Last week, Microsoft announced the general availability of two major additions to its Office 365 suite: Flow and Powerapps. The addition of these products represents a continuation of a trend that empowers citizen developers and shadow IT groups to build applications without the need to general-purpose programming knowledge or IT resources. From the perspective of Office 365, the release of Flow and PowerApps marks a transition from an information worker suite to a platform that supports the implementation of custom applications.
PowerApps enables the creation of data-driven mobile applications directly from Office 365 data sources. Using PowerApps, a developer can start building an app using a specific template and customize the screens based on the specifics of the data source. Powerapps currently supports IOS, Android and Windows Apps.
The concept of enabling self-service mobile application creation is certainly not a new one. The mobile market is full of rapid app development(RAD) suites none of which have been able to achieve meaningful market share. PowerApps has a few unique characteristics that may help it to be successful in this ultra-competitive field.
One of PowerApps biggest advantages is its narrow focus on powering self-service mobile apps to extend Office 365 processes. The constrained scope might help PowerApps to become a friendly tool to build Office 365 specific application without attempting to become a general purpose mobile app development platform. Additionally, PowerApps is focused on the creation of mobile apps directly from business data. To accomplish this, PowerApps introduces the notion of the Common Data Model(CDM), a canonical and extensible representation of common business data entities such as contacts, accounts, tasks, etc delivered as a secured Azure database.
Microsoft Flow focuses on self-service data integration adn workflow scenarios. From that perspective, Flow competes with technologies such as IF-THIS-THEN-THAT(IFTT) or Zapier. Similarly to PowerApps, Flow’s focus on Office 365 workflows and the use of CDM can result on strong differentiation with other technologies in the space.
Despite ot its unquestionable technical benefits, the biggest competitive differentiator of technologies like Flow and PowerApps is Office 365 itself. The strong distribution and customer base of Office 365 almost guarantee the strong adoption of these technologies. With the addition of these technologies, Office 365 continues is transition from an information worker suite to an information app platform.
Office 365 as a Platform
Office 365 is, arguably, the most popular information worker suite in the market. the next logical phase for Office 365 is to extend its capabilities by enabling the implementation of custom applications that automate business processes related to the suite. That type of capabilities will empower line of business units to build custom Office 365 solutions without relying on IT departments. However, differently from other “shadow IT” products, Office 365 seems to strike the right balance by delivering powerful app development tools such as PowerApps or Flow while enforcing constraints that will minimize the overlap with enterprise IT capabilities.