Why Building an “App of Apps” with the Power Platform could be a Game-Changer for us

Mark Jones
September 4, 2023

In the world of digital transformation, the term "App of Apps" is no longer just a buzzword; it's an operational necessity for many businesses. Here at Collab365, we've taken this concept to heart by developing the Collab365 Toolbelt, a unified solution designed to handle a multitude of simple business tasks. This dynamic "App of Apps" is composed of an array of functionalities, both AI-enabled and those related to traditional business processes, which we simply call "tools."

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collab365 toolbelt the app of apps

Collab365 Toolbelt: the App of Apps

In this post, we'll explore why Power Platform is the ideal medium for creating such a centralized application hub. But first let's take a look at why we need a centralised  App Directory.

The Problem with Siloed Apps

Running a business often involves juggling a myriad of applications—each serving a specific function but rarely working in harmony. This siloed approach presents several challenges:

  • Difficulty in Management: The separate maintenance and management of multiple apps consume significant time and resources.
  • Overhead Costs: The financial strain of managing and licensing multiple products adds up quickly.
  • Learning Curve for Each New Tool: Each app has its own set of rules, functionalities and UX "quirks" necessitating continuous employee training.
  • App Maintenance: Regular updates, bug fixes, and attention to security vulnerabilities become cumbersome when dealing with multiple apps. 
  • Testing Challenges: Quality assurance processes are complex and resource-draining in a multi-app ecosystem.
  • Hard to Find "Stuff": The absence of a centralized repository makes finding your app a big headache. Is it in Teams, SharePoint or in the Power Apps App?
  • Inconsistency in User Experience: Navigating through different user interfaces for different tasks is far from ideal.
  • Limited Interoperability: Many standalone apps fail to share data or functionalities easily.
  • Security Concerns: Upholding security protocols becomes complicated with multiple isolated platforms.
  • In short: In our opinion, it's better to support 1 "Big App" that leverages clever techniques to lower the amount of development needed, than a few hundred scattered around your technical infrastructure.

The Power Platform Solution: Collab365 Toolbelt

To counteract these limitations, we've leveraged Microsoft's Power Platform to build the Collab365 Toolbelt. This platform not only centralizes our myriad of tools but also offers unrivaled flexibility in customization and integration. Here's how it addresses the problems of a siloed approach:

  1. Unified Management: All tools are available under one umbrella, simplifying administration.
  2. Centralized Data: Data from various tools can be easily collated for analytics and decision-making.
  3. Cost Efficiency: By consolidating functionalities, we cut down on separate licensing fees. (As an example, I create a YouTube thumbnail generator tool within an hour and now it's there for everyone to use in seconds).
  4. Uniform Learning Curve: Users can comfortably transition between tools within a familiar interface.
  5. Streamlined Maintenance and Testing: Operating under a single platform makes it easier to manage updates and conduct quality tests.

Features and Milestones

We're in the initial stages of the Collab365 Toolbelt, but our roadmap and brains are brimming with exciting features:

Apply Security Roles

All of our tools are stored in a centralized SharePoint List. We plan to leverage SharePoint's security inheritance features, ensuring that team members can only access the tools for which they have the appropriate permissions.

Dynamically Build Forms

Each tool will require data input from team members to operate effectively. Rather than creating a separate Power Apps screen for each tool, we are in the process of developing our own dynamic Form Builder. This will generate customized forms that collect the specific data needed for each individual tool.

Make Tools Easy to Find

We intend to organize our directory in a manner that is both searchable and browsable by tool category. Additionally, we will enable users to view tools based on metrics such as team usage and tool ratings.

Responsive First Design 

We are designing the Toolbelt with responsiveness in mind from the outset. Given that many of us frequently use mobile devices, we aim for all the tools to be accessible and functional from any location that suits the user.

Centralised AI Prompts

All of our AI prompts will be integrated as tools within the Toolbelt, eliminating the need for our team to share prompts or rely on ChatGPT for assistance with everyday tasks.

Train AI on our data

To enhance the intelligence of OpenAI and the Claude API in relation to our training and business needs, we plan to utilize AI embeddings and Pinecone.

Community Management

Supporting our members in the Collab365 Academy currently involves significant manual effort. To streamline this process, we plan to develop a suite of community tools that will integrate with the Circle Platform, CRM, and other systems.

Chatbot for our Academy

As a beneficial side effect of making AI aware of our course offerings, we intend to develop a chatbot for the Academy. This chatbot will guide our members on what courses to take next and serve as an educational aid.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Having a centralised method of accessing all of our commonly used tools is already proving to be a gamechanger for us. 

What features in Microsoft 365 will we be using? 

Although still in its infancy, the Collab365 Toolbelt has already enhanced the efficiency of our internal operations. As we continue to expand the Toolbelt, we will assess various tools with a focus on flexibility, performance, and, above all, cost. While our priority is to find Microsoft-based solutions, we are open to considering third-party options if they offer cost advantages or feature sets that Microsoft solutions do not provide.

Microsoft 365 Tools:

  • SharePoint to Store and secure access to our Tools
  • Power Apps to build the Toolbelt and individual Tools
  • PCF Controls to help build dynamic forms configured by JSON
  • Power Automate to carry out the work for the tool
  • Customer Connectors to access our 3rd party services easily.

Third Party Tools:

  • Make.com for connecting to other services with ease.
  • RenderForm for creating dynamic images
  • Midjourney to help with AI generated Images for blogs and social
  • OpenAI API and Anthropic's API to send our Prompts into.
  • Circle and Fluent CRM for community Management

This is just the start:

The Tools listed above are by no means an exhaustive list and are very likely to grow as we build the Toolbelt out.

Do you want to learn how to do this in your company?

As you can see, we're on a mission to optimize Collab365 into a seamless operation. While we don't have formal plans to offer specialized training or products based on this initiative yet, we are committed to sharing our journey and learning as we go. If there's enough appetite we will certainly consider ways to share this with you.

In the meantime, we'll periodically provide updates and insights within the Collab365 Academy. So if you're interested in staying in the loop and engaging in meaningful discussions with us, the Academy is your go-to destination.

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