Tag Archives: Microsoft Flow

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.

Six months after deploying my first PowerApps

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

This post is more of rant than evangelist.

In October 2018, I had involuntarily involved in developing PowerApps for one of our clients at work. “Why involuntarily?” you may ask. Well, although I mainly work with Microsoft platform, I play around with iOS and Android native app developments and help out my friends. So, I fairly know the biggest challenge with mobile app development, making your app to work across different devices.

PowerApps is great. I have no doubt about it. All canvas-apps run inside PowerApps native app on your mobile, thus making it very different from cross-platform development in mobile app. It also means you have no control over the release of PowerApps native app.

Regardless of my strong objection, we managed to deliver the app in 10 days. The purpose of the app is to transform their paperwork of auditing farms. Basically, admin will create audit records in D365 and assign to auditors, then auditors will download records to their apps for offline use, drive out to remote areas for auditing (which also captures photo and signature). When auditors arrive back to their home at night, they sync their offline data to D365 and get newly assigned audits. Photos need to upload to their Google Drive. Why not? Microsoft Flow has out-of-the-box connector to Google Drive. Easy peasy.

Then, the client wanted to add a new functionality which will share photos uploaded in Google Drive to the audited farm. Although you can share files/folders in Google Drive, out-of-the-box connector is not capable of doing it. After going through Google Drive REST APIs, we solved it by creating a custom connector. To deliver all these functions in 10 days was impressive. It was working fine. Well … for two months.

In December, the client told us some of their auditors were facing issues with syncing records. We enhanced our app for a better performance. During the enhancement, it was all fine. When the app was re-opened again, it showed over 200 errors on one of global variables in the app. Suddenly! Set and Patch function on record type global variable didn’t work anymore. (You can find the similar issue here, though I didn’t report it).

I ended up with re-creating an app almost from scratch again. Tweak and fix. Again and again. One of the challenges with web player is you can’t test offline mode. SaveData and LoadData doesn’t work. I hope Microsoft will at least create stubs for these two functions for web player in the future. Having to test it on the device, you have to publish the app, and open the app at least twice in the device to see the latest version. It is not productive at all, but we managed to fix all issues.

But, there was another problem. Microsoft has released the new version of PowerApps and unfortunately it was a bad version. Without noticing the bad version, I kept working on the app. After publishing to test it on my device, it was too late. There was no way to return. If I rolled back to the working version, all my changes will be lost. If I stick to the current version, it can’t be tested. It didn’t look good at all.

Luckily, Microsoft released the bug fix over the weekend and the original issue was gone. But, again, the app was starting to behave weird. Functionalities used to work were not working anymore. For example, if I rolled back to the old working version, it worked. But, not on the latest PowerApps version. It is so frustrating for a developer. You have no control over which PowerApps runtime you want to choose. Microsoft dictates it. Because of it, one bad runtime version can create many issues even if you don’t make any changes.

During the enhancement, we started to notice errors in listing Google Drive files in Microsoft Flow. After searching Google Drive REST APIs, it turns out Google limits items returned from API to 100 by default and it can be changed. However, there is no way to define the paging size in out-of-the-box connector. We didn’t have the issue in UAT and early days of production go-live since items were less than 100. But, now we have an issue. As usual, a custom connector saved our life.

All issues seem to be sorted out, at least, for now. Hopefully, the app will behave nicely for next two months. But, I learned following lessons.

  • PowerApps is easy but not necessarily simple – a lot of gotcha and similar functions with totally different behaviours.
  • A lack of ability to control PowerApps version – one bad version will break your app into pieces just by publishing without making any changes. If it happens in development phase, it will stale the timeline.
  • Out-of-the-box connectors are useful for demo but not reliable for production – always reference to the source API documentation, not Microsoft Flow documentation.
  • Community is great but not all issues are resolved – looking at the example with Set and Patch functions in above link, it took about 2 months to recognise the issue by Microsoft PowerApps team. The worst part is it is not resolved yet.

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.