HM Group enables citizen development at scale with Microsoft Power Platform

Banner image for H&M Group story

H&M Group is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company with more than 5,000 stores in 78 countries and more than 53 online markets. A growing community of citizen developers has created thousands of Microsoft Power Platform solutions across the company. Employees from across the company quickly started building on the Power Platform – from clothing designers with no previous coding experience to code-first developers looking for a faster alternative to custom coding. To support development and maintain security and governance, H&M Group set up a “Center for Enablement” using the Microsoft Power Platform Center of Excellence (CoE) Starter Kit.

In this blog post we look at how they used the CoE Starter Kit to establish robust governance practices and cultivate a thriving internal community of makers building Power Platform solutions across several departments. We’ll also look at two Power Apps solutions built by citizen developers – an app used to track key activities and goals, and an app used to record flexible work hours and assist with enabling hybrid work.

Thumbnail image for H&M MBAS presentation

Business challenge

After H&M Group deployed Microsoft 365, there was an acceleration in development of innovative solutions built by their citizen developers across the company, but challenges arose from the rapid rise of solutions. As the company approached 1,500 apps with over 30,000 users licensed on Power Platform, H&M Group realized that they needed a controlled approach to development with the platform. To foster the creativity of their citizen developers they needed to keep an open approach, but with some governance and control. That’s when a plan to build a Power Platform Center for Enablement began to take shape.

“We knew we needed to put better controls in place to maintain security and governance, but at the same time we wanted to foster an environment where people could continue to build great solutions on the platform.”

– Helena Forsberg, Microsoft 365 Solution Architect, H&M Group

H&M’s Center for Enablement journey

The CoE at H&M Group was led by four employees with various levels of development experience but no prior experience in setting up a Power Platform CoE. Two of the team members were Helena Forsberg as the Microsoft 365 Solution Architect and Claes Söderström as the Cross Delivery Coordinator at H&M Group. The team reviewed Power Platform guidance from Microsoft and set up their CoE based on three core components: administration, governance, and tools & processes to help establish digital guardrails for Power Platform development. In addition, initiatives were put in place to educate and empower citizen developers and inspire new and future development. In alignment to this balanced approach, the team named their CoE the ‘H&M Group Center for Enablement’.

Infographic displaying key elements of the CoE - Administration & Governance, Nurture & Educate, Support & Inspire

Using Microsoft Power Platform Center of Excellence Starter Kit

One of the tools from Microsoft that H&M Group used was the Center of Excellence (CoE) Starter Kit. Included in the kit is a Power BI dashboard template that provided H&M Group with the needed information to identify potential risks. The initial telemetry provided the company with three key insights:

  1. Apps were being developed with no Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies in place which is a company risk as their data could be accidently published externally such as on social media sites.
  2. An increase in the usage of premium connectors which, left uncontrolled, could lead to licensing cost overruns.
  3. High-usage apps that only had one owner. If the owner left the company, there was no one in place to provide support and maintenance.

Screenshot of Power BI template from CoE Starter Kit

The Power BI dashboard template (sample data) that H&M Group uses for telemetry of their apps created by citizen developers across different countries.

Fortunately for H&M Group, none of these risks had yet posed any serious problem. Better yet, with its Center for Enablement plan, the company was on the right path to effectively address each one of them.

Controlling access to Power Platform resources

H&M Group established a tiered structure of environments to manage access to apps, flows, and connections available to employees. Environments within the Power Platform can also be used to separate apps that may have different security requirements or target audiences. Appropriate security policies are implemented based on each employee’s role.

Infographic showing pyramid with three prong environment strategy for apps - Critical, Important, and Productivity

Diagram showing three-tiered environment structure. Employees start in the default Productivity environment and can request access to higher-level environments with more advanced connectors and tools.

All employees start inside a default ‘Productivity’ environment. The team limited the environment to the standard connectors that come with a Microsoft 365 E5 license. These connectors satisfied most development needs for the apps being created by H&M Group.

The next tier is environments for more ‘Important’ apps that might require premium connectors to other data sources. Here, data loss prevention (DLP) policies are used to control which connectors can be used by which makers. H&M Group employees can request access to this environment using a form in SharePoint.

The top tier is for ‘Critical’ environments, enabling development of apps requiring custom connectors.

The team was able to handle all configuration and deployment of environments and DLP policies in the Power Platform Admin Center – a straightforward process that was completed through a series of simple, click-through menus.

“Setting up our security and governance structure and controls for Power Platform took us just two weeks to complete for all 30,000 users at the company.”

– Helena Forsberg, Microsoft 365 Solution Architect, H&M Group

Inspiring citizen developers

In addition to the security and governance controls, resources formed to help support citizen developers:

  • Yammer was used to cultivate an online Power Platform community to foster ideas, guidance, and collaboration.
  • An automated welcome email with links to online training resources is sent to citizen developers when they create an app or flow.
  • SharePoint online was used to display a catalogue and stories about apps and solutions created by their citizen developers. This is also promoted in meetings throughout the company.

“It’s been particularly inspiring when makers can see apps developed by their colleagues that solve problems similar to their own.”

– Claes Söderström, Cross Delivery Coordinator, H&M Group

Screenshot of internal H&M SharePoint site highlighting several stories of apps built by citizen developers.

H&M Group has created an internal portal for showcasing the Power Platform apps created by its citizen developers. The concepts and tools within these apps have inspired hundreds of other solutions.

Apps built by citizen developers

The Power Platform solutions created by their citizen developers addressed a wide range of what used to be time-consuming data entry scenarios.  Apps built to collect form responses is one of the most common use cases. Another is transferring data automatically, rather than sending via email.

“Together, Power Platform solutions created by our employees have made a huge impact on business processes across every brand and region in the H&M Group.”

– Claes Söderström, Cross Delivery Coordinator, H&M Group

Examples of two apps that have made a difference are as follows:

PO Key Activities & Goals App

This app enables employees to set and track the progress of global and regional activities against goals set annually. The solution not only collects and consolidates reports but automatically displays activities in Power BI. Marie Nordstroem, a citizen developer at H&M Group who created the app, says, “The initial design was intuitive enough to roll-out to a wide audience right away. We’d like to refine the UI even further and Power Platform enables us to make continuous improvements quickly and easily.”

Screenshot of Power Apps solution - Key Activities app

The main input screen for H&M Group’s PO Key Activities & Goals app developed on Power Platform.

FLEXI App

When flexible working hours were introduced in many offices at H&M Group, employees found it increasingly difficult to track down colleagues. The problem was elegantly solved with the FLEXI app – a solution that won top honors for citizen developers Elsi Gnagniko and Sofia Gustafsson at a company hackathon where it was created.

A mobile app created in Power Apps makes it easy for employees to quickly update their location and view similar updates from colleagues. The updates can also be added to an Outlook calendar, sent to a manager – or combined with a larger master list in SharePoint to view by managers. Six different flows automate the process. The app deletes updates at the end of the day – a privacy control that earned it a GDPR validation by H&M Group’s IT security group.

Screenshots of mobile app for tracking flexible hours.

This mobile app is part of H&M Group’s FLEXI App solution which is used by employees to update their teams about their location and status during flex hours.

The solution was initially released to the developers’ own team. Word spread quickly about the app through the community and now the app is used by over 1,000 employees across the company’s global network. It’s also proven especially useful for managing limited office capacity requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

High level solution architecture and interaction diagram of the Flexi App solution

Interactions of the end users with the Flexi app solution

Looking ahead

As the number of Power Platform solutions continue to accelerate at H&M Group, they plan to expand their CoE and scale for the future. The team will continue to add DLP controls to 400+ connectors which will enable even more options to citizen developers and their apps – while also protecting data and maintaining control. They also plan to archive unused apps – again, for reduced risk but also for the option of reusing components in other projects down the road. With the help of a Power BI dashboard in the CoE starter kit, they can monitor the usage patterns by region and target lower-scoring regions with more training and support to better promote the platform to encourage citizen developers.

Forsberg is a believer in having a balanced approach in having the IT department drive the Center for Enablement with a focus on security but also have flexibility for citizen developers to be creative with their apps and solutions with guardrails in place. Establishing a set of policies and controls that supported their citizen developers’ creativity is what enabled H&M Group to have a successful Power Platform CoE and that’s her advice to other companies.

“We agreed that for us it’s equally important with governance, security, as well as the creativity to foster an environment where people want to use Power Platform.”

– Helena Forsberg, Microsoft 365 Solution Architect, H&M Group

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