How to build your first Microsoft Power App

Building your first Power App might be easier than you think and could benefit your business in ways you hadn’t even thought of.

When it comes to developing new technology – especially those specifically moulded to fit your SME – much of it can seem unclear.

There are all sorts of technical words floating around, lots of different YouTube tutorials and an awful lot to think about.

That’s even before you get around to debugging and operating the software.

Microsoft PowerApps is one of the best tools out there for creating efficient applications for businesses without the need for much coding, making it perfect for beginners and professionals alike. We’ve written this short article to help you get started with exploring PowerApps for the first time.

What is Microsoft PowerApps?

Microsoft PowerApps is one part of the Microsoft Power Platform, which also includes Power BI, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. It allows users to create tailored apps to solve specific problems or increase functionality within their business.

It’s based on Excel-style programming, such as writing formulas and using logic statements rather than coding. This (relatively) simple approach means that it’s easier for your users – sometimes known as citizen developers – to have a go at developing their own applications. You don’t need as many specialist skills as you would to, say, build a coded app from scratch using a platform like Python.

However, some knowledge of Excel would undoubtedly be beneficial to anyone wanting to give it a go. PowerApps uses an expression language called Power FX.

Microsoft PowerApps isn’t for consumer apps, such as those you find on Apple’s App Store. So, if you’re looking to build the next great mobile game, PowerApps isn’t for you.

Rather, it’s primarily for producing internal applications for your business and its various departments.

And just a final note – to use (as in, to either develop or use the program) PowerApps, you do need a licence. 

You can run up a free environment using the PowerApps developer plan (PowerApps Developer Plan | Microsoft PowerApps). The licensing is generally covered by Microsoft 365 or Dynamics licensing, however free trials can be used to allow development and uplift in the official organisation environment.

What can I do with Microsoft PowerApps?

When you open Microsoft PowerApps up, you’ll be greeted by the welcome screen. Here, you’ll see three options:

  • Canvas apps
  • Model-driven apps
  • Portal

Canvas apps allow you to start entirely from scratch. It’s a little bit like a mix of Excel and PowerPoint, where you can drag and drop elements onto the screen, resizing them and using Excel-style formulas to create the logic. You can select and use data from hundreds of different data sources (depending on what you use to store all your business data, or which services you wish to use).

If you choose to work with Model-driven apps, you start by building a data model in Dataverse rather than a ‘blank canvas’. Creating your own databases and processes might be helpful for you if you find that standard data storage programs don’t work for your business, whether they’re too complex or not complex enough. You’ll then build forms, views and dashboards which let you interact with, report, and manage those data sets.

Portals are useful when you want to have external users (such as customers) interacting with your data. For example, they may log in or use a reference number to see the status of their order or check their past purchases, that kind of thing.

The data must be put together in Dataverse for Portal apps.

You can, to some extent, overlap the three, depending on what’s best for your business.

How do I get started creating my own apps?

To get started with PowerApps, you’ll first need to purchase a license (as mentioned above). You will need a license to simply use the developed application, and so you’ll need to get one even if someone else creates the app for you.

Sign into Microsoft 365 by going to https://make.powerapps.com on your browser.

If you’re completely new to PowerApps, it’s probably worth getting started by playing around with the ‘Start from data’ option. You can associate a Canvas app with around 400 pre-existing databases, such as SharePoint Online, Excel Online or Dynamics 365. Choose whatever data storage source you’re most familiar with to allow you to get to grips with the program.

Once you’ve opened PowerApps, select ‘Start from data’ near the top of the screen. You’ll then see a page asking you to select the relevant table. Select the one that’s most relevant to you.

PowerApps will then build a basic Canvas app for you based on that data.

Navigate around the app using the tree menu on the left. By selecting items on the menu or the ‘canvas’ itself, you’ll see formulas come up in the bar at the top.

From here, you can begin to play around. There’s so much more you can explore, but starting from a pre-existing data source will give a good head start.

Get in touch with Vantage 365

Getting started with PowerApps, particularly if you have limited – or no – in-house expertise, can seem daunting, which is why it’s best to work with an external consultant to guide you through the process when you’re starting out.

At Vantage 365, our passion is helping businesses increase their productivity using integrated cloud services like Microsoft 365.

Our founder and Managing Director, Matt Weston, is a published author on the subject of Microsoft PowerApps, and leads the Black Country PowerApps & Power Automate user group

Where you might have to otherwise invest a good deal of time into learning how to use PowerApps and building your software, we can help. Working with you every step of the way, we can create (or help you create) a working application that fits your business’s needs, as well as provide assistance with any ongoing maintenance.

If you feel that PowerApps might be a valuable tool to increase your business efficiency but aren’t sure where to start, we’d love to hear from you.

As well as offering expert advice to help you get started, we offer training to help you get the most out of the Power Platform too, including Microsoft’s official PL-900 and PL-100 courses, or our own bespoke programmes, which can be tailored to your business needs.

For a friendly chat (with no obligations attached, of course!), you’re welcome to email us at hello@vantage365.co.uk.