In the second of our two-part Microsoft Power Virtual Agents series, we examine the difference between Chatbots and Intelligent Chatbots, and how AI can elevate chatbot capabilities and improve user experience.
PowerObjects partnered with this organization to launch a citizen developer program that will allow them to scale their Power Platform practice globally. This education-centric project involved training ~200 employees on Power Apps development. These are early adopters within the company who will evangelize across all of its worldwide business units.
In addition to educating Power Apps super users within the company, this project was also particularly focused on Power Platform governance, security modeling, and tenancy management. We helped them build a technology infrastructure that enables and supports organizational excellence in implementing Power Platform within a governance structure that empowers system administrators to balance business productivity with risk management and security.
The partnership included three primary objectives: education, governance, and ongoing consultancy. We’ll explore each in more detail.
HCL-PowerObjects delivered a series of workshops for the more than 200 early adopters who then carried the responsibility of evangelizing Power Platform across the organization. The workshops were developed in partnership with the client through an amazing collaborative process. All the key players for both teams got in a room with a giant whiteboard and began brainstorming and ideating about the strategy and process for getting a team – and eventually an entire organization – to be proficient as citizen developers. Involving them in the development stage ensured complete buy-in from the client’s leadership team, buy-in that would spread down and out across the business.
In a perfect world, we’d put all 200 early adopters in a conference room for a week and train them on Power Platform all at once. In turn, they would each go to their own teams and evangelize and train. We should all be so lucky! Due to resource and time constraints, we needed a different approach. So instead, the HCL-PowerObjects trainers reimagines our established canvas apps training curriculum by breaking it down into video recordings – many, many hours of recordings. They created labs and wrote manuals. And training of the early adopters – and eventually the organization as a whole – commenced.
This delivery method was so effective that we are now developing videos, labs, and manuals for model driven apps. Again, the training is focused on users, doers, makers – ordinary citizen developers. For those who are interested in going further with Power Platform, we really want to give them more tools in their toolbox so they can continue to innovate. Just as our education and training teams have been doing with product curricula for more than a decade, the training is intended to tie all the essentials together and provide users with hands-on experiences.
As HCL-PowerObjects delivered the training, the client was especially intrigued to tap into the potential of users in non-technology positions to explore the universe of possibilities for citizen-developed applications through the eyes of end users. For example, one of the early adopter trainees was a welding tradesman who used Power Apps to build “weld trace” application. It helps their welders recognize the requirements of the type of welding they're using and then tracks what types of welds they create.
The weld trace app is the perfect illustration of an “ordinary person in the field” (i.e., not your run-of-the-mill IT person) – someone who has ideas to improve or streamline the job but no development background – developing really cool and useful tools with low-code technology. Empowering business users to create such tools is just such a different flavor than what most businesses are accustomed to, where you had to get large development teams involved whenever you wanted something new. The welding app would end up on the development team’s cutting room floor, but instead it’s helping the welding team every single day. And that’s exactly the ingenuity and innovation the client was seeking through this partnership with HCL-PowerObjects – not everything has to be a “professionally developed app” every time. It's a completely different flavor, by design.
Education mission accomplished.
Empowering their employees to innovate and create is precisely what our client hopes to achieve. But they also understood that with great power comes great responsibility. They recognized the importance of identifying and understanding what your people are capable of building with Power Platform, as well as to determining just exactly how much empowerment they should have. In other words, to build the foundation for success within their organization, they needed HCL-PowerObjects to help them implement a governance structure to ensure these powerful tools are used in compliance with their organizational objectives and values.
From an HCL-PowerObjects perspective, Power Platform training and Power Platform governance are actually covered in unison. They might seem like separate initiatives, but each depends on the other. After all, why teach them how to build if we don’t also cover what they're allowed to build? Why train them on the process for publishing an application if we don’t also cover who they have permission to share it with? It just makes sense that when we're teaching them how to use Power Platform, we're also teaching them what the policies are.
So, prior to initiating the training, our Adoption & Sustainment team had many sessions to meet with all of the different players within the client’s organization to document our training and governance strategies, which included establishing environments for creating and sharing. One guardrail we installed was not giving users access to connect their applications to any other systems in the network – that’s too risky. But once a citizen developer gets to the point where they recognize they need to make a connection – that’s when we hook them up with someone in IT. The beauty of this process is that the users have done all of the thinking and design work upfront, so it becomes quite easy for the IT folks to bring each tool across the finish line.
Once we had policies and strategies in place for different user environments and share permissions, we walked the client step-by-step through the documentation process to ensure deep awareness and adoption. The whole idea behind citizen developers is empowering end users to solve their own challenges, but that doesn’t mean they can do it unrestricted and share it openly without consideration for the risks.
The philosophy behind Power Platform is akin to the scissors we give our kids. When they are first starting out, we give them scissors with rounded tips and rubber handles. As they improve and mature, the scissors have less plastic and more pointed tips. Once they’ve proven their skill, they get a pair of scissors that could stab their eye out. But at that point you feel like they know what they're doing, so they can have the sharp scissors. Governance is similar. Slowly giving users more access within this environment, eventually giving them certain privileges that allow them to further hone their skills. Ultimately, using licensing permissions and all the other governance tools, we are able to guide the adoption on the right pathway in a way that democratizes the toolkit of development in general. All of the client’s citizen developers are somewhere on that scissor continuum – newly evangelized developers are using scissors with rounded tips, while our welder has been given (some of) the keys to the kingdom.
We insisted on implementing this strong governance structure for the client so that individual end users could flourish. Launching an initiative of citizen development does not guarantee everyone will build useful tools, so the structure must allow for skills to develop at varying paces. Mission accomplished.
As stated initially, one objective our client has was to build an inhouse Power Platform competency that was not reliant on a technology partner. HCL-PowerObjects’ training and governance program ensured this objective was met. A whole host of citizen developers is working diligently to innovate in ways that streamline procedures, automate processes, reduce costs, and drastically improve employee satisfaction. But the client did not want to lose ongoing access to the deep expertise of the HCL-PowerObjects team, and with that in mind they have retained the services of a Power Platform subject matter expert (SME).
The HCL-PowerObjects SME works hand in hand with the team as a developer consultant. He provides Level 1 support for existing applications and environments, as well as works with the business to extract requirements, solve problems, build out use cases, and continue grooming the inhouse competency. We also have an offshore team in India that provides more Level 2 and 3 support for the client, and our SME is the liaison between the client and that L2/L3 support team. A citizen developer may approach our SME and say, "Hey, I'm working on this app, I'm stuck on it. Can you help me?" Depending on the scope and the level of complexity, the SME will help on the spot or farm out the work to the team in India. In the case of larger efforts where a full HCL-PowerObjects development team is needed, the SME is intimately involved in scoping, estimating, and bringing in the right resources.
Another role of the ongoing consultancy HCL-PowerObjects provides for the client is surfacing new and innovative components of Power Platform they want to use. For instance, they are trying to tap into the potential of Power Virtual Agents in different campaigns – we can help guide that. Another example has to do with oil spills or other events that require cleanup work, where are trying to use prediction models and other AI technologies to manage the data that gives them insight into potential future events. The bottom line is that there are technology components the client wants to explore and begin using, but they need our expert consultancy to steward them through these new technologies.
Our HCL-PowerObjects consultant summarizes this role best:
“In addition to supporting that citizen development framework where other people are developing applications, the other side of this is we are the SME when it comes to developing complex professional services apps that need to be built. For example, they use tons of spreadsheets and they have data sources that are all over the place. What ends up inherently happening is they see a smoother path for this data process using Power Platform to surface the data, stop using spreadsheets, and then expose it through a nice user interface that is built for all types of personas and business users. But they need a very targeted approach, creating applications and processes that support very specific units, and that’s where we come in. It's usually not on a broad context that we're trying to build these giant applications – it’s more like enterprise-level style applications but for specific groups. And they need our help.”
Based on the success of the entire initiative, it’s safe to say it once again: mission accomplished.
Power Platform is designed so that a corporation can put a powerful low-code, no-code solution in the hands of their users. They can democratize development resources beyond the IT group, but in a safe and secure way. They can give the folks who are closest to the problems a toolkit to solve their own challenges.