Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love

Power Platform at Partners In Health with Brendan Eger

May 26, 2021 Neil Benson Episode 35
Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love
Power Platform at Partners In Health with Brendan Eger
Chapters
Amazing Applications - build Dynamics 365, Power Apps and Power BI apps that everyone will love
Power Platform at Partners In Health with Brendan Eger
May 26, 2021 Episode 35
Neil Benson

Join me with Brendan Eger,  an Associate Director of Information Systems and Analytics at Partners In Health in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Brendan's story is a fascinating journey of a small, bootstrapped team adopting the Power Platform.

Our discussion covers:

  • Knowledge sharing within teams - invest in team members in a semi-formal structured environment, sharing what they've just learned with their coworkers.
  • Overcoming the end-user learning curve moving from Excel to Power BI.
  • Why Partners in Health chose to invest in the Microsoft Power Platform.
  • Unexpected benefits of the Finance team building their own app.
  • The benefit of developing transferable skills during a relatively simple app build.
  • Finding the balance between a small technical team and users who want to build their own apps.

Resources
Brendan Eger on LinkedIn
Partners In Health (pih.org)
Dashboard in a Day (microsoft.com)
App in a Day Event Web page (microsoftevents.com)
Amazing Applications podcast page on LinkedIn
Amazing Applications podcast page on Podchaser
Scrum for Microsoft Business Apps online course at Customery Academy
Agile Foundations for Microsoft Business Apps free online mini-course at Customery Academy

Support the show (https://buymeacoffee.com/amazingapps)

Show Notes Transcript

Join me with Brendan Eger,  an Associate Director of Information Systems and Analytics at Partners In Health in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Brendan's story is a fascinating journey of a small, bootstrapped team adopting the Power Platform.

Our discussion covers:

  • Knowledge sharing within teams - invest in team members in a semi-formal structured environment, sharing what they've just learned with their coworkers.
  • Overcoming the end-user learning curve moving from Excel to Power BI.
  • Why Partners in Health chose to invest in the Microsoft Power Platform.
  • Unexpected benefits of the Finance team building their own app.
  • The benefit of developing transferable skills during a relatively simple app build.
  • Finding the balance between a small technical team and users who want to build their own apps.

Resources
Brendan Eger on LinkedIn
Partners In Health (pih.org)
Dashboard in a Day (microsoft.com)
App in a Day Event Web page (microsoftevents.com)
Amazing Applications podcast page on LinkedIn
Amazing Applications podcast page on Podchaser
Scrum for Microsoft Business Apps online course at Customery Academy
Agile Foundations for Microsoft Business Apps free online mini-course at Customery Academy

Support the show (https://buymeacoffee.com/amazingapps)

035 Brendan Eager

Neil Benson: [00:00:00] Welcome to Amazing Applications. The podcast from Microsoft business applications builders who want to make amazing applications that everyone will love. 

Hi, I'm your host Neil Benson. Our goal on this show is to help you slash your project budgets, reduce your delivery timelines, mitigate technical risks, and create amazing, agile Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Platform applications.

It's episode 35 and you know what that means? Yeah. Show notes can be found at Customery.com/035. My guest on this episode is Brendan Eger. He's the Associate Director of Information Systems and Analytics at a Microsoft not-for-profit customer called Partners In Health.

Brandan's story is a fascinating journey of a small, bootstrapped team adopting the Power Platform. There's no multi-million-dollar project here. No fancy management consultants. Just a few committed and curious individuals, determined to learn how to use the tools that they've got available to improve the lives of their users in creative ways.

Brendan shares lots of lessons with us, including some guerrilla tactics to learn the Power Platform. 

Just before we get started, I'd like to give a shout out to Johnard Pelayo, Business System Partner for Enterprise Applications at TOA Global. Johnard is another member of the TOA team to have completed my Scrum for Microsoft Business Applications course. Thanks and congratulations, Johnard. 

If you'd like to get started on adopting an agile approach to building Power Platform and Dynamics 365 applications, then my free mini-course, Agile Foundations or Microsoft Business Apps is the perfect way to learn the basics and benefits of Scrum. If you complete the Agile Foundations course, then there's a bonus offer available from my Scrum for Microsoft Business Apps course that'll help you prepare for Professional Scrum Master certification. You can sign up today at Customery.com/foundations. 

Let's get back to our interview with Brendan Eger. 

Brendan. Thanks very much for joining me on the Amazing Applications podcast. It's so good of you to join us. Thanks very much. 

Brendan Eger: [00:02:19] Hey, Neil, how's it going?

Neil Benson: [00:02:20] It's going great. You're based in New Orleans. Is that right? 

Brendan Eger: [00:02:23] That's correct. Yeah. Yeah. New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States.

Neil Benson: [00:02:27] So I got to say New Orleans, not New Orleans. 

Brendan Eger: [00:02:30] Yeah. Yeah. It's New Orleans. It's interesting that the parish or kind of county that we're in is Orleans parish, but it's New Orleans is the city. 

Neil Benson: [00:02:38] Okay. 

Brendan Eger: [00:02:38] It while to get used to that one.

Neil Benson: [00:02:40] Yeah. I was there in the city for a Microsoft conference a couple of years ago. I remember it was right around St. Patrick's Day. I didn't realize that in Louisiana you'd celebrate, my patron saint.  It was a great evening. Great weekend in the city.

Brendan Eger: [00:02:53] Yeah. That's a good time to visit. There's definitely a number of parades across the different days, so nice.

Neil Benson: [00:02:57] Are those parades coming back anytime soon?

Brendan Eger: [00:03:00] I don't know. I think with COVID they're definitely moving some of the major events that kind of would have happened in the spring to the fall. But Mardi Gras was always the big one for us. So February, March, next year, really hoping that by then things will calm down and enough people are vaccinated that we can host those kinds of events again.

Neil Benson: [00:03:15] Yeah. fingers crossed for that. I'd certainly love to be able to travel back over there again. It doesn't look like Australia is going to open its borders anytime soon.

Brendan, we've invited you onto the show to get to learn a little bit more about some of the amazing applications that you and your team have built, but just to get to know you a little bit better, first of all, I wonder if you could share with us three simple questions starting with, what did you have for breakfast this morning? 

Brendan Eger: [00:03:34] Today was an easy breakfast. I just had a very simple bowl of cereal. Some honey bunches.

Neil Benson: [00:03:39] All right. Good stuff. Are you normally a cereal kind of person in the morning? 

Brendan Eger: [00:03:44] Yeah. I rotate between cereal, yogurt and granola. I got some fresh fruit preferably, but I just ran out earlier in the week. So, it was real, simple and easy today.

Neil Benson: [00:03:54] All right. Very good. I wonder if you could tell us, just to get to know you about your background, what was your first job and how did you arrive at that one? 

Brendan Eger: [00:04:02] Yeah, that's taken me back. I think my technically my first job was I worked at a pizza place. I was hired for kind of a summer gig. that they had some kind of turnover. And I only worked there for, I think a week or two. So I got through my basic training, had a shift or two, and then the manager realized that somebody he thought was taking off in summer was not, so I was let go promptly. Not a great start to my working career.

Neil Benson: [00:04:26] I was making pizza last night. I promised the family, I would make them pizza, but we had a huge torrential downpour. So I had to make the pizza in my pizza oven. I wheeled it around to the front, under the carport and made six pizzas with water lapping over my ankles. Yeah, it was pretty heavy last night.

 

Brendan Eger: [00:04:42] That's some commitment right there.

Neil Benson: [00:04:43] Yeah. And like pizza making careers. Yeah. That's about as impressive as yours, unfortunately. And tell us about your current role. 

Brendan Eger: [00:04:50] Yeah. So I work with Partners In Health. I'm an associate director of strategic information and systems which is a fancy title for basically I support the organization's systems and data needs. So I started with the organization about six and a half years ago. Starting with the finance team and grew from there supporting the financial applications and data and reporting. And now it's a more cross-cutting role supporting various departments across the organization.

Neil Benson: [00:05:14] So were you finance person to start with. Or you were an IT guy in the Finance department supporting their systems. 

Brendan Eger: [00:05:21] Yeah. Yeah. So both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in finance and pretty promptly by the end of my graduate studies decided I didn't really want to stick in the kind of corporate field. but really wanted to give back. And so I worked for local government in New Orleans for a bit.

And then have been working for a nonprofit with Partners In Health for a while now.

Neil Benson: [00:05:39] Yeah. Tell me a bit about the organization. It's not one I'm familiar with. I'd love to learn more about it.

Brendan Eger: [00:05:43] Yeah. So we're a global health non-profit been around for about 30 or so years now working in 10 countries around the world in Haiti for the longest, that's where we got our start. but then we also work in Peru,  Rwanda, I think was the next longest and a few other countries in Africa, but I joined right when responding to Ebola.

So we were entering Sierra Leone and Liberia at the government request and so typically we're not a kind of emergency response health care organization. We focus more on kind of long-term interventions and health system strengthening. And so that was a bit new for us. but it also gave us a very relevant experience for this pandemic.

Seeing how it's affecting every country we work. And also as we got more involved in different efforts in the US for contact tracing and kind of pandemic preparedness and response.

Neil Benson: [00:06:29] Yeah. Wow. It's an amazing mission. You've mentioned a couple of countries there that really have some fairly immature healthcare systems and, could do with all the support they can get. Yeah, it sounds fascinating. 

We'd love to find out more about some of the projects that you've worked on using Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those?

Brendan Eger: [00:06:46] Yeah, sure.  I think one of the first ones that I did when I came in again, I kinda started with the finance team. So we were generating these financial reports a recurring basis pretty much every month. And so they were internal budget versus actual and then all of our kind of donor reports for the different grants that we had and so the process was very manual and that the kind of small team in Boston of, I think, four people on the financial planning analysis team were responsible for generating these reports. We use a tool called Jet Reports, which is a SQL based tool and an Excel add-in and so we would run all these reports hundreds a month and then package them up into zip files, email them out to the different country teams and then ask them to unzip, organize them, get them out to our program managers. So you know, the ones that kind of doing the core work and showing them what's happening with their department. and so that was just a very tedious process. Lots of overhead time running those reports. making sure like our accounting period was closed getting them out and then multilayered process to make sure that they ultimately got to the people they needed.

Neil Benson: [00:07:53] 

Brendan Eger: [00:07:53] So we realized that was very burdensome process and it was also making us delayed. but to only once a month, but so then we opted to use Power BI and we accepted that. we always want to like,  wait till a periods close to do a full review, but we realize that, work happens throughout the month.

And so people need to go make decisions. And so there's actually quite a benefit to having near real-time data to make decisions. And so we still used our kind of Jet data warehouse system SQL backend as our source, managed our permissions through that, but use Power BI to distribute all that information, use row level security to provide different program managers access to just the slice of the information they needed.

And that made it a lot easier instead of the Boston finance teams or our kind of site-based finance leads having to deal with these Excel reports, get them distributed and then talk about them. It was just, Hey everybody, here's a link. Open it up. It's all authenticated through our normal PIH email addresses.

And so it was getting people to learn it was definitely a learning curve, but that just made it so much easier. We can really  spend our time more on doing the analysis and figuring out what we needed to do especially on our donor reports, instead of all those overhead steps.

Neil Benson: [00:09:03] So if I'm a program manager in the field somewhere, I can imagine that if somebody sends me even just one Excel based report, let alone a zip file full of them, I just want to find out what's going on in the department or the area that I'm responsible for. I imagine filtering those down and finding out the pertinent information would have been a drag. Is Power BI then pre-filtered so as soon as I open it up and I follow the link, I land on some kind of dashboard? Is that already filtered for me? Or do I still need to go through those steps of finding that information that's relevant? 

Brendan Eger: [00:09:35] Yeah row level security I mentioned. So we manage that all in kind of this backend SQL database, where we only let you see the certain codes that you're supposed to and so when you log in there's no real filtering to do. It's just, here's the information that's relevant to your oversight, your department. It's really right there at your fingertips. And then I think also Power BI got people more excited than an Excel based report where, okay. Here's some spreadsheets that I'm scrolling through, here's a report in dashboard that I can click through and interact with. And if I've got different questions about different periods, I can apply those kinds of filters.

Neil Benson: [00:10:06] Were the Power BI reports, a clone of what had previously been provided an Excel? What kind of opportunity do you have to, uncover new user requirements or extra requirements that they hadn't been able to realize when they were using Excel. 

Brendan Eger: [00:10:22] Yeah, I definitely started out just trying to mimic those Excel reports. That was our baseline, making sure we could at least, replicate what we already had in Power BI. But very soon after you realized as people started using the report, there was more and more appetite and I really think that the financial reports were really Partners in Health's, first foray into Power BI at scale and using it across the globe. And that really set the precedent for financial teams, but also other departments, who are going to be programmatic departments that aren't always thinking about financials, but are thinking about data often. And so that grew the appetite across the organization that people wanted to see more visuals, what could happen, where different kinds of goals were.

And so being able to use Power BI for these different kinds of visuals, showing them these kinds of measurements and metrics in a way that's more appealing and more engaging certainly helps as opposed to just  sending a routine Excel file.

 Neil Benson: [00:11:11] What's it been like for you and your team learning Power BI because it's half data science, understanding the structure of your data and the measures and key performance indicators within it. But there's also part user experience design and understanding visual layouts and how to convey information with the correct kind of fidelity of information. How have you find it  adopt yourself?

Brendan Eger: [00:11:33] Yeah when I used to live in Boston. That's when I started with the organization. And so there was a Microsoft office nearby. And so I went and did like a dashboard in a day type of training and learned some of the ins and outs. And I think that has been, some of my colleagues did that as well.

So that helped us understand what Power BI was capable of, simultaneously again, we were using this back end data warehouse, and so we were also learning that tool and trying to figure out when do we use things at scale? How does performance get in the report, get impacted?

I didn't mention earlier, but when we our kind of end-users are based, not always in places with the internet and so having reports that perform was also an important factor in getting adoption. And so as we played with what's the right source, should we, know, dump all this information into Power BI and do our data science work there and manipulation there?

 Or should we use this data warehouse backend to do some of that heavier lifting for us? And we found, especially from the financial end, that was more efficient. it also allowed us to do that kind of those permissions I talked about earlier and so that made it a bit easier to learn both tools, but we definitely had use cases where they were one-off reports or especially as my team started growing out of the finance department and helping more departments there was a much wider range of data that we're using SharePoint, we're using Microsoft Forms. We have other kind of data sources. And so being able to quickly use Power BI's core functionality with DAX or any of the kind of query editors having experience with that allows us to test something first.

And then when we're ready to bring it to scale, then there's always that debate. Okay. Performance-wise: does it make sense to push the store data warehouse first? Let that do the heavy lifting. So that, that kind of simultaneous learning both platform was really critical. And I think that's helped us as we've gone and there's new products that come up us being able to be flexible and pick the right solution and the right design for the need of that particular project.

Neil Benson: [00:13:15] So hold on just with, dashboard in a day, some hands-on experience with the tool you sound like you've got a pretty competent team now. Is that really all there is to it? There's got to be more than that, surely?

Brendan Eger: [00:13:27]  I think there's plenty of kind of ongoing training that we do for ourselves Again, we've only got a team of about four people. And so we do a lot of kind of cross-training as people have different projects and they figure something out then we committed to having an inter-team training each week and kind of sharing these new concepts.

Hey, this is something new I saw or as people have time, Power BI is ever-evolving.  Keeping up to date with the new features and testing them out, seeing how they work, spreading that load across the team and having somebody test out with a new project or just as they have time allowed us again like we've used this for a few years.

So having given your team that kind of space, I think to really test out things and play around was really key for us driving this forward And luckily we have a couple of people on our team that they just really dive into it and they'll do all sorts of research and Google things and YouTube videos and see what's possible And then bring it back to the rest of us. We didn't know those things were possible. So having some really good people on our team that are really motivated by learning those kinds of tools certainly helped push our entire team forward.

Neil Benson: [00:14:25] I think that's a great takeaway for Microsoft customers is to do that knowledge sharing, invest in team members in a semi-formal structured environment, sharing what they've just learned with their coworkers. Because not only is it super relevant, right? You're using, the same tools that your team members are using. It's the same data that your organization's invested in, but it's also kudos to the person who's sharing their knowledge and it's hyper-relevant and then the rest of your team can extend and support that report or that technology that's just been demonstrated. So it's a great way to learn a new technology like that.

So that's a great takeaway. 

Brendan Eger: [00:15:01] Yeah, absolutely. and I think bringing it to the context of our work, I think you can see a lot of, kind of demos and samples, but if it's not always the context that you work in it can be hard to think okay, where's the real use case for that feature. But having somebody play around with it show, oh yeah, this is how it works for us and sharing that definitely motivates everybody. 

Neil Benson: [00:15:18] Tell me about the, Tell me about the user adoption on the other side. You mentioned these people out in the field, at various levels, Tell me about the user adoption. On the other side, you mentioned these people out in the field at various levels are getting, they're used to getting reports by Excel A lot of people are comfortable slicing and dicing data in Excel. Maybe even creating a few charts of their own. Now you've given them Power BI, what was the learning curve like for the end-users? 

Brendan Eger: [00:15:46] Yeah. As I kinda mentioned earlier, the internet can be a challenge, so getting people to be patient and not give up, they're depending on where they're located. usually, if they're in our kind of capital offices in the countries we work the internet is pretty, pretty solid and stable and variable access pretty easily.

But a lot of our kind of core healthcare work is more rural locations. And so getting people to be patient that, I had to click on this report and it takes a couple of minutes to load, but once it's loaded, you can then interact and you can get all these benefits. So there was definitely a selling point for some people.

I think naturally there's a range of end-users. Some that they love data. They want to make the use of it and they want to play around with it and that got them really excited. And then there's other people who aren't as interested in. And so trying to find this balance of showing them value and looking at their peers that were really excited and seeing the benefit they were getting helped us to slowly nudge everyone towards, yes, there is a lot of value in this And like I said, that kind of really opened up the doors for people who maybe I'm a program manager and I'm responsible for this HIV program. I might not be as interested in financial data, but if you could show me patient data about how my patients are doing in a really compelling way, that gets me excited.

And so I think those financial reports again started it and then other departments started using Power BI for other use cases and that just grew the use case and the appetite for lots of different teams.

Neil Benson: [00:17:07] And so as a leader within the technology organization, what's it like trying to build a business case for investing in a new technology, like the Power Platform and Power BI? Was that a tough sell to your leadership and your executive who approve investments like this? Or was it a fairly easy transition to be able to say, Hey look, Excel's kind of not working for us. We need to find a new option here. 

Brendan Eger: [00:17:31] Yeah, When we adopted Power BI, we were lucky enough to have a chief financial officer that had a corporate experience and kind of knew what was possible And so she really drove the adoption. We're a nonprofit. We're limited on our resources, We work in places with poor internet power at times, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't still strive for what's the best of breed in the market And so we really had that champion at that executive level. Let's go for it. Let's test it. And let's like stretch these tools we have access to as far as we can, and prove whether they work or not. If they don't work, then we also built our case for investment. so we knew Excel was only getting us so far. We weren't able to see any kind of usage statistics where people benefiting from it, But Power BI, you get that extra layer. You get more engagement. The case slowly built itself But also having that champion for sure,  who was really pushing the whole team, pushing the organization, saying we, we need to be at the top, and be on the cutting edge as much as possible, and taking advantage of these more modern tools.

Neil Benson: [00:18:29] That's great. It sounds like a great visionary there in your CFO, and she's willing to sponsor these kinds of investments. Microsoft's got a reasonable program for not-for-profits to be able to tap into their technology at pretty attractive prices, but I imagine in a competitive market, Microsoft's competitors also have reasonably attractive pricing for charities and nonprofits as well.

What led Partners In Health to choose to invest in the Microsoft Power Platform? 

Brendan Eger: [00:18:55] Yeah, we did have an existing relationship with Microsoft. We use 365 or when we use the basic Office suite but had been using Outlook and Azure Active Directory, things like that. And so having that kind of base platform for our users. And then seeing how easy it was to adopt these different tools, You didn't have to set up more authentication steps. You know, you just got to use, here's my email that I log into like a computer with every day. I see my email every day. Oh. I just use that same account to access Power BI to access Power App stacks, a SharePoint all these other tools just made it that much more accessible.

I don't think we had a real like RFP process for what's our data visualization tool and so it sorta just made sense. I mentioned we use this tool called Jet Data Manager for our data warehousing, so we're not a full Microsoft shop. We do pick and choose what platforms work for us and at what price points.

And so we love a lot of Microsoft tools but we also like that, for the most part, they can integrate really well with other tools. So that's been a big win for us.

Neil Benson: [00:19:53]  Jet's a very well-established ISV in that reporting marketplace. They've had add-ons for Microsoft Dynamics products for a long time, especially to do complex paginated reports. They're a good BI vendor in their own. 

Brendan Eger: [00:20:03] 

We do still use some of their base reports, but Power BI is our go-to. There's only certain kind of Excel-based reports we still need for some of the financial accounting purposes that are a bit more real-time.

Neil Benson: [00:20:15] And so was Power BI your first foray into adopting the Power Platform, and now have you had any other experiences with it since then? 

Brendan Eger: [00:20:22] Yeah. We had been using SharePoint for a little bit and so figuring out how do we build our kind of internet and getting different departments to use it. And again, as you kinda mentioned as being the kind of tech-based team we really wanted to explore it and prove what's possible and get other departments on board with it. And that kind of helped us get more buy-in, get more vision collectively for what is our collective global SharePoint intranet supposed to look like and what resources should exist so that different teams can provide the different support they need.

And so for my team we back in the day we were still using InfoPath. Which I think has been phased out at this point. But we're using InfoPath to develop our help desk platform. Before that we had just been using a kind of shared email that would come to again, like the four of us, but inevitably you bumped into each other. You're not sure who's picking something up, something slips through the cracks. And so we knew we needed some kind of help desk platform and we really just wanted to explore some of these tools we were becoming we were learning about with SharePoint and InfoPath and Flow and different things.

And so we actually decided to build our own help desk and so we use InfoPath to create the form to have some kind of conditional requirements. If you pick this type of requests, then you see this question you have to attach this type of thing and so all of that was us kind of building the form and then displaying it, making it visible in SharePoint.

All that data flowing into a SharePoint list behind the scenes that we were then managing as an admin portal, picking up tickets, using SharePoint Designer at the time and more recently Power Automate with flow sending different notifications. So letting the user know that we received your request,  letting our team know that a request came in.

And I think we were all just so excited about the technology we were constantly competing about who can pick up the tickets fastest which was really fun and so that kind of created some comradery with our team as well trying to make sure we balance things, but the people were excited to use the tool and use the platform and to help other teams.

And yeah getting these emails, letting you know, different emails to the end-user letting them know what to sign, but it's closed. Here the resolution I'm using all these kinds of, these pieces of tools to build this overall platform.  Which to us was really nice. I get were no one on my team is a coder.

We're not software developers. We know that there are help desks and different kinds of tools out there, but us being able to build these things, in-house teaches us about these different tools and really set us up for how to use these different tools for other use cases in the future and so one of the things that was nice about us building a help desk was that that was internal onto our team, really, for the most part. there's certainly some end-user components to that and making sure we're providing good service, but if something didn't work quite right, it wasn't really impacting end users. It was something we could troubleshoot it and play around with.

And, oh, what if we do this? What if we do that? We started adding different things on, about recording, which team did it come from so we could start getting more statistics. How long did it take us to work on it? And then we started using Power BI to visualize that data, it was important for us to, again, make sure no tickets were falling through the cracks so in our weekly team meeting, part of that schedule was look at the outstanding tickets. What's been outstanding for more than seven days. Okay, team, why are we late? Or why are we delayed? Like, why can't we solve these faster? If somebody's busy, some technical thing, is it some expertise?

How do we address this as a team? And so using Power BI for that purpose, and also seeing our stats which teams are submitting things. What kind of questions are they submitting? Helped us kind of start being a little bit more proactive and reaching out, oh, these are some of the problems that people are facing.

How do we get ahead of that? And so how we got ahead of that was that pulling another Microsoft tool was to use OneNote. And so adopting OneNote is our knowledge base building a public-facing OneNote for issues that end-users could really solve for themselves. Teaching them how to use the kind of search functionality within that and then within our kind of backend, if there was anything, a little bit more technical that we knew we needed to resolve, we all just really committed to each other. And it got in the habit of there's something new. We need to document it. Put all the screenshots in and put all the steps and then after doing that for a couple of years, when we brought on a new team member that became the best resource for us.

So you can spend a lot of time onboarding somebody and walking them through all these steps. And being able to have this great knowledge base that they can refer to and search themselves, just allowed that person to get up to speed so much faster. We get a couple of weeks of clear guidance and then it's, Hey, run with it. If you've got a question and let us know, but otherwise this is your starting point for solving any issues that come up.

Neil Benson: [00:24:37] That's amazing.  I use OneNote every day for personal productivity and note-taking. And I use it with I'm a secretary at my kids' school at the parents and friends association. So I took all my notes in there, but I've never really thought of it as a I'll just used it a little bit in a small team collaboration. Like here's my notes from that meeting, but I've never thought about it as a department-wide, knowledge repository. That's a pretty creative use. 

Brendan Eger: [00:25:01] Yeah. And that's where as much as possible we would try to nudge people towards that and so as our SharePoint site was developing over this period, it was, here's the form to submit your requests, but also right here next to it, here's the knowledge base. have you searched this yourself? Are there things you might be able to solve? And then that made it a lot easier for us. A lot of times before, when we were just doing the kind of email help desk, you ended up retyping the same instructions over and over. And so it was like, okay, we've already documented this. Let me just point you to that page or let me make a quick PDF of it or something and attach it.

So having that source just became the standard operating for our team. And yeah, so we've benefited so much from OneNote for lots of different reasons.

Neil Benson: [00:25:41] I love the way you've approached building your own help desk application, because there are, there are only a thousand vendors out there with a help desk application. You could have bought one, but by developing your own, using the tools you've already licensed from Microsoft. It's a great learning experience.

It's low risk zero cost. You got some skills now. So if a department comes along and wants a more sophisticated custom application well your team's already got some well I'm not sure how relevant the InfoPath skills are now, but you can translate those very quickly into Power Apps skills, or, some other skills that your team then has to be able to solve tougher problems because you've got some practice and experience on the simpler ones.

So yeah, another, a great takeaway. 

Brendan Eger: [00:26:23] Yeah, and that's we talked a lot about getting a friendly customer, right? Like whenever you're trying a new project, who's the team that will have some patience with you and when you're working internally, it's pretty easy to have that patience. We know where we're all learning and figuring it out. So that was great practice for us.

Neil Benson: [00:26:38] Have you got any plans to transition onto Power Apps? Are you still with InfoPath at the moment.

Brendan Eger: [00:26:42] Yeah we have so we did create a few more InfoPath forms. So one of our core InfoPath forms is for our biannual performance review cycle. And so there's, we use that for that, but we're recognizing where we've hit some limits and need to transform that. So we'll be shifting that to Power Apps.

Hopefully sometime this year, things have still been a bit crazy with the pandemic response, but that's definitely on the agenda, and then we've been building some other Power Apps. So we had somebody on my team that was building our requisition app for kind of purchase requisitions for our team in Lesotho.

And that was another great kind of learning experience. It definitely took a lot of time to learn this new platform and see what it could do, and so we have a couple of people that have dove into Power Apps. Another one is using it for our fundraising team that they need to acknowledge gifts as they come in and make sure that they're not missing anything falling through the cracks that as these donations come in or as these checks come in and process them, are we doing it correctly?

And so we built a Power App to help that team manage that. It's very impressive one of my team members built it, but they triggered different kinds of actions from within the Power App. So making it all a bit self-service, and that was something that our CRM doesn't really, that functionality doesn't exist.

And so we were able to play around. Here's this Power App like you said, this tool that's free to us right now.  . It takes time for us to figure it out and build it but layering that on to that team's process just made them more efficient and being able to pull some of that CRM data into a form, how they're practising or how they're processing things.

 Neil Benson: [00:28:08] I love that idea of extending the systems you already got. Like you probably have an accounting system or finance system with purchase requisitions already in there as a feature, but sometimes the licensing that are deploying it can be impractical. Building a Power App really nice and simple, very task-oriented solution that solves a very narrow problem, but you can do it really quickly. And again, probably not going to go out and buy a new CRM system just so you can do gift acknowledgement or donation acknowledgement slightly better than you do today. Just layer on a little Power App on top very task-oriented solution, and you've solved the business problem very quickly. 

Brendan Eger: [00:28:43] Yeah, absolutely.

Neil Benson: [00:28:45] I just wanted to come back to your intranet just for a second. Intranets that I've seen are woefully underinvested because there isn't a department in the organization that is responsible for the intranet. There's an HR page, or there's an executive’s page, or, know, these different department areas within the intranet.

But unless somebody comes along and champions internal communication, they can be pretty, pretty bad, but it sounds like you, as a technology team you've taken on this burden of championing internal communications, showcasing what SharePoint can do and try and lift your intranet's game. Is that right? Is that the approach you've taken? 

Brendan Eger: [00:29:22] Yeah. Absolutely. when we first got SharePoint I think a lot of the platform was kinda donated and there were some Microsoft consultants that came in and taught us the basics, but there wasn't really anyone from the IT lens to push it, push adoption. And so us building some of these tools ourselves, figuring it out, then put us in a place where we could champion for the teams. We could demonstrate what was possible, we could get people excited about it, it's not just file storage, build these forms. You can build these reports, you can build these flows, you can do all these other things that kind of embed and connect and so that made the usage a lot better like people wanted to adopt it.

It definitely took some time. I think we still got different teams, different departments in Boston to adopt it showing up. How do you set up your department page? What information do you want public-facing or what do you want more private? I think we were also starting with SharePoint before Teams really blew up.

So having these kinds of team sites versus like departmental sites that were like a concept we had to explain to people. And so teaching them a little bit how to manage the permissions hiding certain folders, certain pages took a little bit of time and I think I've seen SharePoint's evolution in that as well as it's making that platform much more user-friendly and I think now we're at a point where a department wants to build a SharePoint page. We give them maybe a 30-minute intro and then they're off and running and they're managing that content, which is great.

Neil Benson: [00:30:40] I think Microsoft's doing a better job these days of painting a picture of SharePoint's strength as an intranet platform. Whereas five years ago, Microsoft said SharePoint was the answer to everything, public-facing internet websites, content management systems. Yeah. SharePoint can do that file storage and document management. Yeah. SharePoint can do that. Intranets, of course. SharePoint can do that. And the message got pretty confusing for a while there, but now they're saying custom applications, we've got Power App the Power Platform for that. SharePoint's strength really now is certainly file storage and document management, a key pillar of that, but intranet internal comms is really where it's at these days.   

What do you think Partners in Health major challenges have been adopting the Power Platform technology so far, Brendan? Is it been learning that technology, licensing it, or something else? 

Brendan Eger: [00:31:29] Yeah. I think I'm going to go back to the internet challenging the places we work is always at the core how far can we push these platforms? How accessible can we make them? I think there was a long period where we recognize that a lot of the places we work in these kinds of rural locations, we're not going to go adopt these platforms yet.

It's going to take more time for the tools to evolve to mature. It's gonna take more time for us to get the infrastructure that we need in place to really support it. And so our focus really became let's focus on the places where we can achieve these. And so we really focused on our Boston departments to start with and learning these tools again, teaching ourselves so that we could set an example championing it within Boston. And then part of what I haven't really explained earlier, but our Boston team is really it's our fundraising arm, but also our kind of cross-site kind of coordination arm.

And so we are supporting all of our countries across these different clinical programs, more operational programs like finance and HR and so on. And so once we got the Boston teams on board with using these tools, as naturally as they're talking to their counterparts in different countries, these tools start to come up and in these questions start getting asked.

And so that just, it, it definitely takes time to be those champions get the buy-in and as I mentioned, really finding those friendly customers, but I think, yeah, having a lot of patience it’s going to take some time. Have some of those products that, you can get some good wins in quick wins to demo what's possible.

And then naturally you start building the appetite. And I think you get to a tipping point that all of a sudden people you haven't talked to, you are reaching out because they heard, oh your team has built this Power App, built this Power BI, can you help me with this? And so I think also having that kind of centralized resource team that can champion and has the time to explore and build out and be that resource for other teams as well. It has been really helpful and helped us get over some of our initial challenges of not having enough capacity to support.

Neil Benson: [00:33:23] You've got a pretty small team. I think you said you had four people in your team investing in these technologies. Have you seen a lot of demand from users saying, Hey, I want to be able to build my own Power App? Or you try to funnel requests through your team? Where do you balance that? 

Brendan Eger: [00:33:38] Yeah, that's definitely something we've been balancing for a few years now. There are definitely some teams that, that they're excited to learn. And so I think SharePoint has been easier for people to learn and manage their content but we definitely have teams that we partner with that. They want to build the Power BI report themselves. And so we might help them get it started and think through their data structure a bit, what transformations do I need, but then they're off and running. And that's really exciting for us that we know, again, for people, we cannot possibly support every single application and use case for the entire organization, but we can set up the demos and support other people in learning it. And so that's been really exciting for us recently is that we will teach you how to do it. We will hand off the solution. You will maintain it, take it as far as you can. And we're always here to back you up if you've got a question.

And I think in the past year, especially our team in Peru has really pushed to learn these platforms and building their own Power Apps, building the SharePoint sites, building their Power BI reports and seeing that appetite and a team locally again with the infrastructure to support it. And the capacity from their team taking on is definitely the kind of model we want. It's not the same in every country. There are different contexts and there's still this need for our team, centrally to support certain projects,  building certain reports or data transformation and we're happy to do that, but our goal is still to make things as user-friendly and get people excited about taking it on themselves and showing up how relatively easy it is to build some really effective platforms.

Neil Benson: [00:35:05] That's great Brendan and I'm really impressed. I've taken away so many key lessons there about getting started with some of the app in a day or dashboard in a day kind of programs that are available worldwide, finding friendly customers, a visionary sponsor, having that knowledge transfer within your team to share learnings.

And then the last lesson there was really around technology owning the strategic assets and making sure that those are mission-critical systems are well supported by professional technologists, but then technology is also an enabler for the business people to go and pick up the tools, build their own applications, build their own reports as well, and you're helping them support themselves so that nice mixture of how technology can really play a role in the organization and in modern organizations in the future. 

Brendan Eger: [00:35:51] Yeah, absolutely. I think that, that's what, again, gets us excited that as these other teams can start taking some of those things on, as there's the technology continues evolving, we are still able to commit ourselves to learn them, learning these new features, learning these new tools.

And then again, still being the champion for that and bringing it to a broader audience, a broader user base.

Neil Benson: [00:36:12] Just to wrap up, Brendan, if I can ask you what's next for Partners in Health, what upcoming projects or investments are you excited about and adopting as part of the Power Platform journey? 

Brendan Eger: [00:36:22] I think we're still on our kind of road of adoption and I think we've been set back a lot by COVID. I know our core IT team has had a lot of plans for improving infrastructure and kind of bandwidth and working with our internal teams working with our board of directors, building some more momentum and champions investing in the kind of base architecture and infrastructure that we need to really make the most use out of these tools.

It feels like we're not, we're not at our tipping point of not being able to do anything else, but we certainly want more adoption. And I think with a limited team of four right now, there are only so many things we can take on. And so having that base infrastructure and then probably pivoting more towards training others.

I think we've done that over time, but I think that's the next phase for us replicating our team structure in each country, building those local experts. And one thing I talked about, I didn't talk about earlier with the, we're working across time zones and so we're working at our, with our peers in Africa and we're only overlapping for an hour or two a day.

That's not a lot of time for us to collaborate and gather requirements and build tools, but if we can empower them to do it, that's the peak for us, we'll provide that support, but when you guys are building things locally, nothing's holding us back then.

Neil Benson: [00:37:30] Yeah, great stuff, Brendan. Amazing story. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your Power Platform story with the Amazing Applications audience. 

Brendan Eger: [00:37:38] Yeah. Glad to be here. Thanks, Neil.

 Neil Benson: [00:37:43] Thanks, Brendan, for sharing your story of adopting the Power Platform at Partners In Health. 

I love the way you started with just a little bit of knowledge from a local dashboard in a day workshop, and then built up some hands-on experience and organize some knowledge sharing sessions within your team.

I think that approach is a great way to spread knowledge and curiosity within your team. And it set you up with a really good foundation for building your help desk application, your intranet site, and later your first Power Apps.

You also shared with us the importance of having a visionary leader to support you and finding a friendly customer who is willing to let you experiment while solving their problems. 

If you'd like to hear more stories like Brendan's that remember to follow Amazing Applications on your podcast player. We're on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and everywhere else that podcasts are available. And thank you, especially to the only person who's listened to a single episode on Amazon Music. Not the biggest podcast directory in the world, just yet. 

You can get in touch with Brendan through the show notes for this episode, which you'll find Customery.com/035.

Thanks for listening. I really appreciate you. Go out there, keep building amazing applications. Until next time, keep sprinting.