How Microsoft's Power Platform can empower 'citizen developers'

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  • Mary Jo Foley
    Mary Jo Foley

    For the past few years, Microsoft has been developing and rolling out pieces of what it now calls its “Power Platform” in relative isolation. Power BI, its business analytics platform; Flow, its workflow-automation engine; and PowerApps, its associated app-development platform — together known as the Power Platform — has been mostly the domain of Dynamics 365 users. But this is changing.

    The Microsoft Power Platform is a fundamental pivot for Microsoft business apps. It facilitates taking developer-centric tasks, and moving them into the hands of “Citizen Developers”. It a low-code/no-code story.

    What questions do you have for Forceworks Global CEO Steve Mordue, who also is a Microsoft Business Applications Most Valuable Professional (MVP), about the Power Platform? I’ll be chatting with him on April 15 and will ask some of your best Power Platform questions directly to Steve.

    • This topic was modified 7 months, 1 week ago by Mary Jo Foley Mary Jo Foley.

    1) Who is the ‘natural’ audience for Power Apps? Given that it is a low/no code solution, one would think it would attract the business users of the world. But in fact the interface can still seem a little intimidating. Given that, is the vision that there will be enough training out there to help business users overcome their initial ‘shyness’?
    2) Is it envisioned that Power Apps will replace existing processes in the business? Or will it be deployed (at least initially) to solve problems that are not even on the IT planning radar? If it will (or will eventually) replace existing processes, what is the best way to document app/flow solutions? Can they be saved in a SPO library (for example) and annotated with metadata?
    3) Can you clarify what extent of PowerApps is available with standard E3 and E5 licenses? I know there are two further levels, P1 and P2, and would love to understand how those work as well.
    4) How does the Common Data Service play into all of this? I know use of CDS is tied to P1 and P2 licensing, but could you possibly explain CDS like I am 5? :)

    Thanks MJF and I hope these questions meet the bar you have set for being eligible to include. Am going to tweet this out as well.
    Kind regards,
    Jessica Jolly
    Owner, ALT-Enter, LLC

    Brad Sams
    Brad Sams

    You can find the audio playback, here.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 00:04                   Hi, you’re listening to MJFChat show. I am your community magnet and my name is Mary Jo Foley. I’m here to ask industry experts about various topics that you, our readers, want to know about.

    Today’s MJFChat is all about Microsoft’s Power Platform. My guest today is Steve Mordue, a Microsoft business applications MVP and the CEO of Forceworks, which is a Microsoft cloud partner specializing in Dynamics 365 for SMBs. Thank you so much for joining us Steve.

    Steve Mordue:                00:41                   Well thank you for having me.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 00:43                   So I’m going to give a little intro of the Power Platform, but I’m sure your going to give us a lot more details about it. So, for the past few years Microsoft has been developing and rolling out pieces of what it now calls the Power Platform. There’s Power BI, it’s business analytics platform, Flow, it’s workforce automation engine, and Power Apps it’s associated development platform.

    Together, these three things are now called the Power Platform. Up until now, this has been mostly the domain of Dynamics 365 users. But I feel like this is changing and Microsoft is now making Power Platform a key piece of its overall “intelligent cloud intelligent edge pitch”. I feel like the pair of platform is a fundamental pivot for Microsoft business apps. It facilitates taking developer centric tasks and moving them into the hands of so called citizen developers.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 01:40                   So this is basically a low code, no code story. Steve is one of the best people to tell this story. So thank you again for being here. So Steve, I’m going to start with one of my own questions for you. I’ve been around this block a few times as you have this Microsoft block and I feel like this isn’t the first time Microsoft has tried to target non-developer developers.

    I remember back in the old days VSTO, Visual Studio Tools for Office, and then Office developer tools. Neither of those efforts really took off, I would say. So now here we have the Power Platform. Why do you think this is different and will this time Microsoft be able to succeed in targeting so called citizen developers?

    Steve Mordue:                02:33                   You definitely have been down this particular block longer than we have. We were Salesforce partners for 10 years before we moved over to Dynamics in 2011, so a lot of the old war stories that I hear from partners and insiders, I wasn’t here for. I take everything from when we were on board and what we know about, so some of the fails or past efforts from different regimes and things like that are interesting stories for me, but I wasn’t there for that pain. But there’s been other pains of course in the process.

    I would love to think that somebody at Microsoft or a team at Microsoft came up with this grand plan quite some time ago and this is the execution of that plan. But I think in reality it’s been more opportunistic, you know, as they have been developing down a path and multiple paths of different things, the opportunities just arise to “Hey, what if we connected this?”. I think that’s kind of how we’ve gotten to where we are with Power Platform.

    It was a bunch of opportunities recognized and taken individually that now after they’ve taken quite a few of these individual opportunities, we look back and we say, “wow, we’ve got a darn platform here”. So I don’t want to take away anything from Microsoft having this grand vision of Power Platform, but I get a sense that we kind of ended up here, you know, a less planned way, but we did it up at a very good place.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 04:11                   I’m glad to hear you say this is how you see it too, because I felt like we were hearing about different pieces at different times. Like I feel like we heard about Power BI and then one day Power Apps and Flow showed up and now it’s all one thing. And I’m like, was this a grand plan or actually are they making lemonade out of lemons? Cut. No, but I also am happy to hear you say we’re in a good place.

    Steve Mordue:                04:37                   Well when you would you see a lot of these things that kind of started off in one direction and then kind of took a step back and and went down a different direction to kind of conversion is really what makes me feel like, it’s good a kind of a journey of realization for Microsoft as it had been building some of these technologies independently.

    You know, Power Apps really came out of the Sharepoint side of the house and now of course it’s all CDS all day. And CDs had started out on a whole different path before they took a couple of steps back and took it down a different fork. So I think a lot of these things are realizations they’ve made after they start one direction, that then they’re looking at this. So, you know, if we’d gone that direction, this could be a lot more powerful and they’ve taken that step back, which, you know, I’ve got to kind of applaud them for that. It just keep the head down and push forward in the wrong direction.

    They saw those opportunities and took that step back. There’s still some of those kinds of steps going on where they’re seeing other opportunities around this Power Platform to bring more things into it. I think a lot of this is James Phillips.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 05:47                   Yeah. I was going to ask you.

    Steve Mordue:                05:49                   You know, there’s been a lot of leaders of the business applications over the years. When we came in, we went through two different regimes. I think when we arrived, Bob Stutz was in charge and then when he left, another person was in charge for a little while and then when he left, Phillips took over. Phillips has been I think the smartest of the guys that’s running this group, and also he’s been the best salesman by far.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 06:18                   Yep. I, I feel like when I hear him speak, James Phillips, he makes it feel like, okay, this all makes sense, right? It doesn’t feel as disjointed and it feels like they do have a vision. So I think that’s really important for partners and customers because as you noted, Dynamics 365, it’s been a little rocky and there been a lot of strategy changes. I feel like of all the parts on Microsoft’s that I write about, it’s been the hardest one to keep up with.

    Steve Mordue:                06:44                   Yeah. Tough one to keep your arms around. Well, I definitely think that we went from an era where lots of mistakes were made, to a new leader who I don’t think has made mistakes, but he’s doing a lot. He saw an opportunity here where, you know, Salesforce is still far and away, you know, the 800 pound gorilla.

    All the past efforts really hadn’t made a dent, but I think he kind of looked at it from you know, let’s stop chasing Salesforce and instead, let’s take the strengths that we have as Microsoft and just come up with the best thing we can come up with. And stop all this focus on all the competitors and what they’re doing. And I think that’s probably been the best move for the whole business applications group. Let’s focus on what we can do well and stop worrying about what everybody else does.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 07:36                   Right. You brought up Salesforce a few times, which makes sense given you are a former Salesforce partner because Salesforce is the biggest competitor to Dynamics 365. I’m curious, do you think it’s fair to say that the Power Platform is Microsoft’s answer to, which is salesforce developer platform, or is it something a little more nuanced and different?

    Steve Mordue:                08:00                   I think so. You know, if you stand back and kind of look at what has happened, you could certainly say, well in comparison to it looks like the Power Platform, a platform license, is a similar approach. But I don’t think anybody at Microsoft thought, “oh, we have to have an answer for”. I think it’s more about tying together some of those other pieces that they have. When you look at products like Flow for example, I mean there’s not even a complete story from Salesforce route flow.

    They don’t have anything that does anything like that yet it’s a key component of the Power Platform. So I think they really have just said, “forget about the competition “. They’re keeping an eye, obviously the sales teams keep an eye on what’s going on over there with competition, but, frankly, if you’re not gaining in a race change the race and I think that’s what they did.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 08:53                   Okay. Let’s, dig into the parts of the platform. We have a reader, Jessica Jolly, who in our forums goes by JBJ211O. She wants to know who is the natural audience for power apps, the development piece of the Power Platform. Given that it’s a no code low code solution, one would think that it would attract business users, but in fact the interface still feels a little intimidating. So is there a vision that they’ll be enough training out there to get business users to overcome their initial “shyness” ?

    Steve Mordue:                09:31                   So no code doesn’t mean your mom can do it.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 09:36                   Or your dad.

    Steve Mordue:                09:41                   There’s still some level of understanding of just some basic technology. But I mean, if you can create a Facebook page for your business or a linkedin page for your business or do some of those sorts of things that people do routinely now that they were a little intimidated the first time they. They could accomplish things with the platform.

    I think what the real key here is that that business user knows better than anyone what kind of problem they’re trying to solve. They also know and recognize when it’s been solved. And, this is a big advantage I think, is they can, they can get around the initial intimidation of, oh, this doesn’t look familiar. Well, neither does my new cell phone. But eventually I figured out how to use it, but much quicker than any developer they can come up with.

    Steve Mordue:                10:35                   Here’s what I need to solve my problem. And they can recognize when it’s being solved. And I think that’s a real key is putting that kind of power into the hands of business users. You know, to really not have to engage with a developer, which has been the historical way you solve problems, this is going to be huge.

    I think that there will be a lot of problems solved that never would have been solved because it never would have been able to justify the expense for you in a developer. I think that that’s going to be the real interesting thing to see grow is people being able to solve their own problems for the platform.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 11:12                   Yup. So Jessica is also asking, is it envisioned that Power Apps will replace existing processes and business or will it be deployed at least initially to solve problems that are not even on the it planning radar?

    Steve Mordue:                11:30                   Yeah. I think both. I mean, when you look at customers of all sizes, this is enterprise all the way down to small business. There’s still 80% of the workloads that are being done on spreadsheets.

    At any size business, there’s lots of stuff being done on spreadsheets and outlook. That is how they’re managing stuff and depending on what it is you’re trying to solve and what size company you’re at, you just might not be able to get the interest of IT to come in and help you solve that departmental problem or something like that. There’s a point with spreadsheets, no matter what you’re doing, where you just plainly outgrow them.

    The first time you start sharing a spreadsheet with more than two people, it starts getting a little unwieldy and you see companies all over the place

    Steve Mordue:                12:17                   that have gotten massive processes with lots of people working on them all while trying to share a spreadsheet. I think that’s where power apps can really initially come into an organization and solve some problems is when they get all these mishmosh of spreadsheets and get them on a platform that’s actually designed for managing this kind of activity. IT doesn’t have to get involved, but they still got the governance, which is what I think scares IT, departments for example, going off and solving their own problems.

    They just sign up for some cloud APP somewhere. Who knows what it’s doing, what’s happening to the data. This gives them the ability to kind of accomplish that same goal, but with a platform that has full, you know, IT governance capabilities. That’ll be the key is whether or not IT will be comfortable enough with a platform that they do have governance over to let their kind of users, run free a little bit and solve their own problems.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 13:15                   So I know you work for a Microsoft gold, I think it’s a gold certified partner. Do you think this is something customers could do without a partner or do you think at least at the beginning, people need a partner to even start pulling off a power app type project?

    Steve Mordue:                13:33                   You know, I think it’s like a swimming pool, right? I mean, certainly, in the shallow end of the pool, customers should be able to do their own builds quite a bit. I wrote a post while back about that first mile, you know that your customers can definitely get themselves a lot farther down the path without bringing a developer on and for many needs that could be completely solved without having to engage a partner or developer.

    What’ll happen is you’ll see and you see this today where somebody at a department identifies a need. They jump out here, build themselves a power app to solve that need and suddenly more people in the organization start using it. Then it becomes mission critical and people want you have more things.

    That’s a typical time they may want to bring in somebody who knows how to lock down security and do other things like that that they might need to do with it. But it kind of circled back to what I said earlier. I think we’re going to see lots of apps built that never would have been built otherwise because was it not for that person’s ability to go make something and get people using it. It never would have happened at all. So ultimately I think it’s going to lead to at some stage probably having to bring in a professional level of development to tidy that up, make it even more valuable.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 14:53                   Okay. That’s great. So you at the beginning of this chat mentioned CDS just in passing. So CDS for our listeners who don’t know is this thing Microsoft has called common data service. I know you wrote a post recently CDS explained for normal people, but could you explain on here in lay person’s terms what the heck is CDS? It’s kind of a, an unwieldy topic I feel like.

    Steve Mordue:                15:22                   Yeah, it is. It’s gotten a lot of attention I think. For the typical users out there, it’s one of those things that they can, they can pretty much ignore. It has allowed, the things that they’re using to be able to kind of natively talk to one another in a way that we’d never had before, in a way that other platforms have struggle with as well.

    Microsoft particularly on the business application side, at a legacy of a CRM application, ERP applications, lots of these different applications. Many of them they got through acquisition, so they were built on different platforms and they never really talked to one another. I think this whole idea of CDS, it’s funny because I think customers over the years probably assumed something like CDS was in play and that all of this data we’re working on with all this different stuff is all going into one place.

    Steve Mordue:                16:18                   But it never really was. It was going a lot to different places and then kind of being linked or pushed back and forth. So CDS really is this idea that there’s a database for everything. A single database that your customer engagement is working with your ERP system, is working with Outlook, is pushing information into Flows and pushing and pulling information from it.

    All this stuff’s happening in this common data service. I think while it doesn’t sound so revolutionary probably to customers, it’s actually a pretty revolutionary, not just for Microsoft but for the industry as a whole. This was actually one of those things where I think it was an opportunity.

    They started down a path with CDS on a different platform. During some meeting somewhere, somebody said, you know what, let’s take a step back and go with this other platform that is going to be much more amenable to a common data service infrastructure and that was the old XRM platform that ran under CRM. And you know, just another one of those links got tied together and everything really talks to CDS. It’s almost like inside of Microsoft if you’re building something at better talk CDS or stop building it.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 17:39                   Interesting. So you mentioned XRM and so I was going to ask you about what I think is XRM 2.0, which is the common data model. I believe. Not to get too deep in the alphabet soup here, but we have CDS and we have CDM, right?

    And CDM seems to still be around and it seems to also be the heart of what Microsoft announced at Ignite with relatively few details, the open data initiative, where they talked about Microsoft, Adobe and SAP all coming together and having this common data model that would let users have a single view of customer data and be in control of that customer data. I’m wondering if you can explain to me and the other listeners, CDM and its relationship to CDS and what it means to the Power Platform.

    Steve Mordue:                18:29                   Yeah, I think CDs is the bottom of the stack, right? That’s the database that everything ultimately sits in. A CDM is the data model that sits on top of that. And CDM is pretty amorphous. There are lots of different ways to approach the data model. Obviously, if you install something like Dynamics 365 Enterprise Sales, you get a common data model, installed on top of the CDS and includes all of those sales related entities. I kind of look at it as almost like an interpreter.

    What is a contact? What is the first name? What is this that the other sits in the CDM, but the actual value of that sits in the CDS. So a couple of different directions that Microsoft has gone with this, again, opportunistic is, built some accelerators which are essentially common data models that you can install on top of your CDS. This would do things like there’s a healthcare accelerator for example.

    Steve Mordue:                19:33                   that will automatically add all of the entities and attributes necessary around healthcare business. The open data initiative is kind of a further extension of that is. Everybody in business applications, all different business applications out there have a concept of an account, right? The companies that people do business with.

    But what one company might call an account address might be different than what a different, another company calls the account address. So the idea of open data initiative is really, let’s see if we can get, frankly, some pretty big players to all agree on what do we call that account’s address. And if they can get to that point where they’ve got consensus, almost like a standardized model of what these entities and attributes are across these different companies, that just makes things so much easier for everybody, that we eliminate a lot of mapping of data,

    Steve Mordue:                20:35                   over here, it’s called this over there, it’s called that. And instead, let’s all just agree to call it the same thing and we’ll use the same thing. And of course, they’re starting with a couple of their big important partners, with plans to try and expand that. There’s only a couple of different players out there that could even offer that kind of a data store that’s expandable like that.

    I think Microsoft is thinking, let’s become the standard. You know, that’s because I can imagine some of those meetings with SAP and Adobe and Microsoft all arguing over who’s going to call what, what, you know, but eventually they get consensus on that and that gets traction and then bringing other people on board. It will be a pretty easy process here. Just use this data model.

    Steve Mordue:                21:24                   it’s great for ISVs you know. I mean ISVs today have always, kind of created their own custom date to everything. You know what I mean? Every healthcare ISV out there has a stone, entity for a patient with its own attributes. And part of the idea of these accelerators is here, let’s just give you all those things. You can build your own logic, build your own solution. But you know, at the data model, there’s no value of data model. Just use this one and then you’ll be using the same one as everybody else.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 21:55                   It’s funny you bring up ISVs. That’s what I was just going to ask you about because some readers have asked me, okay, this is great. They’re thinking about how to make all these terms common and have a common actual database for all these entities. But what about Oracle? And what about Salesforce? You know, kind of two companies that are really key to a lot of these kinds of scenarios the customers might have, but will they ever be part of this? Will they ever agree to also buy into this common data model? I can’t see it, but what do you think?

    Steve Mordue:                22:27                   Yeah, I think it depends on where it goes, right? I mean, you can stand on the sidelines with your arms crossed and say, I’m not going to play until everybody else has played. And then you kind of have no choice. I don’t know that it’ll get there, but maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know that it’s a grand design of Microsoft to get that reward of those companies on here.

    I think right now they’re kind of head down and let’s prove the model now. They’ve got obviously a relationship with SAP and Adobe, to be able to work cooperatively to get there. If they get something that’s appealing, well then the thing that pulls companies is always customers. You get customers start saying, hey, we’re using Adobe and we were using this data model and we want you to conform to this cause it’s easier for us.

    Steve Mordue:                23:18                   And then they start pulling the other vendors over. You know, Microsoft has already got some, hey you could wait on Salesforce to come around and play. You could wait on Google to come around and play or you could just go out there and do it from your side. So we’ve already got in as part of the Power Platform. You know, there’s some 250 some odd connectors that Microsoft has published, many of which they built to get that started.

    Now they’re being taken over by the providers that allow, you, a citizen to be able to go in there and build a little app and say, you know what? I think I wanted to have some data from my Salesforce deployment in here. Maybe customer or account records or something like that. But I can use a connector in there where they can connect to their salesforce for instance, and pull that data into some power apps they’re building.

    So it’s kind of interesting, the Dynamics 365 products, the first party products have always competed with Salesforce. But the Power Platform, those dynamics products are one of many options. Obviously you can build a lot using those, but they really did open this thing up. I mean, I could build a complete power after day running on nothing to Salesforce data if I wanted to and I didn’t need salesforce to participate in that.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 24:41                   Yeah, that’s a good point. Very good point. For people who are listening and they’re thinking, okay, this all sounds kind of intriguing, but how do I even get started and why should I bother learning about the power platform? So I’m asking you a little bit about the how and the why for people who may not be typical, you know, dynamics customers or developers. Why do you think those kinds of people should care about this and how can they actually start getting their feet wet in the best way?

    Steve Mordue:                25:13                   You know, cause they don’t have any problems, so they are not going to care.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 25:16                   Is there anyone with no problems?

    Steve Mordue:                25:20                   The only people that go looking for solutions or people that have problems.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 25:23                   It’s true.

    Steve Mordue:                25:25                   Every business, every department, has some problem or some nuisance or some routine that they’re having to do every morning they got to go do this, this thing or some just annoyance. A lot of it just starts with that annoyance. And I think probably the easiest place for people to start with a Power Platform is probably Flow. Flow is similar to some other things out there like Zapier or If This, Then That. But it’s, it’s kind of baked into the Microsoft ecosystem. So if they’re Office 365 users, they’ve already got access.

    If they’re not, they can go sign up and get access. Flow is probably the simplest tool for people to get quick value out of because again, 250 different things I could connect, you know, one of those 250 things to another of those 250 things and start doing some stuff in an automated way. And that one, I think the easiest for people to understand and the quickest for them to get some value out of this Flow. That would be my recommendation folks would be to start with Flow.

    Mary Jo Foley:                 26:33                   Okay. That’s good. So Steve, thank you so much for coming on the chat today. That was really great helping to explain to our listeners and to me about Microsoft’s Power Platform. So we’ll be back again in a couple of weeks with our next guests.

    Make sure to watch for that. I will post who it is in the forums on and then once you see who it is, send in your questions in the MJFChat forum area. Also for this chat, look for an audio recording and the transcript of this and all of our chats on and in the forms. Thank you again very much, Steve. I enjoyed it to talk to you soon. Thank you.


    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
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