Recently I was I lucky enough to take a break from cleaning barnacles off the hull of the good ship SYSPRO to spend the week attending the Microsoft Build conference in Seattle. Microsoft uses this conference to communicate their technology vision and strategy to technology professionals. It’s a great way for nerds to get their creative juices flowing – so, apologies in advance for the long post! Stick with me, and I’ll try to end on a lighter note.
While the keynote from CEO, Satya Nadella, was underwhelming as a result of the high standards set in previous years, with very little in terms of major releases, the rest of the sessions expanded on existing technologies and better demonstrated the vision of the company.
AI, BI, ML, AR, VR, PAAS, SAAS, IAAS, GUI, and PI. After all, where would a professional conference be without an alphabet soup of acronyms unintelligible to the general public? Breaking these down, I would divide the strategy demonstrated at the conference into four broad highlights.
AI and Machine Learning
AI and machine learning (ML) are no longer the domain of Ph.D. students but have become far more accessible – not only to developers but also for end users. This includes improved tooling of AI to allow users to build models using a step-by-step interface presented in business terms and also visualization of the outputs. The visualization of AI is progressing, so instead of giving the user back arcane R2 or MSE values it can now be displayed to the user in chart format along with providing context to the data that is more understandable to non-technical users. These are both features we hope to integrate into SYSPRO Artificial Intelligence as it continues to evolve.
The second highlight is the way we communicate with technology. With advances in natural language understanding and the AI behind it, computers are starting to better understand what we want them to do by speaking to them like humans. Some predict that coding will be for our times what literacy was in the dark ages (an essential key to unlocking knowledge). However, with the advances made in natural language understanding, how much longer will we need code to communicate with machines and get them to do our bidding? Perhaps English or Mandarin will be the next Python or C#?
Another aspect of this is, of course, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR). While previously requiring specialist hardware such as Hololens or Oculus Rift, more and more support for this is now being added to regular smartphones. While more common in the domain of gaming and adult *ahem* entertainment, how would this ever apply to ERP? Imagine holding your phone up to a machine on the factory floor and seeing the job currently running it or even pointing it at a bin in a warehouse and seeing a breakdown of the stock inside it? Now that would be innovative ERP!
It was rare to find any session that was not primarily based on their Azure platform. Cloud is no longer an individual concept or theme but an expected part of all software and something that is simply assumed, like the introduction of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) which was, at one stage, a nice to have and now is a natural part of all software. Having said that, developer tooling is now shifting away from having a GUI. In part, I suspect because of the increasing rapidity of feature releases (something I’d like to touch on in a future post) that GUIs simply can’t keep up with. But also so us coders can finally live out our fantasy of being black hat hackers in our parents’ basement with unintelligible green characters streaming down our screens while we tap furiously on our keyboards … but this is already a long post and I digress.
Been There … Got the T-shirt
If you’re still with me (thank you, o ’brave of heart!), we’ve finally reached that lighter note! The fourth highlight of a conference like this for me is the developer t-shirts. From Game of Thrones (GOT) inspired, “House Jenkins” to the classic “Give me a <br/>”, they’re a sign of the times, litmus tests of the social milieu of our tech world and an unashamed celebration of nerdiness! I leave you with my winner for this year, the very dry “My password is the last 8 digits of π”!