TSG Solutions Architect Matt Collins-Jones Receives Microsoft MVP Award
We couldn’t be happier to announce that our very own Solutions Architect, Matt Collins-Jones has been awarded the MVP (Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals) Award!
Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community. They’re always on the "bleeding edge" and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. They have a very deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. Above all and in addition to their amazing technical abilities, MVPs are always willing to help others - that's what sets them apart.
Naturally, we had to sit down with Matt and congratulate him as well as find out more about his career leading up to this point and passion for all things Microsoft.
Can you tell me a bit about the work you do in the business applications space and the Microsoft community?
I work as part of the Solution Architect practice here at TSG. My role is around designing and creating the best solutions across the Microsoft stack for our customers. I come from a Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement/CDS background (previously known as Dynamics CRM or just CRM) so previously I’ve deployed numerous solutions around that platform, usually to customers working in the sales or customer service space.
Over the last few years, with the emergence of the Power Platform (several platform tools include Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual Agent) and how closely this works with Dynamics, my focus shifted in line with Microsoft direction. We now have these fantastic tools which are data source agnostic, meaning that we can create applications using Power Apps based on Dynamics 365, SharePoint, Azure SQL, Excel etc; we can automate and integrate all these applications using Power Automate, we can report on these using Power BI and create chatbots with Power Virtual Agent.
My job is around finding the best solution for our customers, using all the technology and my knowledge of what the platform can do and what it will do in the future. To gain this knowledge, I spend a lot of time in the Microsoft community. I’m an active speaker and participant at events both virtual and in person events (when we can go back to in person events) as it’s one of the best chances to get a broad range of topics that I wouldn’t usually focus on.
Out of all the work you have completed in the past year that has contributed to this award, what are you most proud of?
My daily videos are something I’m most proud of. Back in November 2019, I challenged myself to create 30 videos in 30 days on Power Automate (which was known as Microsoft Flow last November) and wanted to raise money for charity. I threw myself into learning everything I could about Power Automate and then creating videos and releasing them daily to help start their learning.
I paired this challenge with the Mind UK charity, a charity very close to my heart, and asked the community to help me raise money. With the help of the community and my own donations, we raised over £400 for this charity, which was just brilliant!
At the end of the 30 days, I had actually recorded more videos than just the 30 I set out to do, and as I’d enjoyed the process so much, I just carried on with no confirmed end date. Recently, at video 366, 1 leap year of daily videos, I brought the daily videos to an end. I’ll still make videos, but the daily videos took a lot of time and effort and restricted me from other projects I wanted to work on, so I brought them to a close on October 31st.
What made you chose a career in IT and specialise in Microsoft products?
I started my career on a support desk, supporting bespoke software and hardware solutions. Our internal system for Customer Service and sales was Microsoft Dynamics 4.0. The company didn’t have a contract with a support company to make changes to the platform, so as a recent university graduate who did some work around database and programming languages, I was volunteered by my boss at the time to learn how to customise the system.
A few years later, I was still customising the system, but it wasn’t my main role and Dynamics was something I really wanted to focus on. I applied for a job here at TSG and made the move to focus on Dynamics full time.
I’ve never looked back!
What applications or functionality in the platform do you currently find the most impressive?
In my opinion, Power Automate is one of the best platforms Microsoft have released in the last few years. Power Apps is great, creating the apps people need to record information and there are loads of great things you can do with it - but when you want to start doing some really complex stuff, you turn to Power Automate.
You can connect multiple systems together, such as connecting your on-prem SQL database to your Online D365 then connecting to your Business Central to then to send an email or text message, then to create word documents and convert them to PDF…as you can tell, the possibilities are limitless!
Now, with the release of Power Automate Desktop, bringing full Robotic Process Automation (RPA) into the platform as well, it allows us to connect to legacy applications or applications which don’t have API’s or are on servers with limited internet access. It works almost like a macro in Excel, but it can take files, open them, read them, open applications and input the information, all without a human having to do it manually or watching over it. How incredible is that!?
Automation is really the backbone of a lot of Microsoft products, so Power Automate automating everything and making people more productive, is really THE KEY platform, at least for me.
What are you most looking forward to/what would you like to see in the future on the platform?
The capabilities of Project Oakdale are very exciting! Full relational database, Dynamics 365/CDS semi capabilities where you can build Canvas Power Apps directly inside Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams has become one of the most used tools for organisations these days, and keeping things inside teams, so you don’t have to switch between multiple applications is key to productivity. You can build apps directly in Microsoft teams and get it running in your organisation quickly, but, if this then needs something more enterprise, you can easily convert this into a full CDS environment which is game changing.
Also, all the new AI capabilities in the platform, from translation services, sentiment analysis, Object detection, receipt scanning etc. Microsoft are really taking the democratisation of these tools seriously and bringing AI to people that don’t know code or who aren’t Data Engineers – it’s really key to the AI adoption by the masses.
How does your role as an MVP benefit our customers?
As an MVP, I get access to a lot of tools and information in preview, meaning I can really stay on the cutting edge of this technology and understand where it’s going. I also have direct access to the product team (the people actually making the product/platform), so when new requirements arise in projects that the product doesn’t do, I can suggest it and potentially impact the direction/new features.
What do you enjoy the most about your role at TSG?
I like the varied nature of my work. One week I can be talking to a customer about a big process and how we can save them time and money by running this in Dynamics 365, and next I’ll be creating custom integration to Dynamics 365 Business Central and Dynamics Customer Engagement, then I’ll be building Canvas Apps, delivering training, automating processes using Power Automate. No two weeks at work are ever the same so it keeps this job interesting.
Working with TSG means you get the chance to work with people as passionate as Matt. If you'd like to know more about how we can help your organisation, please get in touch with us today.