Citizen Developer or Not, You Can Get Big Benefits from No Code/Low Code Development with the Power Platform
These days, other than “AI”, you’ve been hearing about “no code/low code”. If you use any Microsoft product, like Dynamics 365 Business Central, you’ve also heard about the Power Platform. For Microsoft users, having access to the Power Platform is definitely an advantage.
Aptly named, the Power Platform puts the power of no code/low code development into the hands of end users, making it significantly faster, easier, and cost-effective to create apps, workflows, chatbots, and more. The Power Platform is marketed to experienced developers as well as “citizen developers” because they, too, can benefit from developing solutions faster and more cost-effectively, with the benefits being passed along to customers—you.
While this is all true, the reality is that many companies either aren’t equipped or aren’t interested in having citizen developers. Does this mean they don’t get any benefit from the Power Platform? No, it does not.
Organizations of any size and makeup using Business Central can capitalize on the Power Platform, from providing it to citizen developers to benefitting from faster, lower-cost solutions from trusted technology partners.
What is no code/low code?
Before discussing how BC users benefit from the Power Platform, let’s define no code/low code. No code/low code (NCLC) tools simplify the task of programming, making it faster and more cost effective than traditional development. Good no code/low code tools enable individuals with limited technical skills, often called “citizen developers,” to create customized applications to solve business problems without needing big development projects and professional software developers. They are typically used for developing basic software solutions with more limited logic and complexity. Applications that require complex logic, integration with sensitive applications and data, or company-wide impact are not typically suited for NCLC—but there are exceptions, which will be discussed in this article.
Low code development provides an environment with templates, pre-built components, and versatile interfaces to external systems, which users can arrange using a drag-and-drop interface to build their own custom applications. They are intended to work so that the user only needs to add simple lines of code or scripts to add logic to their apps—for simpler, more straightforward needs. However, professional developers and more technically savvy users often use low code development to build more involved apps and flows quickly. Low code development is also an easy way to develop a proof-of-concept skeleton of an app for further refinement later.
No code development allows users to build apps without writing code at all by leveraging pre-built components, templates, and drag-and-drop blocks. The user only adds a few configuration settings and a simple logic flow. Non-technical employees mostly use no code tools to automate workflows.
No code/low code in the Microsoft Power Platform
The Power Platform is a group of several applications that allow users and developers to automate processes, analyze business data, create applications to solve business problems, and more. The Power Platform consists of:
- Power BI: Consolidate data and perform complex analysis for reporting and decision-making.
- Power Apps: Create custom applications quickly and easily.
- Power Automate: Streamline repetitive tasks and business processes.
- Power Virtual Agents: Create chatbots to engage with customers.
- Power Pages: Create, host, and administer secure, external-facing business websites.
- Microsoft Copilot: Add AI capabilities into apps, flows, chatbots, etc. Copilot is available across the Microsoft stack, from Outlook to Business Central to the Power Platform.
Everyone can benefit from the Power Platform’s no-code/low code tools
While the Power Platform has been promoted as a tool for citizen developers, the reality is that this model doesn’t work for some companies. They might not have people on staff interested in coding if it’s not their regular job, employees might not have enough time, or the needs that the tools in the Power Platform can address are too complex for a citizen developer to tackle. And then there are the companies with skilled, competent IT people on staff, but those people do not have the time to take on more projects.
All these reasons for not wanting to take on projects that the Power Platform could address are perfectly reasonable. And if you’re one of those companies, you might assume you cannot benefit from what the Power Platform offers. But that’s not the case. Dynamics 365 Business Central and other Microsoft implementation and support partners and consultants are using Power Platform tools to provide solutions to customers that would, in the past, require significant development efforts, typically involving customizing Business Central (or whatever application is involved). With the Power Platform, these professionals are able to design, develop, and deploy solutions quickly and cost-effectively that not only address the need but also avoid touching the code within the application.
Regardless of where you stand—you have a skilled but busy IT department, you don’t have IT resources that can address needs around your BC implementation, or you have employees who want to and are capable of doing some NCLC work on their own, the Power Platform provides big benefits:
- Reduced workload for IT. Most IT departments are bombarded with requests for software solutions from multiple departments. Requests for new customizations can be backlogged for weeks or months. Allowing users to create solutions to the less complex problems they are dealing with—or looking to your BC partner or consultant to use the Power Platform to provide solutions to bigger needs—reduces the workload of software developers so they can focus on more pressing tasks without breaking the IT budget.
- Accelerated development time. The Power Platform is faster to work with versus customizing BC or creating a new solution from the ground up, generating working applications in a fraction of the time it would take a developer to write the code from scratch. This reduced development time shortens the time it takes to get the solution into the hands of your users.
- Rapid prototyping. Professional and tech-savvy developers use the Power Platform for prototyping solutions, creating a working version of the application in days or even hours. The prototype can then be evaluated and modified for later use in the production environment.
- Targeted solutions. Non-technical users often understand their issues better than most professional developers (for example, think of bookkeepers or warehouse workers). The Power Platform can help them solve specific issues without involving IT departments and expensive contractors. Conversely, your partner can take on more complex, yet targeted needs.
- Avoidance of unnecessary customizations. Creating a simple solution using the Power Platform can avoid requiring customizations to your business applications. Customizations to your ERP can bog down performance, challenge upgrading, or require the purchase of expensive add-on modules.
- Eliminate the need for a Tier 1 solution. Some companies purchase Tier 1—or enterprise—ERP solutions because they require specific functionality that, in the past, only a Tier 1 solution could provide. With the Power Platform, you can keep Business Central in place and add what you need, cost-effectively and quickly, with the Power Platform.
- Easy access to other data sources. The tools in the Power Platform are not only fully integrated with the entire Microsoft stack, but they’re also extremely flexible, enabling you to connect disparate applications…and not just Microsoft, creating a seamless ecosystem. Many companies use Power Apps specifically for that need—for example, connecting their D365 ERP to a CRM solution like Salesforce.
Set realistic expectations for utilizing the Power Platform so you can benefit from it
Given all the benefits offered by the Power Platform, it’s important to be realistic about what can and can’t—or perhaps what should and shouldn’t—be done with the Power Platform and by whom. In no way do we want to discourage citizen developers! However, it’s important to remember that no code/low code is still software development. As part of your strategy for citizen developers using the Power Platform, put the proper governance in place regarding its use. Consider these points as you’re developing your strategy:
- Technical knowledge. By definition, citizen developers are not professional software developers. That means they potentially lack detailed knowledge of programming languages, software development best practices, and software architecture. While tech-savvy employees might be able to handle some coding tasks, more complex efforts can be challenging. Make sure they have the proper guidance and training.
- Security and compliance. As with technical knowledge, citizen developers might not fully understand the implications of security principles, compliance requirements, and data protection and privacy laws. The result can be code that introduces potential security risks, improper handling of private data, and compliance violations. Again, proper training and guidance are critical.
- Scalability and performance. Automating the approval process for a cash outlay is one thing; optimizing code for database access is another. Creating an application with an eye toward scalability and optimized performance requires a more advanced skillset. Again, proper guidance and training need to be in place.
- Maintenance and support. Solutions built with NCLC tools by citizen developers fall outside of IT oversight. That means that the code is not maintained or updated by IT, is often not included in IT’s source control and backups, and is not supported if changes occur in company processes. Put procedures in place to address this.
- Quality assurance and testing. The standard software development lifecycle follows a rigorous series of requirements definition, testing, bug fixes, and ongoing maintenance. Many citizen developers are unaware of proper testing and the implications of placing poorly developed code into production.
- Duplicated effort. Suppose individuals develop their own solutions without consulting other departments. In that case, they can easily create an app that someone else has already built, or perhaps they overlooked a tool the company already has to perform that task. In either case, the duplicated effort can lead to wasted time and apps residing in departmental silos.
- Knowledge of full platform capabilities. Citizen developers might not know the platform’s full capabilities. They should first determine if the software already performs the functions they want to create before they start developing custom solutions.
Strike a balance
As noted earlier, there is a definite advantage to allowing citizen developers to work with the Power Platform. As with any endeavor, however, it must be done responsibly. Each organization is unique and must develop its own guidelines to strike a proper balance between citizen developers and professional developers. As a Microsoft Dynamics partner with decades of experience in software development, we are very excited about the benefits of the Power Platform and encourage our customers to explore its possibilities. If you want to learn how your company can benefit from the Power Platform, talk to your partner or consultant. They should be willing and ready to help you find that balance.
Questions? Contact ArcherPoint
If you have questions about the Power Platform or no code/low code tools in general, contact ArcherPoint. We’ll be happy to talk to you and help you figure out how to get started.