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Microsoft HR uses the Power Platform to transform employee experiences

Microsoft used PowerApps to create a a suite of employee engagement mobile apps that have been deployed worldwide to 100,000+ employees. These applications have a clean and modern UI and connect to a variety of backend services, including cloud-based APIs and legacy on-premise systems. In this post we'll take a deeper look at these apps, that are branded as the Thrive suite. We'll describe the successful partnership between the Microsoft HR and IT departments, the decision to use PowerApps, the app functionality, and the solution architecture.

 

Business scenario

The Microsoft HR team needed a single framework for a suite of applications for employees to discover content and execute tasks. They needed a world class experience for employees to report their vacation time, view the latest company news, see global holidays, look up people profiles, and send kudos to colleagues. The experience needed to be modern, mobile, and customized to meet the high quality bar for HR experiences. 

 

Before PowerApps – solutions, challenges and opportunities

Microsoft employees use various tools for these tasks, many of which are in dire need of a facelift. As one example, the current “TAR” tool for time and absence reporting has not had a major UI update for over 10 years. “Using TAR makes me feel like I’m working for NASA in the 60s”, was the comment from a new college hire on seeing the tool for the first time. As a result of the poor UI and lack of mobile experience, many employees simply don’t report their vacation. The HR business unit had made two previous attempts to build native applications. The native applications, while providing flexibility on the look and feel, were costly and time consuming to develop. It took months to create a first version, and too long to iterate based on user feedback, resulting in the solutions being abandoned.

 

Old Time and Absence Reporting app
Screenshot of the old Time and Absence Reporting tool – outdated UX with no mobile interface

 

Embarking on the PowerApps journey

In early 2016, the HR team evaluated two third party vendor platforms in addition to PowerApps. The team cared deeply about the user experience. They found PowerApps to be the only option out of the three that provided the necessary level of UI richness. However, at the time PowerApps was still in Preview and did not meet their requirements for performance and reliability. They decided to bet on it and work closely with Microsoft IT and the PowerApps product team to evolve the solutions to be deployable across the entire organization. The teams encountered technical challenges and skepticism along the way. But they persevered through, driving over 300 updates into the product, and continuing to improve the content, the user experience and technical fundamentals. They now have a suite of Thrive apps deployed at scale to over 100k employees. This truly has been a cross-Microsoft success story.

Quote by Roy Russo, UX Designer, HR Experiences - "I was quite skeptical when I first got started with the platform. VERY SKEPTICAL. Over time, as the product evolved and the strategy became more lucid, my skepticism turned into a ball of positive energy that continues to gain momentum."

Today, most of the development efforts are driven out of Chennai and Hyderabad. The folks developing the front-end experience have technical backgrounds, but no professional app development skills. Eric McChesney who leads the program from the HR side commented, “this is the most customer obsessed team I’ve worked with, they have a tinkering mentality that is a personality match to PowerApps”

Photos of the people who drove the Thrive effort - Pat Dunn and Eric McChesney
Meet the duo who drove the Thrive effort – Pat Dunn (left) from Microsoft IT
and Eric McChesney (right) from the HR business unit

 

Quote from Pat Dunn, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft IT - "This has by far been the best product group partnership that I've seen. The HR business group, the IT group, and the product team spent a lot of late nights to find issues and make the platform viable for the enterprise. It's taken an investment of love and time to make it thrive."

 

The Thrive suite powered by PowerApps

The solution is a suite of applications branded as Thrive with a mission to “create a single employee experience for all Microsoft employees to use on their phone or the web”. These experiences run on mobile devices, the web and in embedded scenarios, such as within Bing. Here is a quick look at each of the applications currently deployed in production:

Thrive Home – the Home app is where it all begins, employees start here to keep up with company news, get important alerts, see tasks at a glance, find and launch other Thrive apps, or see their employee profile. The Home app acts has a hub to discover and launch other Thrive apps. The feed includes notifications from these related apps. So, for example, when an employee's vacation is going to expire, they will receive a notice in the Home app that includes a link to launch the Time Away app.

Screenshots of Thrive Home App

Thrive Time Away – With the US Time Away app, you can be in line at the airport and check your vacation balance, submit your time away, set your out of office auto reply, and send an out of office invite to the people with whom you work the most. All of this can be done in under a minute. This app has one version for US employees and another for international, to meet the different local country guidelines around vacation reporting. 

Screenshots of Microsoft Thrive Time Away app

Thrive Kudos – The Kudos app takes an earlier web solution that only worked on the corporate network and adds enhanced mobile capabilities accessible from anywhere. Using Delve Analytics, it suggests the people you work with the most, or lets you search for anyone in the company directory. You can give kudos to a colleague and view kudos received by your colleagues. Each kudo message has a badge with a customized icon that reflects one of Microsoft's cultural values.  

Screenshots of Microsoft Thrive Kudos app

Thrive Holidays – With the Holidays app you get notifications for upcoming holidays. You can see a list of holidays, get more information about each holiday, and choose to add them to your calendar with a single tap. If you're traveling or have teammates in other countries, you can easily switch to another country to raise your cultural awareness or plan your travels better. 

Screenshots of Microsoft Thrive Holidays app

Thrive People – The People app allows you to quickly find people in the employee directory and view their profiles. You can browse the org view for any employee and understand reporting structure, contact them via your device's native features (phone, text, email), view their LinkedIn profile and more. You can manage your consolidated profile and view or edit your work as well as personal information.

Screenshots of the Thrive People app

Global HR Conference app – Over 1,500 employees attended a Microsoft global HR conference in Fall 2017. All attendees used a mobile PowerApp for scheduling, registration, networking with colleagues, Yammer integration, submitting session and conference surveys, and real-time polling. It included a networking game with a customized leaderboard to promote attendees to connect with each other. A second PowerApp was created for conference admins to manage the content that was displayed in the attendee app – allowed for easy upload of users attending the conference, survey and polls data, and more. The PowerApps conferencing solution continues to be customized for other conference events at Microsoft. 

Screenshots of Microsoft Global HR Conference app

Thrive Paystub (coming soon!) – The US Paystub Notice app will let you instantly view your paystub every pay period. You will receive a notification to let you know you've been paid, which gives you a simple way to go view your paystub. From within the app, you may go into the full paystub and view all the details on your device along with browsing relevant FAQ content related to the payroll process. 

Screenshots of Microsoft Thrive Paystub app

Thrive integration with Bing

The Thrive apps are embedded within Bing for business search. For example, if you search for {vacation}, you get the Time Away app as a search result. You can run the app and report vacation time directly as an embedded experience, without leaving Bing. The Bing for business integration is currently in an internal preview and will be made public in the coming weeks. 

Screenshot with Thrive Time Away app running embedded in Bing

 

Business impact and benefits

Some of the key benefits that the Microsoft HR and IT teams have gained from betting on PowerApps:

  • A clean, simple and delightful user interface that resulted in a world class experience for Microsoft employees. These apps showcase the pixel-perfect UI fidelity that is possible with the PowerApps Canvas designer.
  • Greater engagement – the previous solutions never went beyond ~500 users, whereas the new mobile experiences are already above ~20K users per month as of Sept 2018.
  • A center of excellence on the Power platform – the combined teams from IT and HR have re-engineered how they think about developing mobile solutions and continue to develop new experiences. As Pat Dunn notes, "we can now snap in new experiences and respond quickly to requests from the business."
  • The apps are built once, and can be embedded in multiple experiences, which helps drive awareness and usage. Integration with Bing for business is one example, where employees can now report their vacation directly on Bing via an embedded PowerApp.
  • The apps deep link into each other and can be launched directly from other web experiences. For example, a peer feedback web page deep links into the Kudos app to quickly view the Kudos recevied by the employee.
  • As an early adopter of the Power platform, the Thrive team drove approximately 300 updates into PowerApps via feature requests and bug reports.
  • External customers have been inspired by the Thrive apps. As one example, a large energy company created their own employee news app in just two weeks after seeing the Thrive Home app in action.

Quote by Saurabh Pant, PowerApps Customer Success Lead - "The MS Thrive effort is a text book example of why we eat out own dogfood here at Microsoft. It has delivered a world class employee experience and helped improve the platform along the way. But more importantly, every customer we demo it to leaves convinced that PowerApps can deliver a rich UI experience at enterprise scale."

 

Solution architecture

The Thrive mobile apps are built as PowerApps Canvas apps. They apps use Custom connectors to call middle-tier APIs provided by Microsoft IT. These APIs connect with:

  • On-premise SAP payroll system for activities such as reporting vacation time and looking up paystub information.
  • Office 365 graph APIs for getting people information and performing calendaring activities.
  • Enterprise Card Stream – backend service built by IT team to surface content and tasks to users.
  • Microsoft Flow is used to send push notifications to the mobile apps, like notifying a user when their receive a kudo.

Thrive solution architecture diagram

 

Related reading

 

Pat Dunn's presentation at the Business Applications Summit 2018