Microsoft goes macro on low-code software vision

The code-first purists at Microsoft have worked to provide new layers of low-code software tooling to create a new way of building applications for our future needs - exactly how the worlds of high-code, low-code and perhaps also no-code all now fuse together or crack and break existing processes is a story still being played out.

In the next five years, 500 million more software applications (apps) will need to be created. That’s more than all the apps built by all developers in the last 40-years. Given the app mountain in front of us, estimates suggest that there is a global developer shortfall of some one million code-first professional software engineers.

This proposed point of software reality has been tabled by Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar in her position as advocacy lead for Microsoft Power Platform.

Sarkar has used the term ‘code-first’ for a reason. She proposes that the future of software development is an environment where the traditional code-first deep-in-the-weeds developer now has to share their space with low-code (and perhaps even no-code) developers, who use automated software development short-cuts.

Microsoft goes macro?

But this is Microsoft, the software development company, telling us that not all software development will be created by software developers, so isn’t that strange? Not really, the rise of low-code platforms has driven even the Microsofts of this world to accept the need for a certain amount of automation-based app creation.

As such, Microsoft Power Platform is the company’s low-code group of data democratization products with an emphasis on Business Intelligence (BI), virtual agent chatbots, automation and wider app creation tooling.

So what are Sarkar’s drivers for the low-code road ahead? In three words, it’s collaboration, automation and fusion.

From the Redmond HQ perspective, low-code software is going to become more integrated with collaboration tools and platforms, more integrated with all manner of software automation tooling… and, the result of these two forces is a new fusion between code-coders, low-coders and users themselves.

Nobody needs to be told that we’re all now well-used to online collaboration and communication platforms as a result of the upheavals of 2020 and Microsoft obviously has its own offering in the form of Teams. Sarkar notes that her company’s platform currently has some 115 million daily active users, so what has Microsoft learned from the way users interact with this kind of software tool?

“Something we are hearing more from customers is the need to be able to have data-driven insights on their business, a self-service way to have those insights available to them anytime they want... and being able to easily communicate the actions they could take on those insights,” wrote Sarkar, in a Microsoft blog.

Stripping away the corporate gloss for a moment, what Sarkar is saying is that users want new and changing data analytics functions, plus a means of dispatching and sharing low-code apps built to offer that functionality with other users.

In answer to this requirement, Microsoft Dataverse for Teams is a new product designed to act as a built-in, low-code data platform for Teams. It allows users to build and edit custom apps and workflows using Microsoft Power Platform and publish them for anyone in a Teams group to use without having to switch between apps.

This means that people with code or no-code experience can build apps from scratch, or use one of Microsoft’s pre-built templates as a starting point.

Extending the automation envelope

Automation is extending its envelope and being applied to (and in) more enterprise software. Although there are no prizes for making this statement, understanding that automation will now extend from low-code app development onwards throughout the full software development lifecycle to encompass tasks such as configuration chores, maintenance and updates is, arguably,  where the smart money is.

Thinking about this trend, Microsoft’s Sarkar says that her firm’s process advisor product and the company’s new Microsoft Power Automate Desktop Automation toolset will help organizations analyze their existing processes and move towards a more efficiently automated future.

So then to Microsoft’s position on fusion - not to be confused with ‘fusion’ a resource version allocation API (Application Programming Interface) used by code-first programmers (remember them?) for development.

“Fusion developer teams are a new industry concept. In short, these are teams (or virtual teams) of code-first developers, citizen developers (people creating low-code apps without a traditional developer background) and IT developers working together to solve business problems, said Sarkar.

The fusion team technology proposition here comes in various forms. Among the most popular ideas is a working group where the code-first developer writes backend APIs and connectors before realizing that they can help others in their company use these code channels in wider low-code creation environments.

Fusion functionality or fission fizzle?

As low-code automation inevitabilities inevitably come to pass, what matters next is very much related to Sarkar’s points on collaboration, fusion and coming-togetherness.

Code-first developers will have to get used to the presence of low-code software wannabees, who may yet prove themselves to be just as needy and troublesome as users, who developers know ask for the most ridiculous things on a daily and weekly basis.

Will the future of software be functionality fusion and all-round process-based excellence? Or will the immediate future be a fractured state of fission where enterprise software systems actually break due to too many cooks with too many spoons and seasoning systems all coming together in one pot?

It’s a tough one to predict, but by five years and 500 million applications later we should know.