On the podcast, I promised to share my schedule for Microsoft Ignite 2021, this week 2nd-4th November, so read on to find out my thoughts when I checked out the schedule, and which sessions I chose. If you’ve picked a different set of sessions – share your top picks in the comments below, and of course check out Tony’s pre-Ignite guide and top sessions from last week.

Choosing sessions for Ignite is tougher than usual

Because it’s a virtual event it’s often been all too tempting to add every interesting-sounding session to the scheduler and then pick whichever one seems best once the keynotes conclude. One of the downsides though is that it’s difficult to get distraction-free time to actually attend the sessions of interest.

This time, I made the decision to be quite ruthless in session selection and pick the sessions that I’ll have time to attend and focus on.

I decided on rough criteria to pick sessions based on three core aspects I’m looking to get out of Ignite: sessions likely to include product launches; deep dive sessions that give a Microsoft expert insider’s view; and selected sessions that give me a real-world view outside of Microsoft 365.

Surprisingly I found picking sessions based on that criteria quite difficult. There’s certainly no shortage of sessions in the Ignite 2021 session catalogue –  but recent in-person events with Microsoft and MVP speakers have set quite a high bar for deep dive content or sessions with real-world experience.

Naturally, many Microsoft sessions provide information that is best delivered by the people behind the technology when it’s brand-new and untested in the field. Sessions that provide Microsoft’s vision for how a new feature in Microsoft 365 was devised and how it’s intended to be used are invaluable when you are an early adopter and willing to then learn lessons from the field yourself.

But – as Microsoft’s external speaker sessions at Ignite are limited primarily to customer stories, table talk and sponsored vendor sessions, it’s particularly difficult to know if a session is a curated success story, general chat or a warts-and-all notes from the field.

If anything, my one takeaway from selecting my viewing schedule for Ignite 2021 is that I can’t wait for in-person Ignite to return – and when it does, it needs to return to the tried and tested format that other conferences organized in the community continue to have success with. Picking the best content from great speakers who’ve used the opportunity to speak at virtual events, user groups and in-person community conferences to refine their style, sharing real-world knowledge that complements the Microsoft deep-dive content expected from every Microsoft event.

My picks for Microsoft Ignite 2021

Tuesday November 2nd

As always, the first day of Microsoft Ignite is where many of the key announcements are made. On Tuesday, my first priority is to hear from Microsoft what their upcoming vision is for Microsoft 365. As we cover the roadmap on the podcast every two weeks, then I’m not expecting a big GA (general availability) announcement of anything unexpected – but Shared Channels, announced at the Spring Edition of Ignite 2021 will be notable if it drops.

Therefore, my first session on my list after Satya’s conference keynote is Jared Spataro’s session Empower everyone for a new world of hybrid work. As he promises a showcase of product innovations, I’m not expecting big surprises in terms of features – but often sessions like this are likely to clarify how features on the roadmap for release shortly connect together as a full solution.

Microsoft haven’t had the best year in the cybersecurity arena. Despite producing some of the best tools on the market, issues with on-premises tech like Windows Server, Exchange Server and even malware hosted in OneDrive have no doubt caused Microsoft teams some sleepless nights. So in Tackling the biggest cybersecurity challenges for 2022 it will be interested to hear about the lessons’ learned and if Microsoft directly discuss some of their failings and how they’ll improve.

Naturally, as I’ve got a big Teams focus and there are no Microsoft Exchange-focused sessions, my third pick for the day is Microsoft Teams: Thrive with hybrid work presented by  Nicole Herskowitz. Much like Jared’s session, this is looking forward, outlining Microsoft’s vision for Hybrid Work.

Following the Hybrid Work theme, I’m joining the roundtable session Outlook Hybrid Solutions. Like many people, the last year has been working with customers who are deploying various desk booking and Hybrid Meeting solutions, and at work using those myself, so it’ll be interesting to understand Microsoft’s plans and contribute what I’ve seen in the real world.

Last in the schedule for Tuesday, is Microsoft Viva: Latest innovations and roadmap for the new digital employee experience. This is another forward-looking session – a common theme at Ignite – but it’ll be worthwhile to understand if there’s particular news and vision shared on where Ally.io will fit within the suite, and if Viva Learning gets any new features and functionality announced, given it’s going into GA with free and paid versions.

Wednesday November 3rd

The main sessions begin again with Rich, secure content and collaboration for hybrid work which is a session covering Teams, SharePoint and Office. A theme for Wednesday’s session picks is security, and this session (with Microsoft grandees like Jeff Teper, Naomi Moneypenny and more) looks set to outline a vision for productivity with enhanced security controls. It’s a fairly wide-ranging 40-minute session covering the user experience, admin controls and developer experience and at a normal in-person Ignite, you’d expect some in-person deep-dive sessions that dig into the specific announcements as the session looks too short to do any of the new announcements justice.

I’d generally avoid discussion panel sessions at virtual conferences, personally, but the session Microsoft Ignite Into Focus: Security has a fairly extensive cast of experts, including folks like Ann Johnson. Infosec Twitter threads generally seem to devolve into a toxic mess, so I often tend to avoid the ongoing commentary in that community which also means missing interesting discussions from experts in that field. Going a little outside Microsoft 365 to hear about the cybercrime trends and how attacks across the globe are evolving is worthwhile listening – but I might not stay for the whole 90 minutes.

Next up on Wednesday, I’ve chosen Grounding Zero Trust in Reality: Best Practices and Emerging Trends which is presented by Alex Simons, CVP for Identity and Network Access. Alex’s session will be worth attending to hear about the Microsoft view of best practices for Zero Trust. It is interesting to see the term “Best Practices” mentioned in a session title as the term is less used these days, but people do continue to ask for whatever Microsoft deem “best practice” for security implementations. So, we’ll hear what that is.

My penultimate session on Wednesday is Threat Protection – Conversations in AltspaceVR. I’ve not attended a conference session using VR before, but given Practical 365 writer & MVP Peter Rising is speaking alongside fellow MVPs Michael Van Horenbeeck, Chris Hoard, Raphael Köllner (plus others), it’s got to be worth giving it a try.

Finally for Wednesday, I’m attending An inside view on detecting and mitigating insider risks. The speakers have led the Insider Threat programme within Microsoft, and sharing what they learned alongside what they learned from customers. As this promises some real-world experience shared in a large organization with valuable IP like Microsoft, I’ve got high expectations.

Thursday November 4th

Although Ignite is scheduled from the 2nd-4th, in reality, Thursday is a replay of the previous day’s key messaging for those that missed it.

Looking for content to pick for Thursday offers the chance to watch conflicting sessions and potentially look at some of the on-demand content. Filtering the sessions for expert (Level 400) content gives just 5 breakout sessions across the whole conference and no on-demand content. The session Ask the Experts: From Strong to Stronger: Phishing Resistant authentication methods made my “backpack” for content to watch on Thursday from the most advanced content.

From the other advanced content on-demand there wasn’t much else on that jumped out at me – so I’ll use the opportunity to see what other sessions people recommend on Tuesday and Wednesday and then watch those on-demand.

Finally, don’t forget to join us for Practical 365 – Live from Ignite, on Tuesday 2nd November – 13:30 PST, 16:30 EST and 20:30 GMT – live on the Practical 365 YouTube channel and on-demand as usual on iTunes, Spotify and your favourite podcast apps.

About the Author

Steve Goodman

Technology Writer and Chief Editor for AV Content at Practical 365, focused on Microsoft 365. A 12-time Microsoft MVP, author of several technology books and regular Microsoft conference speaker. Steve works at Advania in the UK as Field Chief Technology Officer, advising business and IT on the best way to get the most from Microsoft Cloud technology.

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