Software plays a vital role in helping any business run effectively. Microsoft and other technology leaders have hundreds of offerings that range from essential applications for running any modern workplace, to industry-specific tools that are specialized for different verticals and industries. Sometimes, the most important digital software tools are the ones that are custom-built by each company.
Businesses have often relied on custom-built applications to fill in these gaps, but Microsoft’s Power Platform has made it easier than ever to bring custom-built software into their organization’s tool belt. The Power Platform brings a newfound ease and simplicity to the application development cycle, but not without its own nuances. Your organization should consider a few factors when deciding whether to use the Power Platform or built a custom solution.
It is critical for business applications to balance complexity with ease of use. A weak user interface can deter adoption, or simply fail to address the goal of the application. There are cases where simplicity is key, and other where oversimplification can make an application ineffective.
Microsoft’s Power Platform makes it easy to build an attractive and powerful user interface. Model-driven Power Apps make it easy to build applications with pre-built components, while canvas apps enable greater freedom without needing to be a programming expert. Despite the limitations that come with the Power Platform itself, what is available out-of-the-box can build a variety of attractive user interfaces that suit your organization’s needs.
The user interface of custom-built applications can take on almost any form. When the Power Platform isn’t powerful enough capture all your application’s requirements, a custom-built application can balance those needs with an attractive interface that optimizes for them. What custom applications gain in freedom is balanced by the investment required in front-end development skills to match what is available within the Power Platform without major development expertise needed.
Applications are rarely built in a vacuum, typically optimizing on an existing process, or lack thereof. Technology changes rapidly, and strong applications often need to adapt old tools and code into new tools and platforms.
Organizations with existing codebases and technical foundations can benefit from using a custom application to capture the legacy of relevant past technology. There are benefits to transposing an existing codebase or legacy application into another custom-built tool, especially if your organization did not use Microsoft’s previous business application tools, like SharePoint Designer and InfoPath, to build applications in the past.
Power Apps and Power Automate can enable your organization to build powerful applications and associated workflows with little to no code. These applications can incorporate legacy SharePoint data sources and make it easy to build new data storage sources from scratch as well. This makes the Power Platform a viable option for applications with roots in Microsoft 365, or moderate complexity applications without any pre-existing code.
One of the major goals of business applications is to adapt to the needs of niche user bases that can range in size and whose needs may be complex across different users. Just like how applications can take different forms depending on their previously existing technical foundation, new applications need to consider proper scalability when taking form, accounting for the dev stack that will be most useful for the development team and how much complexity the application will need to take on.
Custom-built applications may require substantial investment to be most effective, but this investment can pay dividends depending on how complex your data and scaling needs are. Building custom opens you up to a range of speed, security, and accessibility optimizations that your application can account for, instead of being limited by the restrictions of another platform.
The Power Platform sells itself as a low barrier tool to build high complexity applications. However, this sense of simplicity can be deceptive, as both platforms may require elevated coding skills for developers to take full advantage of the platform. Additionally, both Power Apps and Power Automate have built-in limitations to how many queries and actions they can handle, limiting your ability to scale beyond these limits.
Microsoft 365 is a powerful platform for digital collaboration but is often not the only one that organizations rely on. Many business applications integrate different platforms with one another, making it critical for your application direction of choice to accommodate the different integrations that will make it most useful to your team.
The Power Platform has many built-in connectors that make it easy to build applications and workflows that communicate across platforms that are valuable to your business. These connectors range from integrations with Microsoft 365 platforms, the Google Workplace suite of apps, Atlassian (Jira, Trello), Twilio, Salesforce, and more. Connectors with these popular platforms can make it easy for your organization to build useful applications that engage different tools that your teams rely on.
Custom-built applications may not have any of the built-in integrations of the Power Platform, but this can be a major advantage in some cases. The Power Platform may not have connectors for all the tools that you use, or those connectors may not integrate with your tools in the most effective way. Additionally, custom applications within your organization may only be able to communicate with one another, making the Power Platform a more complex option than building your own application.
Any technology your organization relies on should be built with common use cases in mind. Some applications can be used by any user in the office or in the field, making it important that your organization accounts for many different devices and possible settings. Others may only be used on a handful of desktops or specialized tablets, making compatibility with different devices paramount to successful adoption.
Power Apps makes it easy to build powerful desktop and mobile applications without additional overhead. The Power Apps applications for iOS and Android can open both canvas and model-driven apps on those devices, allowing your users to access the applications you build without using a desktop device.
Custom-built applications can be optimized for whichever platforms your organization needs to use. This means that your team can built a powerful application optimized for mobile or desktop, going beyond what the Power Platform can offer on both sides. On top of that, custom-built applications can be optimized for use outside of your organization, unlike the tenant-emphasis of Microsoft 365.
No matter which kind of application your team decides to use, it will be important to understand the budget that your organization is able to dedicate towards its development and deployment. It is hard to build a strong custom-code or Power Platform application without the proper investment required for either application to succeed.
Power Platform applications also requirement design and build investments, but with a wider range of possibilities than custom-coded applications. The built-in capabilities of the Power Platform lower the barrier required to create a high-quality application. While these abilities do not make it easier to build, having the Power Platform itself is an advantage compared to building an application from scratch.
Custom-coded applications require a large investment to successfully design and build. The talent and development hours required to build an effective application creates a high barrier for entry. This higher bar increases the time needed for the application to make a return on investment. Maintaining a custom-coded application can also be a costly endeavor, as your organization will need to care for the entire stack behind the application, not just the platform it is built upon.