The Fabulous 40 video series, hosted by VP of Product Technology Dan Stoll (@_danstoll) interviews members of the Office 365 & SharePoint community. Dan delivers a rapid fire of 40 questions that let you get to know about that things that drive and inspire the leading minds in Office 365.
This week Mike Fitzmaurice (@mikefitz) , Chief Evangelist of WEBCON joins Dan in Seattle.
Mike shares his expert tips for organizations tackling workflow and business process automation in Office 365. Mike provides us insight into his passions of Process Automation, SharePoint, Public Speaking (in kilts) and Travel. He also tells us about how SharePoint came to be and some of the antics he got up to in his role as the first evangelist for SharePoint.
Dan: Hmm, classic Seattle. And in classic Seattle style, how are you, my man?
Mike: Oh my God, it's Dan!
Mike: How are ya?
Mike: How the heck are ya? Good to see you, my friend.
Dan: Good to see you, Mike, good to see you. Good to see you got a drink there?
Mike: Well, yeah. Step into my office.
Dan: Right, man, I'm just gonna ask you a few questions if that's all right?
Mike: Oh my God, oh my God. And I thought we were after hours and all that. All right, yeah it's fine.
Mike: It's not after hours, man. It's work day.
Mike: Work never ends, but that's all right.
Dan: Well, thanks for meeting me in beautiful Seattle.
Dan: And how long have you called Seattle home?
Mike: Ah, gosh, we moved, 17 years ago, is when we moved here.
Dan: What's your top tip for anyone coming to Seattle?
Mike: Do not, and I mean DO NOT bring an umbrella. You will look like a rube.
Dan: That is true. What brought you to the state from your homeland of Canada?
Mike: In a nutshell, family and a job.
Dan: Fair enough, fair enough.
Mike: Yeah, I wish it were an interesting story, it's not.
Dan: You've recently joined WEBCON as the Chief Evangelist, and VP.
Mike: Tell us about your role.
Mike: Well, part of the time, I'm the Global Chief Evangelist for the company, representing, not just what we do, but what we care about to the outside world. The rest of the time, I am building up the North American business, the brand new North American business of the company that's been very successful over in Europe.
Dan: So, give me your elevator pitch for WEBCON.
Mike: Oh, that's easy. WEBCON is workflow and business process automation, and better than everyone else. No, in all seriousness, WEBCON is the business process solution for SharePoint customers that really puts the process first. A lot of the time you build, you actually start with data, and then maybe make forms for it, then tack on some logic. We actually say build the process, tell us what data you need, and then we'll build forms that make sense for what it is you wanted to do with it. And the key is, you can change anything, at any time, and it takes effect immediately, even with the stuff that's already running.
Dan: Yeah, so WEBCON were founded in Poland. Have you been to the HQ already?
Mike: I have. It's in Kraków, and Kraków is awesome.
Dan: How large is the global WEBCON team now?
Mike: We're about 120 right now, and growing.
Dan: WEBCON are known for business process automation. Why is this a passion of yours?
Mike: Because business process problems are so much more interesting than posting a transaction style problems, and involve every facet of the organization, so you have to be a psychologist and a technologist in order to solve those suckers.
Dan: What was the earliest tech you used to automate something?
Mike: Wow. The first time I attempted to build a workflow solution? Okay. It would have been on Microsoft Exchange, which used to have a workflow product inside of it, way back in the day.
Dan: Oh yeah, I remember doing something very similar back in Domino. So, what are some of the exciting projects you're working on right now?
Mike: Well the most exciting project is obviously bringing WEBCON to North America.
Dan: What's the top process you see companies automating with WEBCON?
Mike: There isn't one. Everybody uses business process automation for something. I mean, there are certain common things that are document reviews. There are cases that have to be managed in medical and legal settings, there are employee onboarding challenges, and manufacturing quality assurance cases, and so on, but it's all over the map.
Dan: But what are some of the biggest challenges, you know, organizations face when they try to automate those old manual processes.
Mike: Deciding what those processes are in the first place. It's harder than you think. Everybody has a view of what it's supposed to be, and all those different views are in disagreement, so rallying people to come up with what it is. Actually, the thing I think we should do, listen to everybody, build something that's incredibly imperfect, and let them criticize you, and if you're willing to look dumb for three minutes, you can look like a genius for three years. And obviously, WEBCON, because we're easy to make changes to, we're good at that.
Dan: For companies wanting to automate processes on SharePoint or Office365, what should they go to learn to, what should they go to to learn about the tools that are out there?
Mike: To learn about the tools is quite easy. Go to everybody's website. Go to WEBCON.com, go to the Flow site in Microsoft.com, K2.com, nintex.com, firestart.com. Finding the tools, that's easy. Finding out how to do workflow well, that's hard. And not too many people are talking about the practice of workflow and automation. I am, I'm doing my part, so medium.com/@MikeFitz.
Dan: What, sorry, you held the role of Lead Evangelist at Microsoft when SharePoint came to be, and tell me about that.
Mike: Wow, what can I tell you? We knew we had a very clever piece of technology on our hands, and we knew it had an extensibility story, but we were living in an office, just a little skunkworks project, and getting the people that cared about Word, and Outlook, and things like that didn't care about us, the server people, we were a little small for that. So, the real challenge was to literally knock on doors, and get IT pros and developers to pay attention. It was a lot of manual sweat and blood.
Dan: And what's your fondest memory of those times?
Mike: My fondest memory of those times? Wow, it would have been the very first SharePoint Conference. It was in 2003, it was put on by myself, and a guy named Joel Fraunon, and 200 people attended, mostly ISVs, but each of those 200 people built something with SharePoint, and it was amazing. It started a movement .
Dan: Yeah, I know. Did you get to work with Bill at all?
Mike: Yeah, actually I did. Bill spoke at one of our conferences, and did a great keynote, and yeah, I got to meet him backstage.
Dan: Any mentors you'd like to give a shoutout to?
Mike: Wow, too many to count, but I will pick one. Not so much because she influenced me the most, but she taught me one thing that mattered the most. Catharine Morris, who did a lot of jobs at Microsoft, but when I was at Microsoft Consulting Services in Colorado, I learned from her how to align people's self-interest with what the organization needed. Sometimes adapting each to accommodate the other. But she was really good at that.
Dan: How would you describe the earliest version of SharePoint?
Mike: An excellent piece of promising technology, with a lot of work ahead. Basically, too useful to ignore, too imperfect not to need a community to support it.
Dan: Right, right. And I guess SharePoint holds that special place in a heart for you?
Mike: Of course! It still does, it always will.
Dan: What do you think is the most significant improvement that's happened to SharePoint?
Mike: The Cloud, Office365, and because there are now no longer any, -you don't have to worry about how to deploy it anymore, or how to properly maintain it. You still need to worry about how to properly govern it, and plan for it, and get some value out of it, but you'd be surprised how many, no, you would not be surprised, but you might be surprised just how many people have trouble deploying it, and installing the darn thing.
Dan: You're a well-known speaker in the SharePoint and Office365 community.
Mike: Thank you very much.
Dan: Do you remember your first gig?
Mike: Well, my first gig would've been teaching at university, or do you mean my first SharePoint gig?
Dan: Well, let's just say your first public speaking gig, not lecturing.
Mike: Uh gosh, how about, all right, fine, back in 2001, I taught one of the founders of Hyperfish how to deploy SharePoint, and that was in a public speaking gig in Singapore. I had done it a week before in Cannes, France, but again, we don't have a connection between us for that one.
Dan: What's your next conference on the speaking calendar?
Mike: SharePoint Fest Seattle in August.
Dan: Oh, right, yes.
Mike: Yep, I'm takin' this summer off, for the most part, and working on a whole bunch of other things.
Dan: You're also the VP for Content for the European Collaboration Summit.
Mike: Yes, yes.
Mike: How did that come about?
Mike: Well I've worked with Adis Jugo, and been a friend of his for years. Adis is one of several clever people, Toni Frankola, Nenad, Spence Harbar, they've all been involved in that conference for a long time, and I got asked to help be an ambassador for the conference, and own the business productivity track several years ago, and it's a formula that we've used off and on. For the past year or so, I've had a larger advisor role, like figuring out what the stream of keynote speakers would be last this past year. I had a huge role in that.
Dan: Yeah, yeah. What makes the European Collab Summit different from the other Microsoft Technology conferences?
Mike: It's 100% community driven, that would be one thing, and the second thing would be the degree of curation is much higher. It's not just a committee saying "We like your session, "we like your session, we like your session." It's "we like these sessions, now how can we put them "together to tell a continuous story?" There actually are people at the top of the stack trying to paint a canvas out of various submissions.
Dan: What was your highlight from this year's conference?
Mike: The same as every year. The opening keynote, and that is because all the work has finally reached fruition, and the darn thing is started. I cannot tell you what kind of a relief that is, even though we're still not done.
Dan: Now, I hear the 2020 dates are live?
Dan: When and where is that happening?
Mike: It's once again in Wiesbaden, Germany, from June 6th through the, no, sorry, June 8th through 10th.
Dan: And speaking submissions are already live?
Dan: What content are you looking for?
Mike: We are looking, I'll tell you what we're not looking for. We are not looking for "here's this feature, "here's that feature, here's this technology," which is why if you submit right now, you don't have to worry about somebody introducing something in between now and next June. What we care about a lot is "here's something I learned "to do that I really want to share with all of you." Or, "here is how to use one particular technology "in order to achieve business goals, or strategic goals," or something like that. It is absolutely about getting value out of tech, not about describing technology.
Dan: Now, would you say getting that content is the hardest role of being the VP of Content? Or is there something else?
Mike: No, the hardest role is keeping the Senior Vice President of Content and Conference Program, which is Spencer Harbar, happy.
Dan: You're known for speaking in a kilt sometimes.
Mike: Sometimes, yes, absolutely
Dan: How did that come about?
Mike: As an act of defiance, actually. I've actually had kilts for years. Yes, I have more than one. In fact, I have several, but that happened when I was at Microsoft. We already talked about SharePoint being a little skunkworks project, kinda like a startup. We used to do our own marketing, and do all kinds of outrageous things. That's not where the kilt comes from. The kilt comes from Office finally noticing us. We'd gotten just big enough for the Office central marketing people to care, so they kind of reined us in, and said: "From now on, you don't get your own booth at conferences, "you become part of the Office pavilion. "You get a stand there, and you don't get to have your own crazy, loud SharePoint shirts. You're gonna wear the Office official events shirt, and that's always worn with either black slacks, or skirts". And I said, "Okay." So, I wore a black skirt, a kilt, and if anyone had complained, I would have gone to HR because I am ethnically Irish and Scottish, and that, it's okay, no one ever complained. Microsoft was totally cool about it, the Office guys giggled, and question number one was "What's the deal with the dude in the kilt?" But question number two was always "What's SharePoint." It was great. And then people expected me to do it. So, for years, at multiple companies, I've continued to wear kilts.
Dan: Yeah, man, I remember the first time I saw you without a kilt, about a year or so ago, and it was kinda weird.
Mike: Yeah, it's weird to have somebody come up to you and say: "It's so weird to see you wearing trousers."
Dan: Exactly. So, fair to say that the kilt doesn't align with the Fitzmaurice Clan, it's more of a utility belt.
Mike: Oh, yeah, it's definitely more of a utility belt, and I'm much more Irish than I am Scottish. Scottish is about a drop, but Irish people have been known to wear kilts for ceremonial things, but they tend to be more plain, and single-colored, which is what I do. It's not really about clans in Ireland.
Dan: Many people in the community know you to be an avid traveler. When did you catch that traveling bug?
Mike: Oh, I've always loved traveling, but I didn't really get a chance to start doing it until I'd say about 17 years ago, when I started traveling in earnest, and have not stopped. There were a few memorable one off things, but I was not, like, regularly packing my bags, and going off to crazy places.
Dan: Any country that is your absolute favorite?
Mike: Oh, Canada, obviously. No, I love many places for many reasons. It's really hard to pick a favorite.
Dan: Any idea on how many countries you've left to visit?
Mike: Probably at least 50. What, is there 130 under the official, no, 160 or something? I've probably been to a hundred countries, but I don't keep score. Traveling, for me, is not about trophies. I just go to unusual places, or very usual places, and have unusual stories collected. The purpose of life is to collect stories, kids, always.
Dan: Any new countries you'll be visiting this year?
Mike: Nowhere new, but I am returning to Czechia (a.k.a Czech Republic) for the first time in about 13 years. I'm sure it's changed. I can't wait to look for it. That's gonna be at the European SharePoint conference in Prague this December. You should go.
Dan: Any top travel tips you can share?
Mike: Uh, there are several. One, travel light as much as you possible can. It decomplicates your life in oh, so many ways, and almost everything you think you need, they've got there, wherever there is. Thing number two is keep your eyes open. I mean, sure, I take photos, I write things down, I share things with people on social media, but I don't do it all the time, I'm actually paying attention to what's around me, and I collect better stories for it. The third thing is, and this is possibly the most important thing. Do not attempt to order a martini outside of the Anglosphere. If English is not the native language, the odds of them getting it right are very, very, very small. In Germany, if you ask for a martini, you get a glass of vermouth. If you ask for a gin martini in Italy, you get a fifty-fifty, just don't do it. There are wonderful cocktails you can have in other places. Don't ask for what you like to drink everywhere you go, unless, of course, that's beer. You'll always find good beer wherever you are. Same thing with wine.
Dan: What Office 365 app do you use the most in your daily role?
Mike: I hate to say this, this is kind of mundane, but Outlook, followed very closely by Teams.
Dan: What was the most exciting announcement from this year's SharePoint Conference for you?
Mike: There were lots of announcements, but they were all, to me, evolutionary, not revolutionary. So, to me, the exciting part was not an announcement, it was, again, the vibe, the culture, the community, people that really wanted to talk, not just to Microsoft, and not just to sponsors, but to each other.
Dan: And how do you stay up to date with the latest in Office 365, and what can you share in terms of resources for people so they can stay up to date with the latest Office 365 news?
Mike: I try to read a lot. 30 minutes a day I get on, and I read blogs, I read announcements, I read some tech news sources that I trust. I find reading is faster for me than watching a lot of videos. Videos work great for some people. For me, I like text.
Dan: Now, you mentioned your website a bit earlier. Is that the best place to stay up to date with your tips and content?
Mike: Oh, yeah, let's do a plug yet again. Medium.com/@MikeFitz.
Dan: And any parting words of wisdom?
Mike: What can I tell ya? Probably the most important thing is if you adapt WEBCON's philosophy of "Release, Review, Revise, Repeat", not just to software, but to life, you're probably gonna have a good, and interesting time.
Dan: All right, thanks, man.
Mike: My pleasure, sir.
Dan: It was good catching up with you. I'll let you guys move on with your day. See ya.
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