Category Archives: Microsoft Flow

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 4 – The Final Showdown

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

You can read previous post Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Seeing is believing

It took me 2.5 days to learn and figure out the design and new technologies I need to build the component.

Less than half a day, the mock version of the component was completed. The component was loaded on the form, the dialog was shown with the mock file list, the Flow was triggered to attach a hard-coded SharePoint file to an email as an attachment.

Now, I can prove the team that the PCF control works. I can show it to users how the component can change their life drastically.

When users saw the new UX, it just blew away them. They just forgot the inconvenience with the out-of-the-box user experience. We shot down Top 1 issue from their bounty list.

Keep yourself connected

Though the mock version was smooth, there were a few issues (as expected) I faced. When I tried to use WebAPI in PCF, it always return null. I checked my old PCF which used to be work. It was not working anymore. I looked at other PCF examples from the community. All looked same as mine. Mine was not working. I had no clue.

So, I reached out Natraj (God Mode of PCF). He kindly showed me the direction. It turned out PCF team had introduced <feature-usage> tag in manifest. I had to include WebAPI feature in manifest file to use WebAPI. It was a life saver.

A blocker? Reach out to the community.

You don’t have to be alone solving the issue.

Coming to the end

Just over 1 day of building and trouble shooting, I had a fully working version of the component. In fact, the total build time was less than the initial design and exploration.

If you ask me “Would you spend more time thinking and playing than actual building?”, my answer is “Always”.

I encourage my colleagues to spend more time exploring than completing tasks. Completing the task is the last thing I worry. To me, understanding fundamentals and visualising the process are more important than just completing the task. Once you fully understand it, the rest is a piece of cake. You don’t need to look back. You can keep moving forward.

Limitations or future enhancements

There are many limitations and a few things I couldn’t include in this first version.

  1. Support sub-folder in SharePoint – The component does NOT currently support the navigation of sub-folder in SharePoint. I had the working FetchXml query and will add it in next version.
  2. Support attaching documents from Notes – I want to allow users attaching from Notes of an associated record, similar to SharePoint documents.
  3. Support local file attachment – This will make the component one-stop shop for attachments. You can attach files from SharePoint, Notes and local files.
  4. A managed solution package (with potential AppSource)

Configuration

After I posted the component in LinkedIn, a few people reached out to me how to configure the component and its Flow. I had privately responded to them.

The component accepts 3 properties

  1. Regarding Id – Can be bound to any text field. However, I recommend creating a separate text field as I need to update it’s value to trigger onChange event in Dynamics to refresh the grid. Currently, it is the only supported way to refresh the grid.
  2. SharePoint Site URLs – You can include multiple site collection addresses with comma separated value. For instances, https://mysite.sharepoint.com/site1, https://mysite.sharepoint.com/site2
  3. API/Flow URL – The URL of Flow end point. It will look like this “https://prod-19.australiasoutheast.logic.azure.com:443/workflows/…invoke?api-version=2016-06-01&sp=%2Ftriggers%2Fmanual%2Frun&sv=1.0&sig=…&spsite={0}&spfilepath={1} . Get my Flow here. Once you imported the Flow, copy the HTTP URL from the trigger. Then, append the URL with &spsite={0}&spfilepath={1} and set it as property value.

Last step is to hook up JavaScript to refresh the grid. Create a JavaScript web resource or update the existing one with the following script.

function refreshAttachmentGrid(executionContext) { 
var formContext = executionContext.getFormContext();
var attachmentGrid = formContext.getControl("attachmentsGrid");
attachmentGrid.refresh();
}

Then, add the web source to the Email form and add onChange event on the attribute you bound with PCF to call refreshAttachmentGrid function.

That’s all you need to configure to use the component.

I hope you enjoy this mini-series of blog. You can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

I will be back with another cool PCF that works in both model-driven apps and canvas apps. Stay tuned. Bye for now.

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 2 – The Sketch

Published / by AK / 2 Comments on Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 2 – The Sketch

Part 1 – The Problem can be found here.

Time for Proof of Concept (PoC)

I like building canvas app, for Proof of Concept (PoC) purpose. It is so easy. Drag and drop, a few clicks and formula, and then you can see the result.

I thought of building a canvas app in the first place. However, I quickly discarded the idea as soon as I figured out there was no easy way and it’s going to take much time.

So, I turned into PowerApps Component Framework (PCF).

Sketching the idea

I love using pencils and paper. It is so physical and gives me the first hand experience. After doodling a couple of pages, I came up with the following sketch.

On the paper

I am trying to build a button using PCF that can be placed on the email form.

When users click it, I want to show a list of SharePoint documents from the related record (regarding) as a dialog. I want users to select multiple files and attach them to the email with a single click.

When users click Attach button in the dialog, it will call a WebAPI that will return the file content from SharePoint. Then, the component will create an attachment in CDS email, and hide the dialog.

From Requirements to Build

Sketching the idea is easy. Listing down requirements is straightforward. Saying “I want these” is a piece of cake.

But, the build is a real challenge. It is even more challenging if a builder doesn’t know technologies, frameworks, libraries and their abilities to make his life easier. This is where a leader can make difference.

Guess to solve

For instance, Person A asks you to create a web page, saying “I want a responsive web page on every device. You can probably use CSS and tweak positions, width, and alignment to make them responsive.”

There is a clear requirement which is a responsive design. But the solution to the problem is blur. No definitive. It is more misleading when Person A starts talking about tweaking position, layout and alignment. A builder can easily drift away with tweaking x and y, width and height, and alignment in basic CSS, which works on every single browser and device.

Make a difference

Now, what about this. Person B says “I want a responsive web page on every device. You can check out Bootstrap, especially its layout/grid system. Let me know if you have a challenge. We will figure it out.”

Whom would you love to work with? Person A or Person B?

To me, it is definitely Person B. A leader who gives you a clear direction but makes you learn it yourself. At the same time, he doesn’t mind getting his hand dirty.

Now, back to the sketch I drew. It’s time to ask the important question myself, and I must answer it honestly.

Am I ready to build?

The answer is NO. There are a couple of things I needed to figured out.

In the next post, I will write how to figure out what I needs to learn and try out before building an actual component. Stay tuned for Part 3 – The Slow Start.

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 1 – The Problem

Published / by AK / 4 Comments on Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 1 – The Problem

Since the public preview of PowerApps Component Framework (PCF), I always want to build a component that enhances the user experience (UX) in model-driven apps in Common Data Service (CDS) or Dynamics 365.

Recently, I had an opportunity to build a component with PowerApps Component Framework (PCF) that will save several mouse clicks from each user.

I literally started building a PCF component using a paper and a pencil. I thought of sharing my experience in this mini-blog series.

Activity and document management in CDS

People uses Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of every interaction with customers in one place. If users have to juggle between many applications to see all interactions, it will not be productive.

CDS includes an activity management, tracking emails, tasks, phone calls, letters, and appointments. Users can sync these activities between CDS and Exchange.

Being able to send an email directly from CDS is convenient to users, as they don’t need to switch to Outlook to send an email. If an email is sent from a case, the email will automatically associate with the case, giving a 360 degree view.

Today, users often use SharePoint as a central document management system to store documents related to cases and customers. CDS offers out-of-the-box integration with SharePoint, thus integration is merely a couple of mouse clicks. Everything is perfect.

Attaching documents in Email

When users send an email to the customer in CDS, they often need to attach documents from SharePoint by going through following steps:

  1. Open a case record
  2. Navigate to Documents tab
  3. Click a file to download*
  4. Choose a local folder to save the files* (several clicks to navigate and create a new folder)
  5. Navigate to Activity tab
  6. Add a new Email
  7. Save the email
  8. Click Attach File button from the command bar*
  9. Choose a file from the local folder* (several click to navigate to the correct folder)
  10. Repeat the whole process if the user needs another file from SharePoint

*Repeat if more than one file is needed


A problem?

You can clearly see the user experience (UX) is horrible. Look at followings:

  1. Users have to download each file individually
  2. Users have to store files locally in an organised manner
  3. Users will not know know if local files are outdated
  4. Users have to attach a file individually
  5. The worst part? Users have to go through the whole process if they forget to download a file.

What if users can attach documents from SharePoint to an email directly?

It will be a time saver to users. Imagine users can attach multiple files from SharePoint to an email in CDS.

In the next post, I will show you how I plan to tackle the problem. Stay tuned for Part 2 – The Sketch.

Read Office 365 Message Centre using Office 365 Management API

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

I started my career as a web developer. Since then it is one of the best decision I have ever taken. Web has been evolving and because of it, low code platforms like Microsoft Flow makes our life a lot easier. In this post, I am going to show you how to read messages from Office 365 Message Centre using its API.

Office 365 Management API is well documented at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/office-365-management-api/office-365-management-apis-overview

Since it is web api, Microsoft Flow can easily make HTTP request and parse the response. To do it, let’s register an app in Azure Portal first. As we are going to use it from Microsoft Flow, you need to create Web App / Api type application. Another point is to grant the correct permission to the app. Its permission should be set as below.

Permissions to read messages

Permissions to read messages

Ensure you click Grant Permissions after choosing correct permissions. Otherwise, the authroisation will fail.

After this, the rest is quite straight forward. I have created the following Flow. In general, it will

  1. read the last message time from my Google sheet
  2. check the value of last message time. It sets the correct StartTime condition in HTTP step so we won’t be retrieving same messages over and over again.
  3. parse the data and insert into my Google sheet

Message Centre Flow

Message Centre Flow

HTTP request step is setup as below. It is quite straightforward. Please note we need to filter StartTime properly.

Office 365 Management API HTTP Request

Office 365 Management API HTTP Request

Once the Flow is executed, all messages are nicely inserted into my Google sheet.

Messages in Google Sheet

Messages in Google Sheet

This is all because of the power of Web. Of course, Microsoft Flow makes things easier. That’s all for now.

Creating a custom connector to upload a file to Google Drive from PowerApps – Part 2

Published / by AK / 1 Comment on Creating a custom connector to upload a file to Google Drive from PowerApps – Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

Swagger time

To create a customer connector, you can upload either a swagger file or a Postman collection. I am not a swagger expert. But, apistudio makes my life easier. Let’s jump onto http://specgen.apistudio.io.

Paste the URL that you used in Postman. Make sure you are using POST. You should receive 202 status after sending the request. One more thing to remember is to click ‘Next Step‘ button instead of clicking tabs. Otherwise, you will need to rework.

Generate swagger

Generate swagger

Enter API Program and contact info. Ensure to use valid Contact Url and Contact Email. What’s next? Next Step button.

Swagger contact info

Swagger contact info

Next is API Info. You can play around with the slider which will change API Base Path and API Path. Give a meaningful OperationId.

API Info

API Info

There is nothing special to do with Headers Info and Params Info, although we will make some manual changes in them. I don’t see (and I don’t know) to make those changes in the generator.

Keep clicking Next Step until you get Open API Spec. There you can download the swagger file.

Open API Spec

Open API Spec

Now, let’s make a few changes to swagger file.

First, we need to replace null with application/json in “produces” collection, and remove the whole section for “content-type”

Remove content-type

Remove content-type

Modify produces

Modify produces

Set default values for api-versionspsv and sig. You can find these values in URL or using Postman.

Set default values

Set default values

Lastly, you need to add parameters for file content, which will be reading from formData as a file type.

Adding file params

Adding file params

That’s pretty much you need to do in Swagger file before creating a custom connector in PowerApps.

Creating a custom connector

Launch PowerApps in the browser and go to Custom connectors, and import your swagger file.

Create a new custom connector

Create a new custom connector

Create custom connector

Create custom connector

Generally, you don’t need to change anything until you get to 3. Definition. At 2. Security, you can still use ‘No authentication’ as the API will authenticate using sig parameter you have provided in the query string. As long as you don’t expose signature parameter, no authorised user can use your API.

At step 3, scroll to Request section where you will see query parameters. Edit api-versionspsv and sig, and change their visibility to internal since we have set default values in swagger file.

Modify visibility

Modify visibility

After changing visibility of api-versionspsv and sig, you can now create a custom connector.

Once it is created, it is time to head into PowerApps. In your PowerApps, while adding a new data source, you can now find your custom connector.

Custom connector in PowerApps

Custom connector in PowerApps

After creating a data source, let’s add some controls to PowerApps and check whether it’s working. I have added PenInput and Button as below. OnSelect of Button, I am going to push the image from PenInput to my Google Drive.

Sample PowerApps

Sample PowerApps

Viola. It is now uploaded to Google Drive.

PenInput to Google Drive

PenInput to Google Drive

PenInput to Google Drive

PowerApps does not work

You know it right? Save, close and open your PowerApps again.

One last thing

This is only an example of how we can easily (of course, I can know say ‘it is easy’) transform any Flow functionalities as custom connectors. This also solves the concern of using Camera control which produces a low resolution photo. With this approach, we can use AddPicture control not only to take full advantage of device camera but also to pick up photos/files which are already existed in the device.

Generally, we don’t need custom connectors if parameter types are simple. In this example, we need Base64. I guess, depending on the parameter type of an endpoint, PowerApps may be passing suitable parameters.

Anyway, we can now invoke all those infinite possible connectors of Flow from PowerApps.

 

Creating a custom connector to upload a file to Google Drive from PowerApps – Part 1

Published / by AK / 1 Comment on Creating a custom connector to upload a file to Google Drive from PowerApps – Part 1

Knowing the limitation

Although Microsoft Flow and PowerApps support ready-to-use connectors for different services, it seems they do not have the same level of offerings between them.

In Flow, for instance, there is a connector for Google Drive and there is a bunch of actions like creating/deleting a file, browsing the folder.

Google Drive Actions in Flow

Google Drive Actions in Flow

However, you cannot use those actions in PowerApps. Apparently, Google Drive connector in PowerApps only works for excel as a datasource.

Google Drive in PowerApps

Google Drive in PowerApps

Additionally, if you pay attention to different image controls, such as PenInput, Camera, Add Media, they have different properties which looks like they are doing the same thing. For example, Camera.Photo returns a Data URI of a picture, while PenInput.Image and AddMediaButton.Media effectively returns a local blob storage URL (appres://blobmanager/<GUID>/<serial number>) which can only be accessed in the app.

Combining with the inability of using full functionality of connectors and meaningless local blob storage URL outside the app, we need look at what else we can do.

Knowing the out-of-box capability

Given that Camera.Photo returns a Data URI string of an image, we can convert it into binary and save it into Google Drive. However, it has another small issue. Camera control in PowerApps does not use the full resolution of device camera. It is ridiculously small (at least to me). If even we can live with small photos, we still need a workaround for other controls.

Out-of-the-box, you can upload images from above control to Azure Blob Storage. Then, from Azure Blob Storage, you can copy the file to the destination you want. This is not a problem for a client who has already had Azure subscription, but not a neat solution for a client who has no prior Azure subscription. Trust me the cost is never a problem (Azure Blob Storage is super cheap) but it’s more about managing different instances. If managing different instances is not an issue, this is a way to go.

Going an extra mile

This is where a real fun starts.

But, we always want to go an extra mile to see what else there. In the bright side, PowerApps allows us to create a custom connector which can be configured in Flow to upload a file to Google Drive.

First, let’s start with creating a flow which will be triggered when HTTP request is received. There is only one trigger available. This is basically a webhook.

HTTP Request Trigger

HTTP Request Trigger

HTTP Request Trigger

HTTP Request Trigger

Then, initialise the ‘FileName’ variable, so we can save the flow. The expression for value is trigger()[‘outputs’][‘queries’][‘filename’] as we are planning to pass query string filename during the request.

Initialise FileName variable

Initialise FileName variable

After saving the flow, expand the HTTP trigger point to grab the URL to invoke

URL to invoke

URL to invoke

Copy that URL to Postman, and append filename query string in URL. Please note sig query string should be kept in secret.

Test from Postman

Test from Postman

After invoking the URL, you will see the Flow is executed. When you open the execute Flow instance, you will see the filename query string is assigned to FileName variable in Flow.

Test Result

Test Result

Now, let’s try sending the file from Postman and let’s look at the Flow to extract file content. In your Postman, choose File form-data and send the request.

Send the file from Postman

Send the file from Postman

Open the executed flow. This time, you will see ‘click to download’ in the output of HTTP request.

Test Result with file

Test Result with file

When you open it, you will see a massive output, but we are only after for a few things which are body and $content. $content is Base64 of uploaded file.

Multipart body content

Multipart body content

To get this content, add another variable initialiser. This time we are going to set its type as Object, as Google Drive accepts JSON.

Prepare file content

Prepare file content

Now, let’s add another action to upload a file to Google Drive. It will ask you to connect to Google if you have no prior connection.

Google Drive connector

Google Drive connector

Now, let’s choose the folder path in Google Drive, file name and its content. You will need to write an expression for file content to get the object of FileContent variable.

Google Create File action

Google Create File action

Save the Flow. Go back to Postman, and send the request. You will see the flow is executed and a file is uploaded to your Google Drive.

I will cover the process of converting this Flow into a custom connector and calling it directly from PowerApps, in Part 2.