Solving an onboarding dilemma at Microsoft with PowerApps

Dec 6, 2017   |  

Your first day at Microsoft is supposed to inspire you to change the world.

At headquarters in Redmond and at the company’s handful of large United States and international offices, new employees are warmly welcomed via New Employee Orientation (NEO), a day-long experience that greets them on their first day.

The story unfolds differently at dozens of smaller Microsoft offices scattered across the globe, where new hires must wait weeks or months before there are enough new employees to justify a NEO session. And beyond that, many offices are so small that they can’t offer group new employee orientation sessions.

That was the situation two years ago, when Deependra (Deep) Sengar moved to lead the Service Center at Chennai, India, that, among other things, answers queries from confused new employees.

“The employees we were hiring in these remote offices needed the superior handholding experience typically provided through onboarding on Day 1 in Redmond and some of the other bigger offices,” says Sengar, who manages both the Global Service Center and Regional Service Center in Chennai. “We were struggling to provide that kind of experience.”

Frustrated, Sengar, a former special forces officer of the Indian Army, went analog—he had his team start calling each new hire on his or her first day. Not perfect because they didn’t know when would be a good time to call, but it was a lifeline they could grab while they tried to figure out which direction was up.

“The day they would join, we would call them and ask them what help they needed,” he says. “We would guide them through their first day.”

While immensely valuable to the people they reached, connecting was hit or miss, and it wasn’t a scalable solution.

“That time is when we thought of PowerApps,” Sengar says.

Sengar’s team is not technical, so there was no desire to build a solution from scratch. “We’re not a team of engineers—we’re a process team,” he says.

So, what did they do to solve the challenge?

They built a Welcome app using Microsoft PowerApps and put it on the one device every new employee will have and know how to use on their first day—their own phone.

“Our team started working on PowerApps—there was no coding required,” he says. “That’s what ended up saving us.”

PowerApps to the rescue

PowerApps is a new Microsoft business process tool designed for people just like Sengar and his team, says Jay Clem, general manager of Human Resources IT in Core Services Engineering.

“The whole idea with PowerApps is they want business power users to be able to build them,” Clem says. “The people closest to the work can get the work done best. That’s Deep and his team.”

Microsoft PowerApps enables non-technical people to easily build and deploy business apps. It empowers IT organizations to simulate inside-out business innovation by encouraging its employees to create their own apps (while maintaining control over data access and security).

Sengar asked for volunteers to learn about PowerApps. Five people stepped up—they started learning how to use the tool, and things took off from there. “They spent their own time learning about the app,” he says. “We encourage usage of Microsoft technology to solve their everyday problems, and this was no different.”

Clem sent one of his team members to train Sengar’s team—she trained them for a day and then they were on their own, figuring it out. “They kind of grabbed the reins and went with it,” Clem says.

James Phillips, corporate vice president for Business Applications, notes that with PowerApps, people like those on Sengar’s team can build beautiful, multi-data source applications to meet business needs fast. “The application outlined in this scenario is just one of the many examples of end users being able to write PowerApps within a few hours without the need for IT domain expertise,” Phillips says.

Sengar says he felt empowered by Microsoft to solve a problem. “I lead this center in Chennai, I have full independence in how I operate,” he says. “I don’t need to go to my manager for every decision. I just started reaching out to different teams, looking for a solution.”

Rolling out the red carpet with PowerApps

The Welcome app starts off with a video note from CEO Satya Nadella, where he shares vivid memories of his own first day at Microsoft 22 years ago. “I came here because I wanted to make a real difference and change the world,” Nadella tells the new hires right on their own phones.

The app then serves up all the information a new employee needs to get started, including benefits, mandatory documents they must sign, and info about their first pay date (among many other helpful tips).

“Employees can take action on all most of their pending items right from the app itself—there is no need to go to dozens of other applications,” Sengar says. “Eighty-percent of the tasks that they need to do to get started can be completed in the app.”

Helpful information like all the relevant contacts in their office, status of their benefits enrollment, and personal information is included. They can also use their phone to take photos of documents and load them right into the app from their phone.

“The reason we can serve all of this up in one place is because PowerApps let us connect all of our new hire data bases in one place,” Sengar says.

Sengar says there is more work to do.

“The Welcome app is just one thing,” he says. “This is only for new hires. There is a lot more we can do in the hire-to-retire space. We’re just getting started.”

Learn more about how Microsoft Human Resources is digitally transforming by watching this interview with Jay Clem and dig into how Microsoft is using PowerApps to rethink its entire approach to business applications.