Inspire 2018 review – AI, Azure and Microsoft 365

Inspire 2018 review - AI, Azure and Microsoft 365 21st July 2018

There were some clear, repeated themes at Microsoft Inspire 2018; here’s a snapshot of three that stood out and insight from our discussions with UK Microsoft Partners.

Data & AI is the ‘new oil’

Data analysis and AI was described as the ‘new oil’ (and Home Broadband as the ‘new electricity’). There’s some incredibly clever stuff being built into a wide range of Microsoft apps, and many Partner solutions now contain an AI element. Image recognition, machine learning and clever text analysis services from the AI suite – all API/service-based so you can plug into them easily.

These apps were often coupled with the powerful data analysis tools (such as Power BI) so that both you and the AI analysis can get a better understanding of your business/life/communications. Many revolved around saving you time (email sorting, auto-reply, task/calendar, automation of tasks with bots, etc.).

a compelling theme of using technology to both save time (productivity is Microsoft’s keyword) but also for social benefit

Some of the most compelling had a social impact (predicting the cause/path of a disease, analysing data from smart bird boxes to work out why Purple Martin birds were moving to extinction or predicting school drop-out rates and causes in Sao Paulo, etc.).

However, Brad Smith [1] struck a note of caution in his Corenote speech. He spoke about the ethics of AI. Just because a computer can, does not mean it should. He warned of the danger in programming unconscious bias into AI and its potential impact – particularly on AI in recruitment and the diversity of workforces.

He also highlighted that in Cyber it’s not machines that are attacking machines; it’s people attacking people. Microsoft is one of 44 companies that have agreed to a new Cybersecurity Tech Accord. They have all pledged to help protect every customer and build coordinated action in association with Microsoft Partners.

Azure, in all its forms, was everywhere

Azure / Azure stack / Azure Edge IoT / Azure Sphere, wherever you looked and whatever event you attended Azure was sure to be mentioned. Now that the ‘cloud mix’ accounts for 53% of Microsoft trade, we believe they can say they are becoming a genuine Cloud business.

IoT and the Intelligent Cloud/Edge got a lot of airtime, with many cool examples of IoT reporting issues so customers could fix them before they go too wrong:

> smart retail shelves reporting stock or temperature;
> smart meeting rooms knowing actual occupancy; and
> smart flow meters – including of beer in bars.

There was a compelling theme of using technology to both save time (productivity is Microsoft’s keyword) but also for social benefit; such as helping better stock yields in an Australian farm. Some interesting thoughts about IoT and the black hole called ‘security’. Too often, security is the weak link in IoT devices used in the home and work, but Azure Sphere has been designed from the ground up with security in mind.

The arrival of Microsoft 365

We highlighted that Microsoft 365 was discussed at Build 2018 and Inspire 2018 seemed to continue that theme – especially for productivity.

Teams were featured heavily – especially its relatively young couplings with other products such as Planner, Dynamics CRM, and the like. It’s clear that Microsoft has tried to create a collaboration tool from the ground up that links to other products, and vice versa. But it’s early days for some.

A great example of collaboration was Carlsberg [2]. They were at the end of their 25-year relationship with Liverpool FC and wanted to brew a special beer to mark the occasion.

They brought together a diverse team from labs, marketing, operations and production. They started at Anfield to get soil from the pitch and took it to the Carlsberg research lab in Denmark.

The soil was used to grow hops, and the plants were even played Liverpool FC videos and sound 24/7! There was evidence of increased plant growth when they were introduced to sound, making a special beer infused with the spirit of Liverpool FC. Microsoft Teams helped unleash the creativity of a diverse workforce without boundaries.

There was a strong Cybersecurity theme – linking to Defender ATA and ATP. The NHS was referenced as an example, with 20,000 appointments and operations cancelled [3] as a result of the WannaCry attack. Microsoft helped to bring down the North Korean group that launched the attack and have subsequently moved the NHS to Windows 10 and ATP protection.

There was some emphasis on multi-device – with Microsoft apps shown by Satya Nadella [4] on an iPhone (quote “Outlook is the best Gmail Client”) – and a demo of how to use your phone (not a Windows phone!) on your PC to send texts, etc.

Finally, we finish with a meeting. Or at least a demo of how MS Stream can show you an auto-transcript of a meeting as it goes along. This enables you to text search the video recording afterwards (and auto-translate with the AI capabilities). There was also an unreleased demo of a mixed reality meeting where the (unnamed) device recognised people as they entered the room, then added a colleague who wasn’t in the room as a virtual rendered attendee.

This same demo had a voice map with the transcript, with each line representing a person – so you could skip to when a particular colleague spoke.

For a review of Inspire 2018 and the UK Microsoft Partner network check ‘Recognition at Inspire 2018 for UK Microsoft Partners‘. To learn how our community of contractors can give UK Microsoft Partners capacity and scale to sell or deliver more, visit 


[1] Microsoft Inspire 2018 Day One Corenote: Brad Smith
[2] Judson Althoff introduces the Carlsberg case study
[3] NHS given a lashing for lack of action plan one year since WannaCry
[4] Microsoft Inspire 2018 Day Three Corenote: Satya Nadella

Annie Andrews, CTO of Curo Services

Author: Annie Andrews

Annie started her career in Microsoft training and consultancy, covering both programming and systems engineering. From here, she was a technical lead with many other technologies during her later positions at Lloyds Banking Group, where she held the role of Chief Subject Matter Expert. Now, Annie has returned to her mothership technology of Microsoft, as Head of Technology at Curo Services.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view and opinion of Curo Services.