Understand Microsoft’s grand vision for building the next generation of apps
Over the past two years, Microsoft has introduced a host of new tools and technologies aimed at helping developers, including those at Microsoft, build “the next generation of apps.” Microsoft has something for every app maker, from non-professional “citizen” developers to expert and experienced developers. And executives believe these types of apps, many of them, are exactly what customers need today, especially in the age of hybrid working. But is there an overarching strategy that ties everything together?
We got a glimpse of what Microsoft was trying to do from this Microsoft marketing slide from a few years ago:
And here is the new version centered on Microsoft Cloud:
Microsoft has variously described a concept called “collaborative applications”. Collaborative apps, when Microsoft executives first used the term, seemed to be apps designed for use in Teams and acquired from the Teams app store.
Now, Microsoft executives are using “collaborative apps” in a much broader way: it can be apps in Teams or Teams components in your apps. But there is even more. Given Microsoft’s intention to more closely tie its Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 franchises, “collaborative apps” also apply to Dynamics 365. Collaborative apps can be apps in Dynamics or Dynamics components in your apps.
How are developers and users supposed to make sense of this evolving vision of collaborative applications? Before the kick-off of the first annual Microsoft Power Platform conference On September 20, I had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Teper, the new President of Collaborative Applications and Platforms, and Charles Lamanna, Vice President of Enterprise Applications and Platforms.
At today’s conference, Teper’s keynote is titled “Building Collaborative Apps with Microsoft 365 + Power Platform.” As the event kicked off, Microsoft announced a new Power Up Skills Program to help individuals enter the low-code space through a three-month guided program; Maps (built on the Adaptive Map Framework) for Power Apps; and co-authoring in Power Apps to simultaneously edit applications in real time using an Office-like experience. The new maps (coming “soon” in public preview) and the ability to co-create (coming next month in public preview) are yet more pieces of the collaborative app puzzle.
Collaborative applications: the lightning pitch
A collaborative application, in its simplest form, “is an application that helps people work together on a business process,” Teper said. A business process can be anything from submitting a timesheet to filling out a form (in addition to much more involved and advanced interactions).
It’s Power Platform, which is Microsoft’s collection of low-code tools that aim to turn business users into developers, is at the heart of the evolving vision for collaborative applications. (Microsoft officials position Power Platform as key to its Microsoft Cloud vision and strategy, too.)
“We’re not inventing our own development tool for Office or Microsoft 365. We’re betting on the Power Platform,” Teper said.
At the Microsoft Build conference earlier this year, officials announced the ability to create Loop components by updating adaptive cards. (Adaptive Cards are an open card interchange format allowing developers to exchange UI content in a common and consistent way.) Developers can transform adaptive cards into loop components or create new loop components based on adaptive maps. These loop components based on adaptive cards can be highlighted using Microsoft’s Context IQ editor and artificial intelligence features. Today, Microsoft announced that Power Apps developers can create maps using Power Apps Designer and even take advantage of Power Fx integration. Developers can use the designer to create polls, collections data, surveys and other types of more advanced applications.
“But it’s not just about Power Platform inside Office,” Lamanna noted. “There is also Office inside Power Platform.”
And that’s where today’s announcement of co-authoring in Power App Studio fits in. This capability uses the same underlying infrastructure that enables co-creation/co-presence inside things like Word and PowerPoint, he noted. And at Build earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled collaboration controls in Power Apps, which lets developers drag and drop Microsoft 365 collaboration features like Teams chats, meetings, files, and tasks in custom apps created with Power Apps.
Microsoft is experimenting with these new app-building models on its own, Lamanna said. Viva Sales, the first “role-based” Viva app designed to help salespeople capture data and integrate it with Teams Outlook chats, calls and emails, is a flagship example of a collaborative app, it said. -he declares.
“We track what we tell customers,” Teper added. “The model we would say is to use the data in Microsoft 365, to use Office as a bit of a shell, but to use Power Platform to build the business processes. That’s how we built Viva Sales.”
Lamanna says Microsoft has learned the best way to build an app inside something like Teams. And “copy-pasting a browser-based app as an iframe in Teams”, while possible, isn’t the best option. A more interesting thing happens “when you take some sort of large monolithic web application and deconstruct it into many small workflows and micro-applications for Adaptive Cards”. By putting apps together this way, “engagement goes through the roof because that’s how people are used to responding to messages and emails,” he said.
Since all Microsoft paths today lead to the Microsoft Cloud, no definition would be complete without some insight into how the Cloud platform fits into the collaborative apps strategy and vision. Microsoft’s claim is that by building on top of the full Microsoft stack, developers and customers will get the built-in security and governance capabilities that come with it.
Teper’s call to action: “Go build collaborative apps with Power Platform and where it makes sense, integrate with Microsoft 365Teams, Office, etc. And you’ll get better apps that are easier to manage, faster.” “