Last week, Microsoft held its annual partner event, Inspire, in the format that all major tech shows have adopted in the Covid-19 era—all virtual. While it was a decidedly different affair than previous Inspires (see my 2017 and 2018 coverage of the event), many of the challenges brought on by the pandemic happen to be in Microsoft’s wheelhouse. As the world, for better or worse, has started to reopen and many are beginning to return to work, it makes sense that one of the undisputed leaders in workplace productivity and collaboration tools would have something to offer for the transition back. While there were a handful of announcements made at Inspire 2020, the ones that piqued my interested revolved around Power Platform. For those of you who don’t know, Microsoft’s Power Platform is a very smart, powerful tool that users can leverage to build and deploy custom apps for both mobile and desktop devices. Perhaps the platform’s biggest strength is that this no-code tool can be utilized by non-developers as well—this is crucial for many SMBs who don’t have a big enough IT department to keep dedicated developers on staff. With that background out of the way, let’s take a look at what’s new for Power Platform.
Get back to work, safely
The first announcement I wanted to look into is the new Power Platform “return to the workplace solution,” or RWT, a pre-fab, end-to-end solution designed to facilitate the safe return of workers to the office. With many businesses, schools, and other organizations attempting to return to some semblance of normalcy, one thing is for certain: if a return is going to happen, it must happen safely if the country wants to halt the spread of Covid-19, save countless lives, and avoid another shutdown. Microsoft understands that business leadership and employees alike are in uncharted waters, and this solution is the company’s attempt to help with the planning, coordination, and management of the return to the workplace, ensuring the health and safety of employees first and foremost.
The solution, as mentioned previously, is a pre-built solution (in the interest of quick deployment), and is comprised of a customizable set of modules to provide guidance to organizations and help safeguard employee health and safety. Microsoft touts Power Platform RTW’s ability to help businesses adapt to meet the rapidly changing conditions surrounding the pandemic ,in a manner that is both agile, secure, compliant and proactive.
The first of the modules included in the solution is Location Readiness. This module will enable businesses to better manage a safe reopening, by analyzing data (e.g. infection rates, availability of safety supplies) to determine facilities’ readiness for workers. Next is Employee Health and Safety Management, a grouping of self-service health tools to help employees perform their work safely. Examples cited were a mobile app that employees can check in with when they are working remotely, and a self-screening health check employees can perform on themselves before they go inside the workplace and potentially expose their colleagues.
The third module is Workplace Care Management, which Microsoft says will imbue health and safety teams the tools necessary to “actively manage” Covid-19 confirmed cases within their organization, determine hot spots within the company ripe for health and safety improvement, and analyze imported 3rd party data to see who amongst their workforce has been exposed. The final module, Location Management, is not out yet (though Microsoft says it is “coming soon”). This module will purportedly be more focused on maintaining health and safety, giving organizations tools to monitor health supplies, occupancy, safety protocols, and more.
Data and intelligence
The other bigger announcement I wanted to discuss is Microsoft Dataflex. This solution provides organizations with an integrated, low-code data platform for Teams, which Microsoft says will make it easier to deploy crucial business apps and processes with one click in Teams (and what an important time to be able to deploy these key apps quickly and easily). Microsoft Dataflex is built on what was known as Microsoft’s Common Data Service, but now is being rebranded to Microsoft Dataflex Pro. Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Power Virtual Agents enables organizations to build and deploy bots that leverage DataFlex’s business data to tackle real business problems. To be clear, all of the bot building happens right there inside of Teams. Then it’s off to the races.
Dataflex features relational data storage, rich data types, and enterprise-grade governance (important when we’re talking about critical/sensitive data). Every team in an organization gets their own environment in Dataflex, and there are no limits to how many apps you can build and run. The marriage of Teams and Power Platform is a powerful combo of two of Microsoft’s best offerings—Teams enables productivity, communication and collaboration, while Power Platform gives it intelligence to make literal teams) even more efficient and effective.
This solution is notable because of its integration within Teams—it’s an end-to-end solution that eliminates the need for employees to have to toggle between different services and apps. No longer will users need to connect to external storage—they’ve got Dataflex’s integrated data platform. Users are able to develop, deploy, use, share custom templates, and administer Power App solutions, all right within Teams, whether or not they’re on the web, tablets, or smartphone. This has the potential to deliver a much more streamlined, smooth experience, which in turn will drive further productivity. In case you’ve been sleeping, Teams is now so much more than a workplace chat tool—it’a become a true end-to-end, integrated platform to be reckoned with.
Though the workplace will likely never be quite the same as it was pre-Covid-19, people are cautiously emerging from their home offices and trying to figure out what measures are necessary to protect them and their families while still retaining some semblance of normalcy at work. Microsoft’s Power Platform RTW seeks to make it easier for enterprises to plan, monitor, and manage their workforce’s health and safety—a challenge, to say the least, but one that I believe will be more manageable with Microsoft’s technology on their side. What I really like is the slow march to pre-fabbed Power Platform solutions. I believe this helps enterprises get past the “now what do I do with this” tool phase and can react better to a solution they can change versus clean sheets of paper.
Dataflex also looks to be a great addition to the Power Platform, making Teams an end-to-end solution for app development. All businesses right now have their eyes on recovery and that will only be made easier by having the right tools at their disposal. When it comes to productivity, few makes tools quite like Microsoft.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.