Microsoft Power Platform and low code / no code development: getting the most out of Fusion Teams
Microsoft is starting to define a development philosophy for its Power Platform and provide the tools to back it up.
Microsoft’s Power Platform brings together its low code / no code tools as part of a business application framework. Applications can be created by anyone, from business users to professional developers, blending the skills of those who need them with those who create and maintain them.
In many companies, Power Platform has become an important tool, not only for creating custom interfaces for business applications, but also for automating robotic processes. And with Power Automate’s desktop tools bundled in Windows 11, flows are going to be part of everyone’s day-to-day computing.
We recently saw the Power Platform find a new role as a rapid response tool for application development, bringing together cross-organizational teams to build and maintain applications that fill sudden gaps in service capabilities, by particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach has enabled UK health services to rapidly develop and deploy vaccine reservation systems, using the Power platform as a glue to link disparate systems together, enveloping them in a set of new business processes. .
Join the Fusion team
Microsoft calls these interdisciplinary and inter-organizational teams “merger teams”. It’s a name that makes sense, drawing on a mix of skills to get results quickly. By bringing together different roles to complete a specific project, companies can leverage all of these skills to fill application gaps and add automation to complex workflows, thereby simplifying tasks.
Traditional enterprise developers understand the various services that power a business, from its networks to its APIs. Meanwhile, business analysts understand how to use data from these systems to deliver deep insights into the business, working with data scientists to build and share machine learning systems that leverage that data. On the desktop, users working as citizen developers know what information they need to do their jobs most efficiently and how to use it.
If you go back to traditional definitions of the software development lifecycle, you won’t be surprised to see all of its aspects here. What Fusion Teams does is kick off the process of formalizing non-traditional app development techniques – keeping the best about them, while ensuring that the code they produce is secure and well managed. This does not mean that there is more bureaucracy or that development is slower; the process remains user-driven and is always fast. Only now, Power Platform applications are not at risk of overloading internal systems or leaking information, and they can outlive a developer leaving the company.
Tools for teams
One aspect of the Fusion Teams approach is new tools for professional developers and IT pros, including integration with Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code. At the heart of this side of the Teams development model is the new PowerFX language, which builds on the formula language of Excel and merges into an SQL-like query language. PowerFX allows you to export both Power Apps designs and formulas as code, ready to use in existing code repositories, so IT teams can manage Power Platform user interfaces with their line of business applications.
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Microsoft has released a new Power Platform command-line tool, which can be used from the Windows terminal or terminals on its development platforms. The Power Platform CLI can be used to package out-of-the-box applications, as well as to extract code for testing. One of the benefits of this approach is that a user building their own app in Power Apps can pass it on to a database developer to help them design queries. The code can be edited, for example, in Visual Studio Code, before rendering with a ready-to-use query.
Fusion teams are not about forcing everyone to use a set of tools with the lowest common denominator; it’s about creating and sharing code in the tools you use the most. Integrating Power Platform with familiar development tools makes a lot of sense here, and although currently only Power Apps are supported, it’s easy to imagine some form of workflow description language for Power Automate that will allow developers to write and modify streams and configure connectors directly. After all, there are already tools that can publish new APIs to Azure API Management as soon as you create them.
Management of Power Platform development as a team
If you want to embrace these methods and tools, you will need to think about how to manage your new applications and how they work with business systems and your data. Effective management of the Power Platform requires the implementation of a broad set of role-based access controls (RBAC) in your organization. It’s an approach that includes everything from controlling data access to implementing API management tools to ensure that services and services are not accessed incorrectly.
A forthcoming update to the Power Platform admin center consolidates RBAC controls in one place, allowing admins to focus on managing user permissions and setting appropriate roles without having to switch between management interfaces . Having all of these tools in one pane reduces the risk of losing something, preventing users from working or giving them too much access to sensitive information.
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The new tools work with Power Platform’s own Dataverse data platform, and integrate with Azure Active Directory to provide controls for Azure, Microsoft 365, and any other platform managed by AAD. At the heart of this approach are user identities, with AD providing robust identity management. If you’re using Power Platform and Microsoft 365, you’re probably already using AAD, so this shouldn’t be a significant change in administration tasks.
This makes implicit the need for a specific group of Power Platform administrators within your operations team. What started as a way for users to build small apps to scratch the itch, automating their own workflows, has grown into a tool used in all organizations with apps that have become business critical. It is not surprising that it now requires its own administrators; a tool that has been proven to run vaccination programs during the COVID pandemic is much more than a kit of parts used for temporary applets.