Mobile phones are loaded with apps to make consumers' lives easier, but creating easy-to-use enterprise business apps that tap into traditional enterprise applications hasn't been quite as simple. Anyone who has input an expense report into an enterprise application knows there's a big difference. Microsoft describes this as the "innovation gap," and to fix it, the company is rolling out a new service called PowerApps.
Microsoft is previewing the service at its EMEA Convergence 2015 event in Barcelona this week, saying that it enables IT developers and business users to create business apps without needing the ability to code.
So any non-programmer could create a user-friendly app that will enable enterprise workers to connect to systems such as HR time-logging and expense report applications without being forced to access their corporate PC and a VPN, as well as memorize additional login credentials.
"While companies are increasingly turning to SaaS solutions for specific scenarios like CRM, travel and HR, using services like Microsoft Dynamics, Concur or Workday, most business app scenarios still remain locked on premises, dependent on corporate connected PCs," Bill Staples, corporate vice president of Application Platform wrote in a post on the Official Microsoft Blog. "Too often, they're not optimized for mobile, not easily integrated with other services, and not accessible when and where people need them most -- on the device they want to use in that moment. The business app category continues to lag behind consumer app scenarios in terms of richness and ubiquity."
And it's not just about unlocking the data from those on-premises applications. It's also about enabling business users to assemble their own front-end applications for web browsers and mobile devices that tap into the data in those traditional applications.
Microsoft's Staples said that PowerApps is designed to fix the three problems that have caused the so-called innovation gap. First, there aren't enough skilled mobile developers to keep up with the demand for business app creation. Second, business data is being created at a quick pace and in many different systems, making it difficult to connect and consume all the data needed from these silos from within a single user interface or app. Third, Microsoft said "IT agility and app sharing" is an issue.
"Mobile app distribution typically happens through apps stores, or through mobile device management, governed by IT," Staples wrote. "This creates inherent friction in getting apps onto employee phones."
The PowerApps service relies on Azure Active Directory for its security and user access controls, and it uses REST APIs to connect user interfaces to traditional enterprise systems and data such as on-premises SAP and Oracle implementations. The system also works with online applications such as Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox, and others, according to Omar Khan, director of program management on the PowerApps team, who provided an overview in an interview with InformationWeek. In addition to connectors to SaaS-based and on-premises enterprise applications and data, IT developers may also create their own custom connectors that can provide access to proprietary and legacy enterprise applications, exposing data and functions to modern apps.
[Looking for info on the Office 365 update? Read Office 365: Skype For Business, Analytics, Security Updates.]
PowerApps can work with Windows, iOS, and Android, and via web applications, Khan said. SDKs are available that can enable PowerApps to access the native capabilities of iOS and Android devices. For instance, a building inspection app that lets users report the need for repairs can let users photograph the maintenance problem for submission with their survey form, Khan said.
Business users themselves can build such applications without needing to learn how to use code. IT pros who use code can develop APIs and to create more advanced connectors between user interfaces and proprietary enterprise systems, according to Khan.
Microsoft already has a handful of customers who have been using the PowerApps service including Bose, Toro, and Metro Bank. Microsoft said that these customers have built solutions ranging from a recruiting app for an internal team to a mobile app for banking employees that connects their devices to their CRM data.
"PowerApps will dramatically accelerate how business apps are built, reducing time to solution from weeks or months to minutes and empowering a new category of app creators," Staples wrote.
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