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Building the low-code momentum in Scotland – Scottish Summit 2020

Scottish Summit 2020, 29.2.2020, Glasgow

Loud bagpipes were welcoming the visitors to the Scottish Summit and setting up the spirit for a day full of learning. The summit was organized in Glasgow, Scotland. Regarding the other no-cost conferences I usually attend, such as SQL Saturday and Power Platform/365 Saturday, the number of participants was quite much more with over 1100 registrations. The organizers have done a fantastic job of making the summit happen. Scottish Summit has now been organized three times, and yet they’ve managed to pull together quite a memorable event with more than 100 speakers, including 44 MVPs (for non-Microsoft geeks, MVP stands for Most Valuable Professional, meaning the guys that know everything).

Keynote was by Jon Levesque (Microsoft, Power Platform Evangelist), and his message was that power platform is not just a technology, it is a momentum. Momentum powered by a very active community of people who are passionate about learning, experimenting with new tech, and sharing the knowledge with others. Full-stack developers behold, here comes a tsunami of full-stack citizen developers! Frankly, sharing knowledge is also something that we at Forward Forever believe in, and our pros practice every day. Seeing the low-code platforms to become mainstream is going to be an intriguing journey. I tend to get quickly excited about all the new stuff, but Power Platform is nothing new. It has been here already for many years. Now, Power Platform is getting the momentum it deserves.

The key takeaways for me from the sessions were this year a bit more thought-starters than learning new tech skills. Thomas Sandsør’s (aka. CRM Keeper) session was all about the user experience and ensuring data quality. Customers do not care about all the advanced technology that’s running behind the scenes of a CRM system. Instead, the software just has to work. Thomas also had good insights into the things that we should keep in mind when we are building solutions for our customers. If you have seen any Microsoft marketing materials lately, you have most likely seen the digital feedback loop graph. In reality, these loops might not make that much sense because those do not give practical starting points. Thomas questioned the meaningfulness of these models as we should first focus on the very basics. More often than not, the first data entry is done by a salesperson, and if it is not done in a structured way, the low-quality data also affects the later stages in the process, e.g., Customer Service will use incorrect details or is struggling with the duplicates. 

CRM user adoption and ensuring data quality might sound simple and is easily overlooked.  The truth is that process-wise, we are quite often in a mess with the data entry. There are just way too many points to start the process, leading us to bad data quality and then eventually to bad user experience.

Another session I found informative was Tricia Sinclair’s outlook on Omni Channel Engagement hub, which is still a somewhat new technology and is not yet widely adopted. In her demo, she went through the stuff that we are able to do with the Omni Channel: Chat, Facebook and SMS channels. To briefly summarize the features:

Chat seems to have all the elements in place that you are used to seeing. From an agent perspective, we have a clear way of handling chat contacts within D365. The tool supports predefined agent scripts, and smart assist feature works behind the scenes finding the relevant guidance for the agent automatically. Smart assist also identifies the potential actions that the agent could do, i.e., creation of an appointment etc.

Facebook channel is also supported and works pretty much in a similar fashion than the standard chat feature. Good stuff.

SMS is not yet available with that many operators (TeleSign and Twilio coming soon). From an agent perspective, SMS also works with a similar look and feel than the other channels. I’m keeping my eyes open when we could use the SMS channel with the Finnish mobile providers.

The rest of the sessions I attended were mostly focused on AI. Adam Sroka’s session Azure and Dynamics and AI, Oh My! was about how to build an End-to-End AI solution with Azure and Dynamics 365. He suggested building these pipelines from a modular approach. Every step of the process should add value, and as the new technologies arise, you should be able to replace that one block without breaking the whole process, just like changing tires to your car. The use of abstraction layers for training data is a clever idea, which gives us a way to handle troublesome situations if data source changes. The abstraction layer approach will need a bit more effort but pays off in the end. Moreover, I liked the idea of hierarchical clustering, which means we should let simpler algorithms first to do the easy stuff and then use more sophisticated models to derive more insights from the data.

Terry McCanns’s session was about how to use Recurrent Neural Networks to generate text. In his session, we saw similar approaches for creating sentences that has been used for generating Harry Potter books by deep learning. We have heard these examples of AI-generated books and pictures, but how to actually do those? Following Terry’s guidance, it seems to be rather simple if you have a basic understanding of ML.  Generating a bit of gibberish text automatically with deep learning might not be the most useful skill to have regarding customer cases, but at least an entertaining way to experiment with machine learning, and I’ll probably give it a try.

All in all, a very well organized free event – good job Scotland! If you are interested in these community-driven events, we recommend you to take a look at these

And do not forget to come to say hi to us as you are quite likely to meet us! We are there to share the knowledge and also to learn a bunch of new stuff ourselves.

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