The last couple of years brought new challenges to companies of all sizes as they adapted first to Covid-19 lockdowns and now to a post-pandemic environment that looks very different to what it did in the early months of 2020.
March 2020 saw companies around the world scrambling to move their workforces on to remote platforms, an exercise that was accomplished quite quickly and efficiently considering the circumstances.
Two years later, and the new model of hybrid working has become the norm, bringing with it a host of new challenges, says Karin Jones, Director of Business Applications at Microsoft and Business Group Lead for Power Platform at Microsoft SA.
“Post-pandemic, we are seeing that hybrid working is here to stay,” she says. “So organisations have to look at how they redirect worker productivity and re-engage with their customers. The important thing is to ensure that they continue to grow their businesses with as much as 40% or 50% of their staff working remotely.”
By now, it’s an accepted truth that those companies that had implemented digital transformation pre-pandemic were in a better position to weather the storm – and it’s becoming apparent that digitally transformed organisations are going to be more successful in the post-pandemic environment too.
“Many companies were already on their digital transformation journeys and Covid-19 helped to accelerate them, driving new workforce models and expectations,” Jones explains. “Now, the new generation of workers entering the workforce has different expectations of their digital environment and workplace. For instance, they are accustomed to using devices and applications as part of their normal lives. This new expectation has changed how organisations think about delivering applications.”
Customers also have new expectations, Jones adds, and today an online experience is often their first and main connection with a company.
“These trends all contribute to how businesses should be thinking about how they transform their traditional business systems,” Jones explains.
While business have been experiencing these rapid and often fundamental changes over the last couple of years, many have been struggling to survive in a tough economic environment at the same time.
“The ongoing economic challenges worldwide – and in South Africa – are making it a lot harder and more complex to do business which is further heightening the need for digital transformation,” Jones says. “Business leaders know they need to do a significant amount of work to enable process automation so they can be more competitive, more efficient, and grow their businesses post-pandemic.”
One positive that can be taken away from our lived experience over the last two-and-a-half years is that nothing is impossible, Jones points out. “We managed to come though the pandemic, but we can’t rest on our laurels and think the world is going back to the way it was. We need to build on the momentum and leverage technology so we can thrive going forward.”
Adnan Theba, Business Application Specialist at Microsoft SA, believes one of the lasting legacies from the pandemic will be a new way of thinking about how we spend our time – and a move to take life more seriously.
“In the business world, this is translating into thinking about how much time we spend on building applications versus how much time we spend articulating the problem, and in the ideation process.
“Right now there is a gap: we spend a lot of time building when we often don’t even know if it’s the best solution.”
What’s inhibiting innovation?
While companies around the world strive for new and innovative business solutions, this goal is proving elusive for many.
“Organisations know they should be innovative and agile,” Jones says. “But one of the big challenges they face is limited technology talent at the same time as their need for applications rises.
“South Africa is arguably worse off than the rest of the world with the country losing tech skills to international employers at a rate never seen before.
“The net result is that the need to innovate is growing much faster than IT’s ability to deliver solutions,” Jones explains.
In addition, the traditional application development process is time-consuming, often cumbersome, and costly.
“Security and compliance is another risk that companies have to be aware of,” says Jones, citing the increase in cyberattacks experienced as well as the need to comply with legislation like the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA).
“Organisations need to be aware of these risks and how to respond to them. Along with security and governance, new apps mush also adhere to the standards and policies of the organisation.”
A new way of developing business apps
This new and challenging business environment is driving a need for new tools that help organisations to be agile and innovative, while securing data and remaining compliant.
Microsoft’s Power Platform has been developed with all of these challenges in mind, Theba says. “The platform allows business users the time and space to get involved in their app development and to properly articulate their needs.
“The idea with Power Platform is to build fast and fail fast. It lets you iteratively put something in front of the people responsible for defining the problem so it can be constantly improved.”
Theba believes that many of the traditional development tools and processes were discriminatory, with business owners not involved in the build process. Which is why so many apps end up as not fit for purpose.
“The view now is that we need a more inclusive development world with the people behind the ideas involved in the build process.”
Jones adds: “Indeed, who better to build an app than the business owner themselves.”
She is quick to add that Power Platform in no way takes away from the professional developer’s role, but rather bridges a gap that is very prevalent in organisations today.
“We want to enable the business owner, who understands the process being solved for, to build it themselves. This will free up the professional developers to focus on bigger things.”
The platform allows users to quickly run through the lifecycle of develop, test, and production. “At the end of the day, it empowers business users, enabling them to quickly solve a business problem.”
Theba explains that Power Platform enables the addition of intelligence into business-driven apps. “This opens up new opportunities for people to apply their creativity and push the boundary of what they thought their apps could achieve. Now, they are not just digitising processes, but doing it intelligently.”
More about Power Platform
Microsoft Power Platform is a group of products to develop and build complex business solutions, analyse, and draw data visualisations, automate a business process, or build virtual agents for communication. All these products offer a platform in which no code is required to build the applications.
The Microsoft Power Platform is more than the sum of its parts. Connecting them together – and to Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Azure, and hundreds of other apps – allows anyone to build end-to-end business solutions.
· Power BI – Make informed, confident business decisions by putting data-driven insights into everyone’s hands.
· Power Apps – Turn ideas into organisational solutions by enabling everyone to build custom apps that solve business challenges.
· Power Automate – Boost business productivity to get more done by giving everyone the ability to automate organisational processes.
· Power Virtual Agents – Easily build chatbots to engage conversationally with your customers and employees—no coding required.
Power Platform and the channel
Power Platform is available on subscription or on volume licensing agreement from accredited Microsoft channel partners.
“We work with a wide range of partners of all sizes, from the biggest consultancies to two-man systems integrators and including a great contingent of equal opportunity partners,” says Jones. “We are intent on growing a vibrant Power Platform community.”
Partners can develop their own apps and offer them on the Microsoft Marketplace so they can sell their IP (intellectual property) across the global Microsoft ecosystem.
They have access to apps and templates developed by the Power Platform Engineering Group which they can deploy as is or modify for their own customers’ use.
“There is also an established process and set of tools to help customers and partners build their own Centres of Excellence”, says Jones, “while training and workshops drive ongoing capability and enablement.”
For more information on Power Platform, click here