A seven part series.
Sally’s problem: the onboarding process for new hires at Acme Corp.
Sally inherited the current process from her predecessor, consisting of a Master spreadsheet and a New Recruit spreadsheet. After a new applicant accepts an offer, she emails the New Recruit Spreadsheet to the new recruit. It is fairly straightforward on the surface, appearing to the recruit to be one page of questions. Bob, an Excel Guru who left the company three years ago, created it. There are quite a few hidden and locked cells, and no one is really sure what they are for, but it works. When the recruit returns this spreadsheet, the data must be added to the Master spreadsheet, which Bob also created.
There is a button on the master spreadsheet to copy this data automatically, but it stopped working for some reason, so now Sally just copies and pastes the data across; it does not take that long. The Master spreadsheet used to get automatically uploaded to Acme’s ERP every night, as long as Sally accessed it from a specific folder, but that also stopped working for some reason, so now Sally exports it as a csv and manually imports it into the ERP. As there have been some rare but problematic copy/paste errors, along with the manual steps required, Sally wants a better solution.
Sally reaches out to her boss, Bill, for suggestions. Bill has also been nervous about the onboarding process risks and picks up the phone and calls Art in IT. Art concedes that quite a few of Bob’s old spreadsheets are still floating around in various departments. He has looked at a few in the past, but Bob was indeed a Guru. Then Art recalls an email he got from their Microsoft Partner a couple of days ago about “App in a Day”. Art is slammed but suggests maybe Sally or Bill could attend the event tomorrow as it says you don’t need an IT background to build apps. Art thinks this could solve all of Bob’s other spreadsheets…
The next day, both Sally and her boss, Bill, attend the App in a Day event, along with about eight other people from other companies having similar business problems. Chris, the presenter, starts by saying, “Anyone can build an App; it’s Super-Simple”. Everyone opens the laptops Chris had previously set up around the conference table, where all the software and templates are already installed. Chris asks what kind of challenges people are having, and Sally raises her hand and describes her spreadsheet issue. Chris acknowledges that Sally’s issue is common and that it is Super-Simple to create an app to solve it. Sally smiles. “But that is not what we are creating today”, says Chris. Sally frowns.
The group follows along as Chris walks them through the steps of building “something else”. The App in a Day material is quite refined, and the room hums along. Chris prefaces all her answers for questions that pop up with “Yes, that is Super-Simple…”. As the event concluded, most attendees could build most of the sample app using the templates. Chris passed out the “Completion Certificates” while proclaiming, “Congratulations, you are now all app builders,” and started clapping her hands as the attendees all smiled.
On the drive back, Sally says to Bill, “That was not that difficult”.
Bill responds, “Not at all; it was Super-Simple”.
Feeling empowered, Sally decides to create an app tomorrow to solve this problem herself.
The next day, with a fresh cup of coffee and her calendar marked unavailable, Sally sits in front of her computer and grabs the notebook full of scribbles she made at the event. She decides to start with the New Recruit spreadsheet and opens it up. Chris had said there was a way to automatically create an app from the spreadsheet, which sounds promising. She finds and opens the link from her notes, and “You do not have access” blinks on her screen. Ugh. She calls Art, who asks her to share the link with him, and he will investigate, but it may take some time as he is “slammed”. Sally changes her calendar status to “available”.
The next afternoon, she receives an email from Art saying, “Try again”.
She marks her calendar status as “Unavailable”, opens the link, and again, “You do not have access” blinks on her screen.
She replies to Art, who responds, “Clear your browser history”.
She complies, and voila, the web page finally opens. Yup, it looks just like the page from the event, and right there on the front page is that button Chris mentioned to create an app from a spreadsheet with one click. Sally is going to solve this problem in no time. She clicks the button, selects her New Recruit Spreadsheet, and a gear starts spinning on the page. Sally is smiling broadly now.
After a few minutes, the gear stops spinning; it’s just frozen. Sally clicks around the page, but everything seems frozen, so she clicks refresh and starts over. This time, the process goes very quickly; the gear only spins for a few seconds, and then a window pops up that says, “There is an issue with your spreadsheet; click this link for help”. Sally clicks the help link, and the home page for Microsoft opens. Thirty minutes after commencing the process, she again reaches out to Art.
Art asks, “What was the error?”.
Sally says, “It just said there is a problem”.
Art says he will look at the spreadsheet and get back to her as soon as possible. Sally marks her status as “Available”.
The next morning, Sally receives another email from Art: “I am no Excel Guru, but I can see some macros and stuff in here. I’m not sure what their purposes are, but maybe they are causing the issue. You may have to just create the app manually, but I heard it is Super-Simple!”.
Sally reviews her notes from the event, recalling some discussions of creating apps from scratch, but mostly about automated app creation. Maybe there is something in that package from Chris? Nope, it’s just a brochure for the partner Chris works for. Sally thinks, “I am not stupid. I have an MBA, and Chris said this was Super-Simple, so I’m sure I can figure this out”. She opens her search engine and types “Build an app from a spreadsheet”… About 37,000,000 results, ugh. Maybe YouTube… 124,000 results. Okay, maybe filtering YouTube on “most popular”?
After scrolling through several video results that have nothing to do with her inquiry, she finally sees some that look promising. The first one she views shows how to automatically create an app from a spreadsheet, the path that already failed for her. Hmm, maybe filter on Microsoft’s content? The first one of those that she views opens with an animated headline, “This is Super-Simple”, then with really high production quality and a great soundtrack, flips through a bunch of smiling business people, both individually and in happy groups, all with awesome animations finally landing on a page that says “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” which fades out to a “Buy Now” Button.
Finally, Sally finds a video by someone proclaiming to be a “Microsoft MVP”, whatever that is. In it, the gal describes exactly what Sally is trying to do!
So with the video open on her second monitor, she goes about following the steps precisely, as the MVP repeats, “This is Super-Simple”. “The first thing you need to do is decide whether your app will be Canvas or Model-Driven,” says the MVP, smiling a little too much.
The MVP continues, “We won’t go into the details here; instead, we’ll just build a Canvas app”. “Great”, thinks Sally, because I’ve never heard of “Model-Driven”.
Sally proceeds to dutifully follow the steps, pausing and rewinding the video many times to make sure she does not miss anything. By the end of the day, she has something; she is excited and eager to show it to Bill.
“That is incredible”, says Bill, looking over Sally’s shoulder at her screen, “It looks just like the spreadsheet!”.
Sally responds, “Yes, it was Super-Simple”.
“We should start using it right away”, says Bill, and Sally smiles proudly.
Sally thinks momentarily and says, “How do we do that?”.
“Ask Art”, says Bill.
The next morning, Sally calls Art, “Guess what? I built that app I wanted by myself”.
“Very impressive”, Art replies.
Sally says, “How do we start using it immediately with our new recruits?”.
Art thinks momentarily and says, “I’m not sure, but I will look into it and get back to you. Have you thoroughly tested it?”.
“Well, it seems to work fine to me”, says Sally, a little irritated.
After lunch, Art calls Sally back, “I have some bad news; it seems that the last step of our onboarding process is buying and assigning licenses to the new hires”.
Sally says, “So what does that mean?”.
“That means they can’t use your app”, says Art, “I called our Microsoft Partner to clarify, and they suggested that maybe Power Pages could be an option as long as we avoid any kind of multiplexing”.
“So you are saying I just wasted my time?” fumed Sally.
“Not at all”, said Art, “You built an App, so now you are an App Builder!”
“Thanks a lot,” said Sally, “but I am not giving up; it is supposed to be Super-Simple to solve this problem… explain Multiplexing to me, please”.