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Microsoft Unleashes PowerApps and Flow Improvements

Microsoft offered a progress report on its PowerApps and Microsoft Flow tools this week, describing newly available capabilities and some items to come.

It's been about five months since the two tools were commercially released. PowerApps provides templates to build custom software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, while Microsoft Flow is used to create workflow applications with if-then scenarios. Both tools, designed for use by business users as well as developers, are available with various Office 365 "E" subscription plans. Microsoft also announced earlier this month that Office 365 K1 ("Kiosk") subscribers also are getting access to the tools, which will be happening in "coming weeks."

The PowerApps and Microsoft Flow tools are currently used in production environments. An announcement issued by Microsoft today pointed to their use by Integrated Power Services, NASCAR, National Trust and Transalta for their "business critical scenarios."

Microsoft conceives of PowerApps and Microsoft Flow as tools for organizations of all sizes.

"We see it cross organization sizes," said Kees Hertogh, senior director of product marketing at Microsoft, in a phone call on Friday. "We do see large organizations using PowerApps and enabling, for example, departments or power users close to the line of business to build their applications to solve their business needs."

They can tap into various data sources, and small organizations can use them, too, according to Hertogh.

"PowerApps is used in combination with, for example, SharePoint, or PowerApps standalone also comes with a Common Data Service or integrates to existing databases or SQL Server," Hertogh added. "So there's quite some sophistication of the types of solutions you can build with PowerApps or Microsoft Flow. But you can also start small. For example, we've enable Microsoft Flow to all of Microsoft account users, so users of Outlook.com or Hotmail will have the ability to use Flow right there in their service."

New PowerApps Capabilities
Microsoft added a few new PowerApps capabilities this quarter. They can now connect with SharePoint Lists and Libraries. It's also possible to embed PowerApps into "Power BI dashboards or any Web site," according to an announcement.

Microsoft now counts more than 100 data sources that can be tapped by PowerApps. Organizations can use their own REST-based API to submit a connector to Microsoft. Microsoft's Azure Media Services can now be used to support the playing of videos in PowerApps.

A new experimental addition to PowerApps is "Entity form control," but it's just at the testing stage right now. It's a way to quickly add forms to applications, allowing users to edit relational data from Microsoft's Common Data Service, which "a platform for data modeling, storage and management capabilities."

New Microsoft Flow Capabilities
Microsoft added new Microsoft Flow capabilities this quarter, including an improved way to create "approval workflows," which now have Azure Active Directory authentication support. Microsoft Outlook e-mail clients can now surface approval actions. Users also can also now customize approval workflows using Microsoft Flow Designer, according to Microsoft's announcement. Yet to come will be a "new Approvals tab inside of Microsoft Flow," which is expected to arrive by the end of this week.

Microsoft added a "Team flows" capability to the Microsoft Flow tool. It permits a flow application to be owned and managed by a group of people. Team flows permit an app to be managed even after its creator has left an organization. This feature is now at "general availability," or commercial release.

Buttons capabilities for Microsoft Flow have been improved. Buttons are software shortcuts for Microsoft Flow actions, which can be shared. However, Microsoft also has partners building hardware buttons, such as the Bttn device by The Button Corporation and Flic by Shortcut Labs. An example of using a physical button might be to create a help-desk application for a conference room that can be pressed to get assistance with audio-video setups.

Microsoft currently has more than 115 different APIs that its partners can leverage when building on top of Microsoft Flow. Organizations can also build "Custom APIs" or build their own connector.

Microsoft has a vetting process to make API connections seamless.

"We have a team specialized in building connectors and we work directly with these partners to build the connectors and make sure they are properly integrated across the services," Hertogh explained.

SharePoint Integrations
PowerApps and Microsoft Flow figure prominently with SharePoint Online. They are serving as Microsoft's replacements for the deprecated InfoPath 2013 (used to create SharePoint forms) and SharePoint Designer 2013 solutions. Microsoft also recently announced that it plans to deprecate its Access Services for SharePoint Online, and that PowerApps and Microsoft Flow will serve to fill that void going forward. In addition, SharePoint's command bar now has built-in Microsoft Flow controls to make it easier to create Microsoft Flow templates within SharePoint Lists and Libraries.

Microsoft has seen "great pickup" with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow for use with SharePoint, according to Hertogh.

"It's very natural and we've seen great benefits of enabling these users to use PowerApps and Flow in the context of their information, in the context of their documents or information they've stored in SharePoint Lists," Hertogh said. "We also see customers that use PowerApps more standalone to build more advanced line-of-business solutions."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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