I, along with five of my Parallo colleagues, recently attended Microsoft’s Inspire conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas in July is an interesting location for a huge conference, in the same way that the sun is an interesting location for a BBQ. Luckily, the core notes and sessions were indoors so we were sitting in comfortable, air-conditioned rooms. Unluckily, I forgot to take any Chapstick so my poor lips resembled over-done sausages more than their usual under-done sausage look.
However, heatstroke and dehydration weren’t the only things I took away with me when I left America to be Great Again; there were many valuable insights into Microsoft’s priorities for the coming financial year that partners around the globe can use to enhance their services to customers and empower every person on the planet to achieve more.
Democratisation of Digital
Whether you believe democratisation is a word or not (it is), Microsoft stressed it heavily in their core notes this year. Judson Althoff talked about democratising digital and used an example from Unilever where a staff member had created a PowerApp solution to replace stacks of paperwork when it came to quality control of a manufacturing line, in this case Dove soap bars. Now, I’ve never once in my life looked at a bar of soap and thought “I really appreciate the QC that’s gone into making sure this bar looks like all the others”, but it was a pretty cool example of how these types of apps are available for anyone to develop.
This theme of democratisation was continued in Satya Nadela’s core note on the Wednesday. In a similar example to the Unilever soap evaluator, we were introduced to Akiyoshi Shinobu, an employee at Ebiya restaurant in Ise, Japan. Shinobu-san enrolled herself in a computer course and spent her free time reading books on machine learning. She also created a database and started to store customer-related data in it. Using Azure Machine Learning, she created an AI to learn customer behaviour, which enabled the restaurant to predict what orders would be coming up and help reduce food wastage. This example really stood out as an example of the type of tools we have available today. Machine learning workflows, once the sole domain of statistics eggheads (no offence, I love statistics) are now accessible to anyone. True, the learning curve of a lot of these workflows is very steep, but there’s a plethora of training resources and samples on the Internet to learn from. This (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-au/azure/machine-learning/studio/data-science-for-beginners-the-5-questions-data-science-answers) series of videos covers the five questions data science can answer and is a great place to start.
OK, so this is pretty much a re-hash of my first topic. But it goes to show that Microsoft are doubling-down on this theory of accessible digital services for everyone. Sounds so democratic.
The Microsoft Power Platform is not some sort of smart squat rack, it’s instead a collection of powerful tools to Analyse (Power BI), Act (PowerApps) and Automate (Flow).
I love Power BI. I use it all the time. Any time I come across a dataset in the wild, I immediately fire up my Azure Windows VM (because they still haven’t released a Power BI Desktop client for macOS) and start some of those sweet visualisations. I also love lording my skills over others, too. Someone will show me something and I’m like, “sweet charts, bro. Got any drill-downs configured?”, and they’re all like “what?”, and I’m like “exactly.”
PowerApps aren’t something I’ve had much to do with, yet, but I’d like to have a go at them. I attended a session at Inspire called “Build a Microsoft PowerApps application in 60 minutes” not realising that they intended that everyone actually build an app together. Not having taken a laptop along that day, I proceeded to take notes on my phone and look like I wasn’t completely out of place. I still learned a lot, though. PowerApps enable citizen developers to create simple data structures and wire them up to dynamic UIs without much that resembles code. The app “we” built was a simple session scheduler with three data tables, but it represented an immense opportunity for people who are used to building all their tools in Excel.
Don’t have much to say about Microsoft Flow. Looks very similar to Azure Logic Apps, so I assume it allows you to develop conditional logic flows for automated integrations, if that’s your bag.
Lighthouse is something we’ve been waiting for a long time, as a managed services provider (MSP). To date, we’ve managed to recreate much of what Lighthouse does, but with custom-built tools (some by me, ew), which obviously require constant maintenance.
In short, Lighthouse enables MSPs to “pull” customer subscriptions and resources into their own Azure environment, rather than “reach” into individual customer tenancies. Yes, I’m aware that the pairing of “pull” and “reach” doesn’t work, but “push” didn’t either, so I went with it.
What this means for us is a much more centralised and scalable customer management story, with much simpler and transparent on-boarding processes. We can even leverage the Azure Marketplace now, which is very cool.
This was my second Inspire, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any Microsoft partner, worldwide. The conference is very slick in organisation and logistics, which is helped by the well-run machine that is Las Vegas. Their ability to mobilise close to 40,000 people between hotels and a concert venue in just a couple of hours is mind-blowing to a simple Kiwi like me. I’m pretty sure there were more busses on the road that night than Auckland has in total. Queen + Adam Lambert was a great highlight, too.