Microsoft Ignite interview with Executive Team on #ArtificialIntelligence, #Data, #OpenSource and #Cloud

There were a number of announcements across Azure Data + AI at Microsoft Ignite, and Im delighted to say that I had the opportunity to interview Rohan Kumar, Corporate Vice President, Azure Data at Microsoft, and Eric Boyd, Corporate Vice President, AI at Microsoft.

In the interview, Rohan Kumar and Eric Boyd give their opinions and thoughts to myself and Cathrine Wilhelmsen on the big picture across Data & AI.  I was super excited since it was the first time that these Microsoft executives had been interviewed together and I was particularly interested to see how Rohan and Eric cross-reference each other’s areas. It’s clear that they are working in orchestration as a team, and I’m glad to see that because I do see that data and Artificial Intelligence impact one another so much.

Rohan and Eric talk about the announcements that excited them both, and there was also a good discussion on the role of Open Source at Microsoft, and what role it plays in Microsoft’s Data and Artificial Intelligence story.

There was a great discussion on Eric and Rohan’s thoughts on its role in making insights, Artificial Intelligence and insight-driven analysis real for organizations. Every organization on the planet has got data, and Microsoft are carving a path for the organizations that want to make use of it.

I’m personally interested in Amara’s Law, which states that “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” So I was interested in Rohan and Eric’s perspectives on what aspects of AI are real versus hype. What is Microsoft doing to make AI real and actionable for customers?

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We wrapped up with a great conversation on the Microsoft and Facebook collaboration?, which I personally find interesting.

It was  real life-achievement for me to participate in the Microsoft Ignite Community Reporter team, and it was a real achievement for me to interview the Microsoft Executives. I’d like to thank Rohan Kumar and Eric Boyd for their time and for sharing their wisdom and insights.

I was also glad to be on board with Cathrine Wilhelmsen. Cathrine was a wonderful friend and support throughout the week and she’s not just an expert in her domain, but she’s a very giving person in terms of her friendship and support. So the interview holds special meaning for me since I was glad to have the opportunity to work with her.

Why I changed my mind about #PowerApps and became a fan… and why you should, too

This blog post title was initially titled ‘Why I disregarded PowerApps but now I radically changed my mind’. I changed my mind and I now think that PowerApps is a very powerful tool and basically it does a lot of the app form functions that Access does but way better. I get it now and I want to explain how I changed my mind about PowerApps.

PowerApps performs the same function as Access can do: building the business apps you need and extend or customize the apps you already use. Only, PowerApps does it way better because it has the robustness, scalability, security and performance of the Azure cloud with Office365 inbuilt in the app from the start.

In this blog post, I’ll set out where I think PowerApps fits in the business, and why it’s way better than Access. There are plenty of PowerApps templates but I hope that this post will convince you to give it a try.

TL;DR – I care about producing business-friendly solutions that are maintainable, robust, perform well, have potential for scale, and that I can hand off to an IT support team. PowerApps gives me these things. Access does not because it is not always backed up, or placed on a network so people can update it, and it is not always secured properly. So you can think about migrating your Access apps to Power Apps, for example. In this blog post, we will answer the following questions:

  • What can PowerApps do for you?
  • How do you get started with PowerApps?
  • What I’d like to see PowerApps do next

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Any questions, please let me know or get in touch to schedule some time to talk further.

 

What can PowerApps do for you?

PowerApps allows you to design, create, use and share custom business apps with your team and organization. PowerApps installation means that you can use apps that have been shared with you, and it also means that you can create your own apps.

What kind of apps can you create? Intelligent laziness is very important! The automation of tasks means that you can focus on the activities that are more meaningful and add more value to the organization. If you are leading a team, then it means that you and your team can work wherever you happen to be, on any device.

What kind of apps can you create? Many Access forms could be redone in PowerApps since they involve data entry. Here are some examples:

  • Connect apps to your existing data, such as SharePoint, Salesforce, Dropbox, Google Drive and more
  • Create and update customer invoice, receipt and order forms
  • Create Helpdesk apps
  • Create Expense apps

As a BI person, I have spent time curing businesses from cottage industry Access databases and Access forms. Often, in my experience of rescuing Access databases and forms, I find that they proliferate through the business, usually unmonitored, untested properly and aren’t always production ready. They are often built in an ad-hoc fashion. In short, when I find some Access, I perform an internal sigh and I immediately start to mastermind it’s replacement. Access is often a the sticking plaster to solve a genuine business problem and it is quick to produce something quick. As Brent Ozar puts it, Access has Play-Doh factor. Yes, it’s an old post from Brent Ozar ( b ¦ t ) but it is still holding true.

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So when I saw PowerApps at first, my reaction was ‘Oh no, it’s the new Access’. My initial vision was that developers would hate it, and I’d spend my life running around chasing after apps as well as Access to make them production ready.

So here’s what I found:

PowerApps has the IT guardian role built in

PowerApps solves the Access problem of scaleability, robustness and performance. PowerApps is built in Azure as part of Office365 so that means that Azure takes care of these factors for you. For me, this is a massive relief because I care about producing solutions that are maintainable, robust, perform well, have potential for scale, and that I can hand off to an IT support team. When I leave site, I want to leave with a job well done. I don’t intend to be there forever; it’s not what I do. So I like to enable others and bring people on a journey that they can continue without me. So what does PowerApps mean for the small business?

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PowerApps for the Small Business 

PowerApps is robust and secure. If you are using Access or Excel to run your business, then you should consider PowerApps. It provides a much more robust way for small companies to track data and projects than Excel or Word because it is in the cloud so you don’t need to worry about losing or screwing up your Excel spreadsheet of inventory, orders and so on. Also, it means that you can be more confident that your data is secure because it is in the cloud, and not on a USB.

PowerApps is mobile. It is also an easy way to mobilise apps as well. The functionality is built in. This is another big win over Access, in my book. This means that PowerApps has the most value added for tracking your organization in terms of projects, budgets, and growth.

PowerApps lets IT do their job more easily. PowerApps will give your IT people an easier way to manage your business-built apps rather than having them hidden on a laptop somewhere. PowerApps lets IT do their job, of being the guardian of the data and the IT function. It’s easy to maintain, which is idea for the organic business user turned power user turned ad-hoc techie. The idea of creating databases and trying to maintain them seems like an unnecessary use of resources; however, for small businesses, PowerApps creates a database for you so you can focus on what you need to do for your organization: managing growth and delivering success.

PowerApps has Play-Doh factor but in a good way. Creating apps in PowerApps allows a business to customize its own apps, thereby streamlining business processes. For example, you can use it to track crucial business information for each customer, including contact information, addresses, order information, invoices, and payments. Since it is in the Azure cloud, team members can access and update it, so the information can stay current and secured. Since the frm is a central idea to Power Apps, this helps small businesses ensure that employees enter data accurately and consistently so your data is cleaner at source.

How do you get started with PowerApps?

At a high level, here are the steps:

  • Choose from professionally designed templates to start quickly
  • Start with a blank canvas, and customize to suit your needs
  • Add business logic and intelligence using the power of Excel-like expressions
  • Create interactive visuals and media to build unique, professional apps

PowerApps is an easy jump for the BI Developer who already knows DAX. To create more custom apps, PowerApps has some object-oriented ‘formula’ that you can change, configure and set. It also has intellisense so you are guided to program correctly.

PowerApps is constantly being updated. For information about what’s new in this release, please see this topic: https://aka.ms/powerapps-releasenotes

Why Microsoft does not need to prove it’s another IBM: Work is what we do, not where we are.

Does Microsoft have to prove it’s not another IBM? I read this article from the Verge, which suggested that Microsoft would have to prove that it’s not another IBM. The article suggests that ‘Microsoft is increasingly focusing its efforts on businesses rather than consumers’, evidenced by the Windows demos being relegated to Day Two.

In the article, the author states that ‘Microsoft can’t afford to become the next IBM and lose any relevance it still holds with consumers, but if it’s not careful, that might be inevitable.’ I would strongly disagree with this assertion. Let’s take a look at where Microsoft are going.

Work is what we do, not where we are. That’s why the Alexa and Cortana integration is so important.

From the Build keynote, I got the real sense that Microsoft are paying attention to consumers with the Alexa and Cortana integration. I see the split quite neatly; Alexa for Amazon type of requests where I want to order something, or use an Amazon service such as Audible. I see the Cortana aspect of Alexa as ramping up the productivity, both personal and professional, for consumers. Microsoft remember their consumers and this view will help Microsoft in efforts to retain mainstream mass market success beyond Windows and Office. The reality is that our life boundaries between work and play are pretty blurred nowadays, and Microsoft understand that. Work is what we do and part of who we are; work is not a place to go, do work, and come back again. Our lives are way too confusing for that simplicity and those days are gone.

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Microsoft has the opportunity to show the world this week what it really stands for, and, for me, Microsoft seems to ‘get’ people and the mess that is our lives. Additionally, there will always be the diversity aspect that Microsoft brings to the table. In the Day One keynote, for example, it was inspiring to see work teams collaborating productively with a deaf team member, and ensuring that she was part of the team.

Another aspect of Microsoft Build is that diversity does not mean sticking pretty young women up on the stage in some sort of reverse move; sexism in the guise of diversity where organizations pretend to be diverse by showing ‘babes’ as presenters. The Microsoft Build stage was shared with real women leaders who have a passion for technology, as well as an inclusive message by showing how technology helped a techie who is deaf. Microsoft’s demo showed that her deafness was part of who she is, but it did not stop her from doing what she loves. As a female in technology, this means a lot to me. Having complained on booth babes in the past, I feel that diverse groups have a home at Microsoft and Microsoft are showing the way by example. That’s real leadership, and that’s why I don’t think Microsoft need to prove that they aren’t IBM in disguise at all; they are embedding this perspective in their DNA.

With Satya Nadella at the helm, there is a real care and concern, almost a love for people and the planet, which imbued Satya’s keynote.

During the keynote, Nadella talked about Microsoft’s impact on people and planet through opportunity and responsibility, and they were right at the front and start and centre of the keynote. For that, as someone on a Buddhist journey as well as a female in tech, that was a key takeaway for me. I felt that Satya’s keynote talked directly to me.

Microsoft are serious about open source, and making it a first-class citizen. Microsoft is single largest contributor to open source on GitHub. According to GitHub, Microsoft has the largest open source community in the entire world with Visual Studio Code. If this is a surprise, you weren’t paying attention and it shows a real commitment to the creativity of developers. IBM has a story for open-source too and they have shown themselves to be leaders in this area. Microsoft seem to be splattering open source everywhere and I get the impression that they are way more vocal about it than IBM are. In fact, I don’t think you can actually avoid it in many Microsoft products anymore. Take R, for example; it’s in everything from SQL Server through to Power BI, and you can even use R in Excel, which is, after all, the world’s favourite Business Intelligence tools and one of the most unsung inventions of the 20th century.

I don’t believe that the promises of AI are ‘vague’ at all, as suggested by the article. There are clearly many opportunities for intelligent drones, as evidenced by Microsoft’s forward-looking partnership with DJI. It’s important to note that IBM also have a partnership with Aerialtronics. In this sense, both organizations are going in the same direction. I’m not sure what’s vague about it from the Microsoft perspective; they’ve signed up with a manufacturing giant, and I think that’s good news. I also think competition is a good thing, but I also think that Microsoft are placing the opportunity in the hands of developers and that’s allowing freedom and creativity, being mindful of Satya’s commentary about ethical AI and its responsibilities.

MIcrosoft should not fear IBM at all.  I see Microsoft as having a consumer and business audience. Consumers will still be a focus for Microsoft between Windows, Mixed Reality, Xbox, Office and other services, along with new innovations such as the Alexa/Cortana piece mentioned earlier. Microsoft have clearly gone after enterprise as a focus, especially in the Cloud sector. Those bets have been paying off as the Azure business is growing, and going from strength to strength and the strategy is continuing to prove itself to shareholders, and that’s crucial as an independent barometer.

 

TIL: Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) for veterans

Now I’m part of the Regional Director Program, I’ve decided to learn more broadly about some of the great things that Microsoft do in order to be a diverse and conscious organization.

I was interested to read about the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), which is aimed at veterans with career skills required for today’s growing technology industry, as they progress from their military careers to their new careers.

The MSSA is aimed at all sorts of careers.  There are even Business Intelligence careers mentioned here, which I love. MSSA Programs are available at major military locations nationwide in the US, so it’s clearly something they’ve thought about, and are taking seriously.

You can read more here.

Want to know more about #Fintech? Fintech-friendly Microsoft have teamed up with 11:FS to support Fintech democratization of knowledge

11:FS announced that Microsoft has become a strategic partner on their Fintech Insider podcasts. Microsoft wants to be an integral part of tackling some of the biggest challenges in financial services and collaborate on topics of interest to the industry audience.

11:FS, from Fintech Insider, is the #1 business podcast for Fintech innovators, influencers, and those eager to learn more about this exciting space.

The latest podcast from London is one of my favourites: Deputy Mayor of London, Rajesh Agrawal, to talk about how Brexit is set to affect the city. As a micro business owner, I was particularly interested in how Agrawal plans to encourage entrepreneurship in London As someone with a keen interest in diversity, there is an interesting segment on how the gender diversity needs to be encouraged to maximise the talent available; particularly important after Brexit.

To summarise, I’m glad to see Microsoft are supporting the democratization of data – and Fintech – in this way. I hope you’ll tune in. See you there!

Nominating MVPs; growing the tech community via the MVP Program

Over the weekend, I nominated another two people for the MVP Award. It’s possible that they will not be awarded, of course; I have no influence on the process. I like to nominate people; if they aren’t put forward for an Award, then they will never get it, but I always hope that they do. Why not put someone forward? It only takes a few moments and you could change someone’s life!

What does it really mean to be an MVP?  I’ve had this privilege for the last seven years, and this is just a list of my opinions. I don’t represent the Microsoft MVP Program or anyone else here; this is just a list of my opinions.

You will not get business out of it. Again, my personal opinion: I don’t believe that the MVP Award is given out for paid activities. I could be wrong but I believed it was only due to community unpaid contributions. If you are trying to build a business on being an MVP,  or you think it will help you to build a business, then you haven’t understood the Award. It’s hard to understand where the line is drawn, however. I think of it as the ‘Father Ted’ rule, referring to the series’ running joke about Father Ted’s continued defense of himself over money, and the other characters simply do not believe him. If an activity is open to interpretation and you have to keep justifying it to other people, or to yourself, perhaps it isn’t falling on the MVP side of the fence and you’d have to speak with the MVP lead in order to get clarification and advice as well as some direction in areas where you could contribute in order to get or keep the MVP Award. The MVP Lead can keep you right.

The MVP Award is a gift that can be taken away at any time. So why not share it with other people? I believe that the true mark of a leader is that they give power away, and take care of what they leave behind. You can nominate other people at the MVP Site.

Be technically outstanding. The MVP Award can be a label that people will try to use against you. I do see this in the workplace from time to time, where people can see you as being put on a pedestal, and before they have even met you in person, they are intent on knocking you off and knocking you down. My response to this is simply that I need to be ten times as good in order to get to the same place. So, I work incredibly hard in order to make sure that happens. It can feel like you’re the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running a race to keep up. The end result is that, once you’re an MVP, you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep running. Also, note that the MVP Award doesn’t always mean as much to other people as it does to you. I visited an organization this week, actually, who had never heard of it and couldn’t care less; they were only interested in what I could offer them. Fortunately I stood up to the test!

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Forget about number one, and have a higher vision in mind. You take a risk by being ‘seen’. You have to prepare yourself for greatness, if you want to be great at anything. This involves risk, which is the risk of being seen. You have to work at balancing a need for acceptance, which can make you invisible, versus the risks of making yourself seen. Being seen can make you vulnerable, and my way through it is by being authentic. People aren’t always going to like you. This is a tough one; it’s important to rise above it when people criticize you, and it’s important not to join in criticism of other people, too. I think you have to strive to be the person and the leader that you’d like to be. Don’t get pulled down. I’ve had some really terrible things said about me, and I just ignore it. It’s not weakness or stupidity if you don’t fight back: it’s about letting people show themselves, and having faith that others will see it.  Hard as it might be to swallow, you have to strive to show people a better way. This attitude can feel very out-of-place in the world of social media where everyone’s opinions are regarded as equivalent, and it comes down to ‘who shouts the loudest’. You have to strive to be better than that. It’s one of the risks and vulnerabilities of being seen.

Share your passions for technology. So, pass the Microsoft exams, blog, produce videos, or whatever content is your passion. You’ll learn more by sharing, trust me.

I don’t know if I will make it to 8 years as an MVP. I will find out in July. I have had a blast and I am grateful to be part of it. I show it by nominating others; so why don’t you do the same thing?

 

 

10 Golden Rules of MVP Summit

After seven years as an MVP, I’m still starry-eyed because I’m privileged to be part of the program. Thank you Microsoft for having me to the MVP party, and for providing me with this great award. I’ll continue to strive to be worthy of your trust and acknowledgement.

If you’re attending MVP Summit for the first or even the nth time, then there are a few golden rules that might help you to make the most of MVP Summit. Here’s my golden rules. Feel free to add some more in the comments.

Note that this isn’t an official, Microsoft endorsed list. It’s just my thoughts.

  1. Keep the NDA and adhere to the any Microsoft Code of Conduct that’s in place. Essentially, I boil this down to the following ethic: be decent.
  2. Be nice to Microsoft team members. This is huge for me.  I know you’re excited to be an MVP but that doesn’t mean you have the right to give grief to any Microsoft team members. Be polite and respectful when you ask questions and provide feedback.  Leave the ego at the front door; it’s not required. We all want to give Microsoft solutions even more sparkle because we can see the difference that they make to people’s lives every day, and we can help bring that colour to conversations. Microsoft Program Managers have most likely heard your feedback already, from the thousands and thousands of customers who provide feedback. You’re probably not providing ‘news’ but rather confirming something they’ve heard before.  So please make sure to thank your Microsoft community leads, all of the Product Groups, and all of the Microsoft staff who have taken time to present, answer your questions, take your feedback, and generally participate. I mean, everyone. Right down to the people you may not ‘see’, for example, the Microsoft team member who serves your coffee in the morning or takes away your cups. That person got up early, travelled to work, to stand and make your coffee all day. Thank them. Ask them how they ‘re doing. They are part of the event too.
  3. Be nice to the people who look after the shuttles and take you safely back to your hotels. These people stand outside for hours of the day in the Seattle rain, making sure that you get to where you need to be. If your shuttle is a bit delayed, it’s not the end of the world. It will arrive, and you’ll be on your way. But that person doesn’t need grief from you, or the next ‘you’ who comes after you. They’re doing their job and an appreciative ‘Thank You’ costs you nothing.
  4. Go to many events and make friends. Personally, I don’t like crowds but I make a real effort here. I usually find a ‘friendly face. Which brings me to my next point.
  5. Be a ‘friendly face’ for someone. Be that person that reaches out. Be the person that you’d have liked to have met, on your first visit to MVP Summit.
  6. Be gentle when others ask questions. Not everyone has English as a first language, and the diversity aspect is one of the main drivers for my attendance. People may go to a talk that is way out of their normal environment, but they deserve the same chance to learn.
  7. Be constructive in conversations. Microsoft folks work superlatively hard and you can be part of the customer voice if you’re providing feedback. It’s an incredible privilege.
  8. Remember that your individual scenario may not extrapolate to the whole population. That feature you really really want? There are probably other people who really really want another feature. That shouldn’t stop you from asking for a great product feature, but it’s important to acknowledge that they have the ‘long view’ and they make the decisions and they have visibility of things that you don’t see.
  9. Offer to help Microsoft folks. If a team member can’t or won’t answer your question, remember it is a gift that we are even there in the first place. Just offer to help.
  10. Diversity is important. It’s a diverse program and I hope you’ll make the most of the opportunity to make friends from all over the globe, with different perspectives and cultures..

I’ll be attending so I wanted to add one more thing:

ILLGOWithYouI’ll go with you.

Yes, this. If you need it, I’m there for you. #IllGoWithYou. My Twitter handle is jenstirrup if you want to get in touch.

Summary

We are part of a privileged group, but it’s important to recognise that it is a gift from Microsoft. I look forward to seeing you there.

Finally –

Enjoy yourself! In the words of Bill and Ted, Be Excellent to each other. And yourself.