Low code solution with Azure Logic Apps and PowerBI

I’ve been recently working on a small project to support a new business process. Time to market was critical for the customer, to be able to capture emerged businesss oppurtunity. Budget was also tight, to not over-invest before bussiness case is validated.

There was a strong preference from the customer to do the whole data management via Excel to “keep it simple”. Not a surprise preference when you talk to sales people or CEO as in this case 🙂 There was also a need to enrich data with information from 3rd party systems and provide a number of reports.

High level architecture of this small system looks like this:

It was not the goal to avoid coding at all when building the solution, but the goal was to have a low code approach to save time.

The biggest saving was avoiding custom UI development completely, but still having the solution highly interactive from the users’ perspective. Please find below the description of how it was achieved.

Online sign-up form

For online sign-up form https://webflow.com/ was used. This tool allows to create websistes without the need to write any code. The only piece of JavaScript that had to be written was about making an AJAX request to custom API that would pass form data.

“CRM” via OneDrive and Excel

All the accounts were managed via Excel files. One file per parner company. That kind of approach has many benefits out of the box. Let’s mention a few:

  • Intuitive and flexible data management via Excel
  • Access management and sharing capabilities provided by OneDrive
  • Online collaboration and change tracking built-in

Azure Logic Apps – the glue

The core business logic was developed as custom service implemented in .NET Core and C#. This service also had its own database. Data edited in Excel files needed to be synced with the database in various ways:

  • changes made via Excel files needed to be reflected in central database
  • when data was modified by the business logic (for example status was changed and data generated as a result of the business flow), changes needed to be reflected back in the Excel to have a consistent view
  • when a new account was registered in the system, new Excel file to manage it was automatically created in OneDrive

All of that use cases were implemented via Azure Logic Apps. Logic App is composed from a ready to use building blocks. Here’s the example of single execution log of an example Logic App:

In this case, any time an Excel file is modified in OneDrive, a request is made to custom API to uplaod the file for processing the updates. Before the request, an access token is obtained. Processed file is saved for audit, and in case of error an email alert is sent.

Unther the hood Logic App is defined as a JSON file, so its definition can be stored in the code repository and deployed to Azure via ARM.

Power BI to provide data insights

Reporting was the ultimate goal of that project. Business needed to know about the performance of particular sales agents and internal employees for things like commission reporting and follow-up calls.

When comparing to developing a custom reporting solution, Power BI is super easy to create the UI to browse, filter and export data. Once the connection with database is established, data model can be defined to create interesting visualistations with extensive filtering options. All that features available for 9,99$/month/user.

If you know SQL, and relational data modelling, but are new to Power BI, I can recommend this tutorial to get up to the speed with Power BI:


Thanks to low-code and no-code tools like Azure Logic Apps, Power BI or Webflow, it was possible to deliver end-to-end solution that users were able to interact with, without any custom code to build UI. If that project included also UI and related backend developent to support UI, it would take a few times more to provide similar capabilities. We could imagine simple UI with less effort but it would be not even close to the rich capabilities provided by Power BI and Excel out of the box.

Happy low-coding! 🙂

Hangfire.io and .NET Expressions

I was troubleshooting an interesting bug recently thanks to which I’ve learned a bit more about Hangfire.io and expressions in .NET.

The situation was that Hangfire dashboard looked correctly, we had all jobs registered as expected. But what was actually executed by the scheduler for each job was same logic, which was supposed to be executed only for the last job. Nasty bug. We were not yet on production with hangfire.io, but still it was quite an unexpected behavior to see.

Reason was that we were wrapping each job in a class called JobRunner. This class was adding some generic functionality to update UI progress bars when jobs are running. Our code looked like that:

JobRunner runner = new JobRunner(myJobClass);
RecurringJob.AddOrUpdate(myJobClass.JobId, () => runner.Execute(), myJobClass.CronExpression);

Crucial thing to understand about Hangfire is that the what we pass to AddOrUpdate method is not a function to execute but an Expression describing the function to be executed. See this thread for difference between Expression<> and Func<>.

runner instance is not kept in memory or serialized. When Hangfire executes the job, it needs to create the instance by calling the constructor of given type. Constructor arguments are resolved from IoC container. In our case constructor argument was of type IJob. This interface was providing properties like JobId or CronExpression. So what was happening when EVERY job was running, was firsts implementation of IJob found in the container injected into a JobRunner. For each job same implementation of IJob was injected. And here we are – all jobs magically are executing same logic…

Now it seems quite obvious but it was necessary to learn couple of rules along the way to understand that behavior. It seems to be a common misunderstanding as there is even a comment about people making that mistake in hangfire.io source code, see Job.cs .

I hope this case study will help someone to avoid similar traps.

C# snippets in Azure APIM policies

It I was an interesting finding this week. I was not aware that it is possible to use multi-line C# code snippets inside Azure API Management policies.

For example if you’d like to calculate an expression (could be e.g. a backend service query parameter) based on a request header value, that you could use a snippet similar to this one:

  /* here you can place multi-line code */ 
  new dict = new Dictionary<string, string>() {
    {"a", "1"}, 
    {"b", "2"}
  var val = context.Request.Headers.GetValueOrDefault("test", "a");
  return dict.ContainsKey(val) ? dict[val] : "1";

Details about expressions syntax can be found here: here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/api-management/api-management-policy-expressions

One gotch’a was with moving that kind of policy definition to Terraform.  It is necessary to replace characters “<” and “>” with entities: &#60; and &#62; respectively. Otherwise Tarraform could not apply the changes, although it worked directly in Azure portal.

Worth to note that you could achieve the same by using control flow policies, but this example is only an illustration, you can have more complex snippets e.g. for request verification or composing/manipulating response body.