Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Microsoft Envision in London.
Hosted by Clare Barclay [Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft UK], this was the first in-person only event Microsoft had run in some 4 years, and it was absolutely packed with a real buzz and energy I haven’t seen at an event in years.
The theme of the entire event, including breakouts and exhibitors was all centred around AI – which is hardly surprising with the upcoming 1st November date for “general availability” of Microsoft 365 Copilot
The Keynote – AI Transformation
The event comprised of a keynote delivered by Judson Althoff [Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial officer].
His 45-minute session was all about AI about and how “to lead in the era of AI” at the keynote.
During this session. Jedson explained how generative AI technology is opening doors for any, and all business from healthcare, to manufacturing to public sector and finance to “imagine new ways to solve challenges”, while unlocking innovation and delivering greater business value that any technology has ever done before. As well as some demos and in-person interviews from some leading UK brands like Sainsburys and ASOS who talked about how they were leveraging Microsoft AI to build new shopping experiences.
Judson spent most of his time on stage bringing the audience up to speed and on the same page about Microsoft 365 Copilot, Sales Copilot, Security Copilot and then spent some time talking around GitHub Copilot and the huge benefits this is bringing to developers. He showcased the ever expanding “collaboration” between Microsoft and OpenAI, which most recently has also resulted in the creation of Llama 2, a powerful generative AI model that can generate text, images, code, music and more which will soon be available on Azure and Windows platforms as part of the expansion of the Azure AI model catalogue.
Finally, he introduced the new Vector Search, a new feature in Azure Cognitive Search that enables searching across different types of data using natural language queries with a live demo (which mainly worked), in which he showed off how Vector Search can help find relevant information from documents, images, videos and more through semantic indexing (the same powerful index too that will power Microsoft 365 Copilot.) Jedson also re-introduced Microsoft Fabric which has been in preview for six months and goes into General Availability next month.
Whilst Microsoft covered a lot of ground in this session, much of it was a rinse and repeat of things many of us had seen before. What Microsoft did though through event was kept the fire burning. Delivering this on stage in front of thousands of people had real appeal. You could feel the buzz from the audience and the conversations leaving the main hall were all of excitement and energy – Microsoft really did capture hearts and minds.
I was less impressed by many of the breakouts though to be fair I only attended a handful of them. Many were met with repeats of what we had already seen earlier on, but with less passion and energy. Most demos were impressive to those that had not seen them before, but for partners and “tightly managed” Microsoft customers, there wasn’t much we hadn’t already seen before – that said, it didn’t stop the buzz and interest through, and the exhibition halls were buzzing.
For me – these events are all about the networking. We had a team of people there – some there to learn and see what was coming and how it was being presented to customers (this was not a technical event, and it was aimed at business leaders). For me it was great to meet many of our customers, who I’d previous only met over Teams) and was even nicer to get a chance to really interface with people from different industries, from Microsoft product and Client Success teams and to get some deep dive demos on some other aspects of the solutions Microsoft offer that we don’t specialise in. I was extremely impressed by just how powerful Dynamnics 365 is now for example.
Satya’s Closing Points
Unlike previous events, this even stayed busy until the end (and beyond)- this was probably due, in-part to the closing note being delivered by Satya Nadella (in person), followed by Steve Bartlett (CEO and Founder of Diary of a CEO).
Satya brought his usual passion and twist to the day, summarising the key points delivered throughout the day but homing in on GitHub Copilot and the enormous potential this has to help software developers, businesses and citizen developers have in building AI powered apps for the future. He talked about Microsoft’s commitments to ethical AI, AI for good and the new wave of AI transformation that is taking over every facet of our lives and every business big and small. He talked about this next wave being about “digitising people, places and things with new reasoning engines that can really analyse data in seconds”.
There were a few points which you could feel really resonated with the audience.
- This AI wave is bigger than when the Windows PC transformed the office in the nineties
- We are on the cusp of interfacing with technology in true natural language where our computers can now actually “understand” us
- For the first time, we will be able to interface with technology in true multi-modal and multi-domain and engage in full meaningful discussions.
He finished by re-iterating the work many organisations need to do to get the best from Generative AI. Much of this was around data. He said, which I think is the most relevant bit of advice for every organisation, that “The Cloud is what makes AI possible, but it is your data that makes AI work”.
My Take: What organisations need to do next
For me this resonates as this is what we see every day and on the back of every discussion around AI we have with our clients.
Data is the fuel of AI: Many have lots of work to do to get their data in shape. Whether that is getting it in the cloud, managing stale and duplicate data, controlling security and governance, and protecting it from mis use or leakage. Many are not there yet and fear that many will miss this important step and jump straight it – resulting in poor results, low ROI, and poor adoption.
Adoption is the accelerant: Cloud Adoption is what makes AI possible . The UK has good cloud adoption the main, but it’s very hit and miss. Some are full in and others are still starting the journey. For AI to work we need good Cloud Adoption and it’s not just about migrating to the cloud. We need data and apps structured to get the best from AI -we need data accessible (but secure) to allow these LLMs to surface and make decisions or conclusions based on this data and it needs people to understand the true power of what these tools can do. I still feel many see AI as something of a fad, a promise of something and something others will do. Even looking inside our own organisation we have a lot to do – to really deeply understand and appreciate what AI will do for us.
If you haven’t used it – dive in , start interfacing with your PC via Windows Copilot, leverage Bing Enterprise Chat, get ready for Microsoft 365 Copilot by working with your Microsoft Partner.
AI is the future – it’s here and it’s for everyone and every organisation – but your data is what will make it successful and useable.