Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, showing the company’s major tech platforms during his Microsoft Ignite keynote, including the Power Platform low-code software development technologies and GitHub code platform. (Microsoft Photo)

One of T-Mobile’s most important applications is one its customers rarely see.

It’s called ORBIT, and apart from the requisite magenta trim, the user interface is more functional than flashy. But it is a true technology workhorse, providing a central infrastructure for submitting, approving, tracking, coordinating, analyzing and reporting on any project valued at more than $100,000 inside the wireless company, from sales campaigns to technology upgrades to product launches.

And it is basically developed and maintained by one person.

The secret is the growing practice of low-code software development, which lets business analysts and other advanced users inside companies create sophisticated apps on their own, without requiring the time and energy of larger teams of software developers. Microsoft demonstrated the T-Mobile app during its virtual Ignite technology conference Tuesday to show the capabilities of its Power Platform and Power Apps low-code and no-code software development technologies.

T-Mobile’s internal ORBIT application, developed with Microsoft Power Apps.

“The biggest thing is, the entire platform is built by me,” said Brian Hodel, a T-Mobile developer with a background in business process management and continuous improvement, in an interview in advance of the event. He acknowledged that Microsoft has helped and supported the work, but as the only full-time person on the project, Hodel was able to build out a sophisticated tool in a matter of months.

“Clearly that wasn’t something that you could do if you had custom code, full-code solutions, because it just takes a lot more resources, a lot more time to do,” he said.

It’s part of a larger trend of democratizing software development, which is attracting an increasingly competitive field of technology providers.

Companies offering low- and no-code development platforms range from startups and publicly traded companies such as ServiceNow to Microsoft’s big cloud rivals. Amazon Web Services rolled out its “Honeycode” low-code software development tool for non-developers in June. Google, which acquired the App Sheet no-code software development startup in January, ramped up its low-code initiatives earlier this month with the launch of its Business Application Platform.

Faced with that growing competition, Microsoft on Tuesday announced several new Power Platform integrations, including features for building custom apps, AI bots and automated workflows in Microsoft Teams.

The company is also releasing new GitHub features for Power Platform, including one that enables continuous integration and continuous deployment from GitHub to PowerPlatform.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed to the growing democratization of software development as one reason for the company’s acquisition of GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018, and he reiterated that belief during his Ignite keynote on Tuesday morning.

Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Low Code Application Platform.

“I’m particularly excited about how we’re bringing together Power Platform and GitHub,” Nadella said. “For the very first time, both pro and citizen developers can contribute to the same repo, so they can build apps together, instead of stitching apps together.”

Microsoft’s Power Platform traces its roots back about five years, and today comprises four low-code products: Power BI data visualization; Power Apps software development; Power Automate workflow automation; and Power Virtual Agents for building chatbots.

Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Low Code Application Platform, said he sees the growing competition from Amazon, Google and others as a positive sign.

“There are a lot of entrants in 2020. That’s when you know it’s mainstream, which is very exciting for us,” he said. “It’s a long-running thesis for us really bearing out, based on what customers are adopting, and what our competitors are also responding to.”

Microsoft cites research predicting that more than 500 million new apps will be built in the next five years, more than the total number of apps built in the last 40 years, even as companies struggle to find software developers. Gartner estimated last year that low-code and no-code software will represent more than 65% of application development inside companies by 2024.

“At its heart, the idea is that you’re going to make it so everybody can be a developer,” Lamanna said.

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