Friday 31 January 2020

SharePoint Conference 2020, Las Vegas - my thoughts (and session details)

I’m excited to be speaking again at this year’s official SharePoint Conference, held by Microsoft in Las Vegas in May. SharePoint is still a huge focal point of Office 365, but like other SharePoint events it’s certainly the case that the whilst “SharePoint” is in the name, the truth is that the content extends to most of Office 365 and many aspects of Azure too. I think a few reasons combine to make this an *extremely* interesting time to be talking about SharePoint in context of other elements of Office 365. For most of us of course, this is against a backdrop of how to provide the best tools to an organisation and what a digital workplace should look in these times, and specific areas for me include:

  • The relationship between Teams and SharePoint, and how the two can be combined to provide amazing experiences
  • Project Cortex, the forthcoming toolset that we can expect to be a step-change to how knowledge is generated, discovered, managed and evolved within an organisation
  • How to exploit the Power Platform whilst staying in control of how data is used, and being able to provide effective support for end-user developed apps
  • How to provide a world-class modern workplace, based on an approach that is more than just technology. What specifically are the practices that work in achieving business change and great adoption of the tools, and allow the business to hit the objectives of the program?
  • The forthcoming “new Yammer”, with the move towards community-oriented groups with a different feature set with interesting mobile capabilities
  • Changes in the development landscape, including greater capabilities in the SPFx platform and the broadening out into other areas of Microsoft 365 development. The ability to think beyond Teams and SharePoint, and to understand what kind of experiences can be provided across Office apps is a huge opportunity for most organisations
  • The need for a considered, appropriate security posture
  • Moving forward with AI, so that it becomes something that is weaved into your applications rather than just something discussed aspirationally. High-end data science tools in Azure are one thing, but what about the easier to achieve possibilities across SharePoint, Power Apps and Power Automate? What are they, and how can they be used without developer skills?
I keep saying that we’re in a “what a time to be alive!” period with Microsoft technologies. At an event like this, being able to hear about key developments from Microsoft execs and program managers, as well as some of the best practitioners in the field (and me!), is a great way to accelerate learning and position yourself to drive your organisation or clients forward.

Speakers and sessions

The conference will host over 200 sessions and 20 workshops, with over 100+ exhibitors on the show floor. Speakers from Microsoft include Jeff Teper, Jared Spataro, Dan Holme, Bill Baer, Mark Kashman, Vesa Juvonen, Naomi Moneypenny, Murali Sitaram, Navjot Virk, Karuana Gatimu and many more. There’s a long list of very talented speakers from the industry too, including Andrew Connell, Susan Hanley, Benjamin Niaulin, Eric Shupps, Erwin van Hunen, Paolo Pialorsi, Sebastien Levert, Vlad Catrinescu, John White and more.

The conversations will be great, and I know the people above are always willing to talk in corridors and around the conference.

My session

I’ll be delivering my popular “Office 365 dev hitlist” session – here’s the blurb:

Top Office 365 Development techniques to master - the hitlist:
Things move fast in Office 365 development, and as Microsoft evolve the platform and APIs, new techniques and approaches become available all the time. As the head of a talented dev team, I regularly update my list of techniques that I believe are essential to have good capability building Office 365 solutions. Between SPFx, the Graph, Teams development, coding in Azure Functions and building solutions in PowerApps and Flow, let's walk through high-value scenarios in mid-2020 that should be in every experienced coder's toolbox, with a demo and code sample for each. This session will help you close any skills gaps, and should be a great conversation with some bright minds in the room.

Use code “OBRIEN” for a $50 discount

As usual with this event, if you sign-up and use my surname as the discount code, you’ll get $50 off the ticket price - and of course, the organizers get to know which speakers attendees are interested in. Since this is Las Vegas we’re talking about here, so I’ll be amazed if you can’t find a good use for that $50 😉

Even simpler than typing my name into the box on the form is to use this link which will do it for you Clicking on the image below will take you there too:

More details on the conference

The conference website is at, and has all you need to know about the event, location, pricing, hotels and more. You can also tap into "SharePointTV", which has some great content streamed most Wednesdays going forward.

Hopefully see you at the event!

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Improving Power Apps governance and analytics

Some of the work I’ve been doing (alongside some talented colleagues) recently is around improving governance of Power Platform use within an organization – in particular Power Apps, since a lot of the risk tends to be centred there. It’s becoming increasingly common that the Power Platform can be be widely-adopted within a company (or at least, adoption is growing), but a whole new set of problems become apparent in terms of exactly who is doing what with which apps. In some ways, ungoverned use of Power Apps and Power Automate can become a free-for-all in an organization – and this can cause serious operational problems if a critical app created by someone in the business has problems, or that person changes role or leaves the company. In many cases, people 'out there in the business' can create apps which become critical and users expect I.T. to provide support – but I.T. have a blind spot to what is happening in this area and don’t know the first thing about the application.

Common questions are:

  • How do I.T. get on top of this? How do we become aware of which apps exist already, and which are being created?
  • How do we discover whether apps are connecting to Azure, SQL, SharePoint, or perhaps even SAP, Workday, ServiceNow or ungoverned cloud services such as Dropbox?
  • Which accounts are used for connections? Are they appropriate?
  • Are we protected if that person who made the app leaves the organisation or moves to another role?
We’ve done some work around this with some organizations, partly based on the Power Apps COE starter kit. However..

The Power Apps COE starter kit is not a turnkey solution

Whilst the COE starter kit is a great baseline, as the name suggests this isn’t a turnkey solution. For one thing, unfortunately it’s based on CDS which means immediately that every maker of a significant app in your organization may need additional licensing just to use the governance solution! This seemed crazy to us, since many makers within our clients are using Power Apps extensively, but focusing on apps which only talk to Office 365 sources – and so these users would not therefore would not have a ‘per app’ or ‘per user’ plan license.

So, we decided to create a fork of the COE kit which is re-engineered to store data in Office 365. This side-steps this and provides some additional benefits over the baseline, and is the solution we’re using with our clients.

A peek at what the solution provides

The solution provides quite a few things around analytics, doing a lot of data collection in the background (including app launches from the Office 365 audit logs – another area we had to tweak) to provide a Power BI dashboard which provides some very useful insights. Here's just ONE screen from it, but the tabs across the bottom give you an idea of what else is in there:

The governance framework also introduces the idea of ‘compliant’ and ‘non-compliant’ Power Apps to your organization. This consists of a few things, including requests to app makers to provide a mitigation plan for their app. Exactly what should happen if the app becomes unusable or an update breaks something? Since I.T. aren’t necessarily in a good place to provide SLA support, having these things in place can de-risk the situation significantly across the enterprise. Administrators get to see a traffic light rating of each app, as well as having built a good understand of each app including it’s connections and data sources, the environment used, the usage patterns, the maker(s) and users and so on.

We also do a lot more to facilitate a well-functioning Power Apps maker community – including creation of a Power Apps Knowledge Center site with some policy content we wrote, and using the data we collected about makers, creation of a Yammer group or Microsoft team where all the top makers are invited and introduced to each other. From there, they have a place to share experiences, ask for help and so on.

A podcast interview about this

If you want to hear more, I was interviewed recently by Jeremy Thake for the Microsoft 365 Developer Podcast on this. In fact, we only decided that this would be the topic at the last minute, but I think it came out OK! If the embedded version below doesn’t work, the direct link is: