Creating Citizen Developer "Makers"
Cyclotron helps LUMEN Technologies light up Power Platform
When Andrew Gaskins, Global Power Platform Lead at Lumen Technologies, hosted the first Microsoft Teams meeting of the Lumen Makers, an internal Microsoft Power Platform development community, he came prepared with a custom animation for the 70 citizen developers joining the call. “The video showed a bunch of helicopters flying in with LEGO pieces and zoomed out to reveal the title of the group: Lumen Makers,” he remembers. “I love LEGO, and that is really how we think about Microsoft Power Platform, as building tools like LEGO pieces.”
While building low-code custom apps and workflows might not be child’s play, Gaskins chairs the Lumen Maker’s group with the goal to make creating business solutions with Microsoft Power Platform as accessible and approachable as possible. “I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure that everyone has a voice and everyone is heard,” he says. “Each month, colleagues give presentations to the rest of the group, and it’s really shown the diversity of Lumen and our makers.”
Today, 819 app makers and 1,391 flow makers are part of the Lumen Makers community, sharing best-practices and reviewing new features of Power Platform. “The willingness to embrace new technology is embedded in the Lumen culture,” says Gaskins. “That’s why we’ve had so much success with Power Platform; people are interested in new ways of doing things and excited to share with each other.”
Bringing a global community together in Teams sparks conversations and innovation
For all its success today, the Lumen Makers Community began as a simple Teams channel in March of 2021. “We hadn’t formalized Power Platform support at the time,” says Gaskins. “So, it fell to us on the SharePoint side to support our colleagues building apps, which we did via a Teams channel for Microsoft 365 power users that had been started by enthusiastic employees.” However, as citizen development began to take off across the organization, “we saw the opportunity to start growing this,” says Gaskins, leading to the creation of a dedicated Lumen Makers channel. “We have seen many people you wouldn’t expect to be interested jumping in and creating apps,” says Sáša Watts, Senior Information Security Engineer at Lumen. “It’s fantastic to see.”
Lumen partnered with the Cyclotron Change Leadership team to expand the dedicated Teams channel and formally launch the Lumen Makers network with the goals of:
Generating interest and excitement in Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Power Automate.
Creating awareness and understanding about the capabilities of the Lumen Makers network.
Championing the network and promoting success stories across the organization.
The Change Leadership team provided support by developing network launch communications and templates for success story spotlights and leadership updates, while Cyclotron’s Power Platform Practice initiated a citizen developer program to provide coordinated Power Platform training and use case development sessions to the first wave of Lumen Makers. The Change Leadership team also provided templates for launching new solutions, enabling Lumen to advance and expand the Makers network to where it is today.
“We were excited to partner with Lumen to help build a citizen developer program so employees across the organization could harness Microsoft Power Platform and Dataverse for Teams,” says Amber Bahl, CEO of Cyclotron, Inc. “Through a series of structured workshops, Cyclotron delivered training and guidance on Power Platform governance and security, overall enablement and implementation, and Center of Excellence optimization. In the capstone of the program, we applied a use case hackathon concept where Lumen Makers conceptualize and/or developed inflight apps or bots, several of which drive business-critical activities.”
The Lumen Makers have gained considerable momentum since. Today, they hold monthly meetings that follow a familiar format every time. “We start off with a ‘state of the platform,’” says Gaskins. “It’s important for people to understand the growth of Power Platform use.” Then, Gaskins launches into a review of the latest Power Platform features, followed by a presentation from a fellow Lumen Maker. “One of our first presenters was a woman who was working on a COVID HR app,” remembers Gaskins. “Her presentation sparked a lot of conversation and questions. It was kind of mind-blowing for people to see what she was accomplishing with Power Platform.”
Lumen Makers hold their meetings in Microsoft Teams, allowing participants from across the globe to get involved. “People use the raise hand feature to ask questions, and, at the end of the presentations, we always have a lively discussion,” says Gaskins. “We encourage people to introduce themselves and share more about who they are, not just what they do. I think using Teams for these meetings helps people feel more comfortable getting involved.” Mapping the participation of global makers shows how Power Platform has become a unifying force across Lumen, with makers tuning in from six continents. “This is what gets me excited,” says Gaskins. “We really are a global community.”
Premium features ignite new ideas and updated solutions
Recently, Gaskins got to experience what it was like to present at a Lumen Makers meeting. He hosted a presentation on using APIs and custom connectors, features that allow app makers to create their own connectors that interact with services that aren’t already available as existing connectors. “We recently licensed the whole company for premium features and Dataverse. It’s opened the doors for so many things we couldn’t do before.” Since upgrading to premium features, including Dataverse for cloud-based data storage and management, the Lumen Makers community has undergone a renaissance. “It’s like trying to hold onto a rocket. People are excited—they can create custom connectors and share them, talk to Oracle and SQL databases and other systems we couldn’t before the licensing,” says Gaskins.
For Watts, the availability of premium features has helped him develop a new and improved version of an app he first created in early 2020. Watts had already been using Microsoft Power Apps to develop an incident management system when the COVID-19 shutdowns presented a pressing need for another custom-built application. “When the pandemic hit, I got pulled in to help develop an app to monitor and manage the health status of our employees,” he remembers. “We looked at off-the-shelf solutions, but nothing suited what we needed.” So, with four weeks to go before a major compliance audit, Watts and his colleagues turned to Power Platform to build a solution. “That’s the beauty of Power Platform. We had a critical need that was going to impact our employee base, and we provided an agile solution in an accelerated timeline.”
Lumen employees across the United States use the resulting app, called “HealthVue,” to answer health screening questions. Once they sign in, usually via a mobile device, employees are prompted with questions tailored to their location. “It is very dynamic, and we use the flexibility of Power Platform to stay on top of that,” says Watts. “You can imagine how difficult that would be if we were working with a vendor to make those constant changes to the app.” Currently, Watts is developing version two of HealthVue. “The second version we have in development incorporates the premium features,” he says. “The app pulls data from the CDC and our internal HR systems into Dataverse and will disable employee badges if they develop symptoms,” he explains. “It’s been fantastic to update the app using Dataverse; I can’t even compare the experience now versus before.”
While citizen development has gained traction at Lumen for some time, it was Robert Autrey’s “Damage App” that helped encourage early interest in custom low-code solutions at the company. Autrey, who works as a Lead Operations Analyst at Lumen, first designed his app to help solve an ongoing pain point for field technicians. “I designed the app as a digital method for capturing and documenting facility damage. Now, a third of the company uses it,” explains Autrey. “In the past, field technicians used a hodgepodge of different communication methods to share information back to their supervisors, from taking notes on notepads to sending emails or texting photos.” Using the Damage App, technicians and supervisors now have a streamlined method for capturing and sharing information directly from the damage site. “Time is of the essence,” says Autrey. “In the past, all that information could sit on someone’s desk for a while before getting properly recorded. When you are trying to recoup expenses, sharing good quality information with cost recovery as quickly as possible is really important.”
Today, Robert continues to work on version three of the Damage app, which will roll out across the company as the sole method for capturing information on damage, replacing paper-based, ad hoc processes once and for all. “The fact that we can now access the premium connectors will make it much easier to have the full automation and connectivity we used workarounds to achieve in the past,” says Autrey.
Preparing for the next evolution of the Lumen Makers community
Not only do members of the Lumen Makers community solve business problems with Power Platform, some are transforming their careers. “One colleague of mine, who is part of the HR team, created his first app over a weekend. Three months later, he is now an official app developer for HR,” says Gaskins. “That is the kind of transformation we see over and over. People understand their business needs, and the Power Platform technology is intuitive enough that they can implement their ideas. And, as their development knowledge grows, the possibilities do, too.”
From the beginning, the Lumen Makers community included citizen developers and more experienced developers, and Gaskins hopes to bring together more formalized “fusion teams” in the future. “The idea is to bring together our skilled professional development community and get them excited about the idea of fusion teams,” says Gaskins. “We really want to show the power of pro developers and citizen developers working together to transform processes. We think it will reduce the amount of time needed to create these apps and bring the business closer to development, resulting in apps that really speak to a pressing business need.”
In the future, Gaskins hopes to see more app development happening directly in Teams. “That really kicked off when Dataverse for Teams became available last year,” he says. “We also see more and more people adding their apps to Teams and even dabbling in the use of Power Virtual Agents in Teams. It’s still in the early days, but I have been impressed at how quickly that has taken off.” In addition to facilitating the creation of more than 3,500 apps and 12,000 plus flows, the Lumen Makers community has succeeded in creating an environment that supports new ideas and innovative solutions. “The thing I find the most satisfying about the community is that it’s circular,” says Gaskins. “I learn so much from the other makers that I can bring back into what I do and continue to share.”