Microsoft Ignite – Our Take

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Microsoft Ignite

Microsoft Ignite – Our Take

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Maybe the biggest surprise of all at Ignite is that although Copilot (its generative AI system) takes center stage, it is far from the only story on display.

To paraphrase a famous line from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:

“Microsoft is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely mind-blowingly big it is”

As the annual Microsoft Ignite Conference kicks off in Seattle this week*, the sheer scale of Microsoft comes to mind first and foremost. Without an understanding or some grasp regarding the scale of Microsoft, no conference review (or preview) makes any kind of sense. For all its technology, and there is an awful lot of it on display, Microsoft’s sheer scale and dominance provide the key context to make any sense of it all. The conference (online and in person) is expected to attract almost a quarter of a million visitors. This is not to endorse or praise Microsoft; it’s simply to recognize its overarching, and some might say, overbearing influence on our industry. With that all said, let’s dive into the announcements themselves and what they may mean for Microsoft and the industry in 2024 and beyond.

Maybe the biggest surprise of all at Ignite is that although Copilot (its generative AI system) takes center stage, it is far from the only story on display. Hence, it’s important to note that Ignite covers many topics, from security to Azure cloud management – and our particular focus is on automation and unstructured data. So the question is, what are our big takeaways from all the new announcements? Well, our primary takeaway is that 2024 and beyond will mark a return to Document Management; let’s dive deeper….

Somewhat hidden away at Ignite, though not because they are considered unimportant, but more because GenAI is currently hogging the spotlight, are a slew of document, knowledge, and records announcements. And rightly so, as at least Two Billion files are added to M365 every single day, and it’s worth noting that this is considered a gross underestimation by some Microsoft insiders. Add to this the fact that at least $60B dollars a year is spent on paying for content storage, and that, too, is considered a gross underestimation by many. That’s a lot of stuff to manage and pay for. Further, consider that some Microsoft customers manage not tens of thousands of SharePoint instances, but hundreds of thousands, and you start to understand the scale of the Information Management challenge. Hence at Ignite, we see improvements to things like SharePoint Advanced Management, Taxonomy & Image Tagging, alongside improvements to Microsoft Archive. The philosophy, if we were to define one, is to gradually move content management and storage from a clear cost item to something that can generate revenue for Microsoft customers. Oh, and of course, be the platform to source, curate, govern, and manage the core data for AI.

Rather than it simply being mountains of content you pay to store, the goal is to gradually whittle down those mountains to something you can effectively and compliantly leverage. Hence, there is a focus on enriching the content through the use of automated tagging, scheduling, and taxonomy generation. Our attention is particularly drawn to the work that has been done within the M365 archiving solution and DAG (Data Access Governance), and we recommend that any large-scale users of SharePoint explore these particular announcements further as they provide advanced tools to manage both costly SharePoint sprawl and bring order to poorly managed or governed sits.

In our opinion, this is a huge potential win for Governance and Record Management professionals, as their work in defining policies can now be integrated and, even if nothing else, provide effective triggers and add measurable enterprise value by reducing ever-increasing storage costs. In fact, there is a lot of good stuff here for Governance professionals to explore, for example, the ability to deactivate SharePoint sites, move them to low-cost storage, but easily reactivate them if necessary whilst retaining permissions, files, folder structures, pages, policies, etc. As we like to say, it’s not sexy, but this kind of functionality is on the money.

Another set of announcements that caught our attention should be of wide interest: the support for multiple languages and automated translation. That’s not new in and of itself, but through the use of AI, document translation of content is being extended to an impressive 110 languages; an added nice touch here is that at the time of translation, a copy of the translation is placed back in the same library. It’s seemingly little touches like this, and many among the almost 100 product updates at Ignite are focused on practical business applications that make this a particularly important event.

To be frank, we were particularly excited to see Microsoft start to address this problem of SharePoint sprawl, which has become a very real problem across organizations, exacerbated by the fact that Teams likes to regularly spin up new SharePoint instances. The company is working, though it will take time, to provide, at minimum, a unified view of all the instances, a virtual unified document management system if you like. One that recognizes that files will be stored in many different places but can operate as one. Like Copilot, SharePoint is both a platform and an application, and the goal here is to mirror the shifts in the web content management marketplace toward providing a headless API-driven environment.

Finally, it’s worth noting that if something is missing at Ignite amongst the many announcements, or at least underrepresented, that is a focus of business process automation. Microsoft is not lacking in process automation tools (check out our visit to the recent Power Platform event). Still, those tools and that community are currently quite separate from the SharePoint M365 communities. The Power Platform division leans toward storing files within its own Dataverse relational database product (aka Microsoft Common Data Service), and such divisions and separations of interest are not uncommon in very large tech organizations. But it seems logical for there to be closer ties between Power Platform and not only a system designed to manage unstructured data (SharePoint), but one that already holds countless billion files, many of which are linked to activities that are key candidates for IDP (intelligent document processing) the clue is within the name – document and process. So, that is something we will watch for more closely in 2024.  

*In full disclosure, Deep Analysis was pre-briefed on the Ignite announcements a few weeks before the Ignite Conference.

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