Arm enables low-code adoption with a thriving Power Platform Center of Excellence
Arm is a leading semiconductor and software design company headquartered in Cambridge, England. With a worldwide presence and 8,500 employees, Arm’s energy-efficient processor designs and software platforms have shipped in more than 190 billion chips, securely powering products from the sensor to the smartphone and the supercomputer.
Arm has had a lot of success with Microsoft Power Platform, and in this article, we will look at how they used parts of the Power Platform Centre of Excellence (CoE) Starter Kit, a collection of templates, designed to help organizations get started with governing Power Platform. They used the CoE kit to not only put controls and guardrails in place to manage the burgeoning Power Platform usage, but more importantly, harness the enthusiasm of citizen makers and form a thriving community of skilled practitioners who learn from each-other and develop high value apps for the organization.
Over the past year, Arm has seen rapid adoption of Power Platform. This is anchored by their strong Governance and Nurture foundation. The Arm case study is interesting because it not only describes how the team setup their Center of Excellence, but also walks through their decision-making process – which components did they start with, why did they pick these, and why did they choose to skip some components as they began their adoption of the CoE Starter Kit.
Key elements of Arm’s Center of Excellence
Meet the team
Garry Pope and Bill Young formed the Power Platform team at Arm in 2020, and as product owners of the platform have designed and implemented their governance strategy.
Pope and Young were able to bring together the best of their experience and expertise based on their different backgrounds – Pope’s strong Dynamics 365 background combined with Young’s Microsoft 365 and SharePoint background. Their joint expertise underpinned a Power Platform governance model that balances the freedom of a community-driven and citizen developer led app building experience with the need for the apps to be underpinned by a well-structured and resilient data model and suitable guardrails.
Understanding the landscape
As commonly seen in many organizations, it was known that citizen developers had been using Power Platform to solve business problems, but there was a lot of uncertainty. The Power Platform team had several questions, such as:
- Who had been developing apps and where were these app makers located?
- Were there any commonalities among app makers in terms of roles, teams, or offices?
- What were the use-cases or pain points driving platform usage?
- What data sources were they using?
- Were they getting the best out of the platform?
To govern the platform effectively, Arm needed rich data to answer these types of questions. The CoE Starter Kit provided that data and was deployed with an initial focus to provide enterprise-level visibility of platform usage via its extensive set of Power BI dashboards. This helped Pope and Young understand the present state of apps, flows, environments and connectors in their tenant.
Screenshots show demo data. Arm uses the Power BI dashboard provided in the CoE Starter kit to monitor Power Platform activity.
The result of this initial data collation should not come as a surprise. While the platform was indeed helping solve a lot of important business problems, there were a lot of unused test apps and flows as well. According to Pope, “As soon as we installed the CoE Starter Kit, we saw that we had tens of environments, hundreds of apps, and thousands of flows, and it needed to be streamlined.”
Many organizations might see this as evidence as to why the platform needs to be controlled or locked down. But this is where Arm took a more nuanced approach. While focus was put on established best practices like restricting the creation of environments, performing an audit of connections, and implementing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies, it was Arm’s approach to clean-up that is noteworthy. Instead of blindly removing unused resources, they instead proactively reached out to app makers, supported them, and brought them together to create a thriving community.
Setting up the Center of Excellence
The app/flow archive score and a foot in the door
The CoE Starter Kit provides extensive detail of all Power Platform components, such as Power Apps canvas apps and Power Automate flows, which helps organizations understand the present usage landscape. When there is a need to perform an assessment or prioritize apps and flows for archival or deletion, the CoE Starter Kit also provides an Archive Score feature. This score is derived from various metrics to determine the likelihood of whether an app or a flow could be archived and visible via a Power BI report.
Screenshot of the Archive Score report. The score takes into consideration when an app was last launched, if it’s been recently modified and if it contains non production words like Test or Demo
Pope and Young found the archive score to be very useful and utilized it to determine what could be cleaned up. Rather than set up an automated clean-up process or send the maker a stern compliance email asking them to delete their app and flow, they took the opportunity to contact each maker and collect information on what motivated the user to try Power Apps, and what problems were they trying to solve.
This approach had some unexpected benefits too. Sometimes users could not remember creating the apps or flows, but as these conversations unfolded, they recalled the business problem they were trying to solve which reignited their enthusiasm for the platform. This process of reigniting maker curiosity led to the emergence of an internal consulting service.
As Pope explains, “If a maker created a Power Automate cloud flow two years ago, rather than us just going and deleting it, we would call them, start a 10-minute conversation and they’d often say, ‘this is pretty good actually’. We have had so many sessions where people would say ‘can we book half an hour with you’ and they are back building really good apps.” Pope added, “If I had simply sent them a blanket email and deleted the app, I would not have brought them back into Power Platform.”
An example of the CoE team enabling a citizen developer
Here’s a recent example of the team helping Elliot Fraser, the Gym & Wellbeing Manager at Arm, bring a solution to production:
With the return to workplace fast approaching, Elliot needed a way to safely control the usage of Arm’s new gym facility for the employees who will want to use it. A robust and easy-to-use system was needed to ensure the continued health and safety of employees, as well as avoiding the potential of time lost due to manual bookings.
Over the past year, Elliot had taken a keen interest in Power Platform and attended many of the in-house clinics run by Garry Pope and Bill Young, including a masterclass on canvas apps. He was confident that an app would be an elegant solution to the problem and after a couple of calls with Bill, he had a proof of concept up and running. After a few more days of refinement and testing, the “Gym Booking App” was ready to publish. Since then, the app has run seamlessly – a solution that will allow Arm to safely manage gym usage, and saved the small team countless hours of admin time.
Without the support and guidance of Arm’s Citizen Developer team, Elliot would never have thought he’d be capable of building his own app. Despite not having a technical background, he found Power Apps intuitive to use and will be looking to utilize it much more in the future.
Creating a space
As the internal coaching and consulting service grew, Pope and Young realized that they needed to put together a knowledge repository for their nascent community of makers. According to Pope, “We were having these conversations, but we actually needed to direct them somewhere”.
A two-pronged approach was taken, utilizing SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.
Young leveraged his SharePoint knowhow to create a site dedicated to Power Platform Makers to not only help get them started but provide additional details on important topics such as when Power Platform should be used (and when it should not), best practices, checklists, app showcases, and more. This led to an increase in maker capability where they would build more efficient apps and flows based on this codified knowledge.
A dedicated Microsoft Teams site was also set up as a community space where citizen developers could ask and answer questions. This was kept up to date by posting useful blog articles, Microsoft announcements, tips of the day, and success stories, including highlighting a “Citizen Developer of the Week” profile.
Success of citizen developers is celebrated with a “Citizen Developer of the week” profile
Curating a community
Pope and Young acknowledge that it took some effort to drive citizen makers to leverage the Teams space and learnt some lessons in the process. When the team was first set up, various conversational channels were created based on assumptions around how makers would utilize Teams, but this was eventually simplified and reduced to just two channels. Pope recalls the realization that citizen makers were not interested in topics that Power Platform admins would be interested in. “We eventually accepted not everyone is as keen on all Power Platform updates as us. We learned that people preferred coming to us when they had a problem. We would solve it and they left.”
As citizen makers typically have their day job to do, this pattern of engagement to solve an immediate problem was understandable. In response, all communication to users was done in a way that drove them to the Microsoft Teams community. For example, if a user emailed a problem, they would be asked to post it to Teams so others could benefit from the answer. Any mailouts or other forms of communication would invite users to join the community and view the SharePoint site. Such was the pervasiveness of this approach, Young joked “presumably when they saw it so many times, they eventually went and had a look or joined the team!”
This approach paid off. While Pope and Young would answer questions posted to Teams, their prior conversations with makers gave them insights into which citizen developers had skills in certain areas. Instead of answering the question directly, those knowledgeable users would be @-mentioned and asked for their opinion, leading to increased participation of those experts, and increased overall community activity.
The anchor of trust
Pope and Young continued to actively participate in the maker community, but as citizen makers grew their skills and capabilities, so too did their belief in the platform and level of ambition. Pope and Young responded by running events such as deeper dive demonstrations of platform features, and monthly drop-in clinics where makers could meet to discuss challenges or learn more advanced patterns to improve their apps.
This one-to-one and collaborative approach not only fostered a healthy community, but perhaps most critically of all, it built trust. Trust that the platform could do the job, trust in the team governing it and trust in themselves as makers that they could solve digitalization challenges on their own. Pope recalls a case where a maker inherited a particularly complex business scenario. Undaunted, this maker pressed ahead, telling Pope “I didn’t really want to take this on, but I knew I had you two to help me.”
Notwithstanding the increase of capability of citizen makers and willingness to push themselves, Arm’s approach to Power Platform governance can be backed up by hard facts on their reduction of environment and app sprawl. The number of environments has been reduced by 66% and apps by 80%. All this while the number of overall app makers has increased 22% in the span of a year since the CoE Starter Kit was deployed.
Pope and Young have even extended the starter kit to better monitor their governance progress. The below overview is used to drive actions everyday. It shows:
- Total apps and flows that need to be reviewed together with the maker.
- Total apps and flows that have been reviewed.
- Total apps and flows cleaned up, as they were unused, not needed anymore, or had been created for exploration of the product.
- Total apps and flows in the tenant. Green means less than 15% of apps are unreviewed. Amber means between 15-75% are unreviewed. The goal is to review all apps and flows together with the respective maker.
A Power Platform Health Status dashboard is used to drive daily decisions
At the start of this article, it was mentioned that this case study was interesting not for what parts of the CoE Starter Kit were used, but which ones weren’t. All outcomes described above were done by just the using the core components of the CoE Starter Kit to gather data for informed decision-making. They used the starter kit exactly as it was intended: to start with what matters most to an organization based on where they are at in their adoption journey. Arm used it to get the basics right, such as establishing guardrails around environment and connector management, then using the rich data to drive decision making, combined with a relentless focus on building and nurturing a thriving community.
Arm has three core beliefs: ‘We not I’, ‘Passion for progress’ and ‘Be your brilliant self’. These values are tangible throughout this case study and reflect Arm’s culture of collaboration and innovation.