There are hundreds of connectors available for Power Platform. You can use these in your Power Apps or Power Automate flows to connect to many different types of services. These range from Microsoft’s own services (SharePoint, Teams, Outlook) to third party SaaS apps (Slack, Trello, ServiceNow) down to app developer services (SQL Server, Azure AD, Amazon S3).
Basically any modern API can be turned into a custom connector. This allows citizen developers to leverage the services provided by that API in the same way as they can work with SharePoint resources, for example. By selecting them as data sources in apps, referencing them in Power Fx formulas, using them as triggers and actions in flows. Very low-code, compared to working with the raw API.
Creating such custom connectors internally within the organization makes sense when the API is meant to be consumed only by the app makers and business users of that organization. What about services that expose a public API? Wouldn’t it make sense that instead of everyone recreating the custom connectors themselves, someone would build the connector once and then publish it for the rest of the world to use in Power Apps and Automate?
Thanks to the independent publisher program, anyone can now make Power Platform connectors available alongside the official connectors to different SaaS services. You don’t have to work for the company who has published the underlying API (verified publisher), all you need to do is follow the guidelines and certify the custom connector you have built.
Independent publisher connectors from Timo Pertilä
Timo decided to make the lives of fellow Finnish Power Platform users easier by creating connectors for two popular local services.
Finnish BIS is more familiar to locals as YTJ. It’s the company directory from where you would go to look up the official registry details of a business, such as their ID (“y-tunnus”) and address information. The database is maintained by PRH and the Finnish Tax Administration.
Finnish Railway Traffic provides information on the stations, schedules, arrivals and departures of trains operating in Finland. The API is run by Fintraffic that is in charge of local railway traffic control.
Where can you access these connectors then? Just open up Power Automate, as an example, and search for “finnish” in the list of operations when adding an action to your flow:
The services can be used anonymously, which makes it easy for anyone to start experimenting with the data provided via the connectors. You don’t need to be in Finland – but it helps to make things a bit more interesting, of course.😁
Searching for BIS company data in Power Apps
What does it mean in practice to use these connectors? Let’s take a very common scenario needed in CRM systems and any other apps that need to verify the official identity of a business. What we want to achive is:
- Search the BIS directory (YTJ) by company name
- See a list of results matching the search term
- Select items from the list and review their details
- Pick the business ID (y-tunnus) from the correct company and store it into your database
In an example canvas app, what we can do is show a list of existing accounts or allow the user to manually enter the name of the company. From clicking the seach icon, we trigger the CompanySearch action for the Finnish BIS connector added as a data source in our app. The connector takes the search term as one of its parameters.
The response of all matching companies returned by this action is stored to a collection, which we can show in our gallery of search results. Upon selecting one of the results, we again trigger the same connector, but this time using the CompanyByBISCode action. This gives us access to the various fields provided by the PRH open data BIS API for the selected ID (Y-tunnus).
Here’s our small demo app in action, performing a name search for the string “forward” and then reviewing the result list to find the Business ID for Forward Forever Oy:
You can of course build any type of custom business logic around the data retrieval steps. The same connectors are available in Power Automate for you to run background logic, such as retrieving the latest active address for a given business ID and storing that into your CRM database.
Connecting the low-code world
There is a bit of an effort in going through the connector certification process for independent publishers. Timo has described the detailed steps in his personal blog for those who might be interested in getting their own connectors available on GitHub and certified by Microsoft.
At the end of the day, the most important part is in mapping the actions and triggers of an existing API into a format that Power Automate and Power Apps understand. This configuration work for a custom connector is what will unlock the business systems and data sources within your organization to your internal audience of citizen developers.
You should definitely investigate which APIs would be most valuable to your business users and then make sure they’re easily available within your Power Platform environment. If you’d like to better understand how to leverage connectors in your specific app scenarios, we’re here to help.
Show me more apps running on Power Platform!
Are you interested in seeing examples of the kinds of apps we’ve built for our customers & ourselves by using Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI? Check out the Forward Forever App Gallery for ideas and inspiration on what your organization could also achieve with low-code apps.