Jun 22, 2022
The war for tech talent is well and truly engaged, with South African organisations competing for scarce skills resources against companies around the world.
The brain drain is nothing new and South Africa continues to lose skilled workers to international destinations but now, post-pandemic, workplace trends have added a new wrinkle.
Karin Jones, Director of Business Applications at Microsoft and Business Group Lead for Power Platform at Microsoft SA, explains that the new models of remote and hybrid working mean that skilled developers can now work for international organisations without ever leaving the comfort of their local homes.
This is happening against a background of rapid digital transformation with new and innovative applications needed to drive the ever-changing digital business.
South African companies find themselves caught in a spiral of scarce tech resources, coupled with the need to produce more apps quickly – and they are falling further and further behind the curve, says Jones.
Karin Jones, Director of Business Applications at Microsoft and Business Group Lead for Power Platform at Microsoft SA.
The answer, she believes, is to employ a new way of developing business apps where the business owner takes control of the full development cycle.
Microsoft’s Power Platform is a low-code/no-code solution that lets the business owner design their own apps, build and test them, and bring them into production without having to involve scarce IT resources.
“Traditionally, any technology that allows you to build an application requires you to understand some kind of coding language,” Jones explains. “And, by default, this excludes most of us.
“Most business users don’t know how to code, but they know what they want their apps to look like. With Power Platform if you are able to understand the business process and requirement, you are then able to build out the solution.”
Although business users don’t need to have coding skills they will need to understand the logic of what they are trying to achieve, Jones adds. “They must be able to understand their business problem from a technology point of view, then take what they imagine and drag-and-drop it in Power App.”
Using low-code/no-code tools, business users with a superficial knowledge of application logic will be able to solve a large part of their own app requirements.
These easy-to-use app builders are not confined to just citizen developers, though, Jones stresses. Even professional developers enjoy the pro-code tools in Power Platform because they remove a lot of the basic coding and repetitive tasks that normally slow progress.
“We don’t want to exclude experienced developers from the Power Platform ecosystem,” she explains. “While the citizen developer can use the tools to build basic business apps, the professional developer can use them to do so much more.”
Some of the additional value that professional developers can add include personalisation and intelligence, says Adnan Theba, Business Application Specialist at Microsoft SA. “The ability to add artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and sophisticated automation into these business apps makes them very powerful.”
Power Platform’s drag-and-drop tools make it easier for professional coders to quickly and easily add these advanced features. “AI means developers can not only quickly build new apps, but they can make them do things that just weren’t possible before.”
Jones adds that giving professional developers these tools frees them from dull and repetitive work, and lets them expand their creativity. “We are advocates of innovation, and now developers can shed a lot of the boring legacy work and play more in the innovation space.”
One of the major inhibitors of low-code/no-code solutions is the issue of integration with enterprise applications, usually critical for business operation.
Theba explains that Power Platform includes integration to most popular business applications as standard.
“We include pre-packaged connectors or APIs (application programming interfaces) to over 400 applications, including both Microsoft and non-Microsoft systems.”
Where an API isn’t included as standard, Power Platform makes it possible for users to create their own.
The platform supports applications on the cloud and on-premise, and will integrate even to older, legacy systems.
“So we are not dictating what the back-office system is or where it sits; with integration to it either standard out the box, or users can configure it themselves.”
Who can benefit from modern apps?
In a digital world, most organisations can benefit from the judicious use of modern, low-code/no-code apps – and  especially in situations where the IT department is battling to keep up with the demand from business users.
Rather than putting these apps on the back burner, or outsourcing development, they could let business users create their own, says Theba.
“For many organisations, it is taboo to outsource innovation, which is often tied directly to the balance sheet,” he explains. “It’s the secret sauce by which an organisation operates and it’s usually linked to a process.
“In these instances, innovation is directly linked to the ability for business users to create apps using tools like Power Platform.”
Another instance where it makes sense to builds apps with Power Platform is where there isn’t currently an app in existence, or it’s not worth buying one that is available, Theba says.
“Another candidate is where there is an app inside the business but it needs some lifting, or doesn’t completely fit current needs – where the user wants to add a bit of lipstick to an old app.”
Power Platform can also be called into play where the business doesn’t actually want an app at all. “One of the mistakes we sometimes make is assuming that there has to be an app involved,” says Theba. “But a lot of customers don’t want an app, they want to automate a process.”
What every use case has in common, Theba adds, is that it must be possible to measure the business impact that the Power Platform solution makes in terms of time, accuracy, cost-savings or improved service.
More about Power Platform
Microsoft Power Platform is a group of products to develop and build complex business solutions, analyse, and draw data visualisations, automate a business process, or build virtual agents for communication. All these products offer a platform in which no code is required to build the applications.
The Microsoft Power Platform is more than the sum of its parts. Connecting them together – and to Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Azure, and hundreds of other apps – allows anyone to build end-to-end business solutions.
·         Power BI – Make informed, confident business decisions by putting data-driven insights into everyone’s hands.
·         Power Apps – Turn ideas into organisational solutions by enabling everyone to build custom apps that solve business challenges.
·         Power Automate – Boost business productivity to get more done by giving everyone the ability to automate organisational processes.
·         Power Virtual Agents – Easily build chatbots to engage conversationally with your customers and employees – no coding required.
Power Platform and the channel
Power Platform is available on subscription or on volume licensing agreement from accredited Microsoft channel partners.
“We work with a wide range of partners of all sizes, from the biggest consultancies to two-man systems integrators and including a great contingent of equal opportunity partners,” says Jones. “We are intent on growing a vibrant Power Platform community.”
Partners can develop their own apps and offer them on the Microsoft Marketplace so they can sell their IP (intellectual property) across the global Microsoft ecosystem.
They have access to apps and templates developed by the Power Platform Engineering Group which they can deploy as is or modify for their own customers’ use.
“There is also an established process and set of tools to help customers and partners build their own Centres of Excellence”, says Jones, “while training and workshops drive ongoing capability and enablement.”
For more information on Power Platform, click here
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