Today, June 10th, at Microsoft Business Application Summit 2019 the release plan for the next wave of Dynamics 365 and Power Platform features was announced. It’s of course no surprise that this main event of the year for #MSBizApps would be used as the forum for showing what’s coming next. What kind of did surprise myself was that we actually are already at a point when the focus starts to move to the upcoming release, formerly known as October 2019 release. Wasn’t April 2019 just a few weeks ago? Where did all the time go? And when exactly were we supposed to have taught ourselves all about the current release features, let alone deploy them to real life customers?
If I had to guess what people working professionally with MS Business Applications would list as their biggest challenge, I bet keeping up the product updates would be on the number one spot – if only for the simple reason that it’s a topic that touches everyone regardless of their role. The pace of change on the technology side isn’t going to slow down, but it’s the breadth of impact from these changes that has grown immensely. The biannual release cadence in itself isn’t anything new, since that’s how the cloud service has been updated from already the Dynamics CRM 2011 days. It’s just that we’re no longer operating within that familiar CRM box, thanks to what Dynamics 365 and Power Platform have become. So, the release waves hit the shore on their steady cadence, but instead of a fun little beach break wave to surf on it may start to look like a tsunami that you should run away from. It’s not, and you shouldn’t, but this can be a very natural reaction when presented with a 350 page release plan document to plough through.
Lucky for us, this time there’s also a streamlined version of this document, focusing solely on the Power Platform side. If you’re a #PowerAddict like me then this is probably the more exciting part to start from. So, we’ll leave all the first party app goodies for later and have a look at where & how the platform is heading to.
Microsoft has now changed their official terminology on how they speak about these releases for Business Applications products. Instead of the earlier names like October 2018 Release, April 2019 Release, we’re now going to get release waves. Yes, still 2 times a year, so what we’ve now seen a peek of is 2019 Release Wave 2. Nothing actually changed about the process itself, but since the updates covered in these releases are not meant to be delivered on a single date (or one specific month), the terminology is now much better aligned with the reality. 2019 Release Wave 2 will be hitting the shores from October 2019 to March 2020.
The other tweak in terminology is that now instead of Release Notes we’re getting a Release Plan from the product teams. This is also a much more natural way to describe the intent of the documentation that goes with a release wave. It’s not the exact description of what has been shipped, like you would have seen on a piece of software distributed on a DVD. Rather it’s a near term roadmap of what will be built and delivered, if everything goes as planned. Instead of a static document the Release Plan (and actually the current Release Notes, too) is a living publication reflecting the current status. Have a look at the change history for the current April 2019 release to get an idea of how much things have moved around since V1 of the Release Notes.
Finally, there’s an added piece of information for each of the items in the Release Plan, referring to the Early Access availability. This will indicate weather the feature will be available to try already on August 2nd. You can read about the latest release schedule and early access policy from this documentation page.
AI Comes to Power Platform
The biggest new announcement from 2019 Release Wave 2 is the arrival of the AI Builder. No, PowerApps didn’t become self-aware just yet, but it is nevertheless a major milestone to see the AI capabilities earlier provided via Azure Cognitive Services to now find their way into the citizen developer world of Power Platform tools. While the data scientists and pro-devs out there probably won’t be resorting to AI Builder in their own projects, the total addressable market for Microsoft’s AI services has now grown significantly thanks to these entry level AI features available in the PowerApps maker portal.
Is this something that all the PowerApps makes will immediately jump into using then? Probably not at first, since the use cases for machine learning technologies always rely on having a suitable data set to work on. Whereas with a Canvas app you can just start building the features, logic, data model and UI of an application before you’ve got the actual data to be used in it, in AI Builder you’re gonna need to start from the data. It’s going to be hard to fake this thing for a quick technology demo unless it’s tightly linked with a real life business scenario.
Reaching the people who do have the data and understand its structure and meaning is where a product like AI Builder can undoubtedly lower the barrier for starting to experiment with AI. Just like the earlier PowerApps tools helped people become app makers without any formal training on the subject, why couldn’t something similar happen on the machine learning side, too? As a nice added bonus, coupling the AI Builder configuration and model data with CDS is will help in promoting it as the default storage place for structured business data.
Features like Form Processing where you can train the machine to understand the contents of documents following a common template (like invoices) offer a way to further digitalize processes that can’t yet jump to 100% structured data interchange via modern APIs. You may not be able to force all your business partners or customers to jump into using the tools and data formats that would be most convenient for your internal processes, but could significantly reduce the need for manual data entry by taking a service like PowerApps AI Builder into use.[Read more…]