Filipa Moreno

Microsoft PowerApps: how to transform ideas into business apps

We live in a world in which mobility is ubiquitous: there are, at this point in time, apps for whatever action we need to complete at any given moment of our lives. The majority of those apps are built with the consumer in mind and ideally, it is this end user that companies are thinking of when designing and building their digital solution. However, mobile applications are not only useful for the general public. Mobile apps, in a business context, can be critical to managing a company’s daily activities.

Business apps, as they are commonly called, are specifically designed to solve a problem within an organization. In that sense, these apps offer the possibility for companies to manage part of their business in a faster, more efficient and more productive way. However, not all business apps justify the time and investment that is required for a custom development tailored to the needs of each and every company. Since companies have to contend with budget constraints as well as time and human resources limitations, it might seem like a distant dream building an app that can suppress internal needs of efficiency and effectiveness for processes that have the potential to be automated.

Taking advantage of the entire Microsoft ecosystem, which is present in many organizations, it is possible to build an app with Microsoft PowerApps.  From an internal point of view, PowerApps have a considerable impact on business processes – they can be dematerialized and, consequently, it is possible to increase productivity and reduce inefficiencies.

On the other hand, with Microsoft PowerApps, you can enable everyone – even people with no programming or coding skills – within the organization to create and maintain the application.  Additionally, Microsoft Power Automate – a tool that complements Microsoft PowerApps – helps automate processes in different applications and services, whether it is requests’ approval, fulfilment of certain conditions (actions to be followed in case the answer is yes or no), automation of repetitive processes, etc.

In this way, these digital solutions will not depend exclusively on the IT Department and these power users, who already have the business knowledge – and guaranteeing that they are equipped with the necessary knowledge to use these tools – will be able to sustain an effective solution, based on Microsoft infrastructure, without the need of programming knowledge. Moreover, with Office 365, data circulates naturally, rather than generating silos of information which create entropies and inefficiencies. Therefore, your app is always kept up to date with real-time data.

Practical scenario: automating vacations approval

The vacations approval process is a great use case of these tools: you can automate the whole process where the first step is building a vacation request form that the employee submits for approval. Secondly, the manager receives a push notification on his mobile, in which he can immediately approve the request. The process is finished by sending an automatic email to the employee letting him know that his request has been approved. In just a few steps, we are able to automate the process that was previously dependent of the HR department.  With these tools available, we can quickly go from conceptualization to execution and in just a few minutes the employee can start planning his dream vacation instead of despairing while thinking that it will take several weeks for his request to be approved. Like this example, there are many other different use cases for Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Power Automate – these tools are a tailored solution, fully adaptable to the singular reality of your company.

Xpand IT experience with PowerApps

Xpand IT has been working with Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Power Automate since the first stages of these products’ development. As such, we recognized from the outset that these technologies could complement our own mobile development solutions, whether in cross-platform (Xamarin) or native development. In our point of view, in the context of business apps, PowerApps has an interesting value proposition not only because of the shorter time-to-market but also for allowing business users to materialize their vision in a useful tool – a tool that might justify, in the future, the development of new versions or the recourse to other technologies. For every problem there are many different solutions and we consider Microsoft PowerApps a very interesting tool to boost digital transformation in organizations.

Filipa MorenoMicrosoft PowerApps: how to transform ideas into business apps
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Apple Pay in Portugal: What changes in our daily lives

It’s 7.20 AM of a weekday like so many others.

Can you imagine what it is like having to deal with the morning chaos of preparing and eating breakfast, showering, dressing, preparing the lunchbox while trying not to forget putting on socks or at least trying not to put on two different ones. Amidst the chaos, there’s always something you forget. A day like that has everything to go well, right? Wrong.

It is obvious that on such a day, while you’re looking for your card to pay for lunch, you realise that you left the wallet at home.

It only takes two seconds after that to grasp that you just lost your financial independence and you that will have to call a colleague in order to come and save you by paying for your lunch, rather than spending the whole afternoon making up to the restaurant for the meal you enjoyed without paying for it.

A few years ago, it would be plausible to come across such a situation. Nowadays, instead of making that embarrassing call to your colleague, you can just grab your phone and pay. It’s that simple. In less than a minute the payment is complete without any friction. How is it possible, you ask? Well, Apple Pay makes it possible. Thank you, gods of technology!

But what exactly is Apple Pay? What are the implications of this new service for consumers and what does the introduction of this service means for the financial industry?

Apple Pay relies on mature technology. The service was originally launched by Apple in October 2014 in its country of origin – the United States of America – and, throughout these 5 years, Apple has been expanding the service to many other countries. In fact, right now, more than 50 countries support Apple Pay and we can confidently say that Apple plans to continue the evangelization and implementation of this service in more countries.

From June 2019 onwards, Portugal became one of the countries to support Apple Pay. Crédito Agrícola, Revolut, N26, Monese and, more recently, Moey! were the first banks to offer this service in the country and we were one of the first companies to implement the technology.

Xpand IT was one of the partners that accompanied the implementation process of Apple Pay within the Crédito Agrícola mobile app from the outset and had to assure the creation of a simple and intuitive navigation flow, so that adding cards to Apple Wallet through the banking app would be fast, easy and frictionless. Together with Crédito Agrícola, Xpand IT has guaranteed that the implementation passed all security tests and all demanding Apple requisites. Not less important, Apple’s intervention in the implementation process highlighted the necessity of having a partner whose sole focus would be the user experience – to assure the experience was coherent and that it was capable of giving life to this new payment method.

How, then, does Apple Pay work? Getting back to the example above, after the initial setup in which the user is able to add cards in the Apple Wallet app, you can now use just your phone to make contactless payments. Payment terminals are still the same – in case they already accept contactless, the user needs only to open the Wallet app, use TouchID or FaceID for authentication, touch the phone to the POS and voilá, that’s it – transaction completed.

There’s no need for wallets or physical cards that only create obstacles to this process – a process that should be fast and painless. As an additional security measure, if the amount is higher than 20 euros (value determined in Portugal), the user will be asked to confirm the transaction through a PIN.

The truth is that this service is a game changer, as it offers complete convenience to the payment act – you pay for your shopping in any channel, be it online, physical or even in mobile apps by using the devices that are already part of your life (iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch), without any complications or waste of time. On the other side, this payment method offers more security: not only because your card data is safely stored through the virtual representation of the card (token) – this token can be deactivated or activated at any moment in the app and is independent of the physical cards – but also because in order for the user to authorise a transaction, a biometric authentication is required. This is one of the reasons why this service has been widely accepted in different economy sectors and also why it has been having such a considerable impact in the payment industry.

I know you must be thinking that not all is roses with this service and that might be true. There’s something none of us can escape – we still need to have battery on our phones in order to assure that our cards are accessible and that payments are just a touch away.

I can now leave my wallet at home without any concern. I just have to make sure that my phone doesn’t run out of battery. If that happens, there’s no technology that can save me.

Maybe in a few years’ time we will be able to make a payment just by authenticating our identity without the need of a phone. But that’s something for another blog post!

Filipa MorenoApple Pay in Portugal: What changes in our daily lives
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Power Platform World Tour: Our experience

In the last week of August, Xpand IT has travelled once again to London where on the 28th and the 29th took place the first European stop of the 2019 Power Platform World Tour. We departed Lisbon with some expectations we hoped would be fulfilled: we wanted to understand this platform even better – a platform which is experiencing an interesting growth – and also get a glimpse into its future.

For those unfamiliar with Power Platform, this is a platform that brings together 3 Microsoft products that together bring to life a platform that promises to streamline and promote the Digital Transformation of organizations. PowerApps, Flow and PowerBI are tools that enable the digitalization and automation of internal processes and have enormous potential to transform the way companies manage their processes and make their decisions. With these tools, companies will be able to make informed decisions with agility and with technology-based processes, therefore taking advantage of the benefits that come from it.

The Event

Getting back to London, though… the event offered us two full days of interesting content where it was possible to meet the growing and enthusiastic Power Platform community, to explore the challenges that different industries are tackling with PowerApps and, no less important, to get a dose of inspiration from the showcased solutions and how various companies are already taking advantage of these technologies. With The Shard as background, the event was a community get together and a genuine sharing of experiences…in fact, one of Microsoft’s most powerful messages is the Power Platform’s simplicity of use. When they say that everyone can build an app using PowerApps and Flow, it’s true. With these products, both developers and business users have the right tools and are empowered to get better business results by building apps. This is not a tool that can be used to solve every problem. However, it is undoubtedly possible to use these powerful technologies to address some of the challenges companies face nowadays.

One of the highlights of the event was being able to hear first-hand what Microsoft has to say about these products’ evolution and what the future holds, especially with regards to enhancements and new features that will be available to all users from October 1st onward. The AI Builder is an example of the new features we can count on: capabilities such as binary classification, object detection and form processing make it easier to include Microsoft’s cognitive services in enterprise applications and providing them with a layer of intelligence that up until now wasn’t within the reach of PowerApps applications. The platform includes a whole set of new features – more than 400 in the last 6 months according to Microsoft – that will allow more and more citizen developers to emerge.

Another of the highlights of the event was related to how these initiatives should be managed within the company in partnership with the IT department. Even though there’s a lot of advantages in putting the power of app creation in the hands of any user – in fact, these users are even now using Excel or Access to solve many problems – the company needs to guarantee that the theme of Enterprise Management is properly addressed. More importantly, we need to look at these initiatives in a more programmatic way: their adoption will have to be promoted continuously so that they aren’t regarded as one-shot projects only.

We also confirmed our suspicions related to the unprecedented growth of the platform: 700% growth in production apps and more than 2.5M of monthly active developers in the Power Platform. These are surprising numbers that show us that the low-code market is growing: Gartner and Forrester have named Microsoft PowerApps as market leaders. It’s safe to say that the future is looking bright for PowerApps and the rest of the Power Platform.

In Conclusion

In short, you can expect more news about PowerApps very soon. The event was an excellent opportunity to witness how companies are innovating internally and to learn from the many experiences of the community. We have returned to Lisbon with the certainty that the PowerApps value proposition for internal empowerment scenarios is very interesting and, in this sense, can complement our mobile development offer whether in cross-platform (Xamarin) or native development.

Strategically speaking, our vision for customer facing apps doesn’t include low-code tools. However, we see potential in low-code tools when we focus on internal and Employee Empowerment scenarios. More news coming soon!

Filipa MorenoPower Platform World Tour: Our experience
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