Sunday 31 January 2021

Slide deck and videos - Building AI into Power Platform solutions

This is a quick post to publish some resources I created recently covering considerations for using AI in the Power Platform. They are from a talk I gave at ESPC 2020 (the European SharePoint, Microsoft 365 and Azure Conference).

For many people getting into building Power Apps and Power Automate solutions, the obvious first choice is the "AI Builder" capability which comes as part of the platform, but as I've discussed elsewhere there are certainly options beyond that - each with different costs and capabilities. 

Topics covered include:

  • What you can expect to pay for AI
  • Different implementation approaches, specifically:
    • Power Apps AI Builder
    • Use of Azure Cognitive Services from code
    • Use of Azure Cognitive Services in a Flow (Power Automate)
  • A real world scenario - building an Incident Reporting Power App which uses AI to alert a human when a serious incident is detected
One area of focus is how Microsoft 365 technologies can easily be strung together to create high value solutions with minimal effort. The slide below depicts how Power Apps, SharePoint, Power Automate, Azure Cognitive Services and Teams each play their part in my demo scenario:

We can expand on how each technology is used as follows:

The slide deck hopefully has a few more useful slides too - it can be browsed or downloaded below.

Slide deck - Building AI into Power Platform solutions:

Demo videos

Demo 1In this video we take a part-built app and integrate with Power Automate to take the photo captured from the user's phone and store it in Microsoft 365/SharePoint:

Demo 2In this video we add AI to the application by integrating image recognition from Azure Cognitive Services. We do this using Power Automate in Microsoft 365, with no code required:

Sunday 3 January 2021

Trends and predictions - I.T. project priorities for 2021

The holiday season and start of a new year is always a good time to pause, collect thoughts and reflect on what the upcoming 12 months are likely to bring. As usual for this time of year, there's no shortage of crystal ball-gazing and there are many forecasts and prediction lists from industry watchers and analysts. However, for our work at Content+Cloud I find that some specific thinking around the components of Microsoft 365, modern workplace, security and existing in the Microsoft partner ecosystem is helpful. Whilst these aren't our only service lines by any means, a significant slice of our projects revolve around these strands - and so my list has a sprinkling of these Microsoft-specifics mixed with my general expectations for the types of organisation we work with.

A backdrop of accelerated digital transformation

Before we get to my 2021-specific list, it goes without saying of course that the general theme of accelerated digital transformation will persist and the staple projects this brings in the Microsoft space will continue. Generalised examples for us include:

  • Adoption of Microsoft 365, including SharePoint and Teams migration projects, implementation of Teams Voice etc.
  • Public cloud adoption (Azure) - either led by datacenter migrations, Windows/SQL end of life, app modernisation or greenfield development
  • Desktop refresh/Managed Desktop implementation 
  • Digital Workplace implementation
  • Cybersecurity projects
  • Cloud operating model and service design

Given that many organisations are still on the cloud modernisation journey and the more mature see digital transformation as an ongoing process rather than an individual programme or project, all these are relative constants for our era that provide a bedrock of work to address. But moving beyond this segment, let's think about what might be more distinct for this year. 

Predictions and project types for 2021

  • Zero trust and information governance projects - representing continued security prioritisation, especially implementation of technologies which support zero trust (e.g. device and identity management), policy implementation, data classification and governance (especially around external sharing), security awareness training, phishing simulation, dark web monitoring and standards accreditation.
  • "Productivity governance" projects - for organisations invested in Microsoft 365 the need for need more robust Teams, SharePoint and Power Platform controls and policies will become commonplace. Organisations failing to address this will suffer from risk and complexity from the unmanaged proliferation of workspaces and apps and the lack of a coherent experience.
  • Teams apps and solutions growth - a move towards Teams becoming the "OS for business" with organisations having an increased appetite for bringing more of their tools inside Teams. Companies will reassess their posture for Teams store apps, custom apps and integrations - driven by user demand for enhanced meeting solutions, project and sales solutions, HR and team processes, remote collaboration apps and integrated calling (i.e. Teams Voice). New custom applications will be surfaced in Teams in many cases.
  • Hybrid working excellence - indeed, some companies will adopt a "remote first" approach when considering their tools and experiences. In both cases, focal points will include:
    • Digital Workplace - this will be a priority for companies who have not yet addressed their gaps, and ready-to-go solutions truly integrated with Microsoft 365 (like our Fresh product) will provide the best overall outcomes
    • Remote collaboration - co-authoring of whiteboards, mind maps, process flows etc. Notably, Microsoft need to evolve their Whiteboard offering to compete with Miro, Lucidchart/Lucidspark, XMind, and others here.
    • Employee experience - in particular employee onboarding, communications and engagement, knowledge sharing and communities of practice.

      For most this will be Digital Workplace-oriented (see above). However, others with specific needs may look to improve their communications ability in different ways (e.g. the rise of the "employee app" for retail and field-based organisations or those with a contingent workforce). 

      For others, the focus may be on modernisation of project or CRM tools.

    • A push on "working out loud" culture - regular narration of work on an internal social tool such as Yammer, publishing team news regularly (especially short form), early sharing of plans and work, lunch and learn sessions etc.
    • Virtual events and training - building the muscle and technology support for virtual town hall or leadership connection events (internally-facing) and webinars and mini-conferences (externally-facing). Teams Live Events may be the default for most organisations invested in Microsoft 365, but Microsoft will need to continue to innovate here too.
  • Return to office execution - for many organisation this starts with dusting off their plans delayed by later lockdowns, with the implications of the vaccination schedule providing a new lens. The threat of future legal challenges (perhaps from employees suffering long-term Covid health issues), in addition to internal optics, drives the need to prove that the employer duty of care was properly discharged. This means increased record keeping and proper implementation of social distancing - with desk/room/shared space booking apps, health declarations and Covid test result tracking coming to the fore. 
  • Process improvement and automation - deeper automation of customer and supplier operations, finance and HR processes, JML (joiners/movers/leavers). Expect to see integration of digital signatures and AI into more processes, and the auto-generation of Office and PDF documents (contracts, invoices and the like) to become more commonplace.

Other trends of note

In broad terms, we'll also see other impacts from movements such as the democratisation of AI and automation, data modernisation and the rise of low code technologies.

Other specific developments mean we can also expect big changes to how documents work in the future. We all use documents yet they have huge limitations (something I discussed recently in Project Cortex - training SharePoint Syntex to read your documents like a human) - however, the near future will bring "dynamic shared content" which can be surfaced and co-authored simultaneously in a document, e-mail message, Teams chat message and/or SharePoint page. This will be powered by Microsoft's Fluid Framework and will underpin a new generation of collaboration experiences from both Microsoft and 3rd party developers.

I believe other trends will also emerge, such as increased adoption of "portable huddle" technology - a BYOD approach to meeting room tech for equipping a shared space which is NOT a city-based corporate office or high-end working hub. This will support in-person local group collaboration in less formal locations for workshops, kick-offs, team meetings and so on, whilst providing a good audio visual experience and allowing integration with Teams and collaboration tools. 


These initiatives and project types represent a focusing of the lens for ambitious organisations looking to optimise organisational effectiveness in 2021. Aside from my list above and other emerging trends, other themes such as cost reduction are certainly not going to go away - projects around asset management and cloud governance/cost optimisation in particular will persist. 

2021 will be a fascinating year for I.T. as we emerge from a tumultuous period - but transformation opportunities abound for those able to seize them! 

P.S. If you think I missed something big in the Microsoft space or my views don't chime with yours, let's discuss on Twitter or LinkedIn