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7 min read

Reflecting on Microsoft’s 2019 Biz Apps Summit in Atlanta

As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts around all the things I was lucky enough to learn and experience at my time in Atlanta this year for Microsoft’s Biz Apps Summit, I realised that although this is an internationally promoted and attended conference event in one of the largest economic markets in the US, perhaps not everyone outwith (and even within) the wider tech community will know what the fuss is all about. So, without further ado:

What are Biz Apps and why do they have their own summit?

Biz Apps is the snazzy term that Microsoft uses when they refer to their suite of business applications. Fundamentally, this is the key collaborative software within the Dynamics 365 stack, used by organisations to manage their teams and employees, enhance communication and engagement, improve and streamline sales processes, manage stock, manage and track key accounts and relationships… basically the whole kit and kaboodle involved with the effective running of a modern-day organisation.

The Biz Apps Summit is a globally attended conference that Microsoft hosts every year in the USA for customers and partners. The technology giant typically introduce exciting new features, release their latest offerings and tell everyone all about the new and emerging tech that industry and commerce should be getting excited about. Some sessions are technical and some are business focused, catering to different business strands area of interest and technical know-how. This is only the second summit that Microsoft has put on, so it’s still finding its feet a little compared to some of the other Microsoft conferences that I attend during the year.

Why do I go?

As Redspire Technical Director, I’m one of the key individuals within the business that’s involved in the customer implementation journey from start to finish, including the customisation, configuration and use of biz apps. Attending these conferences, taking part in expert sessions and learning more about what the new and emerging crop of apps can do is absolutely crucial for me in keeping my knowledge as up to date as possible, and it’s also a great way to discover what’s coming on the roadmap. I invariably come home spilling over with ideas about how we can use these new tools to solve current and prospective client’s business pains or create digital-first business practices that wow their customers. This is especially true for our clients in Banking and Insurance, who are undergoing major digital transformation and are hungry for the latest innovations in AI, predictive analytics and super streamlined workflows. I have LOTS to talk to them about.

biz apps conference screen

Over 1 trillion operations globally run by Microsoft

What rocked?

There was SO much going on at the summit, with more than 200 sessions across the 2 days, so I apologise for missing out heaps of really great sessions. I’ve listed my top 3 (ish) takeaways from the week.

Artificial Intelligence

– I know everyone talks about AI, but it’s generally to extol the virtues of what it’ll be able to do for you in the FUTURE. Instead, Microsoft are weaving the future into their present-day Dynamics 365 offering with 4 levels of AI within the stack (roughly, some would argue the point, but we’ll go with 4 for now). These are;

1. Baked into the product – they’re there for you already, you just need to switch them on
2. Paid for extra apps – as it says on the tin. These involve an extra license cost but give you lots of extra features and capability over and above the baked in tools,
3. Cognitive services – getting slight techy but they’re mini apps that you connect to do specific things like uploading an image and getting it to identify what’s in the photo or pass it a voice recording and get it to transcribe it. It’ll even go as far as to analyse sentiment on whether the people speaking are happy, sad, angry, etc. You don’t need to write code for those, but you do need to be technically minded
4. Azure machine learning – can get very, very technical. Basically, you analyse your information for patterns and either choose a specific algorithm or create your own to work with the data in a way that’ll bring value to your business and allow for future projections.

(For 1, 2 and 3 there were great sessions showing you what you can actually do right now with the technology available)

PowerBI

– There are so many updates to PowerBI, from dramatic front-end visualisations, new data flow engine, paginated reports, certified datasets, all the way through to everything you could need from a security standpoint. The PowerBI sessions were the busiest and the rowdiest (yeah, not really what you expect at a tech conference) but a lot of people were getting very excited about these updates. There were rounds of applause and bouts of whooping and cheering for specific improvements or additions, some of them being fundamentally small changes, but obviously having a monumental impact on a lot of people’s working day. For me, the biggest thing was the user interface’s look and feel updates. This is going to allow customers to truly control and personalise the reporting based on the requirement (whether they are internal reports for teams or external for customers) which will again make a massive difference to the end user.

PowerApps and Flow (These are two different things, but stick with me)

The Power Platform, PowerApps and Flow really are the future of Microsoft’s biz apps strategy. Essentially, they provide the frameworks, components and workflows, and the power to be able to build all your own tailored and customised business applications. Now, you obviously wouldn’t rebuild CE/CRM or Finance & Ops. Microsoft have an army of developers and are spending hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars per year getting these to where they are now. However, you are provided with the tools to build what you need and implement it quickly and safely using all of the security and resilience that CE/CRM and F&O have built into their foundations. There were lots of updates of new functionality, new connectors, improved ALM and release management, but the main point is that Microsoft say these are the way of the future and have so far put their money where their mouth is through huge time and financial investment. So it’s time to take note and get on board!

In Conclusion

It’s so hard to condense such a detailed and action packed few days down into a mere few words, so I’ll say this:

There are really great things happening with customer service enhancements, omnichannel engagement hub, enhanced integrations with LinkedIn (including Sales Nav), PSA updates, Portals and continually improving marketing functionality that’s going to continue to transform the way that so many commercial teams operate. There are so many other things I want to talk about, especially all the cool stuff happening with HoloLens integrations (D365 guides and product visualisation), but all that’ll have to wait for the next blog.

Overall it was a really eye-opening and a great experience being at the summit. I learned so much through interacting with different people with all sorts of skills and experience, and attending the fantastic information sessions really put into perspective the magnitude of what’s still to come in the future. It’s safe to say I’ve come home with a list as long as my arm of things I need to go and learn more about, most of which I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to explore without being over in Atlanta for this amazing event.

I’m extremely excited about going back again next year, with the added bonus of getting to see another part of America (BizApps Summit 2020 is in Anaheim California next April).

If you’d like a chat about Microsoft Dynamics 365 and how it can help your organisation achieve absolute digital transformation, get in touch at rick.lyle@redspire.co.uk or connect with me on LinkedIn

3 min read

AI Builder – Microsoft’s new low-code intelligence tool for the Power Platform

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Hot off the press from the Microsoft BizApps Summit conference in Atlanta, comes the newly announced and hotly anticipated AI Builder.

The turnkey solution comes as part of further investment into the growing capability within the Power Platform, allowing users to harness the functionality of Microsoft’s already established Artificial Intelligence tools within their own custom-built applications.

The AI builder will become a flagship offering as part of the PowerApps “low code” pledge to “allow everyone, from the professional developer to the frontline worker, to participate in driving better business outcomes by building apps”.

The application of Artificial Intelligence within PowerApps will allow crucial sectors that have more of a requirement for immediate customer feedback, like banking, to better align their digital strategy around the customer journey. Power BI, Microsoft’s Business Intelligence Reporting Platform will leverage this functionality providing for immediate trend analysis and valuable insights into key data metrics within these organisations and another key offering that will benefit from the AI customization functionality will be Microsoft Flow, as part of the successful visual process automation and workflow management tool, with a view to providing a simplified approach to optimising the work-based processes without having the advanced technical knowledge of understanding how AI works.

There will be 4 main components to the studio in the first instance;

Classification – This comes in two forms; Binary Rule-Based Classification of new data for segmentation and task management etc. Go/No-Go, Pass/Fail, Ready/Not Ready for Review and Text Classification using the Natural Language Processing (NLP) functionality to analyse sentiment and routing Customer Requests; i.e. Customer Service or Customer Retention.

Business card reader – This tool will take a photograph or load an image from the local device, scan it to find a business card and extract the information it finds into selected fields.

Form processor – This component takes a photograph or loads an image from the local device, and then processes it to extract text based on a trained AI model. If it detects a form that the AI model is trained for, the form processor extracts the field values, and identifies them.

Object detector – An object detection scan will take place off a photo or image file. On a mobile device, the user is presented with the device’s interface to choose between taking a photo or selecting one already available. When an image is selected, the component automatically performs a scan to identify objects within the image.

One of the early adopters of the innovative preview tool was G&J Pepsi who worked alongside Microsoft as part of the preview availability to develop some in-app AI functionality which allows for a simplified and streamlined process for inventory management where store employees have the ability to take a picture of the shelf and share it with the AI Builder.

AI builder screen

The AI, built within the system can then recognize the types of bottles on the shelf, count them and determine whether or not Pepsi needs to order and deliver another shipment, and then send the request to action all with minimal requirement for any in-system coding.

You can check out the latest phase 2 release notes here for all the upcoming capability enhancements due to land in October 2019, with the AI Builder in preview now.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a next-generation business management and digital transformation system that unifies ERP, CRM, and business intelligence into one slick application that can be uniquely tailored to your business needs. Blending people, culture and technology, it feeds all areas of the financial services business from day to day frontline branch operations to boardroom vision and strategy, whilst allowing IT teams to innovate new initiatives instead of problem-solving day to day. For more information on improving the digital transformation strategy to grow alongside your business, get in touch with Redspire today.

3 min read

Microsoft Inspire 2018: the emerging themes from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote speech

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In his keynote speech at the global Microsoft Inspire conference in Las Vegas, CEO Satya Nadella talked about how technology and connectivity continue to improve human relationships, whilst reinforcing that ethics and user privacy continue to be the most important consideration, as we accelerate though the 4th industrial revolution.

This year’s Microsoft Inspire has been one of the most exciting and rousing yet, with a focus on increased innovation, growth and differentiation. If last year’s key takeaway was Microsoft’s commitment to transforming their partner relationships, this year is about accelerating partner support for the greater collective good. Microsoft’s overarching business vision of “empowering every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more” will ultimately be driven by the Microsoft Partner eco-system.

Our Senior team attended the conference, and have summarised their top takeaways:

The Microsoft partner eco-system is bigger and more impactful than ever before…

…and jam-packed with opportunity. Over 17 million people are employed in the Microsoft and Microsoft partner ecosystem with total business projected at a phenomenal $4.5 trillion. Together we are in a unique position to unleash the power of real partnership for digital and technological success. Not just for business, but for customers, innovators and end users too.

Ethics and personal privacy is a fundamental human right.

Advances in technology and integrated Artificial intelligence (AI) are creating some of the most exciting changes in the world today, but Nadella has warned that they must not come at the expense of personal privacy and human relationships.

He said: “We have to have a set of principles that guide the development of AI and always do our very best work when it comes to privacy. As technology becomes pervasive in our lives, we must approach everything with the fundamental assumption that privacy is a human right.”

The importance of adding value not just creating brand values

Nadella’s message to students looking for a career at Microsoft?

“If you want to be cool, go somewhere else. At Microsoft, our job is making other people look cool.”

Sharing incredible stories of business transformation via the partner eco-system, the message and focus for the future is on driving positive, global impact through cutting edge technology and industry-specific solutions like Microsoft Dynamics 365.

People and connectivity is being re-imagined, now.

The future of digital is people and human centric, made possible with by ever-increasing advances in Microsoft’s Azure Sphere secure technology. Internet connectivity is becoming a two-way street, creating a holistic user experience that decouples us from the chains of the tech, whilst improving seamless machine integration in our day to day lives.

Nadella said: “We are going to infuse everything with AI. It’s going to have perception capability, language capability and autonomy that’s going to be built into the applications going forward.”

Over the next few years, more and more consumer gadgets and appliances will connect to the Internet and each other, with the capabilities to talk to us, listen, predict behaviour and act on our behalf. The tech we use will become seamless, multi-device and multi-sensory.

As organisations globally hurtle through accelerated digital transformation, driven by cloud and artificial intelligence, mixed reality and the Internet of Things, these tools and technologies are re-imagining consumerism, business and society for the greater good.

And yet consciously, we may never even be aware that we’ve interacted with a computer…

Ready to find out more about how Microsoft’s up-to-the-minute technology can improve your business operations, sales and service? Contact us today for an informal chat…