Key Power Platform Takeaways from Microsoft Ignite 2023

Caroline Mayou

Caroline Mayou

Introduction

Microsoft Ignite, a highly anticipated event for technology enthusiasts, recently took place, revealing a plethora of exciting updates and announcements. In this blog post, I delve into the top six highlights from the event and discuss their significance as it relates to Microsoft’s Power Platform.

The goal of this article is to condense the extensive amount of information presented at Microsoft ignite in order to centralize new features and provide the opportunity to readers to dig in as they please, on their own time.

10 Power Platform Extractions from Microsoft Ignite

During Microsoft Ignite 2023, several new and exciting features were unveiled for the Power Platform, promising to revolutionize how businesses tackle digital transformation. Topping the list was the introduction of advanced AI capabilities, bringing machine learning and predictive analytics to the fingertips of end-users, allowing them to create smarter, data-driven applications without the need for coding or deep technical expertise. Also noteworthy was the addition of a new Power Apps studio experience that simplifies app creation, making it more accessible to citizen developers. Moreover, enhancements to Power Automate included more dynamic flow control features, and the Power Virtual Agents saw improved natural language understanding. Lastly, for Power BI, Microsoft launched real-time analytics capabilities to better serve businesses in their decision-making process. These feature upgrades promise to extend the versatility, intelligence, and simplicity of Microsoft’s Power Platform, making it an even more powerful tool for digital innovation.

1. CoPilot in Microsoft Power Platform

Microsoft’s Power Platform introduced various co-pilot functionalities, such as Power Pages co-pilot, Power BI co-pilot, and Power automate co-pilot. These co-pilots utilize artificial intelligence to assist users in streamlining their actions, making tasks easier and more efficient for personas in both IT and LOB activities.

Power Pages CoPilot

The Power Pages co-pilot, facilitates copy editing through natural language, generating text, page layouts, images, and themes for low-code website solutions. It even allows users to describe the desired form, which creates the underlying data structure in Dataverse, along with data-driven form experience for collecting information.

Within the Power Pages framework, users can add a PVA (Power Virtual Agents) chatbot powered by generative AI. This features enables website owners to provide an interactive and cohesive experience by combining the power of generative AI with low-code development.

Power BI Advancements

The introduction of co-pilot functionality in Power BI represents a significant win for users who may have been hesitant to explore this powerful tool. Now, with the assistance of natural language descriptions, building Power BI reports becomes more accessible and user-friendly.

Power Automate Evolution

Power Automate also took a leap forward by embracing a new design philosophy that makes it more visually appealing and user-friendly. The new Cloud Studio designer offers an enhanced experience, empowering users to design and build workflows more effectively.

Generative AI Actions

Another noteworthy addition, is the inclusion of generative GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) actions for AI Builder. This integration brings a new layer of capabilities to Microsoft’s Power Platform, empowering users to leverage AI.

Microsoft Ignite showcased the integration of various Power Platform components and generative AI. The cohesive nature of these advancements provides users with an exceptional and compelling low-code development experience, fostering innovation and efficiency.

Incorporating CoPilot Control in Power Apps

The incorporation of co-pilot control into power apps allows users to handle larger data sets like Dataverse tables. By dropping a co-pilot control into any modern application, users can ask questions related to the app’s data, enhancing the app’s usefulness and versatility.

This extended co-pilot control allows power apps to respond to queries about multiple tables, enabling it to handle more comprehensive and varied data sources. This feature significantly improves the depth and richness of the conversational experience provided by the co-pilot chat.

2. Transforming Business Workflows with AI Builder and Power Virtual Agents

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning models are revolutionizing the way businesses function. Among these, generative AI models have emerged as the game-changers, acting as brand new designers for building business workflows. These models not only understand natural language to help build the desired process but also include generative actions within, enabling significant efficiency in workflow design.

One such tool that offers these AI capabilities is the AI Builder, in collaboration with Azure and OpenAI. This platform brings the advanced generative AI models to users, enabling them to leverage it within the workflows they build. The co-pilot-assisted design makes the platform even more user-friendly, allowing everyone to test and create business workflows with ease

The AI Builder has also expanded its reach by incorporating Power Virtual Agents (PVA), which brings AI-based chatbots into the mix. Unlike traditional chatbots that require explicit training for every topic and query, these AI-enhanced chatbots can build upon company data to create conversational experiences tailored to the business. This makes the creation and deployment of chatbots significantly faster and efficient, offering revolutionary opportunities to businesses.

Additionally, these AI chatbots don’t just answer basic queries, but they can delve deep into business data. By connecting to an API or a Power Platform connector, the chatbots can access vast enterprise data and generate the required skills to answer complex questions. This dramatically reduces the time to build a chatbot, while simultaneously improving its capabilities.

Enhancing Desktop Flows With Custom Actions

Power Automate desktop flows already provide a rich set of actions to facilitate business processes. However, with the introduction of a new SDK, developers can build their own custom actions. These custom actions can interact with frequently used homegrown apps, enhancing the reusability and productivity of developers using RPA solutions.

Managed Environments and Increased Productivity

The Power Platform has introduced new features to improve productivity, with managed environments being one of the main highlights. Managed environments now offer an enterprise-approved catalog of templates and components. This feature allows professional developers to publish artifacts such as apps, flows, and bots for their organizations, facilitating large-scale usage across an organization.

The aim of these new capabilities is to allow companies going big on the Power Platform to operate at scale across thousands of people building and using the platform. This feature reduces duplication within an enterprise and ensures that all built components are on-brand and consistent with the company’s identity.

All these features and advancements are part of the continuous push towards making AI and machine learning tools more accessible and efficient for businesses. These tools are not just enhancing the business processes but also redefining how businesses operate, leading to a new era of business workflows.

3. Transforming Excel Spreadsheets into Fully Working Apps with Power Apps

Microsoft has introduced a feature that allows users to transform their Excel spreadsheets into a full working app using PowerApps. It is an interactive and user-friendly way of creating a digital solution out of a simple spreadsheet. This innovation will change the way people view and use their spreadsheets.

With this feature, you can simply drag an Excel spreadsheet into the new PowerApps interface. Once dropped, the AI-powered copilot analyzes your data and suggests several ways you can build your app. All you need to do is press the ‘create app’ button and PowerApps will automatically create the Dataverse table for you, import all your data, and build a fully working responsive app.

This breakthrough will revolutionize how the first maker can build their app, eliminating the need for extensive coding and technical know-how. Now there are no more excuses for using Excel as a database. Importing Excel spreadsheets into a native data platform has become so easy.

Introducing Custom Dataverse Plugins in PowerApps

Microsoft is continuously enhancing the PowerApps platform, introducing features to improve and expand its capabilities. One such feature is the ability to create custom plugins in Dataverse.

Custom plugins in Dataverse allow for the delegation of business logic to the server instead of executing it all on the client side. This feature simplifies tasks by avoiding duplicative work. It allows for the creation of synchronous business logic. While Power Automate workflows are about automating a business process that runs asynchronously, custom plugins in Dataverse allow for synchronous operations.

The custom plugins in Dataverse today run on .NET code. However, Microsoft is now introducing Power Fx plugins. With Power Fx, you can now write custom logic in the Power Fx language, an Excel-like language. It simplifies the process of building custom synchronous logic on the Dataverse platform.

Exploring the Future of PowerApps

In addition to the powerful Power Fx language, Microsoft is planning to integrate the ability to make calls to connectors. Power Platform today has a thousand connectors, with the first one being able to call through a function is the “execute stored proc I think V2 action” on the SQL connector. It’s the first connector action to be enabled through this runtime, but in the fullness of time, it’s just the beginning of many more to come.

Microsoft PowerApps is continuously evolving, providing users with an ever-growing number of capabilities to transform their ideas into reality. The possibilities are only limited by the user’s imagination.

4. Introducing Dataverse Hyperscale Elastic Tables

A promising development in Microsoft’s PowerApps is the introduction of Dataverse Hyperscale Elastic Tables. This new feature addresses the issues of scalability and data size, accommodating databases with hundreds of millions of rows of data.

Traditionally, Dataverse can take your Excel file that may contain millions of rows, pull it into relational tables, and allow you to build applications on top of that data. However, the innovation of elastic tables offers more. Elastic tables aren’t just about data with millions of rows, they’re designed to unlock use cases that involve hundreds of millions of rows of data.

Consider a customer seeking to increase sales, with a vast amount of event information about what people are buying. This data could easily reach hundreds of millions of records, all pouring in from various web locations, in flexible schemas such as JSON. This is the exact scenario that elastic tables can handle.

These tables are designed to import, store, and analyze large volumes of non-relational data, differing from the relational data models traditionally used in Dataverse. They’re designed to deal with tens and hundreds of millions of records, with flexible schemas and a JSON column type. They also offer the capability to scale to these large volumes of records.

Another innovative feature of elastic tables is the idea of a TTL (time-to-live) for records, which allows for the automated removal of data after a set period. This is particularly useful for scenarios where high-scale, web-based telemetry forms part of your data model and business process.

The introduction of elastic tables represents Dataverse’s commitment to catering to different business processes, be it relational, virtualizing external data, or scaling elastically to very high volumes. This allows users to focus more on their business processes and logic, while the backend, including the performance, indexes, and other database-related complexities, is taken care of by the team at Microsoft.

This fully managed solution ensures that users don’t have to worry about the nitty-gritty details of running Azure SQL and Cosmos DB at a massive scale. The promise of Dataverse is to make activation easy, enabling users to build applications over their business data quickly and efficiently.

5. Microsoft Fabric: Bringing Data Into One Harmonious System

A noteworthy development announced at Microsoft Build is Microsoft Fabric. This innovative platform seeks to consolidate your data into one unified system or “fabric,” making it easier to leverage different Azure functionalities, Power BI, and more. Microsoft Fabric aims to make it easier for developers to work with their data without the stress of understanding the inner workings of the system.

The importance of operational reporting and analytics in enterprise applications and processes is something Microsoft Fabric addresses. These analytics are crucial for project managers, executives, and business process managers. Power Platform users already appreciate the value of these insights, and this is where Dataverse has offered first-class integrations with Power Query and Power BI. Now, Microsoft Fabric takes it a step further.

With Microsoft Fabric, organizations can make better decisions on their business data, which is usually highly valuable. Traditionally, powerful analytical tools like real-time analytics, data warehousing, and data science required an Azure subscription. Microsoft Fabric changes this by bringing a lake-centric SaaS solution, extending the benefits of the Power Platform and Power BI to these new types of analytical technologies. The platform is designed to make your business data more easily accessible, reducing the need for users to manage the infrastructure.

The fabric solution simplifies the process of building data insights and analytics for your business data. One of its aims is to make business data more discoverable and accessible, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for analytics and reporting. The recently announced Power BI Copilot, for example, allows users to quickly create and tailor reports, transform data, generate DAX, and explore their data with far less friction than before.

So, why should Power Platform users care about Microsoft Fabric? If you’re using Dataverse to model your application or business process, Microsoft Fabric offers an evolution of Azure Synapse Link. The new fabric system offers a shortcut to the data that maintains the privileges from Dataverse. This makes the data more readily available for building Power BI reports in a high-performance way through the ‘lake house’ architecture.

Additionally, Microsoft Fabric provides an import mode and a direct query mode for Power BI. While the direct query mode doesn’t require a data integration project, its performance is not as optimal. Conversely, import mode requires the data to be imported and transformed, which provides much better performance for your Power BI report. With Microsoft Fabric’s lake house approach, you get the best of both worlds: no need to copy and transform the data, but with the high performance of imported data.

Microsoft Fabric not only brings your Dataverse data into one place for analytics but also allows you to register your data sources and build views of your common data model that can be reused with Dataverse. This means you can create virtual tables through the SQL endpoint in the lake house to make apps and flows. This ability to bring the Power BI and Power Apps worlds closer together represents a significant advancement for those using Dataverse and the Power Platform.

6. Microsoft 365 Copilot: A New Era of Business Productivity

I am beyond thrilled about what we’re going to dive into today, the one announcement that has stirred up so much excitement for me, a development that feels like it’s just over the horizon. That is, the Microsoft 365 co-pilot for our entire organization.

This co-pilot, as magical as it may sound, is a large language model that sits over all our data. The innovative feature that truly amplifies my enthusiasm is the addition of connectors or plugins. They enable communication with the co-pilot in such a way that after performing a task, the co-pilot knows to record that into our power app. All this will be seamlessly connected. It sounds futuristic to just talk to a bot and not even having to use apps anymore, doesn’t it?

When we think of M365 co-pilot, it’s like having our very own AI chat-bot at work, right there within the M365 productivity services. It can answer questions and summarize all your data from office documents, emails, calendar, contacts, and chats. It’s an all-encompassing tool intertwined with your productivity fabric.

The exciting part we announced today was that it’s not limited to just your office data. If you’re leveraging Dynamics or building Power Platform solutions with your data in dataverse, M365 co-pilot can answer questions against that data as well. It’s more like we’re blurring the lines of how and where you interact with your business data. For users of your applications who are also using M365 apps, Teams, or Outlook, the data is ever closer to their fingertips, thereby increasing productivity.

One can ask questions about their day, interact and analyze the data, and even have it take action on your data. But the pinnacle of it all lies in its capability to take action. The M365 co-pilot can search over your knowledge base, which could include your business data, but there’s extensibility for it to take action as well. This was the part we talked about today – plugins for M365 co-pilot.

Microsoft is  introducing ways of adding customization to the M365 co-pilot experience. We’re offering Teams messages, chat GPT plugins, and Power Platform connectors. These allow you to plug in your custom connectors, workflows, and plugins. Coming soon to the Early Access program, you can ask the co-pilot to create a task, start an approval, or take any action contextually.

This development sparks excitement, especially for the low-code, no-code developers. With these plugins, you can connect to the co-pilot for Microsoft 365 and carry out tasks. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. With over a thousand Power Platform connectors today that in aggregate have over 5,000 to 6,000 individual actions, each of them will be relevant to the co-pilot.

In essence, Microsoft is lowering the bar for every information worker to improve their productivity using the same apps they already use as part of their day-to-day routine.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Microsoft’s 2023 Ignite event has presented us with an exhilarating glimpse into the future of the Power Platform. The introduction of these groundbreaking features is a testament to Microsoft’s commitment to driving digital transformation, making technology more accessible, and empowering organizations of all sizes. By introducing advanced AI capabilities, enhancing Power Automate’s flow control, simplifying app creation with a new Power Apps studio, and launching real-time analytics for Power BI, Microsoft continues to lead the way in democratizing technology. These enhancements are paving the way for businesses to harness the full potential of data and AI, boosting their efficiency, productivity, and decision-making capabilities. As we look forward to these enhancements becoming an integral part of our workflows, one thing is clear – Microsoft’s Power Platform is set to become an even more invaluable tool in the landscape of digital innovation.

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