In my last blog, I detailed how Microsoft Forms provides a functional and simple method for conducting polls, surveys, and questionnaires, and how it can work inside SharePoint. It is an effective tool for helping day-to-day users collect information from other users, all while using the SharePoint interface (among other goodies it can provide).
That said, Forms isn’t for everyone – and it really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with your content. The second option that is available for Office 365 users is using PowerApps, Microsoft’s budding cloud service that lets users build business-level applications specific to their work activities without (or with minimal) code. It’s also a great app to expand form functionality integrated with SharePoint.
Here’s the main difference between using Microsoft Forms and PowerApps: Forms lets you use a form that is not bound to a SharePoint list. PowerApps is best used to enhance forms used on these lists or libraries.
Because of this, both Office 365 apps can be used for different purposes and by different users. However, both can be considered options for SharePoint.
Why would I use Forms over PowerApps, or vice versa?
Basically it boils down to this:
- Use Microsoft Forms if you want to enable your day-to-day end users to set up surveys, polls, questionnaires and feedback. This option is ideal if you want content to be quickly setup in a decentralized fashion, do not have much objections to data collection or branding, and need them used on commonly-used areas, such as intranet home pages or team sites. Forms are also not tied to SharePoint lists or document libraries. You can, however, capture Form results in a SharePoint list with Microsoft Flow.
- Use PowerApps if you need more robust forms in existing Lists; it works great with the data sources you are already using. PowerApps is also a better tool to use if you have a technical support team that can not only assist in building a robust solution, but is also able to provide support and sustainment services around the form too.
What would I use PowerApps for?
Before actually “choosing” PowerApps, I recommend teams work to identify the requirements of what you are looking to do establish your content and user objectives, as well as your parameters and restrictions. Decisions on using PowerApps should be made on the tool alone; PowerApps is simply a means to an end; not an end in itself.
That said, some examples of how PowerApps may be used with SharePoint:
- Project Management app that allows PM’s to request a new project and Directors to approve it (with workflows or Microsoft Flow);
- User Registration for an upcoming company event (with an existing Contact List);
- Employee payroll deductions using a source Excel document hosted in SharePoint;
- Service Request / Service Desk application to track assistance requests from employees, with a SharePoint form available from the company portal;
- A team tracking budgets, estimates or costs with a SharePoint list
Of course, these are but a few examples of solutions that PowerApps can help provide for a team or organization. However, PowerApps is a powerful tool; one could go down the rabbit hole for a number of use case scenarios. Remember to conduct sufficient business analysis activities and then make the decision if the app is right for your objective – you’ll thank yourself later.
So what about the Forms part of it? Give me the details!
Let’s say you simply want to accentuate the Create and Edit forms on a SharePoint list, because you expect your users to be using a SharePoint list frequently.
From here, the PowerApps world is kind of your oyster. I don’t want to provide tactical steps on how to use the PowerApps in this blog post; that would turn blow this post out completely (you can find that in Microsoft’s helpful online documentation and tutorials). What I can say is that the GUI isn’t too hard to wrap your head around (SharePoint list/app screens on the right, editing canvas/fields in the middle, and properties on the right). Practice makes perfect with this one.
Once you are done, you can simply click on “Back to SharePoint” or go to File > Save, which will publish the form edits back to your SharePoint list. Test the SharePoint form (add a new item or edit an existing item), and review the changes you have made.
Note that you can always revert back to the original SharePoint forms at any time. In the List Settings, simply navigate to “Form Settings” and click the radio button for the default forms. You can switch back to the PowerApps form at any time as well. Note there is an InfoPath form option too, if you have previously gone down that route.
Why don’t you just create forms from scratch in PowerApps altogether? Well, Microsoft themselves have a pretty logical answer. Basically if you want your users going through SharePoint, use the customized list form option. If you want to take the user experience entirely out of SharePoint (even if SharePoint is intended to be used), create a standalone app.
Some limitations of using PowerApps
PowerApps is becoming a central application in the Office 365 stack because of it’s ability to interact with data across the entire platform, but like any form building options, there are drawbacks.
First, there is a learning curve in PowerApps. This is not a tool you can pick up and use like a hammer; this is more like a power drill with an extensive set of drill bits. The drill is a better option, but you need to know some details first before you can jump into the user experience. Therefore, I suggest your PowerApps application is assembled and maintained by persons who are technically capable, motivated, and/or is part of their existing job duties to work with Microsoft applications at a support level.
Second, editing forms on SharePoint document libraries in PowerApps is not officially supported yet. Regular users would not see the PowerApps functionality available on their team site libraries for their important documents. Actually, PowerApps doesn’t do a good job with SharePoint document libraries in general (there are alternative ways to connect to them, but not exactly intuitively). This could be a showstopper if the intention is to edit forms on existing SharePoint libraries, which most Office 365 and on-premise users will ultimately be using (after all, SharePoint is a document management system).
Third, PowerApps does not replace InfoPath in every function. There are too many differences between both applications to suggest that PowerApps is an exact replica or successor of InfoPath as a tool. That being said, Microsoft has already determined that PowerApps (along with SharePoint and Flow) is the combination of successor technology to replace InfoPath in the long-run. Luckily, InfoPath will still be in support until 2026, so there is immediate rush to migrate away (however, no new features are being added to InfoPath, and Microsoft is putting all of their elbow grease into making Office 365 the tool of choice). And oh yes, there is no silver bullet method to convert existing InfoPath forms into PowerApps files. You’re going to have to rebuild them in PowerApps . 😦
In the coming days I will be posting Part 3 of this blog series on managing Forms in SharePoint. We will do a quick review of the other options at hand, including InfoPath (yes, it’s still relevant) and third-party solutions with their own unique spins.