Updated: Jul 7, 2020
I recently worked with a client who was looking improve productivity and enable their people to be more efficient in the field through the use of mobile apps. Together, we created two mobile apps in two days using the Microsoft Power Platform connected to their existing technology.
The client has an existing implementation of Dynamics 365 Customer Service to manage their avocado orchard operations. We quickly identified two mobile apps to extend Dynamics 365 that would save their field workers a lot of time.
The first app records and plots the GPS location of the trees so that workers can locate them easily when tree maintenance tasks are assigned to them. This saves orchard workers a lot of time searching for particular trees that required maintenance across acres of land. It also ensures that the correct work is being carried out on the right tree!
The second app takes photos of trees and saves the photos automatically against the correct tree record in Dynamics 365 without having to go back to the office. Previously this task required photos to be taken on the phone, walk back to the office, download to a PC, search Dynamics 365 for the correct tree record and then upload the photos to the tree record - it's time consuming even writing out the steps!
Let's take a look at how we did it...
A Design Thinking Approach
As with everything we do at AppRising, we approached this challenge with a design thinking mindset.
Design thinking is an approach for solving problems creatively and quickly. It fosters innovative solutions that are human-centred at their core, balanced with the possibilities of technology and the objectives for business success.
For two consecutive mornings the client and I met for 1hr over Microsoft Teams and quickly worked through the empathise, define, ideate, and initial prototype stages. Through these design stages we:
discussed the types of people that would use the app and their technical capabilities (the client herself also being an end user);
discussed the conditions in which they would use the app e.g. users would be wearing gloves;
evaluated the most time consuming tasks and identified where a mobile app could provide the most benefit;
brainstormed ideas and possible solutions before settling on a solution
The Teams call ended with a rough wireframe of the app drawn on Microsoft Whiteboard. This enabled the client and I to align our thoughts on what the app would look like and talk through the user experience before starting the build in Power Apps.
After each call, I went away and built the app as per our design conversations and had it ready for the client to test at the end of the day. After a few small tweaks to the prototype apps and a test cycle later, the apps were ready for implementation and release to the users.
Day 1 - GPS Location Power App
The first app, the GPS Location Power App allows the user to identify a tree record in Dynamics 365 and add the GPS location of the tree. The tree location, plotted on a map, can then be used by orchard managers and field workers to plan their tree maintenance work and optimise the amount of time spent walking around the orchard looking for certain trees. With over 500 meters walk from one end of the orchard to the other, this app is a big time saver.
The app allows the user to simply stand next to the tree, tap a button and the GPS location of the phone is used to update the location of the tree record in Dynamics 365. It consists of three main features:
search for a tree record in Dynamics 365 by either typing in a number or scanning a bar code (each tree has a tag with a number on it);
embedded Google maps to visualise the user's location and the location of the tree; and
GPS location of the phone used to record the location of the tree.
Day 2 - Tree Photo Power App
The second app, the Tree Photo Power App enables a user to take a photo of a tree and save it against the tree record in Dynamics 365, while the user is still out in the orchard. Photos of things such as pests and diseases on trees are a key part of documenting and recording maintenance tasks. The app also enables the user to add a meaningful title and comments to the photo so that it is easy to search and identify within Dynamics 365. This results in a significant reduction in time spent administering photos by removing the need to record photos against tree records when the worker is back in the office. The user would previously be required to download the photos from a phone and then upload each photo to the right location in Dynamics 365.
The app works with both Dynamics 365 and SharePoint. Saving the photo to SharePoint and creating a Note record in Dynamics 365 with the users comments and a link to the photo in SharePoint. The key features of the app are:
search for a tree record in Dynamics 365 by either typing in a number or scanning a bar code;
take a photo using the phones camera function; and
save photo and data to SharePoint and Dynamics 365 through the use of Power Automate.
The two Power Apps clearly provide an increase in efficiencies for the orchard workers. But, let's be honest, these apps are of a small scale. One of the main objectives of this exercise was to educate what is possible with the Power Platform and how it can extend existing investments in technology - in this case Office 365 and Dynamics 365. The client now understands how quick and easy it is to create apps and automate processes. This is really only the beginning. With the Power Platform they will be able to build out more functionality to digitally transform their operations and drive value at a larger scale.
Can This Work For You?
No doubt, the ability to create two mobile applications in two days is a great result. There were three key factors to this success.
This particular client had knowledge of their existing systems and Dynamics 365 as well as experience in how to rapidly design and build solutions in a lean manner. We understand that not everyone has this experience and this should not be an obstacle. At AppRising we help clients through our enablement services to gain the knowledge and experience they need to create digital solutions at speed.
Keep it simple
Starting with a simple use case and building a simple solution is critical. It enables the solution to be validated by the end users early and reduces the risk of building the wrong thing. Even if a larger scale software solution is ultimately required, starting small allows the solution to start adding value back to the business while you work on iteratively enhancing and scaling to add more value. This is all part of the prototype and test stages of design thinking.
Power Apps Template Library
At AppRising we are continuously building up a Power App template library with re-usable components so that we are not always starting from scratch. Templates also allow you to easily add your own branding and styling, keeping it consistent across your organisations apps.
Innovate with the Power platform
Want to learn more about how you can innovate with the Power Platform? Please reach out to us. If you have Office 365 then you already have components of the Power Platform, which you may be unaware of. Let us help you unlock the potential of the Power Platform and your investment in existing Microsoft technologies.