Microsoft Ignite 2018 was a great event and, as usual, Microsoft did a phenomenal job organizing this 30,000 person conference. The manpower, planning, organization, and technology required to make all of this happen was nothing short of amazing. If you have a chance to attend MS Ignite or Inspire in 2019, then I highly recommend it! Also, if you are a SharePoint fan, then check out SharePoint Conference 2019 in Vegas May 21-23 and use code SHANNON for a $50 discount!
So what was Microsoft focusing on at MS Ignite this year? Satya Nadella's keynote was focused primarily on 2 things. First, was the Open Data Initiative. Second, was AI and the AI for Humanitarian Action.
However, Microsoft Teams seemed to be the primary focus throughout the week. Teams is Microsoft's fastest growing product to date, which is no small feat! If you remember correctly, SharePoint once had that title too.
So what is the big deal with Teams and why all of the focus on it? It is basically a direct competitor to Slack, but has a very Microsoft spin to it. There is a chat function, you can create teams/groups for sharing files, you can add tabs for SharePoint pages, SharePoint web parts, add-ins from the store, etc. Microsoft intends for it to be THE app that you use for everything, except email (for now). Bringing emails into Teams was a topic I heard discussed several times by attendees, but getting people to stop using Outlook may be nearly impossible!
Microsoft Flow has really matured since I last used it. New features, connectors, actions, and more are being added regularly! Before you jump into using 3rd party workflow tools, check out Flow!
Microsoft PowerApps is a fantastic no/low code solution replacement for InfoPath and is very powerful! I attended the Pre-Conference Workshop focusing on this tool and really enjoyed working with it. There are 2 types of PowerApps, Canvas and Model. The Canvas app will be what most customers use, but the Model app allows you to create your own data model and then your app is created on top of it. This provides for a lot more power and flexibility!
Dynamics 365 also had a big presence at MS Ignite. Dynamics is currently being revamped with PowerApps and Flow making a big presence. PowerApps is replacing a big part of the UI and that is probably for the better because Dynamics was starting to look dated and can still be clunky at times.
One of the products discussed in almost every session was the Common Data Service for Apps, which is the latest version of the product. This is intended to provide an easy way to model your data and provide it to Power BI, Flow, and PowerApps. From what I saw in the workshop and multiple sessions, it is very powerful and very easy to use.
The final product that I wanted to write about is SharePoint. I have been working with SharePoint since roughly 2008 and I have always had a love for the product. It is a huge product with tons of features and can transform any business' IT presence. In the past decade or so, SharePoint has changed immensely and mostly for the better. It is now a cloud-first product that is globally deployed by Microsoft in Office 365, which is a big change from the 2007/2010 days! In the background, SharePoint is used for many services in Office 365 and is very stable. Microsoft releases patches, features, and more to Office 365 customers before they are released to on-premises customers. This means that updates are very stable and well tested before customers install them on their own servers, but it also means that you are the last to see these updates. I feel like the 'Modern' experience in SharePoint is finally to the point where I can start pushing customers to use it. There were numerous features and enhancements announced so be sure to check it out!
But what about the future of SharePoint? Microsoft has made it clear that it wants you in the cloud first. With the release of SharePoint 2019 it was announced that there will be no more feature packs going forward. This means that all of the features that will be coming to SharePoint Online will NOT be coming to your on-premises version, at least not the 2019 version. This was a disappointment, but not surprising when you consider Microsoft's vision. If you are considering upgrading your on-premises SharePoint deployment then please consider moving to Office 365 instead! There are very few reasons to stick with on-premises going forward.
In closing, I felt like this was the year that Microsoft really started to pull things together with all of the different products and services it offers. Most products are playing very nicely together with more coming in the very near future. The value of Office 365 continues to increase and Microsoft 365 is as well. I'm excited to see what more they have to offer in the coming years!