From May 25th to 27th, Microsoft will welcome developers worldwide to hear about innovations, learn new skills and connect as a community. In a recent blog, Amanda Silver (VP of Product, Developer Division at Microsoft) reflected on how developers have been using technology as a force for good in the face of daunting constraints brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Inspiring thoughts and a great backdrop to this year's Build 2021, the second all-digital free event.
ach year, Microsoft publishes the Microsoft Build Book of News, a guide to enhancements and integrations spanning the entire Microsoft developer platform across Visual Studio, GitHub, Microsoft Azure, Power Platform, Windows, and Microsoft 365. In this article, I will highlight three enhancements: Process Advisor and GPT3 for the Microsoft Power Platform and Azure Synapse link for Microsoft Dataverse
A quick primer on Microsoft Power Platform
Back in the day, to carry out data analysis, build an application or automate a process would require a request with requirements to the IT department and then a wait for weeks or months for something to be made. The Microsoft Power Platform allows a non-technical user to immediately create, automate and analyze data themselves without coding knowledge.
Power Platform consists of three Microsoft technologies. Power BI is a business analytics tool to analyze and make sense of complex data.
PowerApps, as the name suggests, is used to build low-code apps. A low code apps approach to software development requires little to no coding to develop applications and processes. With Power Automate, you can create automated workflows between Microsoft services or other third-party applications.
The platform integrates with Office 365 and other third-party applications made possible by the Microsoft Dataverse (formerly known as the Common Data Service), the foundation that enables applications and services to inter-operate.
Microsoft Power Platform - Process Advisor
Process Advisor adds a process mining capability in Power Automate. Process Advisor will identify repetitive activities that take the most time across an organization. Process Advisor will then recommend what to automate, showing where organizational bottlenecks exist.
Robotic process automation (RPA) tools already exist within Power Automate. RPA tools essentially configure software, or a “robot,” to emulate human actions. It can be as simple as an automatic response to an email to the complex automation of jobs in an ERP system.
Process Advisor in conjunction with robotic process automation (RPA) enables users without in-depth coding ability to automate mundane and repetitive tasks. In summary, Microsoft is making it easier to prioritize processes that are best suited for automation.
Microsoft Power Platform- GPT3
Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3), created by OpenAI, is an auto-regressive (predicts future behavior based on past behavior) language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. It will help users build apps without needing to know how to write computer code or formulas.
Microsoft Power Fx is the low-code open-source programming language used in PowerApps. The integration of GPT-3 will allow developers to build apps using natural language — no coding required.
For example, GPT-3 will interpret conversational language like “find products where the name starts with ‘Microsoft.’” and then display choices for transforming the command into a Microsoft Power Fx formula, such as “Filter(‘BC Orders’ Left(‘Product Name’,4)=”Microsoft”).
Power Fx is built on Microsoft Excel, much easier to use than traditional coding languages, but creating complex data queries can still be a steep learning curve. That said, to be successful, you still need to understand the logic of writing formulas that might look something like this: FirstN(Sort(Search('BC Orders', "stroller","aib_productname”), ‘Purchase Date’, Descending), 10).
With GPT-3-powered features, a person can get the same result by typing plainspoken language like: "Show 10 orders that have a stroller in the product name and sort by purchase date with newest on the top."
The features don't replace the need for a person to understand the code being implemented but rather to assist people learning the Power Fx programming language and help them choose the correct formulas to get the right result. That can dramatically expand access to more advanced app building and train people to use low-code tools more rapidly.
These enhancements enable three scenarios: natural language to Power FX code, the reverse where Power FX code transforms to natural language, and a third scenario of importing a data pattern to train a model.
A quick primer on Microsoft Dataverse
At first glance, Microsoft Dataverse looks like a database with tables, columns, rows, and relationships. That should not be a surprise since Dataverse has roots in the Microsoft Azure SQL database. But, that is where the similarity ends as Dataverse has a built-in business application layer.
Power Platform components such as Power Apps, Power BI, and Power Automate interact with Dataverse directly or through built-in connectors.
Azure Synapse Link for Dataverse
Azure Synapse Link is a cloud-native hybrid transactional and analytical processing (HTAP) service. It is a single data platform that can support transactional processing and analytical processing on the same dataset enabling near real-time analytics over operational data.
Developers working in Microsoft Power applications or Dynamics 365 can use Azure Synapse Link to perform predictive analytics, and enrich existing data with other business datasets and explore data lakes or other large repositories of data.
The Power platform is a significant investment area for Microsoft, and I expect more updates over time. Power Platform is strategic in that it is the glue that connects services like Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and Azure easily with a low-code, even no-code approach. This is very unique and it’s hard for me to even name a competitive construct.
Microsoft uses AI to help with some of the more mundane elements of coding and formula expression, widen the pool of people who can use the tools, and free up experienced developers to focus on more challenging problems.
In this article, I zoomed in on just three of the enhancements that will be on display. Whether you are an experienced software developer, data scientist, or a low-code "citizen developer," there is something for you at Microsoft Build 2021.
You can find out more about the event and register to attend here. See you there virtually!
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.