STA/STW Approvals in the Power Platform

The Challenge

The objective was to streamline the process of recording and tracking approvals for Competition Waiver Applications by leveraging Office 365’s capabilities. Previously, the workflow involved manually completing a Word template and emailing it to a designated group of individuals for their authorization. The specific approvers were manually determined based on the cost centre, clinical division, and value of the submitted waiver request. Depending on the value, the application would then be forwarded to up to four final approvers for their final sign-off, concluding the process.

Some of the issues to think about with the old process included:

  • Word document/Application could not be tracked to see how it was progressing by anyone involved.
  • Not possible to identify long standing applications.
  • Applications could become lost in emails or accidently deleted from inboxes.
  • Approval was based on pasting a ‘Signature’ image, not the most secure or accountable method!
  • No control of the approval stages/stages did not flow sequentially and caused delays waiting for approvals.
  • Possibility for approvals to be routed to incorrect individuals for approval, causing delays.

Streamlined Approval Process for Competition Waiver Applications

Background

The traditional method for approving Competition Waiver applications involved manually filling out a Word document and emailing it to a manually designated group of individuals for their authorization. This process was time-consuming, inefficient, and lacked visibility into the approval workflow.

Solution

To overcome these limitations, a SharePoint list, a cloud-based solution, was implemented to streamline the approval process. This solution offers several advantages over the traditional Word document approach:

Enhanced Data Capture:

SharePoint lists can capture a broader range of information compared to Word documents. For instance, person fields can be utilized to store complete applicant details, including their office 365 profile picture.

Supplementary Attachments:

SharePoint records can accommodate up to six supplementary attachments, allowing users to include additional supporting documents. This eliminates the need for multiple emails and ensures that all relevant information is centralized.

Cloud-Based Accessibility:

SharePoint’s cloud-based nature enables users to submit and review applications from anywhere. This flexibility eliminates geographical constraints and facilitates collaboration among distributed teams.

 

PowerApps-Powered Front End:

A PowerApps solution was integrated to provide a user-friendly interface for interacting with the SharePoint list. This front-end application replaces the traditional list view with a more intuitive and engaging experience.

Streamlined Application Overview: A User-Friendly Interface

The primary objective for the main screen was to create a simple, intuitive interface that catered to both applicants and approvers. This involved presenting all essential application details in a clear and accessible manner. Key information such as the application’s current status, time spent in each stage, and a search function for easy retrieval were prioritized.

Key Information at a Glance

The main screen seamlessly presents crucial application details to all stakeholders:

  • Application Status: Applicants and approvers can instantly identify the current stage of the application, ensuring timely action and informed decision-making.
  • Time Tracking: A clear indication of the time spent in each approval stage provides valuable insights into the overall processing time and potential bottlenecks.
  • Search Functionality: A simple search function lets users locate specific applications efficiently, streamlining the review and approval process

Enriched Approval Details: Unravelling the Approval Workflow

The details screen delves into the approval process, providing insights into the individuals involved and their actions. Utilizing a Cost Centre reference list that records budget holders and responsible finance teams, the system automatically identifies the appropriate approvers for each application.

Anticipating potential scenarios where an approver may need to reassign the approval task, the system records the identity of the approver who initiated the reassignment, along with any comments they provided. This granular tracking ensures a comprehensive understanding of the approval workflow, even in instances where the original approver is no longer responsible for the task

Responsive Design for Mobile and Desktop:

Leveraging PowerApps’s responsive layouts, the PowerApps solution seamlessly adapts to both mobile devices and desktop PCs. This ensures that users can access and manage applications regardless of their device.

Power Automate-Driven Business Process Automation:

Power Automate was employed to automate the five-stage approval process. This automation streamlines the workflow by:

  1. Automatically sending applications to designated approvers based on predetermined criteria.
  2. Tracking and recording the progress of each application through the approval stages.
  3. Updating the SharePoint list with approval decisions and maintaining a complete historical record of the process.

Simplified Approval Workflow:

The automated approval process flows as follows:

  1. Application Submission: Applicants initiate the process by filling out a PowerApps form, providing all necessary details and attaching supporting documents.
  2. Automatic Routing and Approval: The application is automatically routed to designated approvers sequentially based on the cost centre, clinical division, and value of the waiver request. Approvers review the application electronically and grant or deny approval.
  3. Final Authorization: Once all initial approvals are obtained, the application is automatically forwarded to up to four final approvers based on the value for their final sign-off.

Benefits

The SharePoint and PowerApps-powered solution offer several advantages over the traditional Word document approach:

  • Improved Efficiency: Electronically capturing, routing, and approving applications significantly reduces processing time and manual effort.
  • Increased Transparency: The SharePoint list provides a centralized repository for all application data, enabling easy tracking and monitoring of the approval workflow.
  • Enhanced Collaboration: Electronic approvals facilitate real-time collaboration among stakeholders, streamlining the approval process.
  • Reduced Paperwork: Elimination of paper-based forms promotes sustainability and reduces administrative costs.
  • Accessibility and Convenience: Cloud-based access allows users to submit and review applications from anywhere, anytime.

In conclusion, the SharePoint and PowerApps-based solution has effectively modernized and streamlined the approval process for Competition Waiver applications. This solution has resulted in increased efficiency, transparency, collaboration, user convenience, and reduced paperwork.

Lessons Learned

Familiar Yet Alien: Navigating PowerApps Syntax

Mastering PowerApps syntax required a significant investment of time. Its formula-based structure resembles Excel, offering a familiar yet unconventional approach. For those accustomed to procedural methods like Access and VBA, this syntax might initially seem counterintuitive.

SharePoint Limitations: Juggling Person Columns

SharePoint’s limits became apparent when we discovered the restriction on the number of “Person” columns. Contrary to our initial assumptions, the limit is set at 12, and SharePoint reserves a few of these columns for its own internal data. This constraint forced us to reconsider our approach to storing person-related information in our first iteration, which utilized 10 person fields.

No-Code Efficiency: A Steep Learning Curve

While the no-code approach to creating solutions like this offers remarkable efficiency once the basics are grasped, the initial learning curve for these fundamentals proved to be quite steep.

Key Takeaways

  • PowerApps syntax, though familiar in its formulaic nature, presents a unique learning curve for those accustomed to procedural methods.
  • SharePoint’s limitations, such as the restricted number of “Person” columns, require careful consideration during solution design.
  • The no-code approach offers significant efficiency gains, but mastering the foundational concepts demands a dedicated effort.

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