Pinnacle Group – Helpdesk employee leads transition from paper to digital
In this post we learn about Sancho Harker’s journey as a citizen developer at Pinnacle Group. Pinnacle Group provides people-first services across a range of community-facing assets and infrastructure – including multi-tenure housing, schools, open spaces, public buildings, utilities and broadband networks – as well as a range of complementary employment and wellbeing outcomes. On behalf of public sector, institutional investors, 3rd sector and private sector partners, Pinnacle delivers tailored solutions that are not just comprehensive and integrated, but also create long-term value within the communities they serve.
Sancho was an IT helpdesk employee who adopted Microsoft Power Platform to digitize several core processes that were manual, outdated and paper driven. He is now a Solutions Integration Analyst tasked with building digital solutions for the organization.
Read on to learn about Sancho’s journey and the solutions he built to conduct health and safety audits, centralize profit center listings and manage innovation ideas from employees across the organization. The solutions use Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI connected to data stored in SharePoint lists. The apps run standalone and are embedded within tabs in Microsoft Teams.
MEET SANCHO HARKER
In 2018, Sancho Harker worked as a helpdesk analyst at Pinnacle Group, providing technical support and training for hardware, software and network related issues. He was passionate about finding creative ways to optimize processes, with a belief that there was always a better way to do something. He saw an opportunity to digitize and automate existing paper and Excel-based processes and wanted to find a quick way to build these solutions, but could not afford the time to learn a new complex coding language. Around the same time in August 2018 he came across video stories of Power Apps Champs, such as Samit Saini from London Heathrow Airport and Martin Lee from Autoglass, which inspired him to begin his journey into Power Apps. He started by studying the online documentation and resources such as Tim Leung’s book on Power Apps for beginners. He then identified existing inefficient business processes and started building apps, flows and dashboards to digitize and streamline these processes. He is now a one-man app making machine, with fourteen solutions running in production and over twenty in development.
Sancho is autistic and describes his work with Microsoft Power Platform as a match for the way his brain works. As a result of the solutions he has built and the positive impact to the organization, he’s been able to create a new role and career path for himself as a Solutions Integration Analyst. Late last year Sancho was selected as the winner of the Innovation Award at their annual company-wide awards ceremony, The Pinnacles.
Sancho is also an active contributor on the Power Apps Community forums. He holds a Super User status with over 500 kudos received from his peers in the community. And recently, as of April 2020, was awarded Business Applications MVP status.
Sancho is passionate about his apps having a consistent theme that adheres to Pinnacle’s corporate branding guidelines. He developed a novel approach for customizing branding and theming on his apps and went on to share this solution with the Power Apps community. You can find a description of his branding template on his personal blog and download the template from the Power Apps Community App Samples.
In addition to growing his Power Platform skills, Sancho is teaching himself C# and looking forward to creating custom PCF controls using the Power Apps Component Framework. On a personal level, he’s found like-minded people and developed close friendships within the Power Platform community. He feels grateful to be part of a special group where mutual sharing of knowledge is valued and encouraged.
POWER PLATFORM SOLUTION – HEALTH AND SAFETY APP
Pinnacle Group performs various audits for the physical facilities and sites it manages. The audits are conducted by Health and Safety auditors and the data collected in reports that range from 15 to 40 pages. The company needed to find an effective solution to capture the audit details, assign follow-ups and view up to date reports.
Before Power Platform
Prior to using the Power Platform, auditors and administrators used an inefficient paper-based system to document the audit, and a cumbersome manual process to track follow-up tasks.
Old paper-based process for conducting audits
There were several challenges with this process:
- Paper driven: The process required the auditor to print several pages of the paper form and hand-write the notes
- Error in inputs: Copying the hand-written notes into Excel spreadsheets resulted in errors
- Manual sorting: Manual sorting in Excel of data by site, profit center, owner
- High overhead: Admins had to re-sort the data every two weeks, summarize open items and send out emails for follow up, including manually tallying current and overdue tasks by risk level
Paper forms used for Health and Safety audits
Power Platform Solution
Auditors use a customized and user-friendly Power Apps solution to document every stage of the audit process. The app can be accessed as a standalone app on a mobile or desktop device or run embedded within Microsoft Teams. All the audit data is stored in SharePoint Online lists.
The app walks the auditor through each stage required to perform the audit. The dropdown boxes and easy-to-fill comments sections makes it simple and quick to enter audit results. The app automatically calculates the “overall risk” based on the data collected during the audit. The apps is also used to capture, track and action follow-up tasks for each audit.
Once the audit is completed, Power Automate is used to pick up outstanding audit items and an email is generated and sent out to the owners of the task with a link to the audit report. Reporting has also been automated with the use of Power BI – it is now possible to run reports by month, risk level, profit center and various other fields. The data is also based on real time updates and a snapshot point in time report can be captured.
Summary of impact and benefits
- 3300+ printed pages saved per year with digitized forms and photo capture
- 550 hours per year saved without the need for writing notes and then inputting data
- 450 hours per year saved with manual reconciliation of outstanding tasks by profit center
- Easy and up to date reporting of outstanding items with automated email reminders
POWER PLATFORM SOLUTION – PROFIT CENTER LISTING APP
The profit center listing is one of the most-used processes at Pinnacle Group. It contains all cost and profit centers for the company and everything within the company that involves finance must be associated to a profit center. Employees use the profit centers to charge costs, assign tasks or look up other employees by profit center for various reasons. Every action, payment or purchase must be assigned to a profit center with different levels of approvals. For example, if a site requires maintenance to buy air-conditioning units for an upgrade, the cost needs to be charged correctly to an assigned profit center and be reported accordingly.
Before Power Platform
The company’s finance team was using Excel sheets to share the profit center information with staff, who did not have access to the Finance system. The staff would then use the listed authorization levels to contact and get email approvals from the authorized staff member and then forward that onto the Finance team as proof that it had been authorized.
Challenges with this process:
- Profit center reports sent as attachments to all employees every two weeks resulting in ~20K emails per year
- Employees often would use outdated versions of the profit center report resulting in rework and inefficiencies
- Employees often printed the reports, resulting in high usage of paper – ~6K sheets of paper per year
This process needed an effective solution that was not paper-based and had one centralized “single source of truth.”
Power Platform Solution
Sancho used Power Apps to create the “Profit Centers List” app. The app is accessed through the company’s intranet on SharePoint, which is a single point of entry for all employees. Employees log on to the app and are directed to their respective profit center “hub”. The app serves as the driving mechanism for authorization and for choosing which profit center to associate with each request. Employees can now view an up-to-date profit center hierarchy and get a good overview of which divisions other employees are responsible for. All data is stored in SharePoint lists and approvals managed using Power Automate.
Summary of impact and benefits
- “Single Source of Truth” – no outdated data
- Higher productivity – no reworking of requests as outdated data is not being used
- Almost no paper printing
- Savings in overhead costs
POWER PLATFORM SOLUTION – INNOVATION CENTER APP
Previously, if an employee had an idea for a new process or for how to improve a process, they would flag it to their manager or whoever they thought was appropriate to deal with it. Due to lack of a centralized list or process for these, the ideas often did not get the traction needed, or would not have a targeted time frame. Now all the “innovative” ideas across the company are captured in a single app, with assigned owners and timelines. These ideas may include cost-saving measures, improvements to security, ideas for new Power Apps, new data analytics, or completely new solutions. The Innovation Centre App uses Power Apps as the front end, SharePoint lists as the data source, and Power Automate for notifications of emails, approvals.
All the solutions have a similar solution architecture. Power Apps is used to create apps that run on mobile and desktop devices. The apps can be accessed standalone or via tabs within Microsoft Teams. Power Automate is used to send automated email notifications and approval requests. Power BI is used for reporting against data generated by the applications. All data is stored in SharePoint Online lists.
Pinnacle Group has fourteen Power Platform solutions in production and at least twenty in the backlog. They are currently in the testing phase for the next set of finance-related Power Apps. They are committed to automating as many of their processes as they can. In many ways this is just the beginning of the Power Platform journey for Sancho and Pinnacle Group.