When you begin looking for low-code/no-code development (LCNC) platforms, the first that you’re likely to come across is Microsoft Power Apps. Now that demand for LCNC development has hit an all-time high, Microsoft is pushing Power Apps into the space where Betty Blocks and other companies have been helping companies for many years already.
At first glance, Power Apps might seem like the most obvious choice to get started with low-code development. However, before jumping in too deep you should know when this tool can be a good solution for your needs and when it’s going to come up short, potentially leaving you with even greater challenges than you started out with. So, here are five questions you should answer before your business teams try to build applications in Power Apps.
1. Do you want to empower business users to build more advanced applications?
If your aim is to enable non-IT professionals in your organization to solve their business problems, you will quickly find that Power Apps is not the ideal platform to achieve this goal. We actually hear this repeatedly from our customers who have either switched from Power Apps to our platform or tested them both extensively before choosing Betty Blocks. Here are some of the downsides to Power Apps that our clients have reported back to us when it comes to ease of use for citizen developers:
- The problem is the business finds Power Apps too complicated and is back working in Excel sheets.
- We couldn’t overcome the architecture and database (size) limitations.
- It has too many learning curves and the experience is fragmented.
- We’ve tried to build using the combination of Power Apps and Power BI and can’t get anything with high-level capabilities.
Power Apps works best when used for building simple applications with low-code. For example, connecting to your business data from various sources (more than 30 will slow the app) and pulling it all together into one application is a great use for this tool. But, integrations with large external systems can be very time consuming and will require coding. Additionally, every tool (Power BI, Power Automate, etc) has a different IDE and experience.
As you can imagine, it’s a barrier to app building for employees who don’t have traditional development training or an IT background. When your business users want to build powerful enterprise features, your pro-coders will need to step in. This can also be the case when using the Betty Blocks platform, but companies we’ve talked to have usually encountered this hurdle at a much earlier stage and more frequently when using Power Apps. If one of your motivations for empowering citizen developers is to reduce your IT backlog, you will not be able to achieve this with Power Apps.
2. Do you want to use apps for external collaboration or build customer-facing apps?
You should be aware up front that you cannot easily share Power Apps outside your own organization. In order to collaborate with clients and partners, they will need to have the same Microsoft O365 license. The Power Apps Portal is supposed to be a tool that can help users overcome this barrier.
However, citizen developers still face the added challenge of learning new technical skills that aren’t required for building in Power Apps itself. Even then, it isn’t possible to share Canvas and Model Driven applications. If your citizen developers want to share apps outside of your organization, the IT department will need to intervene to make this possible. Yet again, unnecessarily and inconveniently limiting the benefits of citizen development for your organization.
Another major limitation of Power Apps is the overall restrictiveness to design and functionality that diminishes the user experience. For example, adaptive designs are not supported for different screen sizes so you’ll need to build a different app for each screen dimension.
Front-end customization will require professional developers and is also a more time-consuming task in Power Apps because the design is not automatically applied to every page. When you want to test your apps, you’ll only be able to do this in preview mode instead of testing beta features.
3. Do you require transparent and predictable pricing?
Whatever platform you choose, it should enable true LCNC development and be transparent enough that the licensing of add-ons is disclosed and appreciated up-front. That’s the bare minimum of what you should be able to expect as a customer.
While Microsoft Power Apps is initially free to use within O365, pricing then differentiates across multiple user types, application types and data access levels. Larger enterprises may additionally encounter fragmented access to solutions as one team develops an application that another team doesn’t have the right license to use.
Solving this problem will mean racking up a much higher fee as your citizen developers require additional licenses to build apps that fully meet their needs. Microsoft Adding external users will also significantly increase licensing costs.
Even though Microsoft advertises a monthly fee per user, the direct financial impact of adding the Microsoft tools needed for developing an advanced application is not immediately clear. Unless you’re able to dedicate a specialized accountant to this task, you are probably in for a surprise when your teams do start really building apps. If predictable and transparent billing is important to your organization, Microsoft Power Apps will undoubtedly leave you confused and frustrated.
4. Are you concerned about the possibility of shadow IT?
The main selling point of Microsoft Power Apps we discussed from the very beginning - that employees probably already have access to the tool - is also one of it’s most frightening features for IT departments. Anyone and everyone in the organization can use it and the IT department cannot easily manage how individuals use Power Apps, what they’re developing, or their platform permissions.
Administrators can only limit application creation at the environment level and not at the user level. If this is a concern of yours, you should look for an LCNC platform that gives you more control.
On the other hand, Microsoft has developed a kind of governance safeguard called the Center of Excellence. However, the Center of Excellence is yet another extra feature that your IT Department will need to onboard, adding to the fragmented structure of app building within Power Apps. With other LCNC development platforms, governance is an integral part of the platform. For example, the governance section within Betty Blocks is part of the base platform that’s directly accessible through the browser.
5. Do you want to expand Citizen Development throughout the organization?
Microsoft Power Apps is great for experienced users and developers to build simple applications for one purpose. If that's all your business wants for the foreseeable future, Power Apps is probably the best choice for you. But, be aware that this will not lead to citizen development becoming part of the fabric of your organization.
At a minimum, truly value-adding citizen development requires tools that are both easy for business teams to use and an overall enjoyable experience. Citizen development also works best when scaled up within the organization through fusion teams that receive structured training and coaching in app development. Our clients tell us that adopting citizen development has ultimately resulted in a culture change within their organization.
It’s a shared vision, strategy, and commitment to a way of working that empowers problem-owners to become problem solvers. If you’re serious about citizen development, the partner that you choose to help get you there should also share these values. Don’t turn to whoever happens to be in your line of sight. Instead, find a partner who offers a platform that can meet you exactly where you are today and assist your organization through every stage of your citizen development journey.
Want to learn more about the differences between Power Apps and Betty Blocks? We’ve got a full breakdown for you right here.