Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Microsoft Envision at London’s Excel.
This was the first in-person-only event Microsoft had run in some four years, and it was absolutely packed with a real buzz and energy I haven’t seen at an event in years.
Whilst there was nothing new* announced, they did a good job of bringing together all the announcements over the past six months and putting some real-life context and examples around them.
*New stuff – this is fast paced and evolving, so expect to hear more updates and news after 1 Nov and then again at Microsoft Ignite which happens 14-17th Nov.
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.
High notes from the keynote
The event featured 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, 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.
It also featured 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 on Microsoft 365 Copilot, Sales Copilot and Security Copilot. He 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). 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 In November.
Microsoft covered a lot of ground in this session, most of which was a rinse and repeat of things we’d seen before. But delivering this on stage in front of thousands of people had 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.
Breakout blind spot
I was less impressed by many of the breakouts, though to be fair I only attended a handful of them.
Many were 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, and the exhibition halls were buzzing.
Pressing the flesh
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 mainly aimed at business leaders). For me it was great to meet many of our customers, (some of whom I’d previous only met over Teams).
It 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 Dynamics 365 is now, for example.
Satya sums up
Unlike previous events, this event 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 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 really resonated with the audience.
- That the AI wave is bigger than when Windows and Office transformed the office back in the 90s.
- That 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”.
Quickenden’s quick takeaways
The AI opportunities presented and showcased at Envision by Microsoft focused on four main pillars
- Enriching Employee Experiences,
- Re-inventing Customer Engagement,
- Reshaping business processes and
- Bending the curve on innovation
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.
There is lots to do to make it work.
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, or protecting it from mis use or leakage. Many are not there yet and I fear that many will miss this important step and jump straight in – resulting in poor results, low ROI, and poor adoption.
Cloud adoption is what makes AI possible. The UK has good cloud adoption in the main, but it’s very hit and miss in my experience. Some are all in while 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.
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.