Yes, the Microsoft community are a bunch of nerds. My firm is a Microsoft partner. So we should know.

But Microsoft loves these people. And can you blame them? They're the ones that develop tools and technologies that help them - and us - make more money. During Microsoft’s Build 2019 conference, which wrapped up yesterday and which attracted approximately 15,000 of the company's finest programmers, developers, partners and code-builders from around the world, Microsoft announced a bunch of super-nerdy programming tools that will not interest most business owners.

But the company also introduced three new things should interest business owners a lot.

Power BI and Power Apps

The first has to do with reporting and apps. Microsoft's reporting tool is called Power BI (for Business Intelligence) and - when placed in the right hands (translation: a trained expert that will cost you money) - the tool can be used to extract data from just about any database out there and present it in a visually appealing way on just about any device. Power BI is one of many already-existing Power Apps that are available for businesses to use to enhance their existing systems.

Power BI and Power Apps are both getting an upgrade and here's what it means for your business: reports and visualized data as well as any other "Power App" that you have written will be able to be embedded in your existing applications. Users won't have to switch out of one program to see data from another.  Your information will be there, with real time updates, in one place. A new set of complementary tools will help streamline the packaging, development, and testing of these applications.

“Power BI, like many other analytics applications can provide enormous benefits for businesses of all sizes,” says Stacy Nethercoat, VP of Cloud Solutions at Tech Data, a Microsoft distributor and tech company.  “Many companies are interested in hearing more ways that they can take better advantage of the data they’re collecting and these tools should go a long way towards helping Microsoft partners create better solutions for them.”

These tools are written in such a way that developer no longer have to create their own code - a major challenge in the past. They're "components" and "extensions." That means that they're easily upgraded, integrated and supported by Microsoft. But you'll still want a developer to help you. That's why Microsoft is also making these tools available for the nearly 3,000 co-selling independent software vendors that have created over $5 billion in revenue-generating applications on its Azure platform. With Power BI and Power Apps, there's really no type of solution that can't be created for your business, as long as you're willing to invest in a developer who can access these ready-made tools to do it for you.

Internal Search

Much has been made about searching across the Internet. But what about in your own company? Where is that quote that Daniel wrote back in 2016? Anyone remember what was said to that customer from Wisconsin last year? How did we solve that problem last month again? You and I are generating reams of electronic data in our businesses thanks to the proliferation of messaging and documents.  How can we get access to that stuff?

Microsoft's answer is its own, new searching tool. Called Microsoft Search it is available as a search bar on its popular applications like SharePoint and Office but will soon be more noticeable on your desktop and mobile devices. The search tool has been enhanced to include more personalized results (Who did I contact last? What document did I work on related to this issue?).  In addition, the search application is using AI to try and better guess what your employees are looking for based on fragmented requests like "some customer in Idaho" or "Patrick on the third floor." Third parties will also be given access to incorporate these tools in their applications too.

Yes, there are security issues, particularly among larger enterprises. But Nethercoat believes that for smaller companies that have less complexity and lower risk, this type of searching capability could provide big productivity gains. “Despite the inherent security risks, getting information into the hands of employees faster is a good thing,” she says.

All of this translates into more productivity for your employees. We all get used to using the tools we've used before and we're not interested in learning ones. But encouraging your people to take a few moments and get comfortable with Microsoft's search tool could have enormous benefits.

Ideas In Word

Most of us can use help with our writing, particularly in a professional environment. New enhancements to Word are designed to help us solve that challenge.

It's called Ideas in Word and it's a tool that will - in real time- check grammar and style using AI technology including natural language processing and machine learning. Ideas in Word will be included as part of Office 365 so that, once configured, your users will start receiving suggestions that will be designed to help improve their document's readability.

Some of these features exist already but require the user to ask for synonyms or respond to a highlighted grammar issue. Ideas in Word will go one step further, offering these comments interactively while suggesting alternate ways to write phrases or spell words. And in case your people want to argue, the tool will also provide justifications for its suggestions. If that's not enough, the tool will also give you a heads up as to how much time it will take for a reader to go through your document and even help identify words are phrases that may be politically incorrect or sensitive. Not surprisingly, programming tools and customization features will also be included.

Your job is to make sure your version of Office 365 has been upgraded and configured to make this accessible. Then, if necessary, get some training for your employees to help them embrace the new features. Some people are not going to want to take advice from a bot. But that's not the future, particularly when that bot's advice can help improve the quality of the communications both internally and what’s going out your door.

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Please know I am literally scratching the surface of all the announcements Microsoft made at this conference.  That's because most of the stuff was about programming interfaces, cloud platforms like Azure, Internet of Things plug-ins, AI, robotics and even a quantum computing development kit and oh my God those nerds are going to create a robot army and take over the world someday. But in the meantime, I'll just encourage my small and mid-sized clients to enjoy some of these real-life tools from Microsoft that are available right now.

Final note: As mentioned above my firm is a Microsoft Partner. We sell and implement Microsoft products. I have not been compensated to write this.

Published on: May 9, 2019