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Harnessing the power of PowerApps

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Software tools

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Due to coronavirus, we are already learning to work with these tools in a way we might not have done previously. The Defra HR department needed a quick and efficient way to manage staff redeployment to other departments. To meet this need, we collaborated with Microsoft experts on creating a PowerApp for staff redeployment and a series of PowerApps for recording incident management data.

Microsoft has also used PowerApps in response to the coronavirus situation. As the crisis began to escalate, they released a Microsoft Power Platform solution for managing communications across an organisation. Thousands of customers have since employed that solution, which has been shared by Microsoft for others to use and apply, helping to meet the challenges they too may face.

What is Microsoft PowerApps?

Microsoft PowerApps is a tool that enables you to quickly create custom apps that connect to your business data stored in Excel, SharePoint, Microsoft Databases or other storage areas.

It lets you create forms to interface data and do small amounts of processing using formulae (like Excel) rather than programming code. The apps can be accessed using phones, tablets or via a browser. They integrate into our existing IT and offer a chance for all employees to be involved in app creation.

Getting started is easy

You simply sign into the PowerApps website as a licenced user. From there you can edit existing applications and create new ones. There are menus to connect to many different data sources and to create flows to automate tasks. You can also choose to create a Canvas or Model Driven application.

In Defra, we expect to use PowerApps to create 2 different kind of applications for users:

  • Canvas Apps: A developer can drag and drop components onto a canvas. Canvas apps can connect to data from different sources. In a way it’s very similar to making a slide in PowerPoint but linking fields back to a data source. You can add extra functionality by using formulae link in Excel.
  • Model Driven Apps: These apps are built on top of a common data service framework that allows a developer to use pre-built components such as forms and flows. It’s very similar to Dynamics.

Unlike our other development options, you don’t always need to write code to build a PowerApp. It is what's called a low code platform and makes it possible for non-developers to get involved in creating apps. This offers new possibilities for application development within Defra and other organisations.

They are also natively mobile, which means that you can run the interface forms on mobile technology; you don’t have to prepare additional forms to provide a screen that works on a phone or tablet. This should benefit field work and flexible working.

Empowerment is the key to future benefits

PowerApps are part of the Microsoft Power Platform which also include Power BI (used for reporting) and Power Automate (used for automating repetitive tasks).

In the future this combination of applications will replace some Enterprise Applications with smaller, simpler and more tailored applications for our customers, enhancing our existing public facing digital services.

There are plenty more ways that we might be able to use these PowerApps. For example, it can be time consuming to create new enterprise applications; PowerApps will help us to create them more efficiently. We will be able to respond more quickly to business needs, such as we have with coronavirus, and the applications we create will be designed for use on almost any device.

In the past Microsoft Access provided a great way for non-developer users to create tools that they needed for a specific task. But Access was complicated and there were issues such as the difficulties in networking. PowerApps could fill that niche of ‘citizen development’ with users building very specialised tools quickly and easily, often at very low costs.

Find out more about PowerApps

Check out the Microsoft PowerApp Centre of Excellence Starter Kit to see a best practice example for administrating and monitoring PowerApps within an organisation.


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  1. Comment by James Harding posted on

    Microsoft PowerApps is a great tool and there are some great training documents and videos out there to develop your skill set with it quickly.

    One of the best products from Microsoft in the Web/Development space for a good few years.

    James Hard MBCS (

  2. Comment by keith posted on

    Very interested to see how the customer facing aspect turns out.

    Amazing work, what a great story.

    If you like the COE toolkit you should check out the adoption framework. Its really good.

  3. Comment by DavidH posted on

    Its been great to see how DEFRA have mobilised a forum on this subject, getting contribution from different parties including MS so that there can be sharing/collaboration focused on DEFRA's needs, and how this is is challenging people's thinking on and tech debt reduction but still with a needed watchful eye on governance not the 'wild west', with folks like John Bridgen and others in DEFRA taking ownership.