Lessons from the recent Microsoft Build developer conference

I recently attended the Microsoft Build conference in Seattle, along with thousands of “the most innovative minds in tech” – or developers as they are commonly known.

As the premiere tech event in the Microsoft world, there were 350 sessions and a multitude of product announcements. While there are many general recaps of the conference, I am going to focus here on what is important to Simient’s client base: government and health agencies who need rapid, usable frontline solutions built on pervasive technology.

Lesson #1: The new Business Application Platform is win-win

The easiest way to explain this is that Microsoft is separating out the platform from its CRM specific applications. Historically, we have used Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM to create “xRM” solutions – which means “anything” relationship management (not just Customer). At Simient we’ve created everything from patient management and clinical information systems for healthcare clients to teacher registration management systems for education.

But to do this, we had to strip out all the CRM functionality (like leads and opportunities) first, which wasn’t always easy or 100% possible.

Now, Microsoft is separating out the underlying platform, which is called the Common Data Model and providing that for partners and clients to build on top of using PowerApps. For custom developers like us, it’s a huge win. First, customers can buy the platform only, at a much reduced price (less than 50% of full CRM licences) which makes creating a line of business application far more affordable. Second, we don’t have to spend any time hiding or stripping out functionality which is another time and cost win. Third, we can simply start with the basic common data model, then either buy or build the solution components we need. Again, much more efficient – in both time and cost.

Dynamics 365 was already a good solution to create custom frontline applications, but this new development makes it an extremely compelling proposition. Faster, easier, cheaper: these are attributes the market will embrace.

Lesson #2: Apps are now easier

It has been challenging to create apps quickly for a Microsoft Dynamics or SharePoint solution. It usually resulted in a user having to log into Dynamics or SharePoint first, navigate through to the desired area, then use it…not the ideal user experience. Alternatively a completely separate application was coded from scratch

But now, PowerApps is perfect for creating standalone apps for high use processes, such as leave forms or incident reports. An app can be quickly designed in PowerApps, which connects to the Common Data Model or SharePoint for its data. Business process flows can also be easily added using the new workflow product “Flow”. Flow comes with over 220 connectors to external data sources (such as Office, Twitter, Trello, ServiceNow) with more being added daily..

In short, creating business apps has never been easier and this will provide clients with the flexibility to make data capture and integrating business processes much more accessible.

Lesson #3: Microsoft is opening up the covers

Microsoft’s vision is to provide technologies that empower the world to do more. From a technical point of view, this means they are embracing open source thinking – in a big way. Instead of the traditional approach of closing off their technology, they are using and integrating with popular open source solutions and are the single largest contributor to the open source repository, GitHub.

Microsoft are also now building and exposing APIs for their platforms and systems that anyone can call, not just themselves. For example, Microsoft Graph lets you securely connect to Office 365, Windows and the Enterprise , to enable scenarios such as onboarding users and finding meeting times, to existing line of business applications. This means you can now build systems with more automation, and expose that information in your own systems.

Embracing open source thinking is much more than just lip service: it’s moving at rapid speed, much to the delight of the development community.

And some final notes

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Some final notes about the conference:

  • It’s a huge conference, held over multiple venues. With up to 12 streams running concurrently, you simply can’t learn about everything and it’s best to choose a couple of focus topics and plan your sessions accordingly.
  • Microsoft’s product managers are listening. One of the most rewarding aspects of this conference was the emphasis on developer feedback straight to Microsoft’s product managers. Not only were they very accessible in person, but there were specific interview sessions available to provide more formal feedback.
  • It’s a spectacle. From the celebration event at the Pop Museum and Gallery to the animal petting zoo, it’s larger and louder than your typical Australian industry event. Taking home a caricature is a case in point!
  • Americans sure do love their Starbucks. While we may have a coffee shop (or more) on every corner, in the States they have a Starbucks on every corner, and the restaurants proudly display they serve Starbucks coffee! Oh, and don’t ask for a Flat White, they don’t know what that means.

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Further resources:

Presentation on PowerApps and Flow

Simient brings technology to the frontline of Australian organisations. At the critical point of service delivery, we make sure frontline staff have the full picture about each client. We’ve worked with many government and private clients to create innovative frontline solutions.

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