Microsoft releases new services and updates on a daily basis, but a few of the company’s latest tools and integrations speak to a common theme: taking formerly siloed business processes and making them accessible to all employees. Today’s enterprise organizations generate far too much business intelligence data for a single IT department to process, and as a result need more custom applications at a faster rate than an overloaded development team can handle. Through its new PowerApps development platform and a revamped Cortana integrated with Power BI, Microsoft is giving business users direct access to the app creation tools and analytics data necessary to avoid that bottleneck and handle more tasks themselves.
Productivity is one of Satya Nadella’s favorite buzzwords, particularly when talking about services like Office 365. The new Microsoft PowerApps platform tackles workflow acceleration with a more hands-on approach akin to making every employee in a business a power user.
Built on Microsoft Azure, PowerApps is a software-as-a-service offering giving business users a drag-and-drop interface to create their own Office-like apps on Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or through a Web interface. As an interesting boon for increased collaboration, PowerApps treats sharing for the user-created apps like Officedocument management. Users simply type in an email address and the app will pop up in a coworker’s PowerApps inbox.
The service also plays into the enterprise concept of a low-code productivity hub by hooking into cloud-based apps and data sources including Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Dropbox, and OneDrive, along with on-premises systems such as SharePoint, SQL Server, and both Oracle and SAP databases. Each PowerApp includesproject management tooling as well, including automated workflows, task management, and scheduling. PowerApps does integrate with Azure App Service and back-end application programming interfaces (APIs), allowing developers to create and share more complex apps, but the clear focus is on giving non-technical employees that tangible creation interface.
For those businesses running Windows 10, Microsoft is also opening up the business intelligence insights themselves, through the friendly voice of Cortana. The latest preview of the intelligent personal assistant is integrated with Microsoft Power BI, allowing users to search company data using natural language question and answer queries. Cortana then graphs the data using Power BI data visualizations.
Cortana with Power BI also includes a new feature called Quick Insights, which lets users upload raw data sets to Power BI, which will then iterate on the data using algorithms developed by Microsoft Research to pull correlations, outliers, trends, change points, and major factors within the data in 12-14 seconds. Enterprises dealing with overflowing streams of raw data, be it website monitoring stats or social media analytics need to first make sense of the data, and then figure out what it means for their business. A good way to do that is to give every employee in an enterprise the ability to search an entire data lake with a voice command and instantly generate visual reports.
Flying the Open-Source Banner
This open attitude—giving a wider range of stakeholders access to data and tools long kept proprietary—stems from Microsoft’s overarching open-source strategy over the past several years. In the last year or so in particular, the company moved all its major codebases off its old CodePlex repository and onto GitHub, and has since open-sourced more and more of its core software, including .NET.
Releases like PowerApps and Cortana with Power BI speak to a more open philosophy toward enterprise users, but Microsoft hasn’t stopped open-sourcing code and tools for developers, either. This week, Microsoft developers announced the release of some PowerShell test code on GitHub.
PowerShell is a longstanding task automation framework for DevOps teams. In a blog post, PowerShell senior software engineer James Truher said, “Our plan is to continue to migrate our current tests and release them in this Project, with the aim of having all of our tests available in the OSS community using OSS test frameworks. We believe that by releasing these tests, our community can better understand how we test, use these as models to better understand PowerShell, and participate with us as we release future versions.”
Original content was posted here: http://au.pcmag.com/productivity-products/40540/feature/new-microsoft-tools-give-business-users-more-hands