How Microsoft plans to improve the low-code landscape
Taking on the challenges head-on that stand in the way of their low-code platforms growing, Microsoft series of new product announcements this week at Build 2022 gives organizations new options for achieving low-code development goals. Microsoft’s series of low-code announcements made this week include Power Pages, the latest Microsoft Power Platform addition for creating integrated, scalable and secure websites.
No shortage of low-code challenges today
Lured by the promises of democratizing app development with visual, declarative, drag and drop interfaces often bundled with enterprise-wide platforms like Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow and others, enterprises have been quick to jump in and experiment. They’re learning that support for a low-code platform can get expensive fast once app development moves from small department coding projects to larger-scale, enterprise-wide apps. Low-code platforms’ hidden costs include limited process workflow support that further adds to the challenge of scaling them enterprise-wide.
The majority of low-code app platforms do not have a simple solution to the complex problems of app governance, either. Governance becomes more challenging when every low-code platform defines its method to achieve it. Adding to the governance, scale and quality challenges, organizations often have several to over a dozen or more low-code platforms simultaneously, each implemented by a different group to support a different series of use cases. Each group contends the low-code platform they’ve adopted is ideal for the personas they serve, yet the low-code platform leaders contend they can serve multiple personas with a single code base.
If all this sounds chaotic, imagine you are one of the many CIOs and CISOs who hear weekly of a new low-code platform that needs integration, governance and security support within your organization.
How enterprises need low-code to work
The pandemic forced many IT departments to fast-track digital transformation projects over the last three years. The only way many could keep up was to adopt low-code platforms. New app development cycles need to stay on pace or accelerate, depending on the business case for each project. Every IT department ideally wants to avoid how full-stack development and slow progress. low-code platforms’ continued improvements in developing and delivering custom applications with minimal hand-coding are also core to adoption growth.
According to Gartner, spending on low-code development technologies is expected to grow to almost $30 billion, with a CAGR of 20.9% from 2020 through 2025. The research firm also predicts that 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020. It’s no surprise that Gartner sees that 50% of all new low-code clients will come from business buyers that are outside the IT organization by 2025.
One of the challenges with low-code platforms is remaining competitive from an innovation and technology standpoint. If the aggressive market forecasts Gartner and others will be realized, low-code platform providers need to excel in the following six dimensions of R&D:
- Build low-code platforms so they can iterate in real-time, reducing overall development cycles.
- Double-down on API development to better integrate with on-premise and cloud-based data.
- Design AI and machine learning support rebuilt components to enable in-app intelligence.
- Ability to scale and support data-centric and process-centric development cycles.
- Deliver on the promise of supporting multiple personas from the same code line, including tools.
- Consistent infrastructure and architectural strategy that also integrates into devops workflows.
Microsoft’s plan to improve the low-code landscape
Like many low-code platforms, Microsoft’s initial success began by supporting administrative and developer personas who created relatively simple web and mobile apps. Like many other low-code platforms, the platform initially lacked best-in-class governance and struggled with process discovery.
Microsoft’s decades of experience in collaborative app development and designed-in enterprise security support are balancing these initial weaknesses.
“We’ve got tens of millions of people using the platform every month, 6.8 million monthly active just makers, developers, citizens and professionals. And a lot of them actually are professional software developers building pretty high scale things,” Ryan Cunningham, vice president of, Microsoft Power Apps, told VentureBeat during a recent interview.
To their credit, Microsoft designed in active directory (AD) integration, data loss prevention (DLP) and data encryption early in the product’s lifecycle. The Power Platform runs on the Azure cloud, which further strengthens security with SOC1, SOC2, PCI DSS and FEDRAMP certifications that are essential for deploying in federal government cloud configurations. During Ignite 2021 last year, Microsoft expanded its vision of zero-trust security on the Azure platform and shared insights gained from thousands of zero trust implementations on their cloud platform. Microsoft’s low-code platform has among the most robust cybersecurity defenses of any competitor in the market today.
Power Pages launched as a standalone platform, the fifth member of the Power Platform portfolio
This week, Microsoft’s launch of Power Pages signals a shift to broaden the Power Platform portfolio and provide low-code and professional developers with an integrated web app design platform. The standalone platform supports Visual Studio Code, GitHub and Azure devops integration and has a series of improved UI and updated templates.
Power Pages is designed to support low-code and professional developers’ needs to implement advanced business requirements, automate development workflows with Azure devops and integrate and contribute to continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) processes already in place in many devops teams. Power Pages relies on Microsoft Azure to provide the security and compliance large-scale low-code projects need to scale deployments company-wide.
Express Design creates low-code Power Apps from images and design files
Express Design shortens the steps to create a low-code app by using cognitive AI technology to scan any design input and produce working app controls backed with data storage. Express Design can interpret Figma design files, images, PDFs, PowerPoints, paper forms, or hand-drawn app screens. Rendering them in real-time and suggesting app controls, low-code and professional developers can check the inputs, switch data connectors, verify the controls are needed and then publish the app for use. Express Design is a cognitive AI use case that will change the low-code landscape.
Power Automate scales up
The Power Automate embed SDK enables developers to embed Power Automate capabilities inside their SaaS applications. Scaling Power Automate up to support the new Power Automate pay-as-you-go plan was also announced this week at Build 2022. The combination of the two will enable ISVs to embed Power Automate into their apps and pay for it on behalf of their customers, just like an Azure service. Adobe will be the first ISV to use the embed gSDK to embed Power Automate into Adobe Acrobat Sign to enable advanced document signature and processing workflow.
Improvements to conversational bot authoring
Power Virtual Agents and Azure Bot Framework are now on one unified canvas, streamlining conversational AI bot development with a new intelligent bot authoring experience. Power Virtual Agents now includes a new intelligent bot authoring experience that integrates the Azure Bot Framework Composer’s pro-code capabilities with the simplicity of Power Virtual Agent’s low-code platform. Microsoft’s goal in integrating these two apps is to enable developers to build collaboratively in one Microsoft bot building studio.
Using GPT-3 to improve the low-code market
Microsoft’s continued fine-tuning of the OpenAI Codex model (formerly known as GPT-3) in Power Apps is one of the foundational technologies changing the low-code market. The OpenAI Codex model can speak Power Fx, the programming language inside of Power Apps. Power Fx is based on the Excel programming language and supports all Excel functions, including trigonometry. Power Fx is open source, so anyone interested in integrating it into their low-code platforms can work with Microsoft to make that happen.
It has been particularly successful with low-code developers who do not have a traditional software development background, but understand and are familiar with Excel concepts. Microsoft finds that Power Fx helps low-code developers express complex logic much more easily, creating more scalable, useful apps in the process.
“We’re using Open AI to enable somebody to type in plain language, ‘show me customers who joined within the last 30 days sorted by first name’ and we use the AI model to bring back a suggested formula in the coding language and then the human selects it and says, yes, that’s what I want to use,” Cunningham said.. “We’re also using OpenAI to do inline correction for people that are catching them basically as they’re making an error or about to make an error and upgrade it to the right formula that they intended. And so for us, it’s really about kind of having AI be a constant helpful assistant to humans, building applications. And that’s actually becoming part and parcel of how a lot of people are building Power Apps already today.”
Microsoft sees AI as core to the future success of low-code platforms. Express Design’s use of cognitive AI to recognize images and suggest app controls, conversational bot authoring and continued improvements to the OpenAI Codex model reflect their progress. During a recent interview,
Cunningham agreed and said,”one of the many places in which we’re investing and far ahead of the curve is AI plus human development. And for us, it’s all about making more humans more successful. It’s all about reducing that friction to be able to get an actual useful app and using AI is just one of many tools that helps the human get successful in that environment.”