Written by Mike Rogers (CTO) with contributions from Iasmine Ward (Marketing Assistant)
So, what is the Microsoft Crisis Communications App?
With millions of businesses starting to work from home, Microsoft has introduced a new ‘Crisis communications’ Power App to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and help companies collaborate more effectively during the crisis. The platform, combines Power Apps, Power Automate, Teams and SharePoint, can be used via a web browser, a mobile app or in Teams. Employees can report whether they are still working in the office or from home and make requests to colleagues. Senior staff can also provide emergency contacts to specific different locations. It can also be used to send news and updates, linking to the RSS news feeds publishing information from sources such as the WHO, CDC, or local authority. The app allows companies to alert issues to the appropriate person, plan how to respond, discuss the required actions and then share the communication with the broader organisation.
Flawed or Brilliant? How does Microsoft’s Crisis Communication Power App push technology even further?
There is a mantra that products must be demand-driven, not technology-driven. While there is a certain logic to this, there should also and needs to be space to push through technology-driven solutions, to show people what is possible. Until people knew that planes existed no one believed it was possible to fly to New York for a weekend (not that you can fly anywhere now anyway). Similarly, the Microsoft Crisis Communications App demonstrates what is possible and what can be achieved, but not necessarily how it should be achieved. The app forces people to look deeper and work harder on their understandings of technology.
If you just look at the features it offers, I think everyone has come to the same conclusion that it presents a number of novel ways of doing things that people can do already. With features such as making requests, listing contacts, publishing news and so on, it could just be any other corporate Intranet. Even the status sharing mirrors the status settings in Teams with good old ‘Out of Office’.
One of the issues that has been widely reported with the Microsoft Crisis Communication app is the somewhat shoddy installation process. However, to me, this issue should not be viewed as an issue at all. If the installation process had run smoothly that would have been that – installed in 5 minutes without having to even think. However, if you have to go through the process of debugging it, this forces people to understand the technology they are working with by getting under the hood of the application. I think it's fair to say that the take up of the Power Automate Platform has not been all that it should have been, and as such for a fair proportion of the people tasked with setting up the Crisis Communications App it's been their first deep dive into how you can link up Teams with Power Apps and Flows.
Gaining inspiration in unlikely places
There's nothing quite like debugging an application to force you to understand how it works, and once you know how it works you can see what it's capable of. If Microsoft truly wishes to inspire citizen developers, by making them come away from the Crisis Communications App experience thinking "I can improve on that" then that was a truly inspiring idea in itself. The idea of Citizen developers has always been to make the technology more accessible to users who have direct knowledge of the demands upon it. The problem has always been that these users don't have knowledge of what the technology is capable of. However, this application shows that capability by accidentally forcing whoever has had the task of setting it up into a deeper understanding of how to harness that technology.
So, whilst the Microsoft Crisis Communication Power App may have some flaws in the installation process, these flaws show what is possible. Being forced through the installation process and having to debug the application, makes people question what is possible as well as what technology is capable of. And if just a few of those people decided to act on their thoughts and impulses we could end up with something even better.
Feel free to check out our other Microsoft blog posts; 'Microsoft and AI' and 'Using Office 365 to connect comms experts and organisations in need, during the COVID-19 crisis'.