Aras Labs Update from Microsoft Build 2019

The Microsoft Build conference is a field day for Microsoft developers - three days packed with 500+ sessions, 6,000+ attendees, hands-on training, Microsoft product teams, vendors, and more. It's the perfect opportunity to preview the latest features, get all of your questions answered, provide feedback to the teams building the products at Microsoft, and draw inspiration from all of the amazing projects the community is producing. 

I was very fortunate to attend Build with another Aras colleague this year. Since then, we've been compiling our notes and takeaways from the conference, trying to identify potential technical strategies to improve Aras' product offerings and opportunities for open source community projects. However, the scope of all the possible projects we could tackle is impossibly broad. 

That's why we need your help!

Your feedback helps us prioritize blog content and community projects that address technology and challenges that matter to you. Below, I've laid out some broad topics that surfaced repeatedly at Build, along with some potential project ideas. Do you see something that would be helpful to you? Are we missing something that you need? Let us know in the comments below!

Microsoft 365

The Microsoft Office suite of applications provides a lot of great functionality for content and collaboration. However, the traditional use of the Office suite has often resulted in challenges that bog down user productivity and business operations:

  1. Data silos form around different tools, projects, or groups in an organization. For example, requirements data in a Word file created by a team in the initial phase of a project aren't easily discoverable, accessible, or reusable to another team on another project that prefers to work in Excel or PowerPoint. 
  2. Collaboration tools and processes are often separate from the data that provides context for comments and conversation. An Outlook email thread about a change request may not include all of the relevant individuals for the conversation, and it isn't easily accessible to review later. 
  3. Deployment of Office add-ins typically requires manual installation by the end user, or development and maintenance of IT processes. 

Microsoft 365 is the platform-based approach that Microsoft rolled out at Build last year. Instead of shipping the Windows, Office, and enterprise features as standalone applications, Microsoft is transitioning to a platform service that connects applications and data via the Microsoft Graph. Microsoft 365 and the MS Graph API open up a whole new world of possibilities for projects and features that could extend your digital thread in Aras or improve user productivity. 

Examples

  • Office extensions created with the JavaScript API, hosted and deployed by IT - not manually managed by end users 
  • Automatically delegate workflow tasks due when a user's calendar shows they're out of office 
  • Push visual collaboration notifications and workflow reminders to a user in Microsoft Teams

Power Platform

The newly named Power Platform provides a low/no code framework for creating business applications from your data with PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, and Power BI. Leveraging the Power Platform could be a step toward creating simple, task-based applications that integrate with your Aras data. Providing low code/no code tools to business analysts and power users empowers them to quickly build reports and business solutions while freeing up developer resources to work on more complex challenges.

Examples

  • Connector to surface specific data from Aras Innovator in Power BI
  • Mobile push notifications via Flow when a user is tagged in a VC comment
  • Simple Power App for quickly checking CRM contacts stored in Aras Innovator 

Azure Cognitive Services

Before I attended Build 2019, I probably would have told you that machine learning and AI projects weren't worth the effort - at least today. However, in the last year, Microsoft has put a lot of work into making ML and AI easier to use in practical applications. Azure Cognitive Services provides five APIs to tackle a range of business challenges:

  1. Decision - make informed recommendations to improve decision-making
  2. Speech - convert speech to text (and vice versa), or translate languages
  3. Language - process natural language commands and queries
  4. Vision - recognize photo, video, and digital ink content
  5. Search - identify entities and search against Bing or a custom data source

The opportunities presented by ML and AI are virtually limitless. 

Examples

  • Suggest related issues or possible duplicates when a user files a new issue 
  • "Smart import" feature that recognizes item data in uploaded files, then links the Aras items 
  • Start a new Workflow Map or Life Cycle Map from a photo of a hand-drawn whiteboard diagram

Conversational AI & Bots

The Microsoft Bot Framework leverages the best of the MS Graph API, Power Platform, and Cognitive Services. The framework provides access to your organization's data via MS Graph and Power Platform connectors while leveraging natural language processing from Cognitive Services. The framework is also platform-agnostic, so you can define a bot once and deploy it multiple places.

Examples

  • Search bot in the Aras Innovator client that leverages natural language processing and Enterprise Search
  • Help bot that understands your company jargon and helps users with common Aras Innovator questions
  • Chat bot in Teams, Skype, and/or Slack to allow users to check the status of their assigned workflow tasks

Mobile & Cross-Platform Development

Mobile application development seems to be a tricky subject when it comes to many companies' PLM implementations. Though many organizations may benefit from one or more task-specific mobile apps, there are potential hurdles to clear.

  • Do I need to hire new developers with special mobile development skills?
  • Do I have to build and maintain a separate code base for each mobile platform my users want me to support?
  • I don't want to publish my enterprise app to an app store. Do I need to sideload or manually distribute and deploy my apps once they're built?  

Cross-platform development frameworks and solutions that address these challenges have grown in number and maturity in recent years. It's easier than ever to write cross-platform applications in the same languages you use in your Aras development. Xamarin and UNO both support C#. Or write your apps in JavaScript with React Native. You can even use Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to leverage native controls without adhering to a particular language or framework.

Examples

  • Shop floor "traveler" app to help assembly line workers follow process plans and submit input on process execution
  • Problem reporting app for field techs to report equipment issues and check inventory for suitable replacement parts

The Aras Labs team is excited to get to work on projects like these, but we need your input. Let us know in the comments below if any particular project interests you, or if we missed something you'd like to see. And as always, we welcome project submissions and community collaboration!

Anonymous