Sage Intelligence helps Microsoft introduce user-defined functions for Excel at the Ignite Conference!

“When are you introducing user-defined functions for Excel?” This was the big question we had for Microsoft back in the middle of this year (2017). Specifically for us, this meant user-defined functions that were defined in Javascript, and made available through our web-based Excel add-in for the cloud version of Sage Intelligence.

We’d asked this question numerous times before, but this time, we had some good news—they had progressed the development of user-defined functions and were going to release it for Developer Preview after the annual Microsoft Ignite conference in September. And here’s the clincher, they invited us to be part of a private preview program to evaluate and give early feedback.

Excited by this, we wasted no time getting stuck into the private preview, and created a Proof of Concept (PoC). We made good progress on this, before we received further news from Microsoft. They wanted us to present our work at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando in September! We were thrilled to be involved in this, and immediately started planning the presentation and the trip!

Sage Intelligence Ignites!

After a few weeks spent in preparation and doing some dry runs with the team at Microsoft, I was ready for Ignite. After a very long flight from South Africa, I arrived in Orlando with a mixture of excitement, nerves, and an eager anticipation. Being my first time in the city, I was intrigued by its strong family entertainment theme. It’s the home of Disney and various theme parks. And as you travel through the city, you seldom pass more than a mile or two before seeing a theme park.

Microsoft Ignite was being hosted at the Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando. I arrived there early on Monday morning and was blown away at the sheer size of the place—it’s easily the size of a couple of football fields. Absolutely massive! There were close to 30,000 attendees—which is equal to the average number of people packed into a capacity football stadium.

We all jammed into the main hall to watch the opening keynote by Satya Nadella. It was very interesting and we learned of Microsoft’s involvement in furthering the development of quantum computing, an exciting field of development that’s still in its infancy, and something that will change the world of computing and the world as we know it once it’s fully developed. We also learned of the increased focus on artificial intelligence, mixed reality, etc.

After the keynote, the event itself began, which is essentially is a multitude of lecture-type sessions of about an hour each—held in various parts of the convention centre. There was also a large expo area, with half of it taken up by Microsoft booths, and the rest by various hardware, software and IT service vendors.

Getting from one session to the next if they were held in opposites ends of the building sometimes proved quite a challenge, due to the enormity of the convention centre. Sometimes it took about a 10 minute walk! This was a conference and a workout, all in one.

What our presentation was all about

The session that I was going to present our work in was going to happen the next morning (that Tuesday), and so I caught up with Michael Saunders—the program manager at Microsoft for the Excel custom functions. He would be presenting this new feature in a morning session, and I would be given a 5 minute slot to present our work.

Well, Tuesday morning arrived, and it was time for our session. Michael started off by showing the audience the new custom functions in Excel, and judging by the numerous cellphones being whipped out to take pictures of the presentation, it was obvious that this was a feature that many in the audience have been waiting for. Halfway through his presentation, Michael called me on stage, where I demonstrated our PoC that was thankfully gremlin free! Everything went smoothly and the audience looked very interested, and so I was pleased. Here’s a quick video that demonstrates what it was that I presented:

I was invited during the week to attend an Office Apps awards evening, which was a small event held at a restaurant. I met Michael there, and he congratulated me and told me we got very good audience ratings for our session. That was great feedback, as it meant that the audience was engaged and found the content useful.

The week flew by and I had the opportunity to attend many sessions and learn more about up and coming technologies. I also had the opportunity to chat to a few well-regarded people from Microsoft as well.

The event ended on the Friday. I was really grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend this event, and I am extremely thankful to Sage and Microsoft for everything they did to make this possible. It was a great opportunity to showcase Sage, and how we’re doing something cutting edge in a close relationship with Microsoft.