Insights My Top /BUILD Announcements

My Top /BUILD Announcements

Every year I look forward to Microsoft Build… not just because of the interesting announcements, but because it is an opportunity to see the ingenuity of the human spirit applying ideas and talking about the future. I heard one person say, “they might as well call this Microsoft AI Build” and they are right. There an enormous number of announcements surrounding AI, but there are a few outside that as well. In this post I’ll talk about my top announcements and prep you for a few sessions we’ll be hosting to talk about the Best of Build:

#1. GPT-4o – the next advancement in AI which most have heard about is the multi-modal GPT-4o. These were really well shown off in the initial Build keynote, which I recommend you watch. In addition, Marco Casalaina did a great job showing off multi-modal in his session, as well as some responsible AI features that Microsoft is a leader in.

#2. Copilot Studio – I’ve been excited about Copilot Studio for a while, but Build took it up another notch. What is Copilot Studio? It’s a platform for building AI copilots and agents that perform delegated tasks. This can be retrieval tasks or not, even action-tasks. If 2023/2024 was the year of RAG, this upcoming year will be the year of agents that perform delegated tasks on behalf of a human organizer. I’ve recommended to most organizations I work with to spin up a dedicated workstream to gain ground using Copilot Studio. Check out some of the goodness here.

#3. AI Flows in Power Automate – ok, when I first saw this capability I thought it truly looked like magic. Imagine you have a process you regularly perform and you are handing it off to a new employee. How do you do it? You sit with them and review it by walking through the process. The new employee likely takes notes, asks questions, and can understand the fundemental “why” of the process, so they can approximate the right actions, vs. needing to know the exact button to press. The inability to approximate is exactly why historical RPA solutions failed. They were unable to generalize enough to be effective. This is however what has been accomplished quite intuitively with the new AI Flows in Power Automate. They learn very much like a human does and are capable of “self healing” based on the intent of the process instead of rote training. Check it out and more in this session.

#4. GitHub Copilot Workspaces – the capabilities of GitHub Copilot keep getting better. There will come a point where a developer without GitHub Copilot will be not just slower than other developers, but completely ineffective in comparison. That time might be here. The capabilities discussed in GitHub Copilot are about product planning and delegation to an AI build agent. This is in contrast to previous messages about GitHub Copilot that referred to it only as a Copilot. In this case you are handing off incrementally to an AI agent to prepare or construct a piece of your environment. Where is this going? To a space where GitHub Copilot increasingly can understand the intent of what you are trying to do and take action to do it.

#5. Real Time Intelligence in Fabric – we already know that Microsoft is positioning Fabric as the future of the data estate. Fabric is a SaaS data estate (one layer up from deploying into Azure as a data infrastructure). At Build we clearly saw Databricks and Snowflake following to stay in lock-step with Fabric as the place where data resides. When we last saw Fabric it was already becoming the clear place for data warehouse, reporting integration, and OLTP integration for reporting. What Microsoft showed off was Real Time integration into Fabric that represents streaming data analysis. The idea is to aid generalized streaming data analysis faster and better than before. Check it out here.

#6. Team Copilots – we already know about M365 Copilot as a personal copilot to enable the productivity of an individual person. Microsoft is going live with Team Copilots, a capability which adds a “virtual team member” to any business team that performs automated tasks, planning, or follow-up as an assistant to the team. This also allows long-running team management activities and follow-up that assists managers on focusing attention in the right places.

#7. Additional Infrastructure and App Patterns – Microsoft has been getting better and better at publishing prepared patterns for building data and app environments that optimize cost, mitigate security concerns, and are more supportable. The Cloud Adoption Framework was the initial attempt to make this true. Future versions will incorporate CAF + these frameworks. This also might be a good time to announce that there are some healthy opportunities to gain practical certifications in performing tasks, such as a recently released one on Symentec Kernel. Also, announcements were made on RAG patterns and related Azure infrastructure.

#8. Azure AI Studio – numerous capabilities were enhanced at Build, the first of which is Microsoft positioning itself as the place for ALL models, or at least those not exclusive to other platforms. This includes about 1,600 unique models, from Open AI, to Phi, to others. In this experience Microsoft is providing the framework to evaluate the foundation models against each other using industry standard metrics. This is becoming THE place to create complex AI patterns.

#9. Responsible AI – the topic of AI safety and security is one Microsoft has been working on for years. It wasn’t the advent of the ChatGPT era that caused it to take focus. I recall numerous papers, tools, and structures that have been talked about for many previous Build events. This year took special focus because new tools to mitigate common gaps in AI copilots and agents were released, such as protections and groundedness protection. These tools insert a shim between the application and the model which check for correct and appropriate responses. They also provide a testing framework for these concerns that enable both AI blue teams and red teams to be effective. To learn more, check out this session at Build with Sarah Bird.

#10. Cloud Native App Development Enhancements – there were many announcements just on the cloud native app development ecosystem. These included Azure App Service updates, .NET Aspire and .NET 9 Preview 4, Azure API Center, Azure Container Apps with Dynamic Sessions, Azure Kubernetes Serices Automatic, Azure Functions Flex Consumption Plan, Azure Service Bus redundancy improvements, Azure Static Web Apps, Azure Load Testing, and many more.

This is just a small sampling of the cool things from Build. If you want a summary yourself that hits on all of the details, check out the Book of News, which is a great summary reference. Microsoft Build 2024 Book of News