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PowerApps vs. WebApps - which one provides the better TCO?

Published on January 29, 2020

As a customer of Dynamics 365 or the Power Platform, you will sooner or later end up looking in in AppSource for addons, solutions and further options in order to extend the usage and benefits of the platform for your users.

On AppSource, you'll find an incredible amount of apps and solutions that address nearly every topic. But when you take a closer look, you will see that some of the apps are classified as WebApp and some as PowerApps (or Dynamics 365 App).

So what is the difference? And if you have two offerings that achieve the same result (one as a WebApp and another one as a PowerApp), which one should you go for?

First of all: both are pieces of software and you should verify if they both fulfill your needs and solve your problem.

But second: in order to make a wise decision regarding your investment, you should be aware of 3 major topics that will influence the costs of the solution from day one of your usage. And these costs might exceed your initial costs for the App by a multiple.

Installation, Integration, Updates and Maintenance

The installation and update process of PowerApps is much easier than for WebApps. This is due to the fact that the solution concept is part of the Power Platform that provides a mature set of automation for installation and updates of Apps and Extensions for Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform.

Therefore, installing and updating PowerApps can be performed by end users with no or very limited technical knowledge. To deploy or update WebApps, much more time and knowledge for deploying and maintaining the software on a web platform like Azure is required.

Additionally: as a WebApp has to be deployed on a separate environment (e.g. Azure or a similar cloud platform) there will always be additional integration effort to enable a communication and data flow between the WebApp and your Dynamics 365 or Power Platform. For PowerApps, this integration towards your existing Dynamics 365 Apps is included out-of-the-box.

Customizing to your needs

No matter how good an application is, there could still be the need to optimize it so that it supports your business processes in the best possible way.

With PowerApps, customizing is possible out-of-the-box. It is that simple that even end users can customize and adjust forms, add additional fields and modify workflows - without writing any coding, just by drag and drop.

WebApps are the exact opposite: if you need to make adjustments there, you will, in 99% of all cases, be forced to ask your supplier to change or extend it by creating additional sources codes. This will increase the investment costs of your app.

Worst-case-scenario, you might run into situations, where adjustments or enhancements will either cost a whole lot more than the initial App or maybe it is not possible at all. For example, if the WebApp was not designed for multi-language, than you won't be able to translate it for another audience at all - or it has to be developed again.

PowerApps already provide the option to add additional languages. Translation can be easily done by the end users in an Excel file.

The fairy tale of saving license costs

Last but not least, let's talk about the license costs. But not the license costs for the app but for the user licenses for the underlying Microsoft infrastructure and platform. Without those licenses, your users won't even be able to sign in.

I have heard of WebApp providers, advertising their offering by saying: "We save the Dynamics 365 user license costs for you, as the users only access our App and we transfer the data in the background to Dynamics 365".

Be careful with such offerings because this violates the license agreement with Microsoft. This breach of agreement is called "Multiplexing". If you read the Dynamics 365 Licensing Guide, you will a the section explaining the meaning of Multiplexing; see the following paragraph:

"Dynamics 365 SLs are required for users or devices that directly input, query, or view data from the Dynamics 365 service. Similarly, Dynamics 365 SLs are required for users or devices that input data into, query, or view data from the Dynamics 365 service through a pooling device. Pooled connections use a non-interactive user account in Dynamics 365 that can access the system but only via the web service layer. Internal users and devices accessing Dynamics 365 data indirectly through a portal or via an API to a separate service such Microsoft Outlook must also be properly licensed, regardless of if they are set up as a Dynamics 365 user in the service..."

This means, that even if the WebApp is collecting all the data and transferring it from and to Dynamics 365, the users of the WebApp will still require an additional user license for Dynamics 365.

At the end, the actual costs for your users will look like this:

  • PowerApp = App Licenses + Dynamics 365 licenses (or Power Platform licenses)
  • WebApp = App Licenses + Dynamics 365 licenses (or Power Platform licenses) + App Infrastructure (e.g. Azure)

Bottom Line

If you look at the total cost of ownership for an App that extends your Power Platform or Dynamics 365, the WebApp will end up in most of the cases as the option that is more expensive, compared to a PowerApp.

The above described additional costs for

  • Installation, Integration, Updates and Maintenance,
  • Customizing to your needs and,
  • Licensing costs for the platform because of Multiplexing

increase the price for the WebApp significantly. And it adds additional risk to the purchase decision, as these costs cannot be predicted in detail at the time of purchase.

So, we should not allow ourselves to be blinded by a very low price for a WebApp. There are much more hidden costs that you will be facing later on! We at Hubdrive only use PowerApps to develop and provide our solutions and extensions for Dynamics 365, because we believe it is the best option for our customers.

Bernd Lachner