I had a privilege to attend Microsoft Ignite and Envision conference, the third year in a row from Sep 25-29th, 2017 in Orlando, FL. This is Microsoft’s signature conference focuses on innovations in all three Microsoft cloud platforms (Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365/Office 365, and Dynamics 365) in addition to products like Bing for Business, LinkedIn, and Windows.
Microsoft Day 1 & Day 2 usually focuses on the main keynote, sub keynotes, and product keynotes. This year conference started with Satya Nadella’s vision keynote. This year’s main theme was digital transformation and how Microsoft like to achieve that using modern technologies like AI, IoT, HoloLens. Keynote started with digital transformation and ended with something obscure like Quantum computing. I love attending and listening to Satya’s vision. If you haven’t seen Satya’s keynote, I would highly recommend checking it out on the MS Ignite site.
After the main keynote, I have attended sub keynote to focus on creating a modern workplace with Microsoft 365. One of the first thing I noticed after this keynote was Microsoft started marketing Microsoft 365 suite, and Office 365 is just one of the offerings of that service. I have also noticed Office 365 word or brand isn’t on a billboard anymore and Microsoft is pushing Microsoft 365 offering, which includes their Office, Windows, Mobility, and Security offering in the cloud.
Day 1 was great, but if you are a longtime SharePointer like me, your conference can’t start until you listen to Jeff Teper’s keynote. Day 2 started with Jeff Teper’s SharePoint and OneDrive for Business keynote focusing on product announcements and roadmaps. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but Jeff exceeded everyone’s expectations. Jeff blew everyone’s mind, and he kept dropping new features among lots of loud cheers. Jeff’s commitment to the product and easy to digest materials stands out. There were lots of innovations announced in the SharePoint Online – lot more out of box communication sites features, new SharePoint hub sites, deeper PowerApps and Flow integration, first party SharePoint migration tool, and a new version of SharePoint Server 2019.
I have attended only eight sessions in person this year and caught up on few more online after the conference. My primary focus was Office 365, SharePoint Online, and Power Apps/Microsoft Flow. I wanted to see if SharePoint communication sites and SharePoint framework is ready for the enterprises. Even though with limited attendance, it’s incredible how much my mind exploded with so many announcements throughout the conference.
My most significant takeaway and announcements from the conference are:
- Microsoft’s forward-looking, innovative focus – Artificial Intelligence, Mixed Reality, IoT, bots, etc. Microsoft will build devices and developer tools to support these technologies. AI and bots were present everywhere across all the products at the conference.
- Microsoft 365 for Digital workplace – Microsoft has expanded & rebranded their digital workplace story from Office 365, I was surprised, but you could see Microsoft 365 billboards everywhere.
- Huge innovations on Office 365 Analytics and Windows Upgrade Analytics, In-session control compliance feature to lockdown forward, print, sync, or download features both in Office 365 suites and consumer emails like Gmail.
- Dynamics 365, LinkedIn, and Office 365 Integration to reimagine tenant recruiting and sales enablement process.
- Microsoft’s Power Platform – PowerApps, Power BI, and Microsoft Flow. Amazing benefits of these tools is you have access to Microsoft’s common data service (Microsoft graph with access to Dynamics 365, LinkedIn, and Office 365 data) and it’s open to third-parties to build complex integrated systems with Microsoft data.
- Office 365 Analytics – Content packs will be renamed to Office 365 Usage Analytics, new reader role in Office 365 for Analytics, usage reporting API goes to GA.
- Fantastic set of innovations in Azure Portal – In-browser PowerShell to run PowerShell commands from your mobile phone, New disaster recovery preview, log analytics preview, OS update management preview from portal directly, and files and registry change tracking preview from the portal directly.
- Azure Improvements – Azure availability zones (power, networking, cooling redundant), Azure reserved instances, Azure file sync etc. Also, Azure has a new look & a logo.
- LinkedIn for Business integration in the first party applications like Outlook, Office 365, and SharePoint – LinkedIn powered profiles, huge story around merging internal & external contacts in your communication platform.
- Bing for business integration – Integration with Microsoft Graph for people, docs, it will be available as GA next year, this is a game changer.
- Microsoft Teams is becoming modern intelligent communication tool, will adopt features of Skype for Business, a single client for chat, video, and voice calls.
- Office 209, SharePoint 2019, and Skype of Business 2019 on-premises servers announced for next year.
- SQL 2017 in GA
- Microsoft Graph innovations – Investments in SharePoint lists APIs, Azure functions as web hooks
- Microsoft 365 F1 – New license for the front-line workers.
- Multi-Geo preview for Office 365 & SharePoint Online. This is an excellent win for organizations with multi-national footprint.
- Hundreds of innovations in SharePoint online – PowerApps for list forms, new PowerApps web part, real-time collaboration in excel client (much-awaited feature), folder path display in a document library search, multi-geo search capabilities, new SharePoint Online search center, personalized search results on SharePoint home, voice-enabled accessibility feature.
- SharePoint Online Hub Sites – Ability to associate/disassociate sites to the hub sites. This is a game changer as it solves the dynamic nature of site taxonomy and how sites are organized, rolled up, grouped, and branded.
- Search visual content intelligence – Scan image & video contents to display search results.
- Yammer – Improved integration SharePoint document preview, new modern Yammer web part for SharePoint Online.
- SharePoint Framework v1.3 in GA with modern extensions.
- SPFx Investments – Tenant level properties to customize your deployment pattern, support for Office UI Fabric core, investments in the ALM API (Install, upgrade, delete), ability to have a site collection app catalog rather than tenant level, automatically distribute packaged assets to Office 365 CDN, Web API Support to access Microsoft Graph info, Reusable PnP SPFx placeholder, and property pane controls.
- ALM story around Power Apps and Microsoft Flow – Admin UI to import and export Power Apps and Flow from one tenant to another, PowerShell to automate the import/export, Power BI usage analytics reports for PowerApps.
SharePoint Online Communication Sites, SharePoint Framework, Power Apps, and Microsoft Flow Readiness for Enterprises
With all the innovations with modern pages and modern document libraries, integration with Microsoft Flow/Power Apps, and customization story around SharePoint Framework, one of the burning question I had was, are SharePoint Online modern pages & SharePoint framework ready for the enterprises?
After attending several SPO sessions, one of most important takeaway for me was both SharePoint Online communication sites and SPFx are NOT ready for the enterprises as of now. This is great for small organizations. They are fully committed to both communication and platform development stories. There are lots of innovations coming up, but until we have good customizations and ALM/automation story, I wouldn’t recommend to enterprise customers.
I was also disappointed with the SharePoint Online branding session as I was looking forward to seeing great story around branding communication sites and better ALM story for the deployment automation. The only thing this session delivered was a theming option and design packages for a repeatable branding. I believe this is great, but I was looking for a more robust platform from the Microsoft. Overall, I still feel communication sites branding story is incomplete.
On the other hand, with the concrete ALM story around the Power Apps and Microsoft Flow, I felt like Microsoft Flow and Power Apps are ready for the enterprises. It has a excellent deployment ALM story with both UI and PowerShell scripts. It also has a great usage analytics, debugging, and performance monitoring reporting.
Conference Activities and Logistics
The second year in a row, I am impressed with how Microsoft runs their conferences. You will never run out of choices in the midst of the hundreds of activities – 75 minutes breakout sessions, 45 minutes of short breakout sessions, theatre sessions, expo & evening happy hours, after-event parties, Microsoft product engineering booths, Microsoft mechanics & podcast area, HOLs (Hands-on Labs), Immersion Labs (private 6-8 people, case study focus scenarios) and list goes on. This year, I had decided to try out little bit everything. I was very picky with my sessions but didn’t want to miss out the expo, product team booths, HOLs, and Immersion labs.
My expo visits included talking to various vendors like Sharegate (SP migration), Metalogix (SP migration), Nintex (SP Workflows/forms), Rencore (SP customization), Hyperfish (Profile Completeness), and LiveTiles (SP Intranet & AI with modern experiences). These are good vendors to partner with. Speaking to product engineering group especially Teams, SharePoint, and Azure, one thing stands out that they are listening to user’s voice very closely. They are committed to bridging any gaps there are from previous API/toolset/scenarios and support in the new toolset.
My favorite activities of the Microsoft Ignite is lounging in the lounge viewing area. Not only it allows you to switch to another session if you think you are in the wrong session but it allows you to relax and switch off both technology & conference stress. Having ESPN and CNN as one of the channels along with key sessions was a huge help. I must say though lounge viewing area can be a huge distraction if you want to attend a focused session. You will be tempted to flip channels to attend various sessions, and it may mentally exhaust you (how many you flip channels on Netflix for more than half an hour before deciding to stop watching altogether, the same principle applies here).
Every year, I try my best to analyze conference location, logistics, and food. I must say – Orange County Convention center in Orlando is huge and arguably my favorite location. I loved the way venue had various seating areas (benches, couches, bean bags, etc.) sprinkled throughout the conference building (both indoor & outdoor).
Microsoft rented both North/South & West buildings. One of the worst parts was a mile-long bridge walk between North/South and West building in a toasty Orlando weather. Good luck if you wanted to make up this distance in 30 minutes in-between sessions. I realized very quickly that I needed to drink a lot more water than Chicago to cope Orlando weather to avoid any headaches. Also – The long queues, hundreds of people have become a norm for the Microsoft Ignite so, either you get used to it but try to stay away from attending the conference.
I must say – Food at the Orlando Convention center probably best among last three conferences. I hated Atlanta’s large sandwiches, and I don’t even recall how bad Chicago food was. Although it’s not great, I loved the balanced food options (carbs, protein, salad, fruits, desert) as a container. There were also lots of self-paid food options throughout the convention center.
Just like Atlanta last year, Microsoft reserved lodging space in three major areas – Convention Center, Universal Studio, and Disney Springs. Microsoft had daily shuttles to transport conference attendees from these remote locations. Since I am not a morning guy, one of my favorite habits was to live stream first session while commuting to the conference on shuttles. That allowed attendees to have best of both – attend session & have relaxed time while commuting to the conference location for the 2nd session of the day.
Last but not the least, I can’t praise enough Microsoft Ignite Mobile App and WIFI throughout the conference center. I simply loved way finder in the App from one location to another location in addition to schedule builder/my conference calendar. Microsoft started live-streaming sessions on the Ignite App since last year, which not only helped session overflow situation but it also greatly helps if you want to relax in the quiet area and enjoy the session from a distance.
Just prior to final wrap, I wanted to share an amazing map of the twitter cloud with various attendees & Ignite products relationship. It’s no coincident that I was situated as a small town at the crossroads of SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer. These are the areas I had tweeted/retweeted most often and it’s great to have a validation.
This year’s Microsoft Ignite is probably one of the best conferences I have attended. I still have few reservations about the venue especially that dreaded bridge walk, but overall, I would rate this Ignite had much better location/venue, attendee party, content, and list of activities. I would like to extend my thanks to two wonderful consulting companies – my former employer (Slalom for initiating registration) and current employer (West Monroe Partners for picking up the expenses) to allow me to attend this conference and making this happen.