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Reflecting on Ignite 2018

Peter, Stephen and I spent the last week attending the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando; now back at base, it is time to reflect on the experiences and knowledge gathered.

If you are new to Ignite, then in short it is the place where developers and tech professionals learn about the Microsoft technologies alongside experts. At Ignite you can explore the latest developer tools and cloud technologies and learn how to put your skills to work in new areas. It is also a great place to connect with the Microsoft community to gain practical insights and best practises on the future of cloud development, data, IT, and business intelligence.

For Stephen and Peter this was their first Ignite conference and although warned, the scale of the event was only appreciated after the second day, greatly helped by the realisation that at least 15,000 steps per day was the norm.

The event started with the keynote, unlike the previous years’ opening keynotes, this was less focused on product announcements and demos, and more on CEO Satya Nadella’s vision for digital transformation across industries. Satya Nadella spent most of his time on stage discussing the way that technology has been infused into every conceivable industry and outlining his vision of the next steps in the so-called digital transformation. Not only was the subject matter somewhat unusual for an Ignite opening keynote, it was also quite a bit shorter than some of the ones from the past; one of which made it over the three-hour mark.

There were a couple of things that caught my attention. One was a very brief mention of how blockchain technology is being used to ensure food safety; without going into too much detail the technology could be used to trace tainted food back to its source, thereby preventing widespread illness.

This highlighted a great way of using the technology, which led me to thinking that the technology could be applied in similar ways to other industries where very stringent regulatory requirements are associated with the manufacturing process; especially if one of those requirements is being able to trace the components and materials that have been used in the construction of the final product. In this case integrating blockchain into the supply chain would presumably make it easier to comply with this requirement.

The other announcement from the Ignite keynote was the Open Data Initiative between Microsoft, Adobe and SAP. The idea is to begin to remove silos of data, and to make data more open and easily accessible between the various platforms.

The team and I then spent the next 4 days at the conference attending sessions, workshops, focus groups, labs and presentations on business relevant and interesting topics. A favourite pastime was exploring the vast Expo hall for the best swag (t-shirts, freebies and giveaways) as well as the chance to connect to the Microsoft experts at many of the stands. The Expo closed on Thursday as everyone prepared for the Ignite Celebration party that was held once again at the Universal Orlando Resort. In short it consisted of 5 hours of private access to both Universal parks, music, Minions, food, drink and thankfully a poncho as well for when it rained. The final day was a short one as we prepared for the return trip home and shared our key takeaways.

Peter had a great time at Ignite in Orlando. For him it was, “great to see how Microsoft Dynamics 365 products could assist an organisation’s digital transformation with better customer engagement, operations optimisation, product transformation and employee empowerment. During the conference, there were impressive demonstrations on Dynamics 365 for Sales, Finance and Operations, Field Service, Talent; it was great to also see a lot of new capabilities for the Power Platform”.

For Peter seeing Dynamics 365 Mixed Reality with HoloLens and Teams in actions was just brilliant. He had the opportunity to have hands on experience with both Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout; he commented, “bringing mixed reality and business applications together has changed my view of HoloLens from a conceptual device to be an advanced application supported by real business purpose. It also takes team collaboration to the next level with both operational and financial benefits. I am looking forward to see any future releases involving more and more business applications”

During the conference, lots of features were reviewed and demonstrated from the coming October release. A great benefit for Peter was the ability to speak to Dynamics experts in different industries to share knowledge and experiences, as well as talk to the Microsoft Product Managers about features on the road map for warehouse management functionality, the key items raised that will benefit our existing customers are supplier managed stock/consignment stock, third party logistics, shared warehousing, integration to service order for field service, integration of kitting and dynamic route planning. As these backlog items develop and get closer to release then Peter will cover them in more detail.

For Stephen it was, “personally a great experience, it was fantastic to see how Finance and Operations fits in with the larger scope of the services and tools that Microsoft offer. It is seeing those relationships between different Microsoft products that Ignites a passion to learn more and expand exposure to those technologies.”

Stephen’s top points to take away from the conference (other than he got lucky on FIFA 19 in the Xbox area) was the increase in the integration between different business applications that made up the Dynamics 365 suite; with the move to the applications making use of CDS v2. In his view, “Even though everything is now on CDS v2, the integration between Finance and Operation and Customer Engagement is not quite as seamless as it is made to look by Microsoft. In an immersion workshop I attended there were still issues connecting data between the two; it will get there but care must be taken to ensure the correct message about the maturity and level of integration is understood by the customer.”

Stephen liked the new feature in Finance and Operations that allows the ability to edit the embedded PowerBI reports. He also attended quite a few talks about Flow and PowerApps; he highlighted how this is an area of large investment by Microsoft. To back this up, I attended a focus group where we discussed some of the issues around user adoption for these technologies and shared ideas for how we, as well as Microsoft, can provide assistance to ensure the tools are used in the right way and that the necessary help and support is available.

Stephen was also impressed with the new Regression Test Automation Suite that is part of the October release; this tool will provide users the ability to complete multiple automated test scenarios relatively efficiently. The high level process is that a user creates a Task recorder in Finance and Operations, it is loaded in to the BPM in LCS which then syncs with Azure DevOps (formerly VSTS) as a Test Plan and Test Suite. The Test Plan can then be executed via Azure DevOps and finally the tests are automatically completed within the Finance and Operations client with no manual intervention at all. It obviously requires planning and a commitment by the customer and partner to invest the necessary time but if done correctly then the benefits should be soon realised with the move to continuous updates beginning next April.

On the Talent side of things Stephen highlighted enhancements around integration to Ceridian payroll. This works well for USA but still needs careful consideration for UK. Stephen mentioned how Talent is starting to use the same control mechanism (parameters) to release some of the new key features relating to positions hierarchy and employee/manager self-service; this will allow managers to be able to do a lot more on behalf of individuals.

In Attract there has been a lot of investment in closer integration with LinkedIn to make the experience seamless and major improvements in the ability to edit email templates. Currently lots of generic Microsoft emails are sent to individuals which didn’t look great. The fact that these have been reduced and email templates can be fully personalised is a really nice new feature.

For myself outside of the keynote, there was a lot of talk about the Modern Desktop and how Microsoft 365 can greatly simplify your IT management. What is Microsoft 365? Well it is modern devices running the latest Window 10 making use of Office 365 ProPlus.  In many of the security sessions I attended this Modern Desktop theme was echoed. Some of the top security points were:

  • Connect your on-prem AD to Azure AD
  • Connect ConfigMgr to Microsoft Intune
  • Configure OneDrive for Business to use the ‘known folder’ feature to ensure that Documents, Pictures and/or Downloads are backed up by default

If you are not Cloud adverse then you should look at switching to Office 365 ProPlus and away from Office desktop installs like Office 2016 or Office 2019, this is because these are Cloud disconnected applications and they do not provide your staff with all of the Office productivity tools, like the great Idea’s/Designer tool. This will not only suggest ways to present your slides/text but also through intelligence services greatly enhance the grammar features to highlight inconsistencies, like for example detecting the use of ‘web site’ and ‘website’ in the same document or detecting how you have used capitalisation and full stop usage in lists.

Sessions around security greatly highlighted the work that Microsoft have put in to expand the capabilities of all their security products. Microsoft Threat Protection is broken down into five pillars covering Identities, Endpoints, User data, Cloud apps and Infrastructure and the tools underpinning these all help to create a more secure environment for your users as well as your business. In a session titled ‘A world without passwords’ it was highlighted what the top 10 recently rejected passwords were, if you are allowing passwords like this then maybe update your password policy.

Now that Azure AD supports password-less logon’s, we are not talking just Windows Hello. At the point of entering your username,  you receive a secure notification on your phone to confirm the login by selecting the right number and validate with your face or fingerprint or through the use of security keys that support FIDO 2.0 like those provided by Yubico. The message from Microsoft security is this:

Outside of security the investment in Microsoft Teams has been immense.  We have used Teams since it was in Preview, and it is a completely different product now to back then. If you are not using it then you should at least have a plan to review it. Of note was the investment made in the conference room experience, blurring backgrounds, providing Closed caption in multiple languages, meeting recordings and the ability to then search those videos for moments. The ability to join a meeting from multiple devices is rather nice, so share a PowerPoint from your laptop and connect with you mobile to allow you to control the PowerPoint as you present. Teams is also getting some certified ready to go out of the box devices that support personal calls and small rooms all the way through to large rooms.

Expect over the coming months to see blogs as we trial the new Live events feature of Microsoft Teams. This support presenting to up to 10,000 attendees (guests allowed).  We will also see if a world without passwords is as good as it sounds; and once Microsoft Intune supports ‘Fully managed’ setup of Android devices via Intune, we will examine if the administering of the devices is better than the Google Enterprise recommended for zero-touch support, and what impact this has on our purchasing decisions.

To wrap it all up in a few words is hard but here goes, Peter, Stephen and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear about the new features; we as a company are on many early preview and insider programs but being able to sit and watch over a number of days how all of those pieces come together and build towards the greater picture is well worth the investment. The ability to discuss topics, issues, provide feedback to Microsoft and to also have them acknowledge when they haven’t got it right first time is invaluable.

Finally, I wanted to make sure that everyone is aware of two things:

  1. Session slide decks and videos are available for viewing/download from the Ignite website.
  1. Ignite is going on the road. Before Ignite 2019 takes place in Orlando next October, there will be a chance to attend Ignite 2018 in a city near you.  February 2019 will see Ignite coming to London for two days; there will be over 100 deep-dive sessions and workshops and access to over 350 experts; further Ignite tour details available here; the best bit is that it is free to register.

If you want to discuss anything highlighted here or anything you might see in the Ignite session list, then feel free to get in touch.