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How Rolls-Royce uses citizen developers

The engineering company is using Microsoft Power Apps to democratise digitisation

Rolls-Royce has started using Microsoft Power Apps to provide a way for citizen developers in the business to develop their own applications.

The aerospace and defence company operates sandboxes in which staff can develop and test apps to meet the needs of individuals, teams, departments, or the entire business. The sandbox provides citizen developers with the ability to create scalable low-code apps and digital tools for improving productivity, rapid prototyping, research and development, testing, employee engagement and well-being.

By pulling intelligence from datasets, Rolls-Royce employees are able to develop apps to support the business. Analytics dashboards supported by Power BI help Rolls-Royce to capture and visualise data to enable the company to drive continuous improvement.

Starting small

Phil Kaufman, head of self-service technologies at Rolls-Royce, says the company started small, looking for ideas where digitising could deliver a tangible business benefit. Rolls-Royce identified a small group of people who would be willing to learn how to use Power Apps and evangelise the benefits of being citizen developers, to demonstrate how the platform could be used in the business.

The first application built using Power Apps is a checklist app to support manufacturing, which replaces an Excel spreadsheet. Discussing the app, Kaufman says: “It was tangible, usable and showed that our employees could build something and then own it afterwards.”

Other Power Apps developments include a 24/7 on-call system for the company’s research and development department and a kudos app that helps employees praise one another. The latter, according to Rolls-Royce, has seen a 25% increase in employee engagement.

“Traditionally, employee recognition would have been paper-based, on a piece of card that we would put on a wall somewhere,” he says. But post-Covid-19, he adds, “the world is different – now we work from home and there is less face-to-face interaction”. In response, Rolls-Royce wanted to replace the cards with something digital.

Kaufman says the app, developed for the digital team in civil engineering at Rolls-Royce, enables someone to give a colleague positive feedback. “It’s a really good way to reach out to lots and lots of users. We’ve covered the whole of civil aerospace with this application, which wasn’t our intention originally.”

Avoiding duplication

One area the IT team keeps track of is whether an app is trying to achieve something that already exists in the business. “We want to make sure people are not rebuilding SAP, not rebuilding a source system. This is really important,” says Kaufman.

“We want to make sure people are not rebuilding SAP, not rebuilding a source system. This is really important”

Phil Kaufman, Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce has set up its platform for citizen developers with governance and guardrails to avoid people attempting to build core enterprise systems if the functionality already exists in a business application.

As Kaufman points out, people often use Excel to organise data. “If we’ve got an Excel spreadsheet, we can prototype something new using a GUI [graphical user interface] application and go through the testing. This is something that Power Platform allows us to do,” he adds.

With rapid prototypes, he says a citizen developer can quickly take an idea, drag and drop visual elements onto a form to build a Power App, which can then be tested among a group of users.

Among the questions the IT teams asks is whether the proposed app fits in well with the business and the ability of the team to support it. “With every app we ask a set of questions. There’s an element of triaging for each application or report that gets built,” he says.

These questions determine whether the application being proposed is a source system that needs to be developed and maintained as part of core enterprise IT, or whether it is a Power App. Even if it is deemed to be a source system, such as the checklist app, Kaufman says the data it holds is better managed within the Microsoft environment provided through Power App than as an Excel spreadsheet.

Rolls-Royce now has an internal Apple-like enterprise app store for apps developed with Power App. Kaufman says staff can go to the app store and see what’s already built and who built it, which provides an opportunity to speak to the developer of the app. “These face-to-face opportunities are really, really important. We get loads of feedback off the back of it,” he says. This builds a community bringing people together who can then support each other.

Read more Power App stories

  • Organisations use Microsoft Power Apps to simplify tasks, including employee onboarding, inspections, new user setups, service requests and more.
  • Microsoft Power Apps is a capable low-code platform. This tutorial shows how it can be used to build software from scratch as well as from Excel files.

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