If you’ve ever wanted to create an A.I. “virtual agent” of your own, now’s your chance: Microsoft has rolled out Microsoft Power Virtual Agents, which it claims is a “no-code/low-code” way to build your very own version of SkyNet.
Power Virtual Agents, now in preview, allows users to build those agents via a graphical interface; not everybody can code, but everybody can click and point. Right now, the platform is meant for employees who want to build virtual agents for specific verticals, such as customer service, sales, marketing, finance, and even HR.
“There’s no code to get started, no AI expertise needed, and you can be up and running in minutes,” Microsoft added in a corporate blog posting. “And because they’re already integrated with Microsoft’s Power Platform, you can use hundreds of prebuilt connectors so your virtual agents can talk to your backend systems with a few clicks—or easily add capabilities like using Microsoft Power Automate to call an API.”
Microsoft has pushed aggressively into the no-code/low-code arena over the past few years. For example, it has PowerApps, which offers preset templates and a drag-and-drop interface to employees who want to quickly spin up mobile apps. Like Power Virtual Agents, it offers easy ways to connect a new app to legacy databases and systems, and there’s even a straightforward debugger.
Other companies are also pushing their own versions of no-code/low-code, including Google, which offers Google App Maker for customized business apps. Smaller firms such as Adalo are also pressing into the space, betting that they can provide stress-free UX and good database connections on par with their larger rivals.
For all of these companies, the potential rewards are vast: If millions of employees rely on your platform as the pipeline for building smaller apps, you’ve basically won the future. However, these platforms by their very nature aren’t very “sticky,” and it’s easy to imagine someone sick of one app-builder jumping to another—unless the apps are deeply tethered to proprietary technology or databases.
No-Code App Builders: Threat to Developers?
Is the rise of no-code/low-code a threat to developers? That’s a very complicated and pressing question. Companies such as Microsoft argue that, if anything, these platforms will ultimately prove beneficial to full-time developers and other technologists, freeing up their time so they can focus on big projects.
And to a certain extent, that’s true: Building a truly mission-critical app or complicated infrastructure isn’t going to become a drag-and-drop process anytime soon. But as “regular” employees (and automation) take over so-called “low level” coding, developers may need to specialize their skill-sets in order to stay comfortably ahead.