Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2016 – Part 2   Recently updated !

Following on from Part 1

I left off just after the first vision keynote on the first day of the conference.  After the keynote finished, thousands of delegates started walking back to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC).  The initial push seemed to be towards the lowest level of MTCC South (800) – a huge open expanse of stands called ‘The Commons’ which was well stocked with Microsoft and other partner stalls.

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The Commons at the Worldwide Partner Convention 2016

The Commons

The keynote had featured a woman named Ariela Suster, Founder and Creative Director of Sequence, a company based in El Salvador.  At the Commons, I collected a bracelet which had featured in the keynote, made by Sequence, which is a company operating despite the challenges of being located within the realm of multiple street gangs.  Their coverage at the keynote included details of how they had incorporated the use of technologies like Skype to stay connected to their workforce across multiple locations.

I moved around the Commons before bumping into a fellow Aussie who I’d met at the FTA session the day before.  We hunted the cognitive bots stand within the Microsoft cloud area, and got a few demos of the new ML bots, including the caption bot and the text to speech bot.  Little did I know that some of this technology would be featured in the next keynote.  We split up, and I wound my way over to look at a assisted driving car which had been built to utilize data fed from IoT style devices.

I attempted to join the 12pm session in the Commons (CE008t-R1 – Blockchain basics, the Microsoft offering and what you can do to get started) but the session was crammed in the relatively small Cloud + Enterprise theatre.  I had difficulty viewing the presentation deck and hearing, so I ended up moving along.

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Lunch

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Before my first session, I made my way up and over to MTCC North, to the gargantuan dining hall which served most of the convention’s meals.  The quality of the food served was really second to none.  I made a point of ensuring that I either sat in, or grabbed takeaway on each of the conference days.

CE181w – Partner Opportunities for sales analytics solutions with Microsoft Power BI and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

The new Power BI solution template for sales analytics lets you stand up a scalable, secure, and extensible Power BI dashboard for your Microsoft Dynamics CRM instance in a few hours. The system includes the ETL, the data warehouse running on Microsoft Azure, and the set of Power BI reports and dashboards to customize to your customer’s unique needs. Join this session to learn more about our strategy, how you can win customers, drive differentiation, and provide feedback to shape our program.

My first session was unsurprisingly CRM related.

The thrust of the session was to demonstrate how results could be obtained quickly by merging data from multiple sources together using the power of Microsoft Power BI and with large sets of data obtained from CRM.  The speed to market aspect derives from the use of solution templates designed to be customized and implemented by partners, and naturally there’s an Azure tie-in.

A number of sample templates were shown using the standard Cortoso company data.  The solutions use a service called Scribe which powers a lot of the integration componentry.

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Scribe-PowerBI Roadmap/Sample

There’s clearly some power behind the combination of Power BI and Dynamics CRM and other structured data sources.  Scribe seems to simplify the work of tapping into data sources, but it was unclear to me how the mechanics of orchestrating the management of sourced data works.

After this session, it was coffee time, so I took off with another partner from Canberra and we hunted coffee a few blocks north of the convention centre.

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CE343w – Get started building automated workflows with Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow is a service for business users and specialists to work smarter by automating workflow across the growing number of apps and Software as a Service (SaaS) services that are relied on every day. Experience the service and see how partners can use Microsoft Flow to accelerate and automate their customer’s businesses so employees spend less time on mundane, repetitive tasks, and more time on the most important work at hand.

The next session was full!  We ended up being shepherded up to near the express cafe on the floor the dining area was on, where we sat in front of a massive LCD screen and listened to the session via headsets and a wireless receiver.  This way, we were able to follow the session, although it was already under way once we were properly set up.  As a consequence, we probably missed the key introduction.

In any case, from what I could understand, Microsoft Flow presents as a lightweight way of developing system workflow based off easily defined tasks.

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The editor is pretty much just as you’d expect if you’ve ever written any graphical-supported BRE/mapping or flow functionality.  Naturally, there’s tie-ins to some of the more recent announcements, such as AppSource Apps.  It seems to be for cloud use only, such as within Dynamics 365, Office 365 etc. it wasn’t discussed whether there was any on premise support.

Solutions with Microsoft Flow can be saved as templates, templates typically run under the credentials of the executing user identity.  Templates can be shared within or outside an organisation.  You can build custom connectors for use with Microsoft Flow, they need to support HTTP/HTTPS, a standard of authentication (OAuth 2.0, Basic, API key), have a human readable interface.

Flow is built on top of Logic Apps, which is where the Azure underpinning of Microsoft Flow comes into the picture.

Logic Apps provide a way to simplify and implement scalable integrations and workflows in the cloud. It provides a visual designer to model and automate your process as a series of steps known as a workflow.

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Product Roadmap

PS02 – Worldwide public sector executive roundtables

Hear from more than 50 public sector leaders and experts on key top of mind industry topics, with an open forum to ask questions that are specific to your business interests. The format will be 45 tables, 45 hot topics, and you choose which ones have relevance for you. This is a great opportunity for networking during the roundtables and at the happy hour immediately following the session.

The next session was a freeform networking event targeted at partners who work in the public sector, as I do.  The room was split across industry lines, by table, so that participants could select the table which best fit their own business.  I ended up on a table with a bunch of Microsoft folks from a Microsoft subsidiary (US based) called Vexcel.

We talked for about half an hour about Vexcel’s model of engaging multiple partners in what they called a Complex Partner Management engagement model (driven through a Complex Engagement Delivery Office) which allows for entertaining the opportunity to take on programme of work outsourcing arrangements.

Without going into too much detail, it seemed like something worth pursuing further.  This session took us up to (and actually beyond) 5pm.

End of Day 1

At this point, the day wound down.  Although I didn’t get to as many sessions as I’d liked, I felt that I’d managed to accomplish a fair bit on my first full day.  There’s a lot to wade through, and I feel like it is just as important to get out and network as it is to pursue the subject matter specific sessions.

Monday night represented the first (and only) free night of the convention.  I used this as an opportunity to catch up with a former colleague who happened to be in Toronto at the time.  We caught up with some other Canberra partners later that night and ended up winding up a bit after midnight.

The next article will start with the second day’s vision keynote.


Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2016 – Part 1 1   Recently updated !

Earlier this month I flew to Toronto, Canada to attend the 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.  This was my first time attending a partner conference, and it was quite an experience.  There was far too much content to complete in a single article, so I’ll start with an introduction and summary, and then delve into specific topics in separate articles.

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Welcome to Toronto

Flying to Toronto

As you may have determined based on my previous articles, I spent some time in Silicon Valley before heading on to Canada.  It was good to get to North America ahead of the conference so I could deal with any jet lag, and get acclimated to the local time zones.  Owing to the fact that I’d only received approval to attend the conference a few weeks before it was scheduled, we had a hard time locking down accommodation anywhere near downtown Toronto.

In the end, we got lucky, and I ended up with a fully furnished apartment within 15  minutes walk of the Toronto Convention Centre.  I flew in on the Friday evening before the conference, and managed to enjoy a few activities around downtown before the pre-conference events kicked off.

Pre-Conference Events

Microsoft Australia kindly organised a pre-conference event for Australian partners which included a trip to Niagara Falls, with dinner, drinks and a ride on the Hornblower Niagara tour boat.  This gave many of the Australian partners an opportunity to meet or get reacquainted with each other and trade war stories ahead of the conference.  Due to a number of factors, the trip didn’t see us back in Toronto until close to 1 AM Sunday, and as a consequence I ended up missing a Dynamics pre-conference event being held by the UK Partners.

Registration

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Registration/Commons Marketplace Index

On Sunday morning, I walked over to the convention centre and registered.  There wasn’t too much to do until the afternoon, when a session was held for first time attendees (FTAs) like myself.  The session was quite informative and I also met a number of delegates who I’d end up bumping into later in the conference.  The thrust of the session was to hear from previous delegates about how best to navigate the conference, and how to deal with the onslaught of sessions and meetings. The networking aspect was most valuable.

The evening was the Australian partners dinner in north Toronto, it was a good opportunity to meet up with partners again, and share some insights from recent Microsoft and Australian IT news.

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View from the dinner/Toronto sign near the Sheraton


Vision Keynote 1 – Inspiration

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K’Naan performs/Introducing the Microsoft CEO

The conference proper really kicked off on the Monday morning.  About 20,000(?) people filed into the Air Canada centre not far from the Toronto Convention Centre for the first of three days of keynotes.  The first keynote featured a musical introduction from an artist called K’naan who I hadn’t heard of to be honest.  The stage was set, and after the music finished we were introduced to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

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Connected Applications/Bringing it together with Power BI, Microsoft Flow and PowerApps

Satya proceeded to articulate Microsoft’s vision and roadmap, expressing a strong connection to digital transformation being the centrepiece of the company’s focus.  The three principal pillars centre around digital transformation as follows:

  • personal computing,
  • the intelligent cloud, and,
  • reinventing business productivity & processes

Which roughly translates into the broad areas of change which were unveiled throughout the partner conference.  He introduced the rebranded Dynamics 365 (combining CRM Online and Axapta) to provide a cloud ERP solution, showing how the solution targets the productivity and process changes underscored by digital transformation.  There was also an introduction to the new AppSource marketplace for business/government applications.

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Dynamics 365 Resource Management

Next up, Satya interviewed the head of General Electric, who went into some detail about how this old school bricks and mortar company decided to innovate, and migrate away from old technology.  This neatly lead to another big area which is coming fast: machine learning.

The next big thing will be machine learning, either as Azure ML or represented by the usage of a number of learning bots.  Named ‘cognitive bots’, there’s a lot of them on the way, and they represent the next big thing in cloud computing.  A demonstration was played, illustrating how  speech-to-text bot was able to read and interpret an order from a busy McDonald’s drive through, neatly building and updating an order in JSON format.

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Machine Learning

Lastly, and aptly given the explosion of Pokemon Go just before the conference, the keynote ended on a mind blowing demonstration of the latest in augmented reality technology in Microsoft Hololens.  A cameraman took to the stage with a specially modified camera which was able to show to the assembled crowd what it is like to see through the HoloLens head gear.

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Microsoft HoloLens

The demonstration focused on displaying the internal schematics of something quite large and impractical for a learning/training environment: an airplane engine.  The exceptional demonstration showed how a HoloLens user can interact, manipulate and zoom in and out of detailed graphical models.  Outstanding.

Keynote Notes

  • Cognitive bots look very interesting – we’re just scratching the surface on what could be possible,
  • HoloLens is exceptionally awesome,
  • AppSource has been widely touted,
  • Dynamics 365 branding and changes are big, underscores the emphasis on the cloud,
  • If you aren’t thinking “cloud first” by now, you ought to be or you’ll be left behind

That’s it for Part 1.  The next part will describe sessions from day 1.