Thoughts on the Business Applications Summit | James Milne

In late July, Myriad Technologies CTO James Milne attended the first-ever Microsoft Business Applications Summit. The event was a huge success for both Microsoft and attendees; below, James shares why. In his notes, he also goes into some detail around the tech takeaways from the summit.

For reference, the Business Applications Platform is a collection of applications spawned out of the dynamics platforms which are now being referred to as the "Power Platform" or the "Business Application Platform". The Business Application Platform consists of PowerApps, Flow, PowerBI and Dynamics CRM. 

On the Business Applications Summit:

With over 5000 attendees, the first-ever Microsoft Business Applications Summit, which focused on the Business Applications Platform, was an obvious success. Multiple tracks were all jam-packed with amazing topics; I found myself torn between three or four different sessions at a time, and I wasn't the only one. Sessions were so popular that on numerous occasions, I saw attendees being turned away because the room capacities had been exceeded. The rooms physically could not fit any more people into those sessions! Thankfully, all the sessions have been recorded and can be found online

It looks like the event will run again in 2019, however, the date and location are presently a secret. Given the event's popularity, I'm hoping it will be the start of many more business-focused summits to come.   

On the Summit theme:

The overarching theme of the summit was that we can have apps anywhere. You can produce an app in a few clicks, and then publish the app on your phone, tablet or desktop. It could be a simple three-screen app that allows you to search and view and edit your data on the go, or you can create a complex corporate mash-up of any of your existing corporate data.  

With over 230 connectors, your data is accessible regardless of where it is in the cloud or on-premise. On-premise data is no longer locked away behind corporate firewalls, since it can be accessed via the On-Premise Gateways for access by PowerApps, Flow or Power BI. Now, this might cause some CIOs to panic about corporate data loss, but the gateways can be controlled by policies to restrict data access and ensure corporate data is managed correctly. The gateways can also be controlled and configured from within your tenant administration portal. The On-Premise Gateways unlock corporate data to be included in corporate mobile applications or reports without the need for migrating the data to the cloud. 

On 'tech inception':

Throughout all the demos, we started to see different products being embedded inside other products within the Business Application Platform. I started to feel like we were in a tech version of the movie Inception; we could embed PowerBI tiles inside a PowerApp app. We could embed a PowerApp inside a PowerBI Report. We could embed everything into Teams or SharePoint. Once you get your head around this as a concept you start to realise the potential of what's possible. 

On the apps:

  • PowerApps 

PowerApps can easily replace products like InfoPath forms and Access Services because PowerApps can be used to customise SharePoint forms or provide a front end to Azure SQL. However, PowerApps is more than just a Forms replacement as it can create tablet and phone apps to enable you to take your data with you into the field. This will allow business processes to be extended into the fields and factories, ensuring business processes can be completed anywhere.  

  • Flow

Microsoft Flow has become the replacement for SharePoint Designer workflows, by providing non-technical users with a web-based user interface for creating short running workflows. The app has become embedded in CRM and SharePoint to provide process automation capabilities across the board, and its advancement is continuing as Microsoft adds over 249 flow templates for common scenarios. 

Microsoft Flow can be used to handle document and forms approvals, but in this connected world, you can also leverage 230 connectors for a slew of popular cloud services. The tech giant also announced that the on-premise gateway can be leveraged by Flow. With the sheer number of connectors and gateways, Flow can bridge the workflow and integration requirements for the modern digital workplace and literally "connect to anything". 

  • Common Data

The Common Data Service is an implementation of the CDM which manages and stores the organisation's data which is defined by the CDM schema and attributes. Besides storing the data, the CDS also implements the import and export processes to ensure the Enterprise "Line of Business" application can be synchronised with the CDS.

The purpose of the CDM is to rationalise the entities within an organisation so the organisation has a common understanding of what a "customer" is within a business context. The CDM allows for extended entities with new attributes so entities can be can customised. The CDS will open a huge potential market for application developers to create an application that supports the CDS which can then be utilised by any other organisation with the same requirements. These applications can be published through AppSource. 

On emerging technologies:

As with all technology gathering, there is always time to see emerging technologies and to speculate on what they may bring to your business. 

  • HoloLens

During the keynote, we saw a demonstration of a field worker who used Skype and a HoloLens to call a subject matter expert back in the office to provide them with advice and guidance on a technical issue in the power plant. Their ability to see each other's environments and to annotate each other's video feed enables experts to troubleshoot complex issues without the need for flights and accommodation. We also saw the ability to share documents from SharePoint directly into the video feed. These features really take collaboration to another level and it is exciting to think about how this will change our workplaces for the better. 

  • Embedded Apps 

We regularly saw Business Applications being shared through the Hololens. Whether it was viewing a PowerBI dashboard to inspect the output of an electrical device or using a PowerApp to fill out a form in the field, the Business Applications Platform provides boundless possibilities for the digital workplace of the future.

  • Business process flows

Microsoft Flows provide the ability to automate short running workflows for automating sections of a business process. Microsoft has also demonstrated how business process flows could be used to orchestrate larger business processes, and there is the talk of enabling business process flows to be able to call flows. The possibility of enabling business process flows to orchestrate a series of flows would enable enterprises to automate business processes across multiple departments and ensure that both high level and lower level processes can be supported by the Business Application Platform. 

  • GraphQL

In the developer sphere of technologies, we have OpenAPI and Custom Connectors continuing to providing the ability to connect via REST and JSON into any system that supports the API. One of the emerging technologies to watch is the Graph Query Language or "GraphQL" which provides a Query Language over REST to return JSON data. If this standard takes off we could see applications querying REST data sources and only returning the data they need which would increase the performance of apps.