Microsoft has unveiled a new tool designed to enable those without developer skills to create mobile apps.
The move is intended to help organisations open access to corporate data by making it easier for employees to build custom apps and link them with data from sources such as enterprise applications.
Microsoft PowerApps was announced at the firm's Convergence business conference in Barcelona, and is currently a preview release. It is intended to meet the demand from business users to mobilise access to all kinds of data and corporate resources, enabling organisations to build their own solution for everything from expense apps to mobile access to ERP and CRM systems.
PowerApps will be able to run on any device with a PowerApps client. iOS, Android and Windows 10 platforms are supported, as is access from a browser.
But a key part of the proposition for enterprises is the back-end infrastructure to make it possible. Microsoft said that professional developers in an organisation will be able to publish APIs to enable PowerApp creation, while authentication will be handled by Azure Active Directory, enabling admins to manage access to applications and data.
The problem Microsoft is trying to address is that work is more mobile than ever, but access to corporate applications and data has failed to keep up with the need, according to Omar Khan, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Azure.
"IT typically lacks the skills to deliver the apps that are needed," he said, adding that data is often much more dispersed than before, making it difficult to connect all the resources needed for a working solution.
In contrast, PowerApps will enable organisations to "deliver business apps faster than before, connect to any device, share with anyone, and connect to company data anywhere, whether the source is Dropbox, Oracle, SQL Server or SAP", Khan said.
PowerApps will also enable other employees with nothing more than "Office skills" to create apps, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft's vision with PowerApps is that users will be able to build an app from an existing template or from scratch in a point-and-click way using pre-defined components, and then publish them so that any colleague with the PowerApps client on their device will be able to access them.
Professional developers can build the necessary components, such as API calls, and access to everything from the APIs to the data sources and enterprise applications will be controlled through Azure Active Directory, ensuring that only authorised employees have the credentials to update information, for example.
Wade Wegner, principal programme manager for Microsoft Azure, demonstrated how it is possible to create an app in minutes to act as a front end for data stored in an Excel spreadsheet on a corporate SharePoint server, for example, with data in the spreadsheet updated when it is edited on the PowerApps client.
"With just a few clicks, I've wired up a workflow to make an app function, built once but available on multiple platforms such as iOS and Android," Wegner said.
PowerApps is apparently an evolution of a tool codenamed Project Siena that Microsoft released as a beta a couple of years ago.
"With PowerApps we've created a service for all the enterprise, not just business developers, but all users, which not only lets business users innovate, but has the full backing of infrastructure on Azure to let users create apps with native mobile back-ends. It also has a full experience for IT to manage data connections as well as users," said Khan.
Microsoft has yet to release licensing details for PowerApps, or say when it will be commercially available, but Khan said there will be a free tier to enable users to create simple apps, while the PowerApps for Enterprise tier is expected to be licensed on a simple per-user basis for those who need to access enterprise data.
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