Registration open for ‘virtual’ Microsoft Inspire 2021 partner event.

Microsoft has opened registrations for this years Inspire 2021 virtual conference, which will be held on July 14th and 15th.

Microsoft Inspire is Microsoft’s largest (and global) annual partner event and as usual features several high-profile global execs including CEO Satya Nadella and EVP of Worldwide Commercial Business Judson Althoff.

What might we hear about?

Last year, there was huge news and updates around Azure,  Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Edge as you’d expect with also a focus on new services such as Microsoft Lists, and Power Automate Desktop.

This year we can expect to hear some new enhancements and updates and I expect to see a focus around the recently(ish) announced Microsoft Viva along with more updates around Windows (following the event on the 24th June) and probably some new things none of us are expecting… .

You can register for Microsoft Inspire 2021 on this page with your Microsoft account, Office 365, LinkedIn, or GitHub account.

See you there Microsoft partners…

The biggest announcements from MSFT Ignite 2021

So, it wouldn’t be a Microsoft event (#MSIgnite) without a handful of “wow” demos, updates, and new products announcement both in preview and GA across Teams, the wider Microsoft 365 platform, Azure, Windows 10 and Power Platform, but without doubt the biggest “thing” to happen at Ignite this year was Mcirosoft Mesh.  Anyway, here’s my 

As in previous years), Microsoft have published their “encyclopaedia” if you like, of Ignite (the #BookOfIgnite ) which covers all the announcements in detail along with links to blogs and tech articles.

This post, on the other hand is a summary of my personal “top 3” announcements across each of the core solution areas. Of course, depending on your role, line of business and priorities, and interests, you will have your own favourites so feel free to let me know yours in the comments.

 

Microsoft Mesh

This stole the show from the moment the keynote started and was without question the biggest news of Ignite 2021. Much of the keynote and later sessions were available to watch live AltSpace VR in both Mixed and Virtual Reality. Mesh is Microsoft’s new Mixed Reality Platform which is designed to allow people who are in physically various locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences across many kinds of devices.

The business case for Mesh builds upon the success of HoloLens 2 and is designed (and was highlighted) for organisations to let their teams joined shared virtual spaces for collaborative meetings, where everyone will appear as virtual avatars (reminds me of the holograms in the StarWars). Microsoft say that their target audience is both enterprise and commercial customers. Microsoft Mesh can be accessed through an updated version of AltSpace VR, which is Microsoft’s VR platform. Microsoft Mesh will be coming to HoloLens via a dedicated app and solutions built through Mesh by developers will also be able to be tailored/supported to Windows Mixed Reality, PCs, Macs, Smart Phones, and headsets like Oculus.

Microsoft Teams

Teams Ignite Features
Highlight of new Teams Meeting Features

 

Always needing its very own category, my top 3 in this category are:

1. Improvements for Teams Meetings and Live Events.

    • Teams can now be used to create and run fully interactive webinars for up to 1,000 attendees and will also support webinars with up to 20,000 attendees from later this month. This will also be included for any customer with Office 365 E3 and more without any additional licenses or cost.
    • Dynamic View for Teams meetings will be released next month and is all about ensuring more inclusive and natural meetings for remote/hybrid meetings making them more engaging. Dynamic view uses AI to adjust elements of the meeting to allow for display different modes such as charts, chats, etc next to video feeds as well as an overlay of presenter video and presentation space.
    • Improved privacy and security in meetings – with meeting-only meeting controls and end-to-end encryption in one-to-one calls.
    • PowerPoint Live in Teams is available now. The much-requested feature combines slides, notes, and meeting chat in a single view to help make presentations easier for speakers and presenters and to make them more engaging for attendees.

2. Teams Connect

A new channel-sharing feature coming to Teams “later” this calendar year. This will enable users to share channels with anyone, internal or external. Unlike guest access, the shared channel will appear within a user’s primary Teams tenant, alongside other Teams channels meaning that “multiple organisations can share a single channel” that all members can then access from their own Teams environments. Channel sharing seems is great for scenarios where multiple organisations are collaborating on a specific project for example. Guest Access isn’t going anywhere and is still relevant as this is more suited to situations where an external organisation or person needs broad access to data, meetings, and information, beyond just a specific channel. This is currently in “private preview”.

3. Teams Calling Updates

  1. Direct Routing and Survivable Brach Appliances: With the explosion of customers enabling and migrating to PSTN calling in Teams from traditional IP PBXs, the use of Direct Routing grown 8-fold, Microsoft announced several new certified Session Border Controllers (SBC) for Direct Routing, with 6 new SBCs completing certification in just the past 3 months. Additionally, to add resiliency to the most critical locations, Survivable Branch Appliance (SBAs) are now generally available, enabling PSTN calling in the event an outage does not allow the Teams client to directly connect to Microsoft 365 global services.

  2. Operator Connect Conferencing brings an “operator-managed service” that provides “bring your own operator” for conferencing, meaning customers can keep their preferred operator contracts in place as they migrate their PSTN infrastructure to the cloud. This also allows additional geographic dial-in coverage, enhanced support, and reliability with locally agreed technical support and SLAs. This enters private preview from June, with the initial wave of qualified partners, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services, and Telenor.

  3. New Cloud Calling Plan Countries were also announced, with Microsoft native calling plans coming to 8 new markets from April 2021 including New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Norway, and Slovakia, bringing native Microsoft Teams Calling Plans to 26 markets across the globe.

    Teams Calling Countries - April 2021

Identity, Security & Compliance

1. Identity

Focusing on helping organisations deliver on their Zero Trust strategy including, 

    1. Password-less authentication which is now “generally available” for cloud and hybrid environments meaning customers can move towards a truly password-less world leveraging multi-factor authentication and risk based conditional access to provide just in time, assume breach, challenge everything approach to identify and access management without the need for passwords.

    2. Azure AD Conditional Access now uses authentication context to enforce more granular policies based on user actions across the applications they are using or the sensitivity of data they’re trying to access.

    3. Azure AD verifiable credentials will be in public preview later this month. Verifiable credentials allow organisations to confirm information without collecting or storing personal data, improving security and privacy.

2. Security announcements

A wealth of announcements here as well, all of which will further strengthen, Microsoft’s commitment to deliver the absolute best security protection, detection, and response for all clouds and all platforms:

    1. Azure Sentinel now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft 365 Defender with shared incidents, schema, and user experiences to simplify investigations for a totally aligned view and remediation surface.
    2. Endpoint and Office 365 defender capabilities are now also integrated into the Microsoft 365 Defender portal.

    3. New Threat Analytics experience within the Microsoft 365 Defender portal provides a set of reports from expert Microsoft security researchers designed to help customers understand, prevent, and mitigate active threats, like the recent Solorigate / SolarWinds attacks.

    4. The Secure-core services that are now build into Surface devices (and other leading Windows 10 devices) is also coming to Windows Server and Azure edge devices to help minimise risk from firmware vulnerabilities, attacks, and advanced malware in IoT and hybrid cloud environments.

3. Compliance announcements

    1. Co-authoring of Microsoft Information Protection-protected documents will be available in “public preview” from this week. This in my experience the number one blocker of being able to properly deploy organisational wide information protect across SharePoint sites, Teams, and individual documents since currently (well, prior to this announcement) it was not possible to co-author docs that were encrypted which makes most of the power of Modern Office 365 and co-authoring useless. This feature helps significantly close the gap between security and productivity.

    2. Microsoft Azure Purview was announced in more detail. Purview provides new cross-platform support and deeper insight into data classification and protection across structured and un-structured data across on-premises, data bases, Microsoft Cloud and third-party services including Google and AWS – it’s Azure Information Protection on steroids!

    3. Microsoft 365 data loss prevention (DLP) now supports Google Chrome browsers and on-premises file shares and SharePoint Server as well as SharePoint Online and of course Microsoft’s Edge (Chromium based) browser.

    4. Microsoft 365 Insider Risk Management Analytics was released into public preview.

Power Platform

1. Power Automate Desktop was made free!

This is really really big news for any organisation that is looking, using, or intending to use Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  Power Automate Desktop is a an “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution which is a macro recorder on steroids. You can download it now if you want to try it. It will be available first for #WindowsInsiders to try (built into Windows 10), however it will eventually be rolled out to Windows 10 as a core product (most likely as an optional feature). Until now, a per user for month for the tool would cost about £12 a month. Power Automate currently has circa 400 actions to help build flows across different applications and the best part is that it enables you to build your own scripts to automate time consuming repetitive tasks which saves time and money. Microsoft’s goal here is to “democratise the development for everybody with Power Platform” by making no-code/low-code accessible to everyone not just developers.

2. PowerFX (a new low code programming language) was announced.

PowerFx is a low code programming language that is based on the foundation of the Microsoft Power Apps canvas. What’s great is that since Power Fx is based on Microsoft Excel, it will naturally be a great fit for a wide range of people since it will leverage skills, they “many” already know and becomes a common ground for business users and professional developers alike to express logic and solve problems. Microsoft also said they were planning make Power Fx, open source, making the language available for open contribution by the broader community on GitHub.

3. Dynamics 365 now seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Teams

This ensures conversations, calls, meetings, and chat will be available across dynamics 365 – within opportunities, sales, marketing, finance, and operations.

Windows 10

Windows 10 usually gets a backseat at Microsoft Ignite (as it typically focusses on cloud services and new things), but this year, there were some things which resonated.

1. Power Automate Desktop

As discussed above, Power Automate Desktop was announced and will be free for all Windows 10 users including Windows 10 Home and Pro and not just to Enterprise users. You can read more about this above.

2. Windows 10 in Cloud 

Simply put, cloud configuration is a Microsoft-recommended device configuration for Windows 10, cloud-optimised for users with specific workflow needs. IT admins use Microsoft Endpoint Manager to apply a standard, cloud-based, easy-to-manage configuration of Windows 10 to a selected set of new or existing devices. The configuration works on devices running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise and may be appropriate for workers who only need a limited number of IT-curated and approved applications to meet their targeted workflow needs. User accounts are registered in Azure Active Directory and devices are enrolled for cloud management in Intune, so they are automatically updated with continuous product and security updates.

Microsoft announced that the newly announced Windows 10 in Cloud has now been integrated into Microsoft Endpoint Manager, which will make it even easier to provide a secure device configuration regardless of the type of worker. Microsoft also made a full “Windows 10 in cloud configuration overview and setup guide” available which is designed to help solution integrators, partners, and internal IT teams to apply a uniform, secure and easy-to-manage cloud-based configuration of Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise devices.

3. New version of Windows 10 Perhaps?

Well maybe! During a Fireside chat session at Ignite, Surface and Windows Lead, Panos Panay “teased” of some major updates and design changes coming to Windows. Windows 10 Insider LogoThese were very much hints and teases than any firm commitments but talked a lot about the fact that Microsoft has not “talked about the next generation of Windows for a while” and that he was “so pumped” for it – ending with “it’s going to be a massive year for Windows.”


Written: 05 March 2021

Microsoft “Forms Pro” becomes “Customer Voice”

Dynamics Customer Voice

Yesterday at Inspire, Microsoft’s Global Partner Event, Microsoft made a massive announcement about changes coming to their survey and feedback tool known as Forms Pro). Released almost a year ago to the day, Forms Pro provided a host of additional features to Forms including functionality tied into the Common Data Service and was the suggested replacement for the previous “Voice of the Customer” which was part of Dynamics 365.

Introducing “Customer Voice

Dynamics 365 Customer Voice is a not just a name change for Forms Pro, it’s a new product which will replace Forms Pro – it’s primary focus being to request and manage customer feedback at multiple levels.

As MVP Megan Walker said in a blog, “it took a few steps to get there, but hopefully, now we can see that Microsoft Forms is one product, and Customer Voice is another“.

Customer Voice (which is available from end of August) will have the same notable features as Forms Pro but will also include a host of new capabilities and exciting features.

The user interface will also be separate and different from Microsoft Forms – a move that will hopefully remove a lot of the confusion of not knowing exactly which product was which when using Forms and / or Forms Pro since they do, in essence, look the same!

What are the new Features?

Customer Voice works more on the concept of Projects than just a whole bunch of unstructured surveys. These projects can hold one or more surveys – so the layout is slightly different but easier to manage – for example, you can group surveys based on products or surveys etc.

There are also new satisfaction metrics coming for sentiment, Net promoter or CSAT.

You can also pick new solution templates for projects such as

  • Multiple surveys
  • Branching rules
  • Custom templates and even third-party templates

The full list of features can be found on Microsoft’s office page here:  

Megan – a friend and experts in her field has also done a great video blog on these changes and new stuff…check it out here:

When will the changes kick in?

The transition from Forms Pro to Customer Voice will happen in Mid/Late August 2020 and all existing Forms Pro Surveys and responses will transition across to the new service.

What do you think, are you are Forms Pro user? What do you think of the latest changes?
Let me know

 

Who’s the Gartner Leaders in Analytics and BI?

It appears there’s nothing stopping Microsoft run at being the clear leaders across its cloud and data services.

Just announced, and for the 13th consecutive year, #Microsoft has been positioned as leader in the Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.

For the 2nd year running Microsoft is positioned furthest to the right for completeness of vision and furthest up in the ability to execute within the leaders’ Quadrant. Beating Salesforce, IBM Tableau, Oracle and SAP to the top right spot buy more than just a bit! #PowerBI #microsoft365

Gartner Quadrant for Analytics and BI

Microsoft and Gartner put this leading position down to the following:

Many of the strengths of Power BI come directly from our customer feedback such as:

  • Power BI insights and Office 365 productivity. Power BI looks and feels exactly like the rest of the familiar Office application making every user instantly productive.
  • Find answers fast with industry-leading AI. Power BI incorporates many of the latest advances in Microsoft AI to help non-data scientists prepare data, build machine learning models, and find insights quickly from both structured and unstructured data, including text and images.
  • Meet the most demanding enterprise needs. Power BI works together with Azure Synapse Analytics to enable fast, interactive analysis across petabytes of data.
  • Comprehensive data protection. Power BI is the only BI product that claims to be able to secures customer data through Microsoft Information Protection and Microsoft Cloud App Security, even when data is exported out of Power BI.
  • Turning insights into action. Users can go straight from data to insights and insights to action with the Microsoft Power Platform, combining Power BI with Power Apps and Power Automate to easily build business applications.
PowerBI dashboard

Click here to get the full Gartner Report

Do you use PowerBI?

New AI capabilities promise to transform the physical retail space

OK so a short blog this time and about something I don’t usually write much about… Dynamics

Microsoft have announced 2 major and significant new features coming to its #Dynamics 365 platform which will essentially bring Dynamics 365 AI into real stores.. Which is actually really really cool..

Aimed at bringing AI driven insights to physical retail stores

These two new retail-focused apps named are called “Dynamics 365 Commerce” and “Dynamics 365 Connected Store”.

  • Dynamics 365 Commerce is a solution that will unifiy back office, in-store, call center and digital experiences all within a single interface with “intelligent” features.
  • Dynamics 365 Connected Store will help companies improve the physical retail experience by analysing data from video cameras and IoT sensors to help show traffic flow, dwell zones, dead areas etc allowing retail spaces to better visualise and plan their store front layouts and adjust based on where people foot fall and grouping occurs.

Dynamics 365 Connected Store will help companies improve the physical retail experience by analysing data from video cameras and IoT sensors to help show traffic flow, dwell zones, dead areas etc allowing retail spaces to better visualise and plan their store front layouts and adjust based on where people foot fall and grouping occurs.

This could add real competitive edge to Dynamics retail customers

This release wave will also see a new Dynamics 365 Product Insights, a new application with Dynamics 365 which will use product telemetry to help companies “build richer relationships and improve engagement.”

Learn More – There is a free Microsoft Business Applications Virtual Launch Event on the 10th October in which the world will learn more.

What are Flow and Power Apps all about ?

I was in a client meeting earlier today and we were talking about process automation, their journey to Microsoft 365 and shifting workloads from on-premise to cloud. During the meeting, the words “Microsoft Flow”, Microsoft PowerApps and “Power Platform” came up a handful of times until one of my customers said “Sorry, don’t mean to sound dumb, but what is Flow and PowerApps?”

Now then…I am not an expert in either of these (well yet anyway), but I have been playing around with these for a little while and just wanted to summarise (in-case there are others that simply don’t know) what these are and why you might/should care.

In Summary, Microsoft’s PowerPlatform is made up of a handful of core services, including Flow, PowerApps, Power BI and Dynamics 365

Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow is a cloud based services that can helps you (yes the user not just admins) automate almost any process. Flow is accessed from the Office 365 App Launcher and it does indeed look and feel like it is part of Microsoft Office 365 but actually it is more part of the Business Apps products group and more aligned, in essence to more to Power BI and Dynamics 365.

With Microsoft Flow you can easily build a set of steps that link together to form a process (a bit like If this then that) that start when a certain event happens or is trigger. These events can be a scheduled time, the update or creation of data (for example a file, record or an email) or they can be triggered manually (there’s even Flow buttons you can create). .

All the processes developed in Microsoft Flow use a browser based Flow Designer tool and enable users to create Flows without the need to do any coding (though you can so think “No or Low Code”.

There are loads (hundreds in fact) of template Flows to get you started and i was amazed how quickly it was to set-up a simple “trigger” flow that would detect an email containing a simple string (from a particular sender), send me an alert and add the email body to a Microsoft OneNote page.

Example Flow

I’m not going to go in to “how to create and use” Flows here as the links below will help get you started quickly…definitely worth a play around with one lunchtime!

Power Apps

PowerApps is also part of this “No or Low Code” Power Platform and really they shouldn’t be seen as separate products since they tie in and work really well together.

PowerApps essentially helps people create the interface into the business processes (Flow) that they would like to implement. PowerApps are often used by organisations to replace paper based processes – its similar in nature, if you are familiar with the kinds of apps and forms that Lotus Notes used to offer….

Who’s experts in this space.

There are quite a few dedicated Microsoft Partners in this space, but a couple of good sites and references to learn more (ones i am using anyway) are listed below