Microsoft Corp. announced today at its Ignite 2020 virtual event a host of new capabilities in its Power Platform that are designed to help companies become more resilient and weather today’s coronavirus-related economic challenges.
Microsoft’s Power Platform is a suite of three products, namely Power BI, PowerApps and Power Automate. They can be used to create and deploy customized applications that run on desktop and mobile devices using a low-code interface.
Low-code software development is becoming increasingly popular because it enables people with only minimal coding skills to create lots of useful apps that can streamline their work processes. In a blog post, James Philllips, Microsoft’s president of business applications, said the company has worked hard over the past 18 months to make its low-code tools more useful by integrating them more closely with its Azure cloud platform and Visual Studio development tools.
As a result of that work, Power Apps now works seamlessly together with the Microsoft Azure API Management service. The result is that professional and citizen developers alike can now scale their low-code Power Apps and distribute them across their organizations via the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform, Phillips said.
“Developers can create custom connectors to unlock access to any Microsoft cloud hosted data source, as well as seamlessly push custom connectors to dedicated Power Platform environments for easy discovery in Power Apps,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Phillips said Microsoft is bringing the Power Platform to the world’s No. 1 application development collaboration platform – GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft. The new capability, now available in preview, makes it possible for developers to create software development lifecycle workflows using GitHub actions for Power Platform, or use pre-configured SDLC workflow templates instead.
Additionally, Microsoft said, it’s making it possible for citizen developers to create virtual bots that can perform tasks such as customer service, with no code. It’s doing so by integrating Power Virtual Agents with the Azure Bot Framework and will make that integration available in October. At the same time, Microsoft will make it possible to publish those bots on the Teams with just a single click.
Phillips also announced a public preview of the Power BI app for Teams, which makes it possible to access Power BI reports within that platform and collaborate and share the more easily with colleagues.
There’s progress too on the robotic process automation front, which involves using software robots to observe workflows in common business applications and then deduce ways to automate repetitive tasks. Microsoft said that following its acquisition of Softomotive Ltd. in May, it’s pairing that company’s WinAutomation tool that automates repetitive actions made on Windows devices with Power Automate. That will enable everyone to automate manual business processes across both legacy and modern apps, the company said.
“Today, we’re introducing the public preview of Power Automate Desktop — enabling you to automate on-prem processes and tasks, from simple data transfers between systems or searching for images to more complex business processes and workflows — all from your desktop,” Phillips said.
Dynamics 365 updates
The slew of updates announced at Ignite 2020 continued with Dynamics 365. It’s a set of business applications that helps to manage business processes such as accounting, human resources and sales, and derive predictive, artificial intelligence-driven insights from them.
Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, wrote in a blog post that the Dynamics 365 platform has become key to many companies’ digitization efforts, since the insights it provides enables them to rapidly adapt to changing market conditions. But the company can do more, he said, and to that end the platform is being updated in two key areas: customer service and supply chain management.
The updates include a new, first-party voice channel for Dynamics 365 Customer Service that’s built atop Azure Communication Services and is being made available in private preview starting today.
“By integrating voice into existing omnichannel capabilities, we are providing a seamless, end-to-end customer service experience within a single solution built on the Microsoft cloud that empowers teams to deliver consistent, connected support across all channels,” Shaw said.
The updated Dynamics 365 Customer Service also adds new AI capabilities to help resolve issues faster, such as real-time agent suggestions and sentiment analysis that relies on Microsoft’s Common Data Model.
Meanwhile, the Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management tool is being updated with a new Cloud and Edge Scale Unit add-in that helps companies to run critical warehouse and manufacturing workloads at the edge using Azure Stack devices.
That in turn will help to improve the resiliency of those workloads and ensure they can run uninterrupted, even if they become temporarily disconnected from the cloud. The new Inventory Visibility add-in, meanwhile, will enable manufacturers and retailers to handle millions of transactions per minute while accurately determining cross-channel inventory in real-time, Microsoft said.
One final update involves a new tool that will become generally available in October. Dynamics 365 Project Operations will help connect and provide more visibility to project management, sales and accounting teams.
“Project Operations integrates with your current enterprise systems helping you to drive business growth across your sales and delivery processes, without the need to rip and replace your existing systems,” Phillips explained. “You can also easily scale Project Operations using the Microsoft Power Platform and other applications from Dynamics 365, like Marketing, Human Resources, and Customer Service.”
Constellation Research Inc. analyst Holger Mueller told SiliconANGLE low-code tools are critical for building next-generation applications because enterprises need to automate many of their key business processes in-house, in order to differentiate themselves, disrupt their markets and stay in control of their own automation destinies.
“There are simply not enough traditional developers to get this accomplished, so it’s good to see today’s developments,” he said.
Still, Mueller said Microsoft seems to have lost sight of what really counts for enterprises, which he said is having their best practices automated in standard software.
“Outside of supply chain and project automation, Microsoft has been remarkably quiet when it comes to business process automation for a major ERP vendor,” Mueller said.
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