This year, I attended the Future Decoded event in London to catch up on the latest technology trends, engage in some interesting conversations and see what’s next for the modern workplace and the future of work in general. I love a good debrief, so here’s a summary of my lessons learned from the day and the sessions I attended.

The Keynote

The keynote focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), the role of data and the opportunities the latest innovations have created. Professor Christopher Bishop (Technical Fellow and Laboratory Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge) looked at how this mountain of information translates to our everyday lives, organisations and businesses and we leverage AI for everyone. We have come a long way since silicon wafers – data is doubling in size every couple of years and now considered “Moore’s Law of Data”.

There was also a presentation by Simon Gillespie of the British Heart Foundation with some astonishing statistics: in 1961, three in 10 people would have survived a heart attack – now that figure is 7 out of 10. But with over 30,000 people a year in the UK experiencing cardiac arrest and the survival rate of cardiac arrest out of hospital being just 10%, BHF are on a mission to map all the defibrillators out there on ‘The Circuit’ that could save lives. If that 10% can be improved to 25%, it would mean 4,500 to 5,000 lives saved a year. The Circuit is a national defibrillator network – people can register their defibrillator online so that emergency services can use them (and direct others to use them) in an emergency. Technology is literally saving lives!

There was also a big focus on accessibility by Jenny Lay-Flurrie (Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft) and why it should be everyone’s business, not just people affected by “disabilities”. According to Forrester, 57% of us can benefit from accessibility features… and that was a conclusion from a study in 2003 so I can imagine that figure is now a lot higher. There is a focus on making these tools available (like Code Jumper which teaches coding to the visually impaired) as well as making the tools themselves available to everyone for free on GitHub. Technology is for everyone so use the accessibility checker within Microsoft apps, kids! No excuses!

Let’s talk about AI. Every company is going to become an AI company. There is no hiding from it – if you are not looking into AI, eventually the competition will pass you by, very much like someone walking and someone riding a bicycle – it’s (computer) physics.

Which brings me to the highlight of the keynote for me – a demo by David Carmona (GM for AI Marketing) of the presenter coach in PowerPoint. Simply click ‘Rehearse with Coach’ and your computer judges you. Isn’t that great? Let me explain. As you are rehearsing your presentation out loud, the AI behind the scenes will analyse what you say in relation to the slide and tell you how many words per minute you are saying (your pace) and whether it is too quick or… too… sloooow. It will also highlight whether you are just simply reading your slides and “filler words” i.e. things you say a lot (‘uuuh’ ‘soooo’ ‘basically’). Why “we” didn’t think of this sooner, I don’t know. David also used a phone bot in the demo and he pointed out that: “the good news about bots is that you can hang up on them”. Hmmmm.

Speaking of AI – if you do one thing today, check out the AI Business School where you can find all the interesting AI case studies, videos, guides, tech talks and more. It is a great resource!

Finally, we got to Formula 1 and Christian Horner who gave an insight into the crazy sport of driving cars around (I am a huge F1 fan so I can say this). Formula 1 is the most watched sport outside of the Olympic Games and the football world cup, and competing in it isn’t easy. It’s not just the politics and teammates not really being mates but also the logistics of having 66 tons of equipment at each grand prix, with 21 races happening each year and a 740kg car with over 100 sensors on it. That said, Red Bull don’t use Microsoft technologies and in the video of a “single bolt’s life” he showed there was a lot of paper being pushed around so I am at a loss as to what the strategy was with this segment of the keynote. The photo of the Red Bull office floor also did not have a single woman in it. We need more girls in STEM indeed.

In other news, Christian is looking for a volunteer to drive an F1 car on the ceiling to prove how awesome downforce in an F1 car is. I’m available basically any time.

D365 Fraud Protection

Liz Leigh-Bowler (Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations Product Marketing Manager) did a session on the Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection solution and how it leverages AI and unique connected knowledge to defend online business. It can be integrated into existing e-commerce websites as a stand-alone tool or in combination with the rest of the F&O product. This is currently available in the UK and US but private previews in other regions are taking place and the aim is of course world domination!

Microsoft themselves have $1 billion of attempted fraud a year and fraud is growing in line with e-commerce which is, as we all know, booming. I also found out that Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) was introduced in mid-September – a requirement of the EU Revised Directive on Payment Services (PSD2) of payment service providers within the EU. The requirement ensures that electronic payments are performed with multi-factor authentication to increase the security of electronic payments. Physical card transactions already commonly have what could be termed strong customer authentication in the EU (PIN!), but this has not generally been true for online transactions across the EU prior to the implementation of the requirement, and many contactless card payments do not use a second authentication factor.

Essentially, we will soon have a fingerprint scanner on our cards.

Connected Commerce

Balaji Balasubramanian (General Manager for Dynamics 365 for Retail) did a session on “transforming the future of retail by empowering customers throughout the shopping experience — from the digital experiences that make shopping fun and rewarding, to the productivity and collaboration solutions that allow retail employees to provide outstanding customer service.”

But in reality, this session was about the rebranding of Dynamics 365 for Retail as Dynamics 365 Commerce. Microsoft have now brought native e-commerce capability to the existing retail solution, meaning that Dynamics 365 for Retail has evolved to now include an e-commerce offering. Exciting stuff. There is also digital asset management capability, web authoring and development tools built in, making this a marketing/content driven, focused solution.

It is currently in preview with the aim to go live in the coming months – licensing is “under discussion”. However, if you are interested in it, it is worth making Microsoft aware as the product can be launched into production. There was a case study of Chateau Ste Michelle in the US who have already started rolling this out.

AI from the Cloud to the Edge

Alex Montgomery (aka Monty – Director of Azure Product Marketing) led a session on Artificial Intelligence encapsulating (such a good word) the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge, its capabilities and real-world examples from customers.

A while ago, as part of Project Natick, Microsoft put a data centre at the bottom of the ocean which should be self-sufficient for at least 5 years (kind of difficult to get an engineer down there). The idea being that over 50% of us live by the coast so our data centres should too. There is also a live stream of the data centre where you can watch the fish go by if that is your thing… The point is, we should never forget the layer of infrastructure that makes all our Microsoft dreams come true.

AI is changing the face of our industry, but it is also changing the way we build apps. By 2020 (which is 3 months from now!), 35% of production apps will be cloud native (i.e. using technology optimised for the cloud, i.e. containers). With GitHub having 40 million unique users daily, the devs are doing a lot of good networking and sharing! But it is important to remember what Geoffrey Moore said in Crossing the Chasm: “Build what differentiates you, buy what doesn’t”.

There were a lot of customer examples where AI has provided great insights – but my favourite (and perhaps Alex’s too) is Marmite. What can Marmite do with AI and specifically facial recognition? Watch this. Isn’t this one of the best ways to get a map of your favourite customers and understand why some supermarkets have a higher demand for Marmite than others? I think so too. I hate Marmite. Bleh. Yey for AI!

Closing Remarks

It is always great to get out of the day job and check out what is happening out there in the Intelligent Edge. Thanks to our Technical Director Dave Tunicliff for having me tag along! Things are definitely accelerating out there… Thanks for reading, until next time!

Senior Dynamics 365 Consultant at AlfaPeople