I had the pleasure to visit Microsoft Convergence again (2015). This time the even was held in Atlanta, Georgia. I do not recall how many times I have been part of Convergence, but it is quite a few times.
I thought to summarize my key findings from the conference and also provide some guidance for Microsoft partners and customers where I feel the market is moving towards. Things are changing within Microsoft – and this change is looking very good. As former head of development/chief technology office for a software company, I can see many things that will impact both software and end user organizations in a positive way.
I feel that the most profound experience that I was able to see was the real applications for Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning. Both of those technologies have been a bit hard and complex to get a handle on, but now real enterprises are already applying those technologies and achieving real and true competitive positioning. In one of the sessions Rockwell Automation talked about their intelligent systems implementation and how the technology has enabled them to get more real-time information from the field (equipment) and how that has helped with preventive care of equipment.
COO from JJ Food Services (food wholesaler and distributor in the UK) gave an overview of how his organization has been able to use Azure ML (Machine Learning) to help its customers in quick service restaurants, pubs and hotels to make more effective orders via web and the web store now suggests products based on previous behavior and behavior from other similar clients. Azure Machine Learning brings JJ Food Services and its clients with better basket prediction service with frequently bought together suggestions and item specific recommendations. Due to this technology, JJ Food Services have been able to compete in the very low margin distribution business.
What I learned from the sessions is that Microsoft is investing heavily in creating “use cases” for Machine Learning by having scientists to work on algorithms that are most common in different industries and use cases. This is about commoditization of Machine Learning. Frankly, it is not easy stuff and as I have been involved with hundreds of business intelligence/data warehousing implementations, any type of analytics that requires statistics or algorithms are tough to deal with.
Microsoft has been talking about BI for the masses for quite a while now and working on commoditizing business intelligence reporting by providing self service reporting to end users. Power BI and how far it has come had an impact on me during the conference. Due to my background, I have to admit I have been a bit skeptical about self service reporting, but what I now saw during the conference made me impressed. The amount of “pre-packaged” reports and linkages that Microsoft has done to different technologies like Dynamics CRM is staggering. I would encourage you to check out Power Query, Power Pivot, Power Map and Power View from Microsoft. I downloaded the PowerPivot tools and tested them out with my Dynamics CRM 2015 Online instance and I have to say I was impressed! Microsoft has created some pre-defined dashboards and reports that you can populate with your own data and there is even an iPad app that you can use. Having been in the decisions support business for 20+ years, we have come along way from we started in the 80s.
What is the main message that I want to give to Microsoft partners and end user organizations? First, do not underestimate the technologies that Microsoft is bringing as services in Microsoft Azure. Do not try to build things that Microsoft is investing billions of dollars. Your job is to consume services and build intelligent solutions that make you more competitive or even make a game changing difference. The technology is there, you just have to be innovative.
Second, do plan your solutions to support new architectural models as any new development you are working on will become the foundation for your new own cloud/app IP. Think of it as a new layer on top of public cloud that you will build upon whether it is a new line of business application (LOB) or new collaboration solution that utilizes and supports different devices. The common denominator is the cloud. If you are a SharePoint developer, make sure you add Microsoft Azure into your skill set as that will become the foundation for your business logic and SharePoint becomes the UI for your services in forms of apps. Make sure you investigate how you can use Office 365 as part of your solution delivery. Keep in mind that recreating your current SharePoint on-premises solution “as is” to the cloud might not make sense. Try to do something that really uses the cloud in a new an innovative way.
It is obvious that I like what Microsoft is bringing to the table and I do recognize that there are many other vendors that are doing the same thing. However, what I am suggesting here is that if you are invested in Microsoft technology, you have a bright future as Microsoft is really making huge investments to stay on top of things. If you are a startup and want to build and innovate new things my strong recommendation is for you to connect with your local Microsoft office as Microsoft has a program for startups and want to support you and your efforts. I know this as I have been delivering lots of seminars/workshops for startups that are now building exiting new solutions in different verticals using Microsoft technology. I also think that competition is good, it keeps all parties work harder and that will benefit both Microsoft partners as well as end user organizations.