If you want to build an application that is externally focused, for example, a customer data gathering application, vendor management system, or to share custom reports or analytics, most organizations will look to build a custom application. However, building customer engagement applications can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming unless your organization has large development, operations, and security teams that are comfortable building public facing applications and have the capacity to build the site. However, most organizations do not have dedicated development teams available. So how can Sales and Marketing engage with customers in a cost effective and secure manner?
Let’s take a real-world scenario. You need to build a website which will gather sensitive data from customers. The customer has divisions, and Division A cannot see Division B's data, but users at corporate level can see all the data from all Divisions. You need the ability for customer admins to add or invite new users. You need it to support authentication including Multi Factor Authentication. You need to provide reporting on the data and usage information. The application is seasonally used and needs to gather over 150K records, each of which is made up of many pages with intra filed rules, i.e., if you set a particular value then you must provide answers to the additional questions. The application must be usable from a variety of devices, PCs to iPad and be responsive.
This is not an unrealistic ask from a Marketing group trying to engage with its customers and perhaps find out how its products are used or how they can be improved. This ask is not compatible with existing platforms such as Survey Monkey.
One of the great parts of my role is evaluating new technology and learning how it can be applied to meet customer needs, often in situations that you least expect. One such technology is Microsoft’s Power Platform; the Power Platform is a low code / no code platform that allows you to develop applications that run inside Dynamics, SharePoint, Teams, and even standalone on mobile devices. Power Automate allows you build complex business process automation "flows" that can push and pull data from a variety of sources and even other SaaS platforms. Backing the Platform is Dataverse for data storage, which is a relational data platform. The combination of Power Apps and Power Automate is a well-known toolset for business applications and process automation.
A less well-known part of the Power Platform is Power Apps Portals, which, just like its siblings, is a low code platform, which can be used for quickly building interactive websites. As part of the Power Platform, it can integrate with the other pieces of the platform, so the same data model that backs a Power App for internal use can be used to expose data via a website to external users. Modifications to the data in the Dataverse or user actions can then trigger Power Automate flows. Using premium connectors, the platform can communicate with SaaS platforms and Azure, which unlocks a powerful cloud development platform.
I know what you are thinking, "Great, yet another web site building platform", but don’t judge too fast; the scenario described above is a perfect use case for Power Apps Portals. Power Apps Portals provides a robust data model (Common Data Model) out of the box that enables you to implement row level security through configuration. The platform can integrate with a variety of authentication providers from Azure AD B2C, Facebook, Linked In, and even Google, with some simple configuration. The platform uses responsive web pages and so user interfaces for multiple device types can be created quickly. Portals has the notion of a data gathering wizard which allows the user to move from page to page providing data in the form of text, check boxes, select boxes etc., all driven from the underlying data model. The platform is built for cloud scale, and security from the ground up; this allows your Power Platform developers to focus on the application without needing to worry about scaling up, load balancing etc.
If you have existing Power Platform developers, they will be able to learn the platform quite quickly. Much of the development experience will be familiar to them, but there are still aspects of web development you will need them to be familiar with.
Time to Market
Using the Power Apps Portals Platform, the Spyglass team was able to build the data gathering application described above and be in full production in 8 weeks from requirements to delivery. The application was able to gather 150K multipage records and do approximately 4 million page views (landing page, login pages, data gathering, user invites etc.) over a 4-day period. Reporting using Power BI embedded was subsequently implemented allowing the users to gain insight into their data and provide the Marketing department enormous insight into their customer base.
So, the next time you need a customer engagement solution, or any kind of large-scale data gathering application, think about using Power Apps Portals. If you would like to discuss this topic more, please feel free to contact us today!