Get the most out of the Power Platform

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

The Microsoft Power Platform - a low-code platform that enables anyone to co-create digital solutions to solve problems and accelerate business. With a growing demand for digitalisation and an IT skills shortage, organisations are increasingly turning to the Power Platform to deliver digital solutions.


By 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies - Gartner

The Power Platform provides organisations the benefits of being more agile, developing solutions faster, removing shadow IT and enabling innovation for all. However, the Power Platform is just a toolset, it is the people and process combined with the toolset that ultimately drive these benefits. And because of this, some organisations are more successful than others. From working with clients and the Power Platform, I have started to notice trends in the common obstacles that limit an organisation's success with the Power Platform.

  • A lack of vision and direction around how low-code fits into an organisation's over all digital strategy

  • An unclear understanding of the Power Platform, its capabilities and what it can do for an organisation

  • No (or very little) governance or guard rails to ensure the Power Platform services are secure, reliable and maintainable

  • A shortage of skills, time and resources

This article is an introduction to how a Power Platform Centre of Excellence (CoE) can overcome these obstacles and help organisations truly harness the value of the Power Platform. It covers:

  • What is a Power Platform Centre of Excellence?

  • Overcoming the common obstacles

  • How to get started

  • Centre of Excellence resources


A balancing act

To overcome the common obstacles and be successful with low-code, IT and the business need to work closely together. However, they often have conflicting ideas and approaches.


The IT team in any organisation is constantly under pressure in the face of rapidly changing business needs and skill shortages. With every organisation needing to become a digital organisation, IT can often be the bottle neck for digitisation and innovation. While low-code presents an opportunity to offload and accelerate app development it can also introduce risk and complexity if not managed correctly.


The business wants to be empowered, they want to have input into creating their own solutions and not be held up by the bottle necks of IT. If they are held up then the are likely to look for other solutions causing shadow IT.


IT and the business need to come together and align under a common vision, strategy and operating model for using low-code within the organisation. This is can achieved through a Centre of Excellence which balances the needs of IT and the business.




The use of the Power Platform must balance the needs of IT and the business
The use of the Power Platform must balance the needs of IT and the business



What is a Power Platform Centre of Excellence?


The purpose of a Power Platform Centre of Excellence is to...

Foster innovation across the organisation by empowering business units to digitise and automate their business processes, while maintaining the necessary level of central oversight and governance.

A Centre of Excellence (CoE) consists of people, processes and tools that continually evolve in order to achieve its purpose.

  • People are the key ingredient that drive the CoE. They set the vision and strategy of the CoE, define governance policies and process, manage and maintain the platform, provide training and support for the business users. Typically a CoE consists of a team of people all with different roles to play.

  • Processes determine how an organisation manages and gets the most from the Power Platform. For example, onboarding new app makers, provisioning environments, requesting licenses etc.

  • Tools for managing and monitoring are abundant with the Power Platform. The Power Platform itself can also be used to assist the CoE and automate its processes.

To help meet the needs of both IT and the business, a CoE typically has two main functions: Governance and Nurture. These must be kept in balance.


Power Platform Centre of Excellence - a balance of Governance and Nurture
Power Platform Centre of Excellence - a balance of Governance and Nurture

Governance

Governance is making sure that the Power Platform is a reliable, secure and maintainable place for apps and automation to be built. This is done through policies, processes and tools to secure, manage and monitor the platform.



Power Platform CoE - not enough Governance


Not enough governance leads to a Power Platform wild west where IT has little control or insight into what is happening within the Platform. This makes it extremely difficult to manage things like licensing and resource capacity, data access and integrity, troubleshooting and support etc. Ultimately putting more burden on IT and its limited resources.


Nurture

Nurture is the enablement of the business to participate in the creation of apps and automation through training, support and community. It is about making the Power Platform accessible to the business and removing blockers. Nurture activities include things like training and knowledge sharing, design guidance, providing app templates and development tools.



Power Platform CoE - not enough Nurture

Not enough nurture results in value not being derived from the Power Platform investment. Either the business will look for other digital solutions outside of the platform to meet their needs (shadow IT), or poor application development practices increase technical debt and pose a risk to the organisation's Power Platform as a whole.


Overcoming the common challenges

Let's take a look at overcoming the common challenges...


A lack of vision and direction around how low-code fits into an organisation's over all digital strategy

One of the very first things to do when setting up a CoE is to define what role the Power Platform will play and how it fits into the overall IT strategy of the organisation. It is crucial that a vision for the Power Platform is set and shared so that everyone in the organisation is working towards the same goals. A clear strategy, that is shared, will also help business units make decisions on how they should use the Power Platform.


Defining a vision and strategy can be daunting. We have developed a framework to help do this exercise, which we will share more about in a future post. Until then, to get started, think about the following questions:

  • What are the desired business outcomes from using the Power Platform?

  • Who is a CoE serving?

  • What will make a CoE successful and sustainable in your organisation?

  • What capabilities will you need?

  • What tools, systems and processes will you need?


An unclear understanding of the Power Platform, its capabilities and what it can do for an organisation

When people are not aware of the Power Platform capabilities, they tend to either not use it at all (missing an opportunity) or they start building solutions in the wrong way resulting in wasted time and effort, with little value delivered. The nurture element of a CoE helps overcome this by building a community that shares knowledge, feedback, ideas and successful solutions built on the Power Platform. The Power Platform is absolutely huge and a community is an effective way for people to learn together.


There is also nothing like getting hands on for learning. Setting up base level governance and providing people with a safe and secure place to play, test and learn is extremely important. Microsoft Power Platform: Learning Resources | Microsoft Power Apps is a great place to get started with learning resources and hands on labs.


To help senior leaders of an organisation understand the possibilities and the business results that can be achieved, there is an envisioning and planning program offered by Microsoft and its partners called Microsoft Catalyst.



No governance or guard rails to ensure the Power Platform services are secure, reliable and maintainable

The Power Platform is extremely powerful and gives people access to create digital solutions that they never used to be able to. For IT this can be incredibly scary as keeping the organisation's systems and data safe and secure is their top priority. When there are no guard rails in place and no oversight of what is happening within the Power Platform it can become unruly and pose a risk to the business. For example, out-of-the-box, a person could create an app or flow to send business data from Dynamics 365 as a post on Twitter. Data Loss Prevention policies are the guard rails to stop this from happening but they are not enabled by default. Another example is organisations that have been using the Power Platform for a long time without governance. If left un-governed it is likely that there is a build up of apps and flows (most that are not used) that prohibit the ability to properly manage the platform and understand what is important and what isn't.



A shortage of skills, time and resources

When it comes to IT, every organisation is struggling with a shortage of skills, time and resources. Most of which go into simply keeping the lights on, doing things that are urgent and important. Setting up a CoE is often not in the urgent and important category and so it doesn't get done. However, it is very important. Having a strong governance framework for the Power Platform means less 'keeping the lights on' work for IT in the long run.


Organisations who don't have a governance framework in place end up spending a lot of time fire fighting and ineffectively managing a platform that has become unruly and out of control. For example, spending hours trying to troubleshoot a problem with incorrect data only to find out that it was caused by a Power Automate process that failed weeks ago because the employee who created the flow no longer works at the company. This is a very preventable scenario but unfortunately common. Implementing governance sooner rather than later will save time as retro-fitting governance into a Power Platform that is already heavily in use is a long and expensive exercise.


Once a base governance framework is in place then the nurture component of the CoE can kick in by starting to up-skill business users and enabling them to take on some of the traditional IT development work.


Dedicate a person to own the CoE and work with your Power Platform vendor to get it set up. Investment in a CoE now will pay dividends in the long run.


Where to get started


There is a lot you can do in implementing a Power Platform CoE so it is hard to know where to start and what to focus on. Below is our recommended high-level list of steps to get started.

  1. Gain Insights - to be able to make good decisions about your CoE you need to have information. Using the analytics provided in the Power Platform Admin Centre and also the reports in the Microsoft Power Platform Centre of Excellence Starter Kit (if you have many environments) you will gain insights into how your Power Platform is currently being used. This will help inform your strategy and CoE roadmap.

  2. Secure - set up a base level Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policy to ensure that your sensitive business data can not be shared with external services that it shouldn't e.g. social media services. More details on DLP policies to come in future articles.

  3. Organise - once you have the insights from step 1 you are better equipped to make decisions and plan your CoE implementation. Assemble a core CoE team that has representatives from senior leadership, IT and the business. Define a vision and Power Platform strategy and share with the rest of the organisation. Develop an initial implementation plan and roadmap for the CoE.

  4. Govern - based on what is most important to your organisation, start designing and implementing your governance framework to a point where you are comfortable that there are enough guard rails in place.

  5. Activate (Nurture) - with basic guard rails in place you can confidently encourage and nurture the business to start leveraging the Power Platform to build their own solutions.

  6. Iterate - getting started is just the start, you will want to continuously work on improving your CoE to get more out of the Power Platform, and of course keep the balance!

If all of this new to you then just getting started will sound very daunting. However, we can help. Using our learnings from implementing a CoE for other organisations, AppRising has developed a Power Platform CoE Jump-Start service to get you up and running quickly.




Centre of Excellence Resources

A Centre of Excellence is not a new concept to the Microsoft Power Platform and there are a large number of resources available today to help you on your journey. For example...

These resources, and others like them, are excellent for an overview and to get started in a general sense. However, every organisation is different. The difference in business objectives, IT proficiency, people, culture, size etc. all have an impact on how the Power Platform is used and maintained. Each organisation has to forge its own path along the endless journey that is a Power Platform CoE.


More to come

This is the start of a series of articles on this subject, aiming to provide practical guidance on setting up a Power Platform Centre or Excellence and getting the most out of the Power Platform. Subscribe to our blog to stay in the loop and comment below if you have any particular CoE topics you would like covered in more detail.

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