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Application Modernization

Build apps and automate processes - without programming skills

Today, when companies think about process digitization, they are usually afraid of two scenarios: Either they initiate an extensive, cost-intensive project with the IT department or the IT supplier, or they leave the topic to employees in the specialist departments, who procure a corresponding standard app for which no programming knowledge is required. The latter, known as no-code apps, are aimed at companies or, in some cases, private individuals for whom a simple application is sufficient. These apps do not require any programming, but often do not allow any changes at all. Therefore, the advantage of the low effort approach is offset by the disadvantage that the scope for individual adaptations and differentiations is usually extremely limited. Thus, no-code apps easily reach certain limitations because it is hardly possible to adapt individual preferences during use. These apps are extremely easy to build - for example, individual building blocks can be arranged via drag-and-drop. But there is another way besides the standard app approach, which only covers minimal needs and at the same time promotes tool proliferation along with the specter of an IT project with corresponding development manpower. This other approach refers to so-called low-code platforms, i.e., those that require no or very little programming effort. These are also used for the automation of processes and have different characteristics depending on the provider. Business process management (BPM) solutions such as Firestart can be used to model, automate and document processes. This can be important if, for example, processes need to be visualized for certification audits.

For Microsoft 365 customers

Companies that have already followed the trend to move to the Microsoft 365 cloud may want to consider using the Microsoft Power Platform. This is a bundle of four services: Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual Agents, each serving different purposes. The former two are intended for the digital mapping of business processes in an app and their automation. Power BI, on the other hand, is for visualizing data with dashboards, while Power Virtual Agents can be used to easily develop chatbots for communicating with customers on the company website. The advantage of using the Microsoft Power Platform is that it has many interfaces to third-party systems and such systems can therefore also be connected if necessary. The same applies to the connection to other applications of Microsoft 365, where, on the other hand, standard apps can usually only be integrated into Microsoft solutions with difficulty or not at all. Even with this low-code platform, no full stack developers are needed to provide apps and process automations.

Business users as digitizers

Employees in the departments who are familiar with Microsoft 365 or Office 365 and are somewhat IT-savvy can digitize and automate processes with apps, customizing them according to their needs. At most, they will need some additional support from experts. In any case, the entry barriers are very low, so that business users can be empowered for the job very quickly - provided they are enthusiastic about it. It is easier for users to integrate the products into existing Microsoft services such as Sharepoint, Office or SQL databases than with no-code standard apps. Another benefit is that the solution is already included in certain Office 365 licenses. There are no additional license costs, depending on which functions are required. Companies can start small without additional costs, try out processes, and then purchase additional licenses later, depending on the intended use. If for certain use cases the processes are the main focus, for example because BPM standards are required for quality management documentation, Microsoft Visio can still fill the gap.

Real-world examples

For an onboarding process, however, this would not be necessary. With Power Automate, the specialist user from the HR department can even digitize the processes for a new hire in the same way as they were managed manually up to that point. For example, it is very easy to block the calendar for the first meetings with superiors, to give the IT manager the task of procuring the necessary equipment and configuring it appropriately, to order the badge for access to the building, or to order a bouquet of flowers from the company's florist as a welcome gift on the employee's desk. The entire process, which the HR department would otherwise have handled on paper or with Excel and other data, can be digitized in this way. Tasks can be assigned via e-mail, for example, even with a link to a channel in the teams chat, so that the respective employee is automatically assigned a task that he or she must then complete. But also, service requests, approval forms or appointment coordination and other, mostly paper-heavy processes can be easily transformed into the digital equivalent with Power Apps and Power Automate - by including fully automated data from customer or HR databases and other ERP applications.


Depending on use case and needs of the company, one or the other variant of a low-code or no-code solution is the obvious choice - or even a project with development resources. Companies that have already taken the path to the Microsoft 365 cloud with their data and apps should definitely consider using the Microsoft Power Platform. After all, more and more business users are in a familiar working environment thanks to their experience with Office 365 and the like, and therefore quickly get to grips with this approach. From an IT perspective, it also makes sense to combine products that come from a single source. Data and apps can be merged more easily, so that analyses and reports (with Power BI) can also be managed more effortlessly later - and this with no or manageable development effort and with no or low additional licensing costs.

This article was published in "Organisator" issue 5-6/2022 from 8.6.2022.

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