MJFChat: Power Platform: What’s the Latest?

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.
Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is focused on all the latest developments involving Microsoft’s Power Platform. There were a lot of big Power Platform announcements at Microsoft’s recent Fall 2021 Ignite conference. My special guest, Canviz Consulting Principal Solution Architect Christina Wheeler, takes us through what’s happening with Power Platform, and offers some real-world examples as part of this latest chat.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…


Mary Jo Foley (00:01):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.com’s MJFChat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s chat is going to be focused on all the latest regarding Microsoft’s Power Platform. And my special guest for this chat is Christina Wheeler, who is Principal Solution Architect at Canviz Consulting, and very knowledgeable about the Power Platform. Hi Christina, thank you so much for doing this chat today with me.

Christina Wheeler (00:43):
Thanks for having me, Mary Jo. I’m very excited, so great to be on with you.

Mary Jo Foley (00:48):
Great. So just like Teams, the Power Platform seems to be in constant motion. To me, it seems like there’s Power Platform news every week, and sometimes almost every day. At the most recent Ignite fall conference, there were a lot of Power Platform announcements, and I’m hoping Christina, that you’re going to be able to take us through a few of these and explain what they mean for the future of the platform. So let’s start with the new pay-as-you-go Power Apps per-app licensing, that’s now in preview. I had some people tell me during Ignite that they actually considered this the biggest news of the entire show. So I’m curious, do you think it was that big and why is this so significant if you do?

Christina Wheeler (01:33):
I actually do think it was big news and reason being is licensing has been one of the biggest challenges I see in the industry. From customers, to partners, to all of that because well, one, there was a recent price drop, which that to me, I think makes a difference. But the pay-as-you-go, people said, Christina, we don’t know what we need or what we want, or we don’t want to commit to this pricing, or I don’t understand the pricing. I think you also have a lot of organizations that are trying out the Power Platform and trying out Power Apps and not sure how it’s going to go with the users. And so I think this new pay-as-you-go model is a great way for organizations to kind of try things out.

Mary Jo Foley (02:20):
Right. Because is it true that before, if you wanted to try something out, you kind of had to make an upfront commitment to how much you were going to buy or license, right? And this kind of takes that out of the equation.

Christina Wheeler (02:32):

Mary Jo Foley (02:33):

Christina Wheeler (02:33):
And then the other thing I have seen, cause I mean, where this was big news is for people that are strong in Azure and said, Christina, I have all this other Azure pay-as-I-go stuff, how come I cannot do this with the Power Platform?

Mary Jo Foley (02:46):
Right. So it makes a lot of sense to people who already think that way and license that way. It just fits right in.

Christina Wheeler (02:52):
Yes. And I’ll tell you, licensing still makes my head hurt, but you know.

Mary Jo Foley (02:58):
It makes mine hurt too. And I get asked about Power Apps licensing a lot on Twitter and I’m like, you know, that’s above my pay grade. I really have no idea.

Christina Wheeler (03:07):
I just redirect them. I say, you know what, who’s your Microsoft account team or who’s the, you know, let’s try to find someone for you that actually can talk specifically to the licensing. I’m the solution architect I like to deliver.

Mary Jo Foley (03:21):

Christina Wheeler (03:21):
I don’t like to deal with the actual licensing.

Mary Jo Foley (03:26):
All right. Another announcement. Well, there were actually a bunch of announcements around integration between Power Apps and Teams, Power BI and Teams, and Power Apps and the Dynamics Platform at the show too. So of all of those various integration announcements, what would you say was the most interesting thing that you would like people to know about here?

Christina Wheeler (03:46):
Power Apps and Teams.

Mary Jo Foley (03:48):

Christina Wheeler (03:49):
I think Power Apps and Teams was the biggest. It’s the biggest announcement for, at least from everybody I’ve seen from my customer standpoint. And just for me in general, because let’s face it, so much is focused around Teams. I mean, when our world completely shifted, right, there were organizations that were moving to Teams, but not everybody knew what Teams was.

Mary Jo Foley (04:15):

Christina Wheeler (04:15):
And then what happened 2020, our entire world shut down and organizations who were not remote were forced to change the way of working and allowing, you know, everybody had to work from home. And so that kind of pushed, I think the user adoption for Teams, because people just kind of dove right in and you know, you had people using Zoom and other products, but that’s where everyone’s like, oh, wait a minute, what is this Teams? Okay, let’s try this within our organization. So now things are so Teams focused. And I think Power Apps and Teams is a big deal because you know, there’s so much adoption around the Power Platform now, that’s happening. But what Microsoft has done is they have an actual Power App for Teams now. So you can just build full blown Power Apps. That is, well, I know that’s actually using data vs. the backend, but it’s also all of this included in their existing licensing. So they can go and build these apps for specific business needs. There’s different templates in there, but it’s all focused around Teams and it’s all, there’s no licensing things you’re going to have to deal with there, cause it’s all going to be part of it included.

Mary Jo Foley (05:22):
So do you think people are looking at actually building Power Apps inside of Teams or using Power Apps inside of Teams or both?

Christina Wheeler (05:33):
Both, because the thing is, is you use the Power Apps tab for your Teams to embed your Canviz app as a tab app in Teams. And so that you have this complete integration right there, nobody’s going to have to go outside of Teams to be able to integrate in their app. So I think you’re going to see both from a maker standpoint, strong adoption of that. And from an end user standpoint, on actually using the apps.

Mary Jo Foley (05:58):
Okay, so besides those three things we already talked about Power BI, Dynamics,and Teams, are there any other Microsoft products or services where you think we could see more Power Platform integration in the coming year? And if so, which ones?

Christina Wheeler (06:15):
Well, what I’m seeing a lot of, I deal with a lot of customers and their data. And you’ve got customers, you’ve got just organizations in general that are so data-focused in all different platforms. From, you know, they could be using the Microsoft stack or they could be using, you know, Snowflake, or you know, Cosmos DB. All these different database platforms and what I think we’re going to see, because Power BI is still data centered, right?

Mary Jo Foley (06:42):

Christina Wheeler (06:42):
It’s still data focused. I can see more adoption or you know, more integration with other database platforms, eventually, I’m hoping.

Mary Jo Foley (06:55):
All right, let’s switch gears a little and talk about the evolution of AI Builder on Power Platform and Power Virtual Agents. I’ve been covering kind of how Microsoft’s been going at the bot market for a long time, Ifeel like. And I’m curious if you think we’re at a point now where with these kind of tools, people will actually be able to actually easily build their own bots or are there still a few missing pieces for that solution to take hold?

Christina Wheeler (07:25):
Well, this is a very good question and topic, and I’m excited about this one.

Mary Jo Foley (07:30):

Christina Wheeler (07:30):
So let me give you a little backstory. So for the past six months, I have been working a vendor role at Microsoft running the Power Automate RPA Partner Program.

Mary Jo Foley (07:39):

Christina Wheeler (07:39):
Now, before I got into this, I mean, you know, I know Power Virtual Agents, you know, and bots with Teams, and AI Builder and stuff, but I was new to RPA. And RPA for those that are listening, if you don’t know what RPA is, it’s robotic process automation. And so what Power Automate Desktop is, so with Power Automate, you can build cloud flows, well Power Automate Desktop, you could build desktop flows and this is where you can build a full blown bot. So for example, I’m working with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has these processes where somebody actually has to manually do stuff at a computer, very tedious processes.

Christina Wheeler (08:19):
So what we’re able to do and what I’ve been helping them do with the partner is they’re building these RPA processes, these bots, but it’s using Power Automate Desktop as a desktop recorder. So they can record these actions, of all this stuff. We have, you know, files coming in through an Outlook file. Then we’re actually having to take that and the bot will run and we have to extract data in because this data is coming the way it is, we actually have to run a macro against it. Yes, some people still use macros. So we have to run a macro against it. And so this bot actually the handles all that. So the macros extracts his data, gets it in the format it needs it. Then the bot pushes this data, the tab delimited files to a blob storage.

Christina Wheeler (09:07):
And then from the blob storage there, it gets picked up and the data gets imported into Snowflake. So this process that they had, where someone was having to do this manual is now being automated through a Power Automate Desktop. And so you know, there’s things behind it. You can have an unattended bot or you could have an attended bot. An unattended bot is where it’s just going to run on a scheduled time, or however, you know what the trigger is going to be for that. And then an attended bot is you know, where someone might go and run it, but it’s still automated. So what I’m seeing is, cause I used to, you know, I was working with bots and Teams and first when I was dealing with the bot framework, it was to me complex for non-tech or even for technical people who are trying to get into that, because there’s so many things you had to do manually.

Christina Wheeler (09:58):
And then Microsoft has just improved it and made it better and better. Well, then what I was seeing was adoption of bots with cognitive services and being able to build like your own knowledge what was it? The Q and A’s and all that stuff. So I was seeing how much easier it was for people to create a bot and they didn’t have to act like Power Virtual Agents. It’s now to the point where you don’t have to be this hardcore developer to be able to create a bot. So that’s where seeing this transformation, I think is phenomenal.

Mary Jo Foley (10:35):
I may be misremembering this, but isn’t part of RPA Desktop in Windows itself now? Like it comes with windows.

Christina Wheeler (10:45):
Yes. So it’s coming with all of Windows 11. So everybody can build desktop flows for free. They can use Power Automate Desktop, where the licensing comes into places is once you want to publish that to the cloud. So having this, where you want to have this be an unattended bot, where you want to push it to the cloud. Because when you go into Power Automate Desktop or Power Automate now into the service, you’re going to have the link for your cloud flows. You’ll also see a link for desktop flows. Now, if you want to edit your desktop flows, you still have to do it through the client Power Automate Desktop application. But it’s published to the cloud because what happens is then you build your automation there where you go and say, okay, now I’ve got my Power Automate Desktop. And so then you’re creating your cloud flow that’s going to execute or call that desktop flow.

Mary Jo Foley (11:35):
Okay. Got it.

Christina Wheeler (11:36):
But, as soon as you want to publish it, that’s where the licensing, but if you don’t want to publish it and you just want to run stuff, you can automate things within your family on your desktop.

Mary Jo Foley (11:47):
You can try this at home, in other words.

Christina Wheeler (11:49):
Yes. it’s pretty cool.

Mary Jo Foley (11:53):
I think that’s really interesting. And I think a lot of people didn’t quite grasp what it meant to have RPA in Windows. They’re like, yeah okay, I don’t know what that means, but that sounds interestin, I guess. So, yeah, it’s good to have an applied example or two of that and better understand how that works. So thank you for that. Power FX. Can you talk a little about that? And I’m curious if you think it’s a game changer or is it just kind of one of these, yeah, nice to have.

Christina Wheeler (12:24):
I think it’s a game changer. I actually posted on LinkedIn last night, Daniel Christensen did a phenomenal video on explaining the differences between declarative and imperative coding. And he applied it to Power Fx and taking it, like all his examples, it was phenomenal examples where he did non-technical examples to explain, okay, this is what it means. And he used the drive-thru as his example, and then explained it on the technical side and then showed the changes in Power Fx for Power Apps. Now I think Power Fx to me is a game changer because power as in the name, right, we’re empowering people and we’re powering people to be able to build solutions that don’t have to be a developer. And this is where I think it’s a game changer. And you know, because you got a lot of people, especially when I would teach, I would have a lot of people that they’re like, oh yeah, Christina, when I’m explaining to them how you know, formulas work and all that stuff.

Christina Wheeler (13:21):
I said, look, are you comfortable with Excel formulas? If you are, then you’ll be able to pick this up because Power Fx is Excel-like expressions. And so being able to take that and put it into other areas, I know that that’s been a big ask from a lot of the MVPs saying, Hey, this is awesome Power Fx. Can we use this elsewhere? So to me, I think it’s going to be a game changer because I think it’s just going to help people. You know, they’re going to be comfortable saying, Hey, okay, I’m comfortable with doing Power Fx. So now I can bring this across in whatever areas that Microsoft decides to bring it into.

Mary Jo Foley (13:56):
Right. I’ve asked people before, do you think I could use Power Platform tools? You know, me being a journalist with no technical background and build something and they always say to me, well, do you know how to use Excel formulas? I’m like, nope. They’re like, yeah, so maybe not.

Christina Wheeler (14:14):
Well, but I always use Brian Dang as an example. Cause for those that don’t know Brian Dang. Brian Dang, I love him dearly. He works for Microsoft now, but he originally was a teacher. I think he was a high school teacher. I can’t remember, sorry, Brian, if I got it wrong. But he was a teacher and he taught himself Power Apps to help empower his students in the classroom. And then Paul Culsmee, his daughter, she’s an MVP now. She was bored one day and Paul said, Hey, why don’t you play around with this? She taught herself Power Apps and now she teaches Power Apps.

Mary Jo Foley (14:50):
Oh, wow.

Christina Wheeler (14:50):
So seeing these examples, I think it just takes, you know, I’ve seen people who are, non-technical been able to pick it up, but it just takes sitting down. And one of the things that I always recommend to people, I tell them, I’ve said, there’s all these template apps in there that you can start from.

Christina Wheeler (15:08):
And I tell them, I say, you know what? Start with that, create one of the template apps. It’ll have everything built for you. And then start diving through the formulas, simple one, looking at the navigation, oh, let me learn how to change this. And that’s how I’ve seen people learn. That’s actually how, you know, that was a way that I would learn new stuff. I’m like, oh, I only need to do this. Let me look in this template app and see how it’s being done and then you continue to grow.

Mary Jo Foley (15:35):
Okay. That’s inspirational. Maybe one of these days, I really will try to see if I could do it.

Christina Wheeler (15:42):
I would be more than happy to jump on calls with you too,

Mary Jo Foley (15:46):
Oh, thanks.

Christina Wheeler (15:46):
And do screen shares and mentor you because I have a passion for this. So, that would be fun.

Mary Jo Foley (15:51):
Thank you so much, thanks.

Christina Wheeler (15:51):
You know what, I have a challenge for you, Mary Jo,

Mary Jo Foley (15:53):

Christina Wheeler (15:53):
You know, think about through your business processes and something that you could think of where you want to make the process a little better. And that’s what you and I can use an example and try to turn it into a Power App.

Mary Jo Foley (16:09):
I see, okay.

Christina Wheeler (16:10):

Mary Jo Foley (16:10):
Challenge thrown down and considered. There was also another announcement at Ignite, I wanted to ask you about. Power Apps Mobile Apps are now in preview for iOS and Android. I am curious if you think this will affect how and where Power Apps will be used? And if so, why?

Christina Wheeler (16:33):
Okay. This to me is a huge announcement because right now, before this announcement, when organizations create Power Apps, if they want to allow their users to run it on mobile devices, the user, they actually have to have the Power Apps mobile app installed. And sorry, my dog is growling at something. Hopefully you can’t hear him. What are you growling at? They have to have the Power Apps Mobile installed. They sign in with the organizational account and when they do, they’ll see their list of apps. Well, now what’ll happen is, can you hear him?

Mary Jo Foley (17:08):
I can now.

Christina Wheeler (17:11):
Okay, so now what will happen is because, you know, a lot of organizations won’t do it because they feel it’s too complex. Oh, we don’t want to have to have our users and cross train. We don’t even know how to do this. So to me, being able to just have an actual app, like you install from the app store. Now I’m an iOS, you know, I’m an Apple user now, but you know, you also have the Android. And I think you’re going to see a huge adoption of Power Apps mobile, because of just not for users, not having to actually run the actual Power Apps app. Does that make sense? Did that come out right?

Mary Jo Foley (17:50):

Christina Wheeler (17:50):
I think that’s been another ask because people are like, when I would teach like, Christina, can I just, I mean, why do I have to use this app to log in, to see my list of apps? Why can’t I just have this app as an icon, like all my other mobile apps.

Mary Jo Foley (18:03):
Exactly. Right. People wanted it to be an app the way they think of apps, right?

Christina Wheeler (18:07):
Yes, that’s exactly what they want. Now there’s another announcement that was made. And being able to have, let’s say you have multiple canvas apps and you want to be able to just have, instead of taking those and integrating them into a single app. Like say, okay, I have three Canviz apps, do I have to rebuild that, so that I have one canvas app? Microsoft’s going to provide the ability where you have your mobile app and you can have your primary Canviz app, which will be your hub. And then you can have your secondary apps tied to that. So you can still have those Canviz apps separated, but you can tie them together through the hub. I would kind of think of that similar, similarily. Can I say that word right? I kind of like the concept of having, you know, in SharePoint where you can have multiple site collections, you can have your hub and then you can have your sites connected to the hub. It’s a similar concept to me, or at least how I see it, is where you can have your hub app and then the other apps tied to it. But then it’s all going to be packaged together within that single mobile app when it’s published.

Mary Jo Foley (19:18):
Nice. Yeah. That sounds like it makes a lot of sense, especially on mobile, right? It kind of reminds me and it may not be a good comparison, but you know, Microsoft’s Office app for mobile, where it kind of has everything together in a single hub. I like that mode, especially on a mobile platform. I think that makes sense.

Christina Wheeler (19:37):
Yep, absolutely agree.

Mary Jo Foley (19:39):
Okay. Dataverse, one of my favorite topics because I was trying to keep up with the many name changes of this, as it evolved from CDS and beyond. And now we’re calling this Common Data Service, Dataverse in the Power Platform. I wonder if you could give the listeners kind of a high-level overview, what is Dataverse and why will this be important to Microsoft’s developer and customer strategies moving forward?

Christina Wheeler (20:09):
This is a very good question. So Dataverse will one, when I taught the class this. I taught this class last week, I pinged Ted Pattison, and he’s like, yeah, Christina, it hasn’t been updated for Dataverse yet. So when I was teaching it, because I came from the CDS world, but Dataverse for those of you that have never heard of CDS, then you don’t have to worry about this, but for those of you that were in CD, Dataverse is now the new name or the Common Data Service and what Datavese is, it’s basically your cloud-based storage space. And, you know, you have your cloud-based storage because let’s think about it this way. So you can have data in all these different areas, and then you can actually bring this data into Dataverse, so you have a single point of what would you say? So you have your single point of reference there. But what Dataverse allows you to do is the data backbone that allows you to store your data in a scalable and securable way.

Christina Wheeler (21:11):
And so there’s, you know, of course, a lot of people before they’re like, oh, when it was Common Data Service, they’re like Christina, I’m not going to do premium licensing. No, I don’t care about that. But now that Microsoft’s reduced their pricing and also having the pay-as-you-go model, I think we’re going to see, I now have, you know, people within organizations, reach out, and say, Christina, well, now that Microsoft changed their pricing structure, can you tell me more about Dataverse? Can you teach me more about that? So I think you’re going to see a much bigger adoption, with that. Now I will tell you there was a solution we did at Canviz for Microsoft EDU. We did it off the Power Platform and it’s a school transformation survey for educators or districts around the world to be able to install this in their tenant.

Christina Wheeler (22:05):
So they own their data, they own the app and all that stuff. So they can set this up to set up these surveys for their educators to get this better insight into things within, you know, the education system there and to help make improvements and stuff. Well, there was a challenge. And at the time when we built this, you know, the back end of that, this was before Dataverse came out. There’s been some challenges in this and the implementation or, oh, Christina, how come I can’t just have this as an app in Teams? Or can you just give me an app? Well, now that Dataverse has come out and now that you have that Power Apps in Teams, we’re actually revisiting this about rebuilding this as an actual Teams app to simplify it, have Dataverse as the back end. So that way there’s going to be this no complex setup structure that they had to do before. Because there was a lot of admin work in the current structure that they had to do. So now I think it’s going to be powerful because we can say, okay, here’s your app. It’s using Dataverse, here you go. Just install the app and you’re good to go.

Mary Jo Foley (23:08):
Got it. I keep thinking, this is just me being crazy, but I keep thinking, Dataverse is going to become like, Metaverse right? Like it’s going to become this concept where everybody starts talking about it and everybody wants to have a Dataverse, right? And I’m like, it kind of makes sense because of the power of that platform and just how it is yet another way of integrating things, I feel like.

Christina Wheeler (23:32):
Yes, it is absolutely. See right now you either, well, the challenge people had before is like, if you wanted, you know, Hey Christina, we have SQL, oh, guess what? That changed their premium connector. Oh, Christina, well, okay, let’s use SharePoint as the backend. Oh, we have to create a SharePoint site. Okay. Let’s use Excel. Well we have to have Excel hosted somewhere. Right? So I think that all these different, I think Dataverse helps remove some of these challenges.

Mary Jo Foley (23:58):
Interesting. Okay. Well we are out of time, but I just wanted to say thank you for doing the Ignite recap for us and sharing a lot of other great Power Platform information. I think this is a really hot topic right now and I feel like almost everything at Microsoft is going to end up touching the Power Platform in some way. So thanks and I really appreciate your time.

Christina Wheeler (24:21):
Thanks, Mary Jo, I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m looking forward to you and I, I’m looking forward to mentoring you on Power Apps.

Mary Jo Foley (24:27):
Uh-oh, I’m on the hook now, thanks.

Christina Wheeler (24:34):
Thank you.

Mary Jo Foley (24:34):
For everyone who’s listening to this right now or reading the transcript of this chat. I’ll be posting soon about about who my next guest is going to be. And once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter using the hashtag M J F chat. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.