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Satya Nadella - Microsoft Build 2019
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft Build 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft plans to announce several improvements to its Power Platform later on Monday, including a new tool that will make it easier to add premade artificial-intelligence code packages to their PowerApps applications and a way to let outsiders get access to those custom apps.

The announcements will kick off the two-day Microsoft Business Applications Summit Monday in Atlanta, where 4,500 attendees are expected to hear more about Microsoft’s business intelligence, data analysis, and simple application building tools. Artificial intelligence will be one main theme for the PowerApps custom application builder and PowerBI business intelligence tool, and Microsoft will also get the blockchain involved, uniting two hot tech technology trends that might not seem to have a lot of utility in simpler applications.

The Power Platform is a relatively new name for a collection of tools that Microsoft has sold for a while, including PowerApps, PowerBI, and Microsoft Flow, which automates workflows that use several different Microsoft applications. Company representatives have been rather eager and persistent in their efforts to talk more about the Power Platform in recent months, which is essentially lumped together with the better-known Dynamics 365 service in Microsoft’s hierarchy.

Software development time is very expensive at most companies, given what high-end software developers make these days. That’s leading to growing interest in so-called “low code” or “no code” tools that allow laypeople with a little bit of training to build their own custom applications without having to submit a formal request for developer time.

Lots of companies are looking at this space, including local companies like Seattle’s AppSheet and Bellevue’s K2 Technologies and bigger ones like Salesforce, which promised to ramp up the competition just ahead of Microsoft’s announcement with its $15.7 billion purchase of Seattle’s Tableau. Google’s acquisition of Looker last week also signaled its intention to compete more directly with Microsoft’s Dynamics365 suite, and Amazon Web Services has been working on a secretive low-code/no-code project of its own called AWS For Everyone.

PowerApps is Microsoft’s main product that addresses this need, and users will now be able to select from several different code packages that inject commonly used artificial intelligence tasks into their applications. They’ll also be able to make applications built using the tool available to outside organizations through the PowerApp Portal, which could make complicated partnerships between companies a little easier to manage.

PowerBI is getting some AI magic of its own, with improved text and visual analytics that make use of Azure Cognitive Services, according to Microsoft. It’s also getting a makeover: the new version of PowerBI looks a lot like Office 365, which Microsoft thinks will make it easier to get up and running.

Microsoft will also make blockchain tools available to PowerApps and Microsoft Flow users. Blockchains — which create secure public digital ledgers of a transaction between two parties — are struggling to find uses outside of the wacky world of cryptocurrencies, although several companies such as Microsoft are trying to convince their customers to use blockchain technology for inventory management and identity management.

[Editor’s note: This post was updated with news of Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau.]

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