What's next for Power Apps: Microsoft VP Ryan Cunningham on skilling, governance, collaboration, and competition

December 13 2022

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Ryan Cunningham

Microsoft vice president for Power Apps Ryan Cunningham spoke at Directions EMEA 2022 about a vision for the future in which business solutions call on a mix of enterprise applications like Dynamics 365 Business Central and custom apps built with Power Platform. The Power Apps user base is now bigger than the Dynamics applications user base, he reminded them, and that rapid growth  is creating interesting new options in a world still constrained by a limited supply of ERP and CRM specialist developers and a healthy demand for investment in modernizing 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 the demand for developers (like through the virtual learning program Power Up) and reaching more students before they enter the workforce (like through Power Platform University Hub). He also talks about the challenge of supporting Dynamics 365 applications while also continuing to build out a platform the serves a much broader audience of customers of all sizes.

The Power Apps team is also thinking carefully about the needs of enterprise prospects, he says. Cunningham makes the case for organizations investing in Power Platform as a means to standardize development across an organization's IT projects. And he explains why Microsoft believes continued improvement to enterprise governance tools remains so important for winning with Power Platform.

(The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

MSDW: Can you tell us about your sphere of responsibility today, how far it reaches and how it has evolved?

Ryan Cunningham: My day job is the vice president for Power Apps. That means I run the product and engineering teams in our product group for the Power Apps team. The Power Apps team is both our standalone, flagship low-code app offering and the layer that most Dynamics applications use for their user experience layer. So our team supports a huge chunk of the Dynamics 365 customer base today with what they do in user experiences. And then we also have built a market leading practice out of that set of capabilities for standalone low-code app development as well.

In terms of the growth of Power Apps, what is the latest data that you are sharing publicly today?

There's always what we say to the street, what we can and can't say publicly. CEO Satya Nadella shared in our Q3 FY 22 earnings call that Power Platform is now the most used low-code application platform. And actually that's corroborated by Gartner. And to be specific about it, we shared at the Power Platform Conference a few months ago, there are now 7.4 million monthly active makers building things on Power Platform, developing things on Power Platform. That's across Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI. But that's a sizable chunk of all software engineering happening on the planet today and growing a lot faster than people getting computer science degrees.

The other thing that Satya shared in that earnings call was that Power Platform is now greater than a $2 billion business for Microsoft and growing about 72% year over year. So those things are existing in the public record and safe to say, but I'll say those trends continue on all of those fronts. We're just continuing to see a pretty significant response to low-code and particularly in the app development process automation space. There's just so much demand out there right now, particularly given the economic climate, that a lot of customers find themselves in this mantra of needing to do more with less, needing to rethink a lot of processes, not having nearly as many traditional software development resources as they need to be able to do that. Low code is really serving a lot of those gaps.

Low code has become quite mature inside the Microsoft sphere. There are also a lot of competitors in the space, some mature, some startups. So how do you navigate within that environment from a product management perspective?

Yeah, I think low-code is a really exciting space right now. It's also not new, it's been around for a long time and I think we have a really specific sort of perspective on how the market is evolving right now. We think about it in terms of three distinct waves, and we feel like we're in the transition to the third generation of code. So if 1.0 was sort of the nineties, the era of Excel and Access and Lotus Notes, things that were very end user-based, sort of designed for a world in which the cloud did not exist. Things happened on desktop machines, under a desk, and we were lucky if they were network connected. Those things were very powerful and useful for end users, but at some level kind of fundamentally impossible to govern or extend with professional code or interact with each other.

And so that kind of gave way to the 2.0 era, which is largely what we've been living in for the last decade or more: huge proliferation of vendors, many of whom are effectively point solutions to different parts of the problem. There are dozens of companies out there today just doing low-code RPA and nothing else, dozens of companies just doing low-code, BI, nothing else. Lots of vendors are growing up around a CRM or ERP or IT service management kind of backbone and trying to build a more general purpose, low-code platform from those bases. And I think all that is great. Microsoft is a platform company. Many of those companies operate on Azure. So as a shareholder, it's awesome to see the innovation. But I think from a company perspective, it actually creates challenges in fragmentation. A lot of what we're focused on, moving to that third generation, is the network effect of a broad horizontal platform. And I think that's actually in many ways mirroring what we've seen in the public cloud market in general in the last decade, which has shifted from very narrowly focused, fragmented vendors into a few broad horizontal platforms. There are great network effects from serving a lot of different needs under one roof. And that's really how we are focused with Power Platform. And that takes a couple dimensions, that is sort of a breadth of who participates being able to scale from truly a citizen developer or somebody with Excel skills all the way up to traditional professional developers. That is the breadth of what they build really having under one roof apps, automation, virtual agents, public facing websites, business intelligence, all of the above. But it's also sort of breadth of what they connect to. You know, for us, a lot of those other vendors are connectors. I think just today actually, we announced crossing 900 connectors out of the box in Power Platform. So our mentality is not really one of trying to compete with every other business software system in the world. It's actually, 'Hey, customers already have all this stuff. Let's do a much better job connecting it together and giving them a layer on top of all of that.'

To more directly answer your question from a competitive perspective, a lot of what we're focused on is not one other point solution vendor. It's [focused on] how we actually help customers with this gap between all of their other software providers, which often falls down to human interaction at some level. There's just a lot of opportunity to go modernize there, and that's really what's driving the momentum of Power Platform.

In terms of different types of customers that Microsoft is targeting with Power Platform, enterprise obviously seems like a strength. How do you define segments of the market where you think Microsoft is particularly strong today?

About Jason Gumpert

As the editor of MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason oversees all editorial content on the site and at our events, as well as providing site management and strategy. He can be reached at jgumpert@msdynamicsworld.com.

Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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