Power Apps can be discovered in many places. You may encounter them in Microsoft Teams channel tabs, run into them while filling a form in your SharePoint intranet, interact with them while drilling into a Power BI report, and of course when performing tasks on your mobile phone.
When starting to build new Power Apps, you should already consider how exactly the end users will find your app. Adding links onto the appropriate intranet pages or publishing your app to Teams are ways to get the attention of the right user audience. But as the number of different apps available to users grows, inevitably there will come a point when they’ll start to wonder “hmm, where exactly was that one app I used a long while ago & which I’d REALLY need to find again…”
It can be surprisingly tricky to find a Power App. Not only because the number of individiual apps used within an organization tends to continuously increase over time. A major contributing factor is the way how Microsoft has built their app navigation experience when working on the desktop / via the browser. In this post I’ll explore the available options for both end-users and admins.
App portals for end-users
Let’s start with the obvious route. As an app user, if I want to find my Power Apps, I should click on the icon that says “Power Apps” on my Office 365 app launcher – right? Wrong. That will get you to the place where you build apps – hence the url make.powerapps.com. Sure, you would find the apps that you yourself as an app maker have built – or where you’ve been granted the editing rights to. If you’ve only been shared the end users rights for an app, it isn’t likely to be visible in this Maker Portal.
You need to also keep in mind that all Power Apps live inside environments. There are typically many different Power Platform environments in your tenant. You could think of them as SharePoint sites or Teams teams, in the sense that there will be a variety of sites/teams/environments accessed by a single user in a normal working day. (In fact, some teams may actually contain a Power Platform environment, too.)
This can make it particularly challenging to find the app you’re looking for. Opening the above mentioned Maker Portal might land you in one environment, when the app you’re looking for lives inside another one – which you’d need to switch to via the environment picker in the top right corner. Also, as mentioned, you may not have access to the environment on a Maker level, just as a user for apps contained inside it.
How about the Office 365 home page then? If you open Office.com/apps and navigate to the section called “Business Apps”, you are likely to see some of Power Apps you’ve used – and some which you have never heard of (what is “Solution Health Hub”, for instance?).
The icons displayed here will not resemble those that are shown in the Maker portal or the Power Apps mobile client. Instead you’ll see tilted cubes representing Canvas apps and tiny browser windows playing the role of Model-driven apps.
Looking at the page in more detail, you may notice that the apps here are shown from across different environments (the second row below the app title). So, this is a more comprehensive screen than the environment specific Maker portal.
Yet the list seems a bit short. “I though we had a bit more apps than this at our company.” You’re right, this is indeed not a “home for all your business apps”, like the old home.dynamics.com landing page was. It’s a subset of the available apps. Furthermore, it’s becoming even more limited, thanks to recent updates by Microsoft.
New filtering rules for Office app list
Starting mid-November 2021, Microsoft began to restrict the apps visible in the Office App Launcher and the Business Apps section of Office.com app list, “to help improve the app exploration and discovery experience for users.” You can find this information in Microsoft 365 Message center message MC290818.
By the way: if you want to stay up to date on these Power Platform related announcements, you should definitely leverage the CoE Starter Kit’s new Command Center app. Without requiring access to M365 admin portals, this app provides a view of messages related to Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual Agents:
With the above shown new policy now in place, only the Dynamics 365 apps and Power Apps apps meeting the following criteria will be shown on Office.com:
- Apps a user has launched in the last 7 days
- Apps created by a user
- Apps an admin has marked as “featured” in the tenant
- User accessible Microsoft published Dynamics 365 apps
While the idea behind the automatic filtering is not bad as such, this change can have a negative impact on the ability for users to find a specific app. First of all, unless you’re using the app once a week, based on these new rules the icon will disappear from Office.com app list after 7 days of inactivity. If you take an Xmas break from using a specific app, it may well be gone by the time you return back to the (virtual) office.
How about finding new apps that the user has not launched yet? These will never become visible in the Office.com app list, until the user discovers them via other means. Microsoft provides the following guidance in the Message center:
“For Dynamics 365 apps and Power Apps apps, if a user cannot find an app they are looking for will need to first launch it in the browser via its Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). Note that admins and makers can get an app’s URI by selecting an app in the Power Platform admin center or via make.powerapps.com by selecting details, then selecting web link. Once the app is launched, it will be listed in the Office App Launcher, All Apps, and app search experiences.”
So, you will always need to get the users to open the app via a direct link first. While this may work well for the initial rollout of a new app, with information shared via announcements and emails, it isn’t all that scalable for new users of an app that are given access via a group membership, for example.
Using the “featured” flag for an app can be a good way to promote certain apps. The challenges here are, A) it’s a tenant wide setting that cannot cater to different audiences within your organization, and B) you’ll need to get a Power Platform admin to run a PowerShell script to set the IsFeaturedApp flag to “true” (or “false” once you want to remove an old app from the list).
Dynamics 365 apps that are published by Microsoft will get automatically included in the Office.com app list. What about Model-driven apps that have been created by someone else? For example, you may have built a customized app module on top of the Dynamics 365 Sales environment that contains a targeted set of features for a subset of users. Based on these new visibility rules defined by Microsoft, it will not be listed there, as the custom app is not published by MS.
A major challenge with the Office.com app list is that you’ll not be able to make things stick. The user cannot personalize its contents and pin their actual favorite apps into the list. There is however another option:
Unlike the Office.com app list, the Office App Launcher (a.k.a. the “waffle menu”) offers users the ability to customize the list of app icons shown. Here users can click on the three dots and choose “pin to launcher” to ensure that apps don’t disappear from the menu after 7 days of inactivity.
Of course it is only possible to pin apps to the personal list that have first appeared in the global list first. Given that the “SLA” stated by Microsoft on how quickly the Power Apps shared with users will appear on Office.com app list is 24 hours, this doesn’t seem like a very reliable way to publish apps to end users and ensure everyone could see them.
It sounds like there currently isn’t a built-in place for users to browse a list of Power Apps that are available to them – when using a PC or a Mac. The Power Apps mobile players for Android and iOS are much better in surfacing apps across different environments and offer pinning options for the users, so we’ll have to wait and see if Microsoft eventually builds something similar for the desktop usage.
Admin visibility to Power Apps
What about the administrators who want to see a complete list of apps within the tenant? What are their options today?
With purely out-of-the-box tenant configuration, the app visibility isn’t much better for admins than for app users. The reports in Power Platform Admin Center are scoped to environment level, meaning you’ll need to know where to look for first.
If you’re a global admin, you’ve got the possibility to enable the tenant-level analytics preview for Power Apps. This will start the automated export of app telemetry data into a MS managed Azure Data Lake instance, after which you can explore the embedded Power BI reports in Power Platform Admin Center. The report includes an App Inventory tab that lists all apps across all environments:
You can read more about this feature in my earlier blog post: Power Platform tenant-level analytics explored.
The most comprehensive catalog of all apps in your tenant can be acquired via deploying the Power Platform Center of Excellence Starter Kit. While the complete CoE Starter Kit available on GitHub contains a wealth of tools for building administration, governance and nurture processes around your low-code platform, you get a lot by just completing the basic setup. At the heart of CoE Starter Kit is the ongoing data sync flows that keep track of all your created, modified and deleted Power Apps (as well as other Power Platform elements).
Similar to how the tenant-level analytics pushes data into the Data Lake, these CoE Starter Kit sync flows stored the data about your apps into a dedicated Dataverse environment in your tenant. What this means is that you’ve now got the Power in your hands to build any type of views, reports or UIs on top of this information.
CoE Starter Kit does come with a preconfigured Power BI report for drilling into your tenant’s apps and flows. There are also template apps like the App Catalog that could be used as an end-user facing UI to expose and promote organization-wide apps.
Build your own app launcher
It’s always going to be a challenge for the universal Microsoft application experiences delivered on the Office.com level to serve the varying needs of different kinds of user groups and organizations. Unlike the universal collaboration tools of Office, the business apps built on Power Platform are all about the unique processes and data requirements of an organization. One size rarely fits all.
Could we use the power of the low-code platform to create a solution for better app discovery? Of course we could! By leveraging the connectors available in Power Platform, you could build your own app launcher that queries the APIs and returns details about all the apps the users has visibility to.
The Power Apps for Makers connector runs in the context of the current user and will therefore deliver a personalized list of Canvas apps that the user can open (unfortunately Model-driven apps aren’t within the connector scope). Below is an example of the FF Power Apps Catalog in our own tenant, offering a list of last opened Canvas apps and the ability to search the complete list of apps by name or by description text. Drilling into further app details is also possible here.
The key benefit of this approach is the ability to create a personalized launcher experience controlled by your organization, not Microsoft. All the searching and sorting features can be user-driven, rather than being based on algorithms and filtering rules determined by someone else.
You could even adopt a governance policy where you add some metadata tags into the description field for all approved apps. This would allow you to build highly specific filtering/targeting features into your app launcher views, just by using Power Fx formulas.
While not every organization may need a custom app launcher to manage all their Power Apps, it’s beneficial to understand what options exist for making apps and their users meet eachother in an optimal way.
As more and more citizen developers will be creating and sharing apps within your tenant, there will be a growing need for making your existing low-code app portfolio easily accessible to the users. After all, you don’t want every maker to re-invent the same apps – nor to have people sticking to their old manual processes when they didn’t know a smarter, digital process already existed.
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