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If you’ve never attended the eXtremeCRM innovation challenge and you’re wondering what it’s like or whether you’re cut out for it, I can tell you it’s one of the most worthwhile things you’ll do as a CRM developer in your career.

Here’s a rundown of my experience:

Hour 0: Nice to meet you, where are you from?

I showed up at the eXtremeCRM innovation challenge in Warsaw, Poland on time and sat down at one of the eight empty tables. As the rest of the crowd shuffled in I ended up with three others at my table. Soon after, the challenge began, and we were welcomed by the conference staffers, previous challenge winners, and Microsoft MVPs who then laid out the rules for the day.

1. Come up with an idea and write it on the board
2. Create a team around your idea (everyone voted on the ideas presented)
3. Execute your idea
4. Prepare to present your finished product
5. Present your idea and your implementation to everyone in attendance on the last day of the conference

Hour .5: The ideas

Between the three of us we had three distinct ideas about what we wanted to accomplish. I had attended Microsoft’s Build conference three weeks prior and wanted to build a CRM chatbot based on the Bot Framework Microsoft had announced that week. My colleague from Poland, who I’d come to know as Andrzej Lesinski, wanted to expand on a geolocation idea he had been working on and our third table mate wanted to build a 360 degree view of customer data pivoting from a central record in CRM.

Hour 1: Team up

We submitted our ideas to everyone in attendance by writing them on a flip chart and everyone got to vote for the team they wanted to be on. In the end it was me and Andrzej in favor of the Bot, with the least number of votes, but we got some help from our CRM MVP, David Yack, who had seen the bot presentation from build, as well, and was as excited as I to apply the framework to CRM which made our team complete.

Hour 2-3: What are we doing?

We started by laying out the fundamentals of what we were trying to accomplish so everyone on the team was on the same page. We worked through the technologies: “I forget the name of the language understanding AI”, “Oh that was LUIS…let’s look that up”

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So, David started working on the LUIS side of things to get our bot to understand natural language. We faced a number of challenges: we had to have an interface and we thought it would be cool if we could use voice instead of text; we had to make it talk to CRM;and we needed a use case for when we presented the chatbot to the conference.

Hour 4-5: Small steps

By lunch we had some success with LUIS understanding commands and we had integrated LUIS with our Bot Emulator to give us workable data that could be used to interface with CRM, but we were a long way from being able to say we had a presentable product. There was no voice, it didn’t talk to CRM yet, and we still didn’t have a coherent use case.

Hour 5-8ish: It works!

After lunch we reconvened with a renewed passion for what we were doing and clearer heads. I personally work best between the hours of 1 and 6 p.m. and after lunch we clicked. We ridded ourselves of runtime issues we were having with the bot. We had made the bot not only functional using LUIS but had also come up with a great use case: “Salespeople in the field who need to access data and create data on the go.” From there we knew we had to program the bot to do some “smart” things as well as some “clever” things. The clever things were easy, like when we tell the bot to  “drop a lead,” the bot replies “I can’t do that, you must close all leads”. It was harder to get the bot to recognized the phrase “next Tuesday” as a specific date. In the end, we got it to work. Not perfectly. Not flawlessly and not ready to be sold, but working…

 

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72 hours later: Show it off! whatever it is…

One of our fellow competitors came over to us at one point during the innovation challenge and said “You guys are building a bot? Haven’t you ever seen Terminator?” from then on we had a name “The CRMinator”.

We had seven minutes to present our bot in front of the conference attendees. We got on stage, gave a short narrative of the problem we were solving and the background for the idea. Then we showed off some of the functions. That was it, we were done before we knew it.

We ended up winning the innovation challenge at eXtremeCRM Warsaw, but honestly the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the industry and see our ideas come to life and spend one day just doing the thing I love to do with no timelines or bottom lines to consider was, for me, one of the high points of my career. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity as well as the achievement and if you’re considering attending, I’d recommend you set aside your hesitance and make it happen.

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