closer and closer together. We’re already seeing that with power apps  pages, which is just phenomenal way of interacting with model driven applications that the more traditional first party apps, I just think you’ll see a blurring of where power platform is inside of Microsoft because it is one of the first things you’ve ever seen in Microsoft to transition all three clouds modern workplace, Azure, and, the dynamics cloud and that that layer of extensibility and having their fingers in all of the pies. It just seems that it’s going to become more and more useful to more and more people. So, watch this space.

Summary

According to Keith, the problem with traditional app development is that once built, they never get thrown away. Which goes against the grain of how you improve applications and keep them aligned to the reason they were needed in the first place. Because things change.

The strength of Power Apps is in its ability to close what Keith calls the digital feedback loop, with applications in different areas of an organisation sharing data and interreacting with each other, reducing silos and making it easier for departments to work together. And that’s where the value is.

And the future for Power Apps, looks to be one where it will be able to handle more complex data and so blurring the lines further between model and canvas driven apps, business applications, and enterprise systems.

This all said, the main take away from my chat with Keith is that anything is possible with the right technology, and with the right mind-set.

I hope you enjoyed listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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