Microsoft Ignite 2021 has come and gone. It was an online affair this year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t many exciting announcements.
In this review, I’ll take a quick look at some of the most interesting developments at Ignite 2021.
During his Keynote to open Ignite, Satya Nadella introduced some exciting products, including Mesh for Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Loop, the Context IQ service, Co-Pilot, the Azure OpenAI Service, and a few others. He also talked about how Microsoft Teams is ramping up for the metaverse. The feeling I got as I watched his keynote was that Microsoft is beginning to focus on the metaverse, artificial intelligence, and collaboration in an effort to streamline what may be a new mostly-hybrid work environment.
As Ignite progressed, each of these products and features was discussed in a bit more detail.
Mesh for Microsoft Teams
Mesh for Microsoft Teams is a new feature for Teams that will allow you to enhance meetings through the use of personalized avatars and 3D environments. The intent of Mesh is to bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds by allowing team members to show their presence in Teams meetings without having to ever turn on their cameras.
Teams users will be able to collaborate in what are essentially virtual reality rooms via PCs, smartphones, and mixed reality devices, while sharing documents that are stored in Microsoft 365.
This exciting new feature will start showing up in preview in 2022.
Microsoft Loop is another exciting product that was announced. This new collaboration tool combines the elements of documents, spreadsheets, and presentation apps into a single collaborative space.
Essentially, what Loop allows users to do is embed app components like tables, charts, and lists into different apps, while allowing those components to be updated in real-time by multiple users.
There are three components that make up Microsoft Loop, including Loop Workspaces, Loop Pages, and Loop Components.
Per Microsoft, Loop Workspaces are “shared spaces that allow teams to see and group everything important to your project, making it easy for you to catch up on what everyone is working on and track progress toward shared goals.”
Loop Pages are “flexible canvases where you can organize your components and pull in other useful elements like files, links, or data to help teams think, connect, and collaborate.”
Loop Components are “atomic units of productivity that allow you to collaborate in the flow of work – on a Loop page or in a chat, email, meeting, or document.” Essentially, Loop components can consist of lists, tables, notes, or even information from Dynamics 365 that can be embedded in Loop pages, chats, emails, etc. Since these embeds are updated in real-time whenever the source information is updated, teams are always working with the latest information.
For me, personally, Context IQ was one of the most interesting announcements.
Context IQ is a new set of capabilities for Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365. It essentially uses artificial intelligence to improve workflows by “surfacing results from business data across MS search” as needed. It allows you to find business data inline, when working in apps like Outlook by using AI to predict, seek out, and suggest the information that you need. For example, if you schedule a meeting in Outlook, the Outlook Editor will recommend times when everyone you wish to invite is available.
The functionality of Context IQ looks an awful lot like predictive analysis, using AI across the Microsoft 365 landscape.
I’m not a developer – never have been, but the announcement of GitHub Copilot at Ignite was pretty interesting.
Azure OpenAI Service
The introduction of the Azure OpenAI Service at Ignite was pretty mind-blowing to me. It provides access to GPT-3 models that have been pre-trained with trillions of words. Azure OpenAI appears to be a viable solution for summarizing content and even for code generation.
To demonstrate its capabilities, Trang Le, Product Marketing Manager for Azure AI & MR, used Azure OpenAI to create game summaries of a handful of NBA games. It took the transcripts of live gameplay commentary from the human game announcers and created human-readable game summaries that looked just like a human wrote them. It was pretty slick. The demonstration can be found here.
What’s even more incredible is that OpenAI then took all the summaries and combined them into a “summary of summaries” that was used as a blog post. It was actually kind of scary.
There were also lots of other new products, features, and enhancements announced – simply too many to cover in a single blog post.
The overall vibe that I got from my attendance at Microsoft Ignite 2021 was that Microsoft recognizes the changes to the work world that have occurred as a result of Covid – and they are using AI and improved collaboration tools to address the resulting mostly-hybrid work environment that is developing.