Thoughts about the Power Platform news from Microsoft Build 2023

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.

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.

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