TL;DR// Power Apps Can Make Your Complicated SharePoints Ultra-Simple

Kevin (Chevy) Ford

The Internet and Spreadsheets

I perceive a spectrum of website usefulness that ranges from intuitive, to haphazardly appearing very much like a spreadsheet. Successful sites usually employ some kind of front-end experience to present information in an intuitive way for users to easily interact with the content as opposed to presenting everything in table rows and columns. If every aspect of how people used Facebook were in a single Microsoft Excel file that you and the rest of the world used at the same time, playing catchup on the latest posts from your favorite communities would be doable, although a feat better done if you didn’t have anything else planned for the day because it wouldn’t exactly be the easiest experience. People probably wouldn’t want to use Facebook at all if that were the case!

“The front-end is the presentation layer, for example, the part of a website that the user sees, where the visual web design is displayed. This includes everything you see and interact with on a website: the images, positioning of visuals and content.” (Profound, n.d.)

But that’s kind of how Facebook and other interactive websites work, because there are data tables beneath websites that look like Excel spreadsheets that everyone uses at the same time from a front end. A website’s front-end experience allows users to view, create, edit, and/or delete information in those tables, and it is usually a website’s front-end experience that makes or breaks a website’s reputation for being the best-in-category, passable alternative, or a website that is simply too unpolished to use. Even if a website has an amazing marketing push, if it can’t easily do what people want it to do, it won’t generate buzz, be shared with friends or family, and will ultimately go unbookmarked.

“The front-end is the presentation layer, for example, the part of a website that the user sees, where the visual web design is displayed. This includes everything you see and interact with on a website: the images, positioning of visuals and content.” (Profound, n.d.)


Websites You Get to Choose

Having choices on the internet lets you pick the websites most suitable for you in the moment you need them. The internet allows you the freedom to choose at any time how you’d like to do something online such as communicating with friends, paying bills, or viewing new movie releases. You aren’t constrained to a single choice to perform any particular function and it saves time using what we’re familiar with or subscribed to. People like to use websites with front-end experiences that keep up with their streams of consciousness in the moment. For example, I use Google search because it’s a front-end experience that is easy for me to use and it’s so fast that it feels like a natural extension of my thought process. You probably use Google search, as does 91.9% of the market (StatCounter, 2022) because Google figured out the concept of easy-to-use search before their competitors.  But the search market competition caught up and I also find myself using Bing for work, and I even use Reddit to search for information where word of mouth makes more sense in the moment, such as for product reviews.

When Choices Aren’t an Option

While having choices on the internet is quite lovely, federal contractors often perform their work within various customers’ secured intranets where what is needed in-the-moment may only have one website available to manage it in. Having supported over 20+ federal agencies over the past 7 years, one thing I’ve come to expect is the need to train folks on how to perform fairly basic functions in these websites that obfuscate how to do them. The more complex the website, the more these intranet tools begin to resemble internet spreadsheets for one reason or another, and the front-end experience isn’t far removed from the data tables they were built on. What ends up happening is the customer gives up on trying to learn the website, and simply supplies their required input via Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, and then hands off to another to enter their data into the technologically troublesome system. These websites struggle with intended adoption, even if its use is required, because the front-end experience did not receive the same time and attention as the back end. Further, after development contracts end there may be little hope for those sites to improve because computer science is really hard and it can be challenging for new teams to resume where the prior left off in development.

So, why use a semi-functional, multimillion-dollar website that more closely resembles a collection of spreadsheets when I could just use Microsoft Excel and offload the data entry to another? But this is the 21st century, development costs are sky-high, and many government organizations are trying to meet their numerous web-based technical needs via SharePoint, and not just the old SharePoint, the new SharePoint Online. Unless the front-end experience is or was part of the planning process for your SharePoint Online implementation, the technically savvy person that often assists with your data entry will become quite popular and quite overwhelmed as the requests for help begin to pour in.

While you can store Excel files in SharePoint, it also has a built-in lists creation feature and those lists on SharePoint look at lot like spreadsheets…internet spreadsheets.

But what if I told you we can transform your SharePoint situation into websites, or applications that come across and function more like Facebook, YouTube, or Google? With some assembly, we can do that and more with Microsoft Power Apps, a useful tool built with novices (and experts) in mind.


Enter Microsoft Power Apps

With Power Apps, we can build great front-end experiences to give users options within their intranets. These front-end experiences could be for sending forms, combining existing ticketing systems, managing project data along with a built-in twitter-like feed, browsing organizational news, or updating multiple databases simultaneously with one single click. While we’re focusing on Power Apps with SharePoint right now, there are many more platforms you can build a Power App for, several of which aren’t even Microsoft products, like ServiceNow, Jira, and Adobe Sign. Support for these third-party products are premium features, but there are plenty of useful options that are free as well.

Power Apps is so downright impressive because a small team, or even one citizen-developer without any pro training, can transform your SharePoint spreadsheet jungle into an easy-as-pie application for your whole agency to use. Here is the cool part: you can do it too, and your government agency does not need vast sums of money nor a legion of M.I.T. programmers at the ready to build flexible options… just get Power Apps!

A citizen developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units. A citizen developer is a persona, not a title or targeted role. (Gartner, n.d.)

Your agency can still use SharePoint but in a way that successful websites do. Not only can we turn all those internet spreadsheets into aesthetically pleasing and intuitive front-end experiences, we can also tell Power Apps to automatically do things that add convenience for repetitive and mundane tasks, like populating a new quad chart based on the information tied to your work account. That’s one example, but there are endless possibilities that can save everyone so much time, in many different ways. Such as…

Is the Power App you created too complicated?

You can simplify it.

If different versions of the app are wanted to add even more options?
That can be done!

If the customer asks a what-if?
On the spot, you may be able to show them what their idea could look like and demonstrate how it could function.

Building Power Apps is relatively low risk as well, and in various respects. Reviewing a Power App is simpler than trying to decipher pages of programmers’ code. Someone else can take over your promising idea without years of study to even begin understanding how the app works. Power Apps is newbie friendly when properly setup by your system administrator(s), and there isn’t a whole lot of damage that can be done to the organization, or any at all. Even if one was to break an app and then accidently publish it, the app can be easily be reverted to its prior functional state without losing data that customers might have entered after the “uh-oh” was discovered. It’s all about low-risk, high-reward innovation that could substantially improve the day-to-day livelihoods of those you support, your direct teammates, and yourself. It’s a win-win-win situation.

So, what would your ideal Power App do for your customer?

Consider what troubles you or your customers are having using SharePoint. Is the current system too complicated for a single training session to resolve widespread issues? What ways could the front-end experience be better? My goal when building an app is to reduce the need for traditional training to a bare minimum. The app should be so intuitive that there is very little guess work involved in how it works because I focus only on what is suitable for the intended users in their moment of need. With the ability to create pop-up tips and integrate help topics between apps, there is even less need for users to call for assistance because the training can be built into the app for just-in-time learning (Rehmani, n.d.) in the user’s moment-of-need.

Citizen Developers!

There is a learning curve for Power Apps and its many concepts to understand; while it’s much easier than programming, the platform still takes some time to learn. So, with no prior training, it may take you about a month to figure out your first full-fledged app, and half the time to rebuild it from memory. Start small and you’ll gain the prerequisite skills needed to meet customers’ loftier goals in time. Then as your skillset continuously improves, you’ll be able to build apps pretty quickly that require minimal end-user training because you begin to conceptualize in-the-moment intuitive design more and more with each attempt.


Value Add

Power Apps is still relatively new in the global work environment, but it is becoming a flagship tool for Microsoft’s charge into the next generation workplace. This means right now is an opportune time to learn Power Apps while the level of competition is still fairly even; sooner than later, Power Apps may become a regular part of product requirements as our customers begin discovering their legacy SharePoint tools are losing support and the third-party alternatives can be really expensive. For government agencies switching to Office Online, this capability often flies under the radar because folks simply have never heard of Power Apps before.

If your agency has Power Apps, you can quickly address customer frustrations for using SharePoint as you’ll have a powerful tool at your convenience to provide new purpose-built options. In just a few hours you may even be able to show off a potential solution if you really want to impress. Ultimately, you can contribute to making your customers’ work-life balance AWESOME by transforming many of their pain-points into big wins for everyone.

If PowerApps sounds like your sort of thing, check out Power Apps on Microsoft Learn | Microsoft Docs to get started. As with a lot of things on the internet it can be hard to figure out how to get started, so I’ll follow-up in another article to share some useful tips and tricks I’ve learned so far to help kick-start your idea.


Gartner. (n.d.). Information Technology Glossary. Retrieved from Gartner:,than%20IT.%20All%20citizen%20developers%20are%20business%20technologists.

Profound. (n.d.). What’s the difference between front-end and back-end? Retrieved from Profound:

Rehmani, A. (n.d.). Your #1 Opportunity to Give Customers The Help They Need with Asif Rehmani. Retrieved from TechSmith:

StatCounter. (2022). Search Engine Market Share Worldwide. Retrieved from StatCounter: