Microsoft Ignite: a good old fashioned product conference for the new age

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Microsoft Ignite: a good old fashioned product conference for the new age

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Ignite was a vast digital event befitting of the newly-crowned world’s most valuable public company, with a dizzying array of product announcements rolled out around the main theme of making hybrid work the new normal. Here are some very brief highlights...

The Deep Analysis team recently tuned in for several hours of Microsoft Ignite Fall 2021, the annual conference for Microsoft end users once again held online. Ignite was a vast digital event befitting of the newly-crowned world’s most valuable public company, with a dizzying array of product announcements rolled out around the main theme of making hybrid work the new normal. 

Software tech has dramatically expanded over the past four decades from desktops to the cloud, and software marketing has moved away from a focus on products to solutions. But Microsoft’s product marketing strategy has changed very little. Ignite 2021 showed that it’s still all about the product at Microsoft. Who can argue against the success of that strategy? 

Major upgrades were announced for the tentpole software products: Microsoft 365, VIVA, Teams, Office, Azure, SharePoint, and so on. Our job as content and process automation industry analysts is to sift through all the product presentations, search out the relevant business value buried in Microsoft’s mountain of product announcements, and summarize the key findings for our busy readers. 

Here are some very brief highlights; look for in-depth analysis on these and more in the months to come. 

  1. Loop could change the document as we know it forever. Loop is a no-code canvas of collaboration tools that any user can drop into a document to kick-start a creative collaboration with teammates. So imagine you’ve been assigned to write a white paper on your company’s new widget. In the old days, you might hold a kick-off meeting to agree on the goals and outline then go into hiding for a week, emerging with draft V 0.1 and emailing that around the team for comments. With Loop, you can make the document fully interactive with the team and finish in hours. This could become a bit like Huck Finn enticing Tom Sawyer to finish Huck’s paint job but the inherent transparency of Loop should ensure that the workload is evenly shared. One cool feature is the Voting Table: drop that into the Word document where you’re test-driving two or three new descriptions of the widget, and the team is automatically notified to come and vote on their favorites. Though it hasn’t shipped yet and has a long way to go, Loop could become part of the future of document collaboration. 
  2. Knowledge Management starts with learning. When VIVA was first introduced as a knowledge management solution, we were skeptical because we know from long experience that KM has been an unhelpfully broad generalization where products go to die, and quite frankly there were no budgets to buy “KM”. But now there are fast-growing budgets for “upskilling” the hybrid workforce. VIVA Learning connects every worker to tailored training courses by integrating the leading Learning Management Systems (LMS) into the Microsoft world of Outlook, Office, Teams, SharePoint and more. We see this as one of the more practical KM applications to come along and think it will catch on, helped along in no small part by Microsoft’s aggressive pricing per user. 
  3. Collaboration for every (Microsoft) user. As already mentioned, Loop is one to watch for the future. Let’s not overlook Teams, which continues to grow in functionality and breadth with the long list of new features announced. Seems like only yesterday that Teams was just another online meeting product fighting for relevance against Zoom and Webex. Now it has solid tentacles into every other Microsoft platform, making it easier to collaborate all day long inside a Microsoft window. We especially liked the new Teams webinar features such as the attendee auto scale-up: when the number of attendees reaches the 1,000 limit, the new Teams automatically switches over into 10,000 attendee mode. This should be attractive for organizers of the company meeting.
  4. Microsoft is now serious about Records Management. Microsoft 365 continues to add more records sorting and retention functionality. Auto-classifiers built on Syntex deep learning have progressed very quickly from the version 1.0 samples that needed much work to today’s sophisticated out of the box models. You will still need humans in the loop but with the latest updates, Microsoft takes us a little bit closer to the ultimate goal of fully automated document lifecycle management that is not reliant on end user behavior. 
  5. Microsoft introduced its first serious Cognitive Capture product. For years Microsoft has offered document classification and data extraction building blocks for partners to create bespoke cognitive capture solutions for the business documents that power everyday work processes. Buried deep in the SharePoint presentation weeds, we found a reasonably good Invoice Capture product built on Syntex deep learning models. Microsoft’s new solution comes with 26 out-of-the-box, pretrained invoice data extraction algorithms and a user-friendly model manager to tweak and train the AI. We think this may be the tip of the spear and expect that Microsoft will roll out more pretrained AI models for other document types such as contracts, loan files, and healthcare forms. Capture has long been a niche technology and Microsoft may have just nudged it over into the business process mainstream.

For more coverage on the meaning and impact of Microsoft product announcements, stay tuned to Deep Analysis.

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