Wave Hello to the 2024 Power Platform Release Wave

Another year, another release wave! This year I once again dive into what I think are the most interesting features. Reading these features will give us some insights on where the product team is investing in. Obviously the bigger and most game changing features will be reserved for a larger stage, nonetheless we can find some cool stuff coming our way!

Now I have to be honest, I am getting less excited about the release waves. Thinking of why I am less excited, I have 2 thoughts that might cause this. One is good and for the other the jury is still out. The good thing is that the Power Platform is moving towards a continuous improvement model. I also highlighted this last release wave. Lot’s of features are rolling out that are silently added to the release plan website. In fact my first highlight is that the monthly channel is coming to general availability in April 2024. Nice thing about this, is that you can set overwrite this on an App by App basis as well!

Shows the App settings where the release channel can be set per individual Power App
Monthly Channel Selectable per App

The second reason is that development of all the various Copilots. They kinda suck the oxygen out of the room. The investment made into building, refactoring and improving these features leaves less money for other product features. Frankly, some of these first iterations of these Copilots are lackluster. I do think they will eventually be really helpful, but sometimes I imagine a world where investments are made into further convergence of Canvas and Model Apps. I do hope it’s not my age turning away my passion from the product 😉

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Top 9 Waves to catch this Power Platform Release Wave

It’s that time of the year again, the second release wave of the year. We again get insights in the direction the product teams are taking in their continuous improvement efforts. In this post I will highlight a couple that caught my eye. I will tell you why and hopefully this is useful for your own digestion of all news coming your way!

Before we start I want to speculate if this is one of the last Release Waves as we know it. Recently Microsoft announced they will move to a monthly update cadence for Model-Driven Apps. This will move the product towards a modern cloud application with faster updates. Hopefully though, Microsoft keeps us informed of the direction they are taking with their various products.

In essence the Release wave already is on a monthly cadence as all Release Wave features are already released scattered throughout the year. However, for all you applications managers out there, it now is time to change your processes to a more iteratively approach. Especially if you can utilize the user level overrides to let your key users test and experiment before you roll out to entire teams!

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Thoughts about the Power Platform news from Microsoft Build 2023

It’s Microsoft Build time again and this year is special. We are seeing AI and co-pilot take the center stage. And unlike the the previous hype of the metaverse, this one feels different. It’s different because of 2 reasons. One, Microsoft together with OpenAI is a frontrunner in the field. And two, there are an incredible amount of applications for Large Language Models to make our life easier. In this blogpost I will give my thoughts about Power Platform announcements I’m most excited about.

But before we actually start off with the Power Platform announcements, I urge you all to look at our friends from the Data Platform side. Microsoft just released Fabric in preview. In every organization data and analytics is decoupled. Microsft Fabric brings together the best of Microsoft Power BI, Azure Synapse, and Azure Data Factory into one unified platform. Satya Nadella called this “The biggest data product announcement since SQL Server.”, making this an area to keep your eye on! On top of that there’s an incredible powerful Copilot coming to Power BI. This will help you both gain insights by asking questions on top of your report, but you can also describe the insights you need.

Copilots everywhere

Speaking of Copilots, let’s jump right into talking about this. A part of me is still overwhelmed, but slowly I’m grounded (pun intended) in what this trend means currently. First of all, having the Copilots available to you, does not mean you will not have to learn how to build apps or automation. It will only help you on your way. See the Copilots as a way to be more efficient in making the stuff that you want. Keep challenging yourself to change / improve the way you work to get the most out of these productivity tools. And I say keep challenging yourself as these tools will improve over time. What does not work great now, might work later and be a real timesaver!

Shows a snapshot of a slide from the low-code keynote at Microsoft Build showing "... And Low Code has a Copilot". AI as a real-time collaborator, that generates content, sparks creativity, automates cognitive tasks and creates user experiences.
Low code has a Copilot

For example I normally build my Power Automate Cloud Flows iteratively. Thinking about what I want while building a couple of blocks at a time. The current Cloud Flow Copilot is great when you describe in detail what you make upfront. It has incredible productivity benefits if you use it. However it was hard for me to adjust to this way of working. Luckily now we get a Copilot inside the Cloud Flow designer to help me be more productive when I work iteratively.

Secondly I think Copilots and AI are a great way to learn. To me it feels they can step into that void between using a template or tutorial and calling an expert. When I was learning I always felt I was disturbing my colleague with my dumb questions, even though I knew I wasn’t! I think getting a preposition of what you want to do from Copilot can help getting you unstuck and on your way! However, I am a bit reserved with the Power Apps Copilot. It needs quite a few iterations before it gets to that intermediate level of capabilities and learning. Singular table data models are not the reason why you will move to Dataverse. But things might move faster then I imagine, I’m hoping to be proved wrong!

Power FX Dataverse Plugins?

Something that might have gone under your radar is the Dataverse Accelerator. It is a new tool developer by the Power Customer Advisory Team. Now what that tools means to do is not really clear to me yet. I just stumbled upon it because I really want to learn more about the feature Custom plugins in Dataverse using Power Fx I saw in the Microsoft Build Book of News.

Shows a step inside the process of building Power FX Plugins using the Dataverse Accelerator
Dataverse Accelerator – Power FX Plugin

It’s experimental and you can play around with it by installing the Dataverse Accelerator in your environment. I have not played with it yet, but the possibility to take your low-code skills and write logic on the table level is exciting.

What is even more interesting is the experimental direction Microsoft takes. By creating Accelerators, Starting Kits, Creator Kits and Collaboration Controls it allows the Product Team to experiment what works. Working closely together with customers and the community it generates learnings to eventually bringing these features back in to the actual platform. Examples of these are the Modern Controls, Pipelines and Admin features.

Bot Building will never be the same

We HAVE to talk about Power Virtual Agents. First the new authoring experience is now general available. Over the last year so many new features have gone into this authoring experience, it has fulfilled the promise of combining PVA with Bot Framework composer. It is now safe to use in your production environments and you can create bots in other languages.

Then we go towards generative answers. With it’s first preview release I point it to my own website. Which already is a great way to add content quickly to your bot. But now we can point it to multiple sources. And those sources may include your own private content on SharePoint, OneDrive, Dataverse or your own custom content. Such a powerful way to add data. I’m not sure if I will ever build a FAQ agent ever again.

Shows a snapshot from the low-code keynote at Microsoft Build showing Charles Lamanna talking about his most favorite feature announcement. Bot Building will never be the same.
Bot Building will never be the same – Charles Lamanna

Generative Actions in Power Virtual Agents?!

Now to top it all off Microsoft showed what they are working on with Generative Actions. By adding Plugins to your Agent the Bot will decide for itself what action to use. Plugins can be out of the box Connectors, APIs and even your own cloud flows. PVA will look through it’s libraries of Plugins to answer the users question. It will even ask follow up questions if it needs more information to complete!

After you’ve added these plugins you can test how it performs inside the Test Canvas. It will show you which plugins it picked in a “Tracing Mode”. There you can also see what information is still required for a certain action to complete. It absolutely looks like a killer feature. And it is not some future vision of the product, it actually is already available in a private preview!

Shows a snapshot from the low-code keynote at Microsoft Build showing Charles Lamanna talking about his most favorite feature announcement. Power Virtual Agents Generative Actions
Generative Actions

It looks incredible powerful, but I have some small concerns. For example will we be able to set priority on those plugins? Which plugin will take precedent over what? Will we be able to decide how answers will be presented? Multiple cards in the same response might not have the best user experience. Also the generative answers makes the bot less recognizable. When working with customers they often want their bot to stick to a certain tone.

Come to think of it, how great would it be if we can use the generative action capabilities to generate the topics with it’s node for us? If out of telemetry a certain line of questioning is often asked we could quickly add a topic based on the tracing mode of the answer and tweak it to our liking!

Copilot summary

If I had the Windows Copilot available already, it would help me summarize this blogpost about Microsoft Build. But it would also be weird to have a Copilot AI summarize a text about AI. I think there might be some AI fatigue in the community. But the conviction, commitment and adaptation from Microsoft to this latest “hype” feels like there is more merit behind it. I for one am intrigued where all these AI developments will take us. Some of it may proof troublesome, but hopefully we can utilize it for the greater good.

Use Template Tasks to separate data from logic

In today’s data-driven world, it’s becoming increasingly important to separate data from logic when building applications. This separation not only helps keep your code organized and maintainable but also makes it easier to manage and work with your data. In this blog post, we’ll explore how to use Template Tasks to separate data from logic and make your applications more efficient and easier to manage.

I will do this by expanding my previous blogpost where we generate Tasks using a Custom Page. In that blogpost I show how to generate Tasks to help the user in their work. However for simplicity it did not contain a Description, or even all fields. Thus the Power FX logic looks pretty clean. If we want to keep it clean we can separate the data by using Template Tasks. By storing the data in Dataverse and using template tasks to generate tasks based on logic inside the Custom Page, you can create a more scalable and flexible workflow.

Shows the Power FX code before we add all fields. It's relatively clean and readable.
Relatively clean Power FX
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Release wave time for the Power Platform again!

The first release wave of features for the upcoming year are available for us to look at! Always fun to digest what’s coming. And as always, it’s important to note that these plans are subject to change. Consider them as a general guide for what’s to come. Please remember that this is an evolution of the platform, not a revolution. Microsoft typically saves major announcements and game-changing features for their big events, so don’t expect any earth-shattering developments in this wave. Nevertheless, there are still some exciting updates upcoming that are worth taking a closer look at.

Now the first important announcement is about the planner itself. The Release Planner tool is now General Available and I encourage you to use it! Create your personal list of features you are exciting for and easily see what has changed since your last visit. Or you can create one to share with your team to keep track on new features you need in your solution. This is also an excellent example of dogfooding as it is build on top of Power Pages!

Shows an image of the Release Planner. This is now General Available to view all the planned feature releases.
Release Planner

I can categorize my highlight list in 4 topics; Improvements to the UI, Maker productivity, Application Lifecycle Management and Power Pages. And if you read more, I will address them as such in this blogpost!

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Create a Custom Page Dialog to generate Tasks

Sometimes you have a step in a process which is so complex you want to guide the user. You can guide the user by giving him steps of Tasks to do. But what Tasks do you present to your user? What if those steps of Tasks depends on variables that require human interpretation? We can create a Custom Page Dialog to Guide the user what Tasks to generate! That concept is exactly what I want to show you in this blogpost.

We will extend a process I have written extensively about. The Case of the Broken Screen. In one of the steps we sometimes have to coordinate repair work. And sometimes we have to coordinate sending replacement parts. All the while by personally informing the customer. To manage this we we will be using the Tasks set-up from this Blog post on our Case table. This allows us to relate Tasks to the case we are working on.

But what Tasks to work on? Let’s open the Generate Tasks Custom Page Dialog to create them!

Shows an animated gif of a Model-Driven App. The App shows a Case record with the Tasks tab selected. It opens the Custom Page Dialog - Task Generator and selects a few items. Corresponding Tasks are generated and related to the Case.
Dialog to Generate Tasks
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Notify a Task is complete inside your Model-Driven App

When assigning critical Tasks to different users or teams, you probably want to know when they have finished them! You probably also do not want a mobile push notification disturbing you in your work. Luckily Model-Driven Apps provide a way to notify users! In this post I show you how to accomplish this using Power Automate and the In-App Notification center of Model-Driven Apps.

The In-App Notification center, when enabled, lets users see and manage all their notifications. This can be all sorts of notification, all of which you can create! You do this using either JavaScript, C# or Power Automate by creating a record in the Notifications table. The columns in this table allow you to declare for example the title of the notification, the owner who is going to receive the notification and the IconType which shows along with the notification.

But what I find really cool, is that you can create a richer card for your notification. You do so by combining the body and data column of the notification table. In the body you can use some Markdown to style your message. In the data column we can add json to add actions in the notifications. Actions allow you to add navigation urls to for example a form in your app. Building these is a breeze with the In-App Notification Builder in the XrmToolBox.

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Complete a Dataverse Task by an Adaptive Card in Teams

In my previous blogpost we created tasks in Dataverse which we can interact with using the Model-Driven App. However, sometimes the user we assign a task to does not log in to our application as often as we would like. So, we need to bring them to attention a task is waiting for them. An excellent way to do this is by automatically sending them a chat message and posting an Adaptive Card! In this post I will go through the steps to set this up.

This will not be a crash course on all the ins and outs of every detail of Adaptive Cards. But more of an inspiration style post to get you started with your Adaptive Cards. I will however, show you how to set up the Cloud Flow to post this card to Teams. Including the ability to process a response from that Card.

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Set up Tasks for your Model-Driven Power App

In this blogpost I will start with the basics of “Task based work”. A task system that consists of a framework to add and coordinate tasks from a Model-Driven Power App. It is not very complex to begin with, but I will add more complex functionality to it as we go. This functionality heavily depends on the integration scenario we want to implement. In this post I have summed up a few possibilities.

Scenario

A quick reminder of what we are working on. The big theme of my blog currently is the “Case of the broken screen”. A lot of my blogpost are about this business problem. A loyal customer has dropped their new and expensive phone and his screen is cracked. It is up to us to resolve this incident to satisfactory of the customer. It’s time to send out a replacement screen!

The caveat though, is a different department handles shipping. Sending a handwritten note or an e-mail to that department might get the job done, but it will not create tangible data to work with. So now we want to set out tasks to the logistic department who are not using our application. We also want to be able to track those tasks, make sure they get done and keep our customer informed of the status. Eventually you would want automation in place to be notified at the right time.

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Utilizing the AAD User table in an Approval Flow

You might have seen the new AAD User table appear in your environment. This table is available to us for a couple of months now. And you might wonder what it is and how you can use it. In this blog I will explain you what it is and how you can use this table to your benefit.

The AAD User table lists all users in your Azure Active Directory. It does not show AAD Groups. Did you know that the data of this table does not reside in your dataverse storage? It is actually a Virtual Table! Virtual Tables are tables that do not reside inside Dataverse, but instead reference a table from a different storage mechanism. It is incredibly powerful as it does not require you to copy data from another system. You can find if a table is virtual by looking at the type column of the table overview. So why is this interesting and what can you do with it?

Shows the Power Apps solution explorer where the table overview is highlighted. In it we highlight the AAD User as this is of the type Virtual.
AAD User Virtual Table
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