Microsoft’s Charles Lamanna Low-Code/No-Code Power Platform
Despite the fact that enterprise technology is still trying to figure out exactly where it stands, Charles Lamanna is all about low-code software development. “I think there’s probably no more perfect manifestation of Microsoft’s mission statement to ‘enable everyone and every organization in the world to do more’ than low code,” he said. he declared.
Lamanna, whose career at Microsoft has been marked by a rapid rise to the upper ranks of management, began her journey with the company in 2009 by helping Microsoft move one of its most famous products – Office – to the cloud with Office 365. But an itch to create new products and services and a curiosity for the public cloud led him to co-found cost management startup MetricsHub in 2012. Within six months, Microsoft acquired the company, and the capabilities developed by Lamanna laid the foundation for what would become Azure Resource. Manager and Azure Monitor, among other services.
In another prescient moment a few years later, Lamanna and a small team of developers participated in a Microsoft hackathon where they created a product called Wolf Crow, a low-code/no-code integration and automation tool. which would later become Azure Logic Apps, then Microsoft Flow, then Power Apps and finally Power Platform, a group of enterprise software tools he now oversees along with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 apps.
Today, as vice president of Microsoft Business Applications, Lamanna has a broad tenure at the center of “one of Microsoft’s fastest growing companies at scale.” That company is Power Platform, which Lamanna says has over 7 million monthly active users, over $2 billion in revenue, and is seeing an astonishing 72% year-over-year growth.
In a chat with Protocol, Lamanna explained why Power Platform is important to Microsoft, how it plays with Dynamics 365, Teams, and the broader Microsoft suite, and why productivity and collaboration are key to Microsoft’s low-code future.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How many people use Power Platform?
There are some stats we’ve shared to size it up: there are over 7 million active citizen professional developers per month, which is pretty surprisingly large if you compare it to a programming language or something. And the majority of them are professional users, non-coders. [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] shared I think a quarter or two ago that we crossed $2 billion in revenue in the last 12 months, which is up 72% year-over-year, one of Microsoft’s businesses fastest growing on a large scale. The dollar coin…shows that there is value. Because it’s the other thing – a lot of people use it and they get a lot of value out of it. 97% of Fortune 500s use Power Platform, 92% of Fortune 500s use Power Apps in at least one department. It’s not like air, I literally don’t see it everywhere, but you encounter it all the time.
In your opinion, what factors favor the adoption of low-code?
I consider myself a historian of technology to some extent. There is an excellent article — I think it was by Joel Spolsky – once it talked about what spreadsheets do for data entry. Forty years ago there were professional spreadsheet users and data entry users because you didn’t have a personal computer or you didn’t have spreadsheets. There were several hundred thousand people with this job in the United States, and then all of a sudden you get the personal computer and the spreadsheet and a lot of the work that they were doing, people the do themselves, because I can just open Excel and put the data.
But what’s interesting is that these professions evolved into higher end and more sophisticated solutions where they had to use more mathematical creativity and statistical creativity instead of just [doing] the simplest tasks. So the analogy I would make is what I think low-code will do today.
Today, if that’s the total number of solutions companies should be building, let’s say there are 500 million: they can only afford to build 100 million at the current cost per solution built. Thus, 400 million apps have unmet demand. These 400 million can now be picked up and built with low-code tools by professional users themselves and by non-coders but technically competent people. Think of an IT admin who might not be able to deploy to a Kubernetes cluster but could certainly build a Power Platform solution. So they can go and attack those 400 million. And the 100 million, part of that will also now be built with low-code to go faster and be more affordable.
I kind of see it as a broad spectrum, and one of the fundamental theses we have for Power Platform is that it should be a platform that works for all three types of users: users professionals, therefore citizen developers; IT professionals, therefore non-developers but technically competent people; and professional developers. All three must be able to work on a single platform. They don’t all use the same user interface, they don’t all use the same programming model, but all three need to be able to work on one platform. Otherwise, you can’t really activate all 500 million apps, because you need all three to start using these tools and using them together in concepts like Fusion Teams. Otherwise, you will never be able to go and approach it widely.
The best low-code tool ever is Excel.
Our point of view is that we have a slang for it: no-code, low-code and pro-code. All are welcome, or so we say. No-code for business users, low-code for IT professionals, and pro-code for professional developers. And we really strive to make that possible. And that’s a difficult thing from a technology and user experience perspective, that’s the big challenge. How to make it as capable but as comprehensible? as powerful, but as easy to start?
Makes sense. [Low-code/no-code] is really just a spectrum, and there are trade-offs at every step. You get more power here, but it’s harder to use, and maybe less power here, but it’s easier to use [and] faster to start.
The best low-code tool ever is Excel. I can open Excel and I can make a list of things and add things without training. Then you have people who I swear are basically getting doctorates in Excel doing super complex stuff [net present value] derivative modeling, amazing things in Excel. It’s quite a platform. The magic is that it can be a platform. And there’s probably a whole other context for platforming magic where you can reuse it for a lot of use cases because you get incredible skill and leverage, but I think that’s the same type of approach.
How does Power Platform fit into the entire Microsoft enterprise software suite, going into Dynamics 365 and Office?
We like to think that Office and Dynamics are somehow built on the Power Platform, and what we mean by that is that if you want to do extensibility and customization in Office or Dynamics, you go to Power Platform. So if you’re accessing a SharePoint list and want to add a workflow to your SharePoint list, it’s actually Power Automate built-in. Or if I go to SharePoint and want to embed an app on my SharePoint site, it will be through Power Apps. Or if I’m part of Microsoft Teams and wanted to create a custom workflow, it’s Power Automate. Or if I want to create a dashboard and a report, it’s Power BI. Or if I want to create a chatbot in Teams, it’s Power Virtual Agent. And we have a really seamless and easy integration. The same is true [for Dynamics]Dynamics is literally built on top of Power Platform, so if you want to edit any form or data schema or logic or workflow in Dynamics, you just end up in the Power Platform experience.
We believe that over time, every enterprise software solution will need to have extensibility through low code [tools], and you start to see that: Every company now advertises low-code/no-code customization and configuration. And one of the things that we announced to [Microsoft Build] was basically Power Automate’s integration capability. Thus, other software companies can even integrate Power Platform into their solutions, their SaaS offers, without having to create their own low-code platform.
Do you see productivity and collaboration tools as a key part of this low-code/no-code movement?
I think one of the most exciting opportunities is that low-code lets you build a lot of stuff, you get a lot of apps. We have customers with tens of thousands of apps and tens of thousands of Power Automate workflows and tens of thousands of Power BI dashboards and a thousand Power Page websites, so you get a lot of solutions.
And one of the biggest challenges is: how do you get your users to discover them? The fact that communication, collaboration, and low-code work well together allows you to integrate a Power App into Microsoft Teams. You can, for example, pin a Power App in Teams to a team’s channel or the personal tab on the left side, and a lot of our users and customers do that because that way it doesn’t look like à I go to another app or website: I feel like it’s part of Teams. This kind of discovery – and all of this discovery is open for anyone to use in any company, it’s not just a Microsoft-only extensibility model – but this kind of integration makes so easy for solutions that are built so easily to also be used so easily. So I think that’s a major element.
And then one of the biggest things we do is we don’t teach you: if you already know Office, you already know Power Platform — that’s sort of our all-important thing. We work with the Office team and the Power Platform team to share design patterns, share [user interface] components, to share user experience or interaction patterns, things like formula language – it’s really an extension of the Excel formula language. We do this stuff because we’ve already trained a billion people on Office; let’s make their skills feel familiar when they end up in the Power Platform.