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Microsoft Announces Wave 2 Plans for Dynamics 365 and Power Platform

Microsoft used the occasion of its Business Applications Summit on Monday to announce its "Wave 2" product release plans for its Dynamics 365 enterprise resource planning solutions, as well as its Power Platform (Power BI, PowerApps and Flow).

The Wave 2 plans included the announcement of three new artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities coming this year or the next. Microsoft's announcement was perhaps somewhat overshadowed by rival CRM company Salesforce.com's announcement that it plans to buy Tableau Software, a maker of data analytics solutions, for $15.7 billion in Salesforce.com stock. The aim of the acquisition is to bolster Salesforce.com by "enabling companies around the world to tap into data across their entire business and surface deeper insights to make smarter decisions, drive intelligent, connected customer experiences and accelerate innovation," according to Salesforce.com's announcement.

Using data analytics to drive data insights could also be a goal attributed to Microsoft with its Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform combination.

Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson contended in a recent blog post that consolidation is currently happening in the business intelligence (BI) market. He suggested that organizations can help protect themselves from the ensuing chaos by using new BI fabric technologies, which can ease management woes across multiple BI platforms.

Microsoft's Wave 2 announcements for Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform just constitute a disclosure of product plans. Exactly when the new feature improvements will be available wasn't always specified.

Wave 2 features could get released over a period spanning from October 2019 to March 2020. Early access to the features could happen as early as Aug. 2, 2019. General availability is planned for Oct. 1, 2019.

Dynamics 365, as of last year, now follows a twice-yearly "feature update" cycle. New features typically arrive in the spring and fall.  

AI Builder for PowerApps and Flow
With June 10 marking the day in which Microsoft describes its Wave 2 plans, much of what was highlighted centered on adding artificial intelligence enhancement to the Power Platform products. For instance, Microsoft introduced AI Builder for PowerApps and Flow. PowerApps is designed for use by business workers, allowing them to build ad hoc applications, while Flow is used to concatenate workflows to automate business tasks.

AI Builder brings "common AI scenarios" into the mix for app makers. It can be used to "solve everyday tasks like forms processing, object detection, and text and binary classification," according to the announcement. AI Builder also works with Flow to help pull information and carry out some action. It might be used to execute a credit check, for example, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is also touting the ability to create "attestable workflows" when combining Power Platform tools with the Azure Blockchain Service, Microsoft's electronic ledger storage solution. The Azure Blockchain Service can be used to add assurances when dealing with multiparty supply chains, for instance.

PowerApps Portals
The new PowerApps Portals capability, expected to be available as public preview next month, will let users in organizations create Web sites the can be accessed by external users. These external users will be able to sign-in to access the sites using various identity providers, such as "personal accounts, LinkedIn and [the accounts of] other Azure Active Directory organizations," Microsoft indicated.

PowerApps Portals Web sites get created using prebuilt customizable templates. The ability to build such sites previously was "only available as an add-on to Dynamics 365," Microsoft explained.

AI in Power BI
Microsoft's business intelligence solution Power BI is continuing to get new AI capabilities. It'll be getting new text and image analysis capabilities using Azure Cognitive Services, as well as the Azure Machine Learning service. It'll be capable of analyzing text, including handwriting recognition. It's getting Distribution Changes and Decomposition Tree AI visual analytics capabilities. Models created in Power BI will be exportable to the Azure Machine Learning service, Microsoft promised.

In addition, the Q&A feature in Power BI will be trainable so that it "understands and adapts to company-specific language like synonyms, phrasings, or specific domains," Microsoft indicated.

Also, Microsoft is updating Power BI so that its user interface will look a lot more like the interfaces of other Office 365 applications. It's also getting a report commenting feature for user collaborations, among other improvements.

Other Announcements
Microsoft had a few other related announcements besides its Wave 2 ones.

For instance, one thing that's available this month for Power BI users is "Paginated Reports," which has reached the "general ability" stage, meaning they're ready for commercial use. Paginated Reports are based on SQL Server Reporting Services and permits Power BI users to "create and distribute highly formatted, pixel-perfect reports right alongside their interactive Power BI content." The reports can be printed or archived via PDF or Word documents. Data can be pulled from the Azure Analysis Service and Power BI, as well as various database management systems, including "SQL Server, Oracle, and Teradata, as well cloud data sources such as Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Data Warehouse," Microsoft indicated. Organizations need to have a Power BI Premium subscription to use Paginated Reports.

The Power BI Template Apps have reached the "general ability" stage. Microsoft defines a Template App as "anything from a website analysis report to a full-blown heavy data modeling solution designed to understand selected business key parameters." Template Apps will be replacing Content Packs "in the coming months.

The Power BI Mobile App for devices running iOS 12 and higher now supports Siri voice shortcuts at the preview stage. In addition, users can perform Spotlight searches for Power BI content on iOS devices.

Microsoft also published a summary of its Power BI June feature updates this week. Flow updates for May were also described.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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