Ryan Cunningham, Microsoft’s vice president for Power Apps, spoke up Directions EMEA 2022 about a vision for the future where business solutions leverage a mix of enterprise applications like Dynamics 365 Business Central and custom apps built with Power Platform. The Power Apps user base is now larger than the Dynamics applications user base, he reminded them, and that rapid growth is creating interesting new options in a world still beset by a limited supply of specialist ERP and CRM developers and healthy demand after investment is limited modernization of business solutions.
In a new interview with MSDW, Cunningham discusses some of the Power Apps team’s recent accomplishments and current goals, including the platform’s role in filling gaps in developer demand (such as through the Power Up virtual learning program) and reaching more students , before they enter the workforce (e.g. via Power Platform University Hub). He also talks about the challenge of supporting Dynamics 365 applications while building a platform that serves a much broader audience of customers of all sizes.
The Power Apps team is also thinking carefully about the needs of corporate prospects, he says. Cunningham advocates for organizations investing in Power Platform to standardize development across an organization’s IT projects. And he explains why Microsoft believes that the continuous improvement of enterprise governance tools remains so important to be successful with Power Platform.
(The interview has been edited slightly for clarity and length.)
MSDW: Can you tell us something about your area of responsibility today, how far it goes and how it has developed?
In terms of Power Apps growth, what is the latest data you are sharing publicly today?
There is always what we say to the street, what we can and cannot say publicly. CEO Satya Nadella shared in our Q3 FY 22 Earnings Call that Power Platform is now the most widely used low-code application platform. And indeed, this is confirmed by Gartner. And to be precise, we shared at the Power Platform Conference a few months ago that there are now 7.4 million monthly active makers building things and developing things on Power Platform. This applies to Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI. But that’s a sizeable chunk of all the software development that’s happening on the planet today, and it’s growing at a much faster pace than people getting a computer science degree.
The other thing Satya shared on that conference call was that Power Platform is now more than a $2 billion deal for Microsoft and growing about 72% year over year. So these things exist in the public domain and it’s safe to say, but I will say these trends continue on all these fronts. We continue to see quite a significant response to low-code, and particularly in the area of automating app development processes. The demand is so great right now, especially given the economic climate, that many customers find themselves caught in this mantra of needing to do more with less, having to rethink many processes, and not having nearly as much traditional software development resources as they are capable of doing have to be. Low-code really fills a lot of these gaps.
Low-code is quite mature in the Microsoft sphere. There are also many competitors in the industry, some mature, some startups. So how do you navigate this environment from a product management perspective?
Yes, I think low-code is a really exciting area right now. It’s not new either, it’s been around for a long time and I think we have a really specific view of how the market is evolving right now. We’re looking at it in terms of three different waves, and we feel like we’re transitioning to the third generation of code. So if 1.0 was something like the ’90s, the era of Excel and Access and Lotus Notes, things that were very end-user based, so to speak, for a world where the cloud didn’t exist. Things happened on desktops, under a desk, and we were lucky when they were connected to the network. These things were very powerful and useful for end users, but at some level basically impossible to control or extend or interact with with professional code.
And so that kind of gave way to the 2.0 era that we’ve essentially been living in for the past decade or more: a massive proliferation of vendors, many of whom effectively offer solutions to different parts of the problem. There are dozens of companies today doing low-code RPA and nothing else, dozens of companies doing low-code, BI and nothing else. Many vendors grow up around some sort of CRM, ERP, or IT service management backbone and try to build a more general low-code platform on top of that. And I think that’s all great. Microsoft is a platform company. Many of these companies operate on Azure. So as a shareholder, it’s great to see the innovation. But I think from a business perspective it actually creates challenges in fragmentation. A lot of what we’re focusing on as we move into this third generation is the network effect of a broad horizontal platform. And I think in many ways that reflects what we’ve seen in the public cloud market in general over the last decade, which has shifted from very narrowly focused, fragmented providers to a few broad horizontal platforms. There are great network effects when many different needs are served under one roof. And that’s exactly what we’re focusing on at Power Platform. And that takes a couple of dimensions, that’s kind of a range of participants being able to scale from a real citizen developer or someone with Excel skills to traditional professional developers. That’s the breadth of what they really build as they have apps, automation, virtual agents, public facing websites, business intelligence and all of the above under one roof. But it’s also a kind of breadth of what they connect with. You know, for us, a lot of these other vendors are connectors. I think we just announced today to cross 900 connectors in Power Platform. So our mentality isn’t really one of trying to compete with every other business software system in the world. Actually it says: “Hey, the customers already have all the stuff. Let’s make it much better to tie it together and give them a layer on top of all that.
To answer your question more directly from a competitive perspective, a lot of what we focus on isn’t another point solution provider. It is [focused on] how we actually help customers with that gap between all their other software vendors that often stems from human interaction at some level. There’s just a lot of opportunity to modernize there, and that’s really what drives Power Platform’s dynamism.
In terms of the different types of customers Microsoft is targeting with Power Platform, Enterprise seems to be a strong point. How do you define market segments in which you think Microsoft is particularly strong today?