Just like last year, I was fortunate to be able to escape the chilly Finnish autumn weather to sunny and warm Orlando this September, to attend the Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference. This time my visit to Florida did not contain a whole lot of sunlight, though, as my stay in that region was focused strictly on the days of the event, which meant I was mostly wandering back and forth the endless corridors of Orange County Convention Center. With 1600+ sessions crammed into 5+1 days, you’re always going to have a packed agenda at a conference like Ignite where 30,000 fellow Microsoft geeks are swarming around to gather the latest announcements and demos from their favorite technologies and evangelists.
I’ve written a summary over on LinkedIn of what were the main themes I picked up from Ignite this year. In short, Power Platform was front and center in the story of how Microsoft is further helping organizations to digitally transform their business processes. Not just from the traditional CRM and ERP scope of Dynamics 365 but on a much broader scope that speaks to the audiences that might not have otherwise ended up exploring how PowerApps, Flow, Power BI and CDS can connect their existing Office tools into a more automated flow of data through predefined pipes – as opposed to the more free-form processes that information workers previously had to agree on, to efficiently collaborate with their colleagues.
On the one end we saw a lot of praise for the unlikely heroes that have managed to pick up a toolkit like PowerApps without any developer background or formal position in IT, and build applications that their organizations have adopted into their day to day routines. Even though these citizen developer scenarios may not seem all that complex for professional software people, the key lesson is that these manual processes would have been unlikely to get digitalized with off-the-shelf or custom built software anytime soon. Making the tools for digital problem solving accessible to the people who intimately know the problem is what’s really shortening the time to value, which in turn drives the growth of the community around the Power Platform. It’s not capped by the number of companies looking for a CRM deployment project, rather it’s fueled by the amount of data and cloud based services that make this data available to the platform via connectors.
At the other end of the spectrum there was the true enterprise scale where this data needs to be harnessed with advanced tools and technologies to remain competitive in today’s global business. AI is the kind of buzzword that cloud was in the beginning of this decade, but in the same way as cloud computing became an everyday commodity, we’re bound to see if not artificial intelligence (AI) but at least machine learning (ML) algorithms find their way into everyday tools in the very near future. All of the major apps in the Dynamics 365 CE suite recently received their AI extensions that aim to bring intelligence built into the packaged applications, not just via Cognitive Services from Azure that developers and data scientists must plug into the business applications. Another example of the enterprise application providers’ focus on squeezing more value out of data was the Open Data Initiative by Microsoft, SAP and Adobe that took the center stage in the opening keynote were the three CEO’s explained why it’s in their best interest to help customers “deliver unparalleled business insight from their behavioral, transactional, financial, and operational data.” It’s really interesting to see that the Common Data Model (CDM) may be evolving into something that actually connects applications across big tech vendors.
Among all these tech giants, there was also a 20 minute slot where an ordinary Dynamics 365 guy like me got a chance to tell a bit about what we’re building in this small country of ours. My session was called “Onboarding customers to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales via PowerApps” and you can catch the YouTube recording of the session or just check out the slides if you’re interested in knowing how we at Elisa aim to make use of the Power Platform as part of our product offering. It was the first time for me to be a speaker at an event the scale of Ignite, so a big thanks to Microsoft for providing me this exciting opportunity!
Even though Ignite wasn’t really a Dynamics 365 themed event like the Business Applications Summit a couple of months earlier, there were a lot of interesting demos about the brand new functionality rolling out as a part of the October 2018 release shortly. I compiled some of the highlights tweeted out on the #MSIgnite hashtag during the event onto this Wakelet collection for you to check out if you missed the live event excitement.
Just like in previous Microsoft conferences, the learning doesn’t stop with the closing of the venue doors. The Ignite on demand sessions provide a library of videos and slides that you definitely should be browsing through to keep up with the latest news around what’s coming to Microsoft Business Applications and the many connected products. Now, if you just happen to be located in Helsinki next week, then I have to promote the brand new Finland Dynamics User Group (#FDUG) and our very first Meetup event on October 18th where I’ll be doing a “whole Ignite in 30 minutes” summary of what I found most interesting in the various Power Platform related sessions I attended. See you there!