Enterprise

Charles Lamanna runs one of Microsoft’s fastest-growing businesses: Helping regular folks build business apps

Microsoft’s Power Platform strategy includes low-code and no-code software development tools that allow non-technical people to build applications for their team’s needs.

Charles Lamanna

Microsoft corporate Vice President Charles Lamanna told Protocol about low-code/no-code tools.

Photo: Microsoft

Despite the fact that enterprise tech is still trying to figure out exactly where it fits, Charles Lamanna is all in on low-code software development. “I think there's probably no more perfect manifestation of the Microsoft mission statement of ‘empower everyone and every organization in the world to do more’ than low code,” he said.

Lamanna, whose career at Microsoft has been marked by a swift ascension to the upper executive ranks, began his journey with the company in 2009 by helping Microsoft shift one of its most storied products — Office — to the cloud with Office 365. But an itch to build new products and services and a curiosity about the public cloud led him to co-found cost-management startup MetricsHub in 2012. Within six months, Microsoft acquired the company, and the capabilities Lamanna developed laid the foundation for what would become Azure Resource Manager and Azure Monitor, among other services.

In another moment of prescience a few years later, Lamanna and a small team of developers entered a Microsoft hackathon where they built a product called Wolf Crow, a low-code/no-code automation and integration tool that would later become Azure Logic Apps, then Microsoft Flow, then Power Apps and eventually Power Platform, a group of business software tools that he now oversees along with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 applications.

Now, as corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Applications, Lamanna has a broad remit at the center of “one of the fastest-growing Microsoft businesses at scale.” That business is Power Platform, which according to Lamanna has more than 7 million monthly active users, more than $2 billion in revenue and is growing at an astonishing 72% year-over-year.

In a conversation with Protocol, Lamanna talked more about why Power Platform matters 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 are using Power Platform?

There’s a few stats we've shared to size it: There’s over 7 million monthly active citizen professional developers, which is pretty astonishingly big if you go compare it to a programming language or something. And the majority of those are business users, non-coders. [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] shared, I think a quarter or two ago, that we crossed $2 billion in revenue in the trailing 12 months, which is growing 72% year-over-year, one of the fastest-growing Microsoft businesses at scale. The dollar piece … shows there's value. Because that's the other thing — lots of people use it, and they get a lot of value. 97% of the Fortune 500 uses the Power Platform, 92% of the Fortune 500 uses Power Apps in at least one department. It’s not like air, I don't see it literally everywhere, but you run into it all the time.

What factors do you see driving low-code adoption?

I consider myself a technology historian to a degree. There's a great article — I think it was by Joel Spolsky — once that talked about what spreadsheets did 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 that job in the U.S., and then all of a sudden, you get the personal computer and the spreadsheet and a lot of the work they used to do, people just do themselves, because I can just open Excel and put the data in.

But what's interesting is these professions evolved to higher-end, more sophisticated solutions where they got to use more mathematical creativity and statistical creativity instead of just [doing] the simpler tasks. So the analogy I would draw is what I think low-code will do today.

Today, if this is the total number of solutions that the enterprises should build, say there's 500 million of them: They can only afford to build 100 million at the current cost per solution that gets built. So 400 million apps have demand that goes unmet. Those 400 million can now be picked up and built with low-code tools by the business users themselves, and by non-coding but technically proficient people. Think of an IT admin who maybe can’t deploy to a Kubernetes cluster but definitely could go build a Power Platform solution. So they can go attack those 400 million. And the 100 million, a portion of those 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 core theses that we have for Power Platform is that it has to be a platform that works for all three types of users: business users, so the citizen developers; IT professionals, so non-developers but technically proficient folks; and professional developers. All three have to be able to work on one platform. They don't all use the same user interface, they don't all use the same programming model, but all three have to be able to work on one platform. Otherwise, you can't really enable all 500 million apps, because you need all three to start using these tools and to use them together in concepts like Fusion Teams. Otherwise, you'll never be able to go tackle it broadly.

The best low-code tool ever is Excel.

Our view is, we have slang for it: no-code, low-code and pro-code. All are welcome, is what we say. No-code for business users, low-code for IT pros and pro-code for the pro devs. And we really focus on making that possible. And that's a hard thing from a technology and a user experience thing, that is the big challenge. How do you make it that capable but that understandable; that powerful, but that easy to get started?

That makes sense. [Low-code/no-code] is really just a spectrum, and there are trade-offs at each stage. You get more power here, but then it's harder to use, and maybe less power here, but then it's easier to use [and] faster to get started.

The best low-code tool ever is Excel. I can open Excel and I can make a list of stuff and add stuff up with no training. Then you have people who I swear basically get Ph.D.s in Excel doing super complex [net present value] derivative modeling, unbelievable things in Excel. That's all one platform. The magic is that it can be one platform. And there's probably a whole other background as to the magic of platforms where you can reuse it for many use cases because you get amazing skill and leverage, but I think it's the same type of approach.

How does Power Platform play across the broader Microsoft business software suite, going into Dynamics 365 and Office?

We like to think that Office and Dynamics kind of rest on top of Power Platform, and what we mean by that is, if you want to do extensibility and customization in Office or Dynamics, you turn to Power Platform. So if you go to a SharePoint list, and you want to add a workflow on your SharePoint list, that's actually embedded Power Automate. Or if I go to SharePoint and want to embed an app on my SharePoint site, that’s going to be through Power Apps. Or if I'm inside of Microsoft Teams, and I wanted to build a custom workflow, that's Power Automate. Or if I want to build a dashboard and report, that’s Power BI. Or if I want to build a chat bot in Teams, that’s Power Virtual Agent. And we have really seamless and easy integration. The same thing is true [for Dynamics], Dynamics is literally built on top of Power Platform, so if you want to go change a form or a data schema or some logic or workflow in Dynamics, you just end up inside the Power Platform experience.

We have this belief that over time, every enterprise software solution will need to have extensibility through low-code [tools], and you start to see that: Every company advertises low-code/no-code customization and configuration now. And one of the things we announced at [Microsoft Build] was basically the Power Automate embed capability. So other software companies can even embed Power Platform inside their solutions, their SaaS offerings, without having to go build 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 interesting opportunities is that low-code lets you build a lot of things, 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 make it so that your users can discover them? Having communication, collaboration and low-code working well together makes it so you can actually embed a Power App in Microsoft Teams. You can, for example, pin a Power App in Teams in a Team’s channel, or in the personal tab on the left-hand side, and a lot of our users and customers do that because, that way, it doesn't feel like I'm going to a different app or a different website: It actually feels like it's part of Teams. That type of discovery — and all that discovery is open so anyone can go use it at any company, it's not just a Microsoft-only extensibility model — but that type of integration makes it so easy for the solutions which are built so easily to also be used so easily. So I think that's a major component.

And then one of the biggest things that we do is, we don't make you learn: If you already know Office, you already know Power Platform — that's kind of our overarching thing. We work with the Office team and the Power Platform team to share design patterns, to share [user interface] components, to share user experience or interaction models, things like the formula language — it really is an extension of the Excel formula language. We do those types of things because we already trained a billion people on Office; let's have their skills feel familiar when they end up in the Power Platform.

Workplace

Proximity bias is real. Here's how Prezi is fixing it.

Going back to the office isn’t the answer, but better virtual meetings could be.

"As simple as that sounds, creating that sense of place and purpose with a digital workspace and branding, those are the key things that we do internally and that we've productized for our customers."

Photo: Prezi

Jim Szafranski, CEO of presentation software company Prezi, started developing video meeting and presentation software Prezi Video as a “hobby project” toward the end of 2019. Then the pandemic hit.

“What was typically thought of as a presentation company suddenly was involved in the virtual work world,” Szafranski said.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Sponsored Content

How cybercrime is going small time

Blockbuster hacks are no longer the norm – causing problems for companies trying to track down small-scale crime

Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide. That’s unsurprising: cyber events typically cost businesses around $200,000, according to cybersecurity firm the Cyentia Institute. One in 10 of those victims suffer losses of more than $20 million, with some reaching $100 million or more.

That’s big money – but there’s plenty of loot out there for cybercriminals willing to aim lower. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 847,376 complaints – reports by cybercrime victims – totaling losses of $6.9 billion. Averaged out, each victim lost $8,143.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Entertainment

Why Microsoft needs to drag Call of Duty into the future

Microsoft’s biggest challenge with Call of Duty has nothing to do with Sony. It’s about modernizing the franchise for a cross-platform and subscription future.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II premiered the biggest entertainment advertisement ever at the port of Los Angeles in May 2022.

Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Activision

Microsoft and Sony have been waging an increasingly bitter battle over Call of Duty. Over the past two weeks, the feud has spilled out into the public through regulatory filings in countries like Brazil and New Zealand, which, unlike the U.S., publish such documents for all to see.

Microsoft’s goal is to convince regulators worldwide that its landmark acquisition of Call of Duty parent Activision Blizzard for close to $70 billion should get the greenlight. Sony's goal, on the other hand, is to raise the alarm about its primary gaming rival owning one of its biggest cash cows, and whether the PlayStation playbook of platform exclusivity might be turned against Sony if Microsoft decides to make Call of Duty exclusive in some way to Xbox or its Game Pass subscription service.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Entertainment

'Never Have I Ever' is back for season 3, and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Image: Netflix; FitXR; Knopf

This week is all about magic: “Light & Magic” on Disney+ takes us behind the scenes of Disney’s special effects unit; “The Swimmers” reminds us how magical life can be; and “Never Have I Ever,” Mindy Kaling’s Netflix comedy, invokes the magic of “Gilmore Girls,” but for Gen Z.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Enterprise

CJ Moses is CISO at AWS, but service leaders own their own security

Moses, a former FBI tech leader and one-time AWS customer, thinks Amazon’s culture of ownership helps him secure AWS because executives are taught that they are directly responsible for the security of their services.

"That mental model, that starting from scratch building and continuing to do so and never wavering … that model is why we are the most secure."

Photo: AWS

AWS customers are used to hearing about the cloud provider’s “shared responsibility” model when it comes to security, which means that while AWS promises customers it won’t allow its servers and networks to be compromised, customers still have to do the work of securing their own applications. Inside the company, however, the buck stops with the head of each service offered by AWS.

“Service leaders are responsible for the profit/loss, success/failure and, most of all, the security,” said CJ Moses, AWS’ chief information security officer (CISO) since January. “There are no excuses or finger pointing, so leaders don’t leave security success to chance, but rather actively own it.”

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Latest Stories
Bulletins