Power Platform becomes the new Visual Basic

Low-code development tools like Microsoft’s Power Platform are more than a way for users to build the apps they need when they need them. They’re a way to rapidly building code that’s needed urgently. You only have to look at the application my local general practitioner partnership, along with others in this part of London, have been using to manage appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Mixing Microsoft’s Bookings tool with a third-party SMS application, this appointment app uses a Power Automate flow to link APIs. Triggered by a database update as age restrictions are removed, the application texts registered patients a link to a booking form that quickly finds the next available appointments. It may be built from low-code components linking APIs, but it’s a professional application with multiple endpoints, including desktop tools, to help medical staff make follow-up calls and manage appointments directly.

More and more organizations are taking advantage of tools like these to build out cross-organizational teams that go beyond traditional development models, rethinking the software development life cycle. It’s important to note that this doesn’t require deskilling engineers or “dumbing down” tools. Instead, it’s a process of bridging development environments and providing a common framework where everyone can work to deliver the solutions that businesses desperately need.

Power Platform is for both developers and users

Microsoft has clearly been aware of this trend for some time now and has been working to provide appropriate extensions to its Power Platform that bring it into familiar development tools. There’s no point in breaking a Visual Studio-based workflow by adding graphical web-based tools when you can build new tools into Visual Studio that support those tools. Instead of clicking and editing, graphical elements are abstracted into language and management features of a CLI. This isn’t a lowest common denominator approach; everyone gets to use the tools they regularly use, in the way that they’re meant to be used, in the environment they’re intended to be used in.

At Build 2021 the Power Platform team focused on the developer and devops features of the platform, going beyond the familiar web-based UIs for both Power Apps and Power Automate and looking instead at the Power Fx language and integrations with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines and application life-cycle management through GitHub and Azure Devops. At the same time, the team also showed how Power Platform was taking advantage of the GPT-3 language model to generate Power FX code from English statements as well as using Microsoft Research’s own PROSE (PROgram Synthesis using Examples) for example-driven code generation.

Much of these developments are focused on those cross-organizational teams, which Microsoft is calling “fusion teams.” While machine learning technologies like GPT-3 simplify the initial process of writing code, delivering what business users want quickly, the resulting Power Fx code can be managed and edited using familiar development tools. You can think of the resulting workflow as a user-driven design process. Users use tools like GPT-3 and PROSE to build a first cut of an application and pass the results over to a development team to refine both code and the application layout before publishing the resulting app.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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