When Life Gives You Lemons… Eat Dog Food

LemonsI have been in Singapore this past week at the APAC Education Partners Conference which was a great event and an awesome time to connect with many new partners and also re-connect with the colleagues in my team based in Singapore that I have not seen for a few months.

I ran a bunch of sessions including a Minecraft:Education Edition three hour training event to 30 partners. Being Asia, a group photo after the event was mandatory:


I also enjoyed the usual sights and sounds of Singapore:

One of the true highlights was visiting the Tanglin Trust School for a couple of hours on Friday morning where we were hosted by Steve Morgan who shared the school’s journey from students almost exclusively using MacBooks to now using ‘touch and pen’ enabled devices and Microsoft OneNote. This was quite the transformation and involved significant planning, trialing and communication but as I wandered the halls looking into the classrooms it was evident that virtually all of the teachers had embraced OneNote in a serious way – it was everywhere!

I liked the following educational take on ‘The Ten Commandments’ that was on the wall in the school:


The Problem – Being Given Lemons

On the day before I was to fly out I was asked to help configure 60 Surface Pro 4 devices in preparation for the Microsoft E2 Educators event being held the following week (12th March – follow along live here). I discussed the challenge with my colleague Amit Pawar who was also asked for how best to achieve the required outcomes which were essentially:

  1. Office365 ProPlus needed to be installed (with latest version to support inserting 3D Models into PowerPoint)
  2. Minecraft:Education Edition installed
  3. Paint3D (meaning at least the Creators Update of Windows10, otherwise would need to install it via the Microsoft Store)

Not knowing what state the devices would show up in meant we had to make some assumptions, so we prepared a handful of USB drives with the ‘Click 2 Run’ O365 installer (along with a .bat file to execute the install), along with the Minecraft:Education Edition Win10 Installation file.

After returning from the visit to Tanglin Trust School on Friday morning, we found to our dismay that the units had still not arrived meaning we were going to be severely pressed for time. When they did eventually arrive mid-afternoon it was evident our original plan above was not going to work. The devices all had various versions of Windows10 installed on them, different versions of Office365 with multiple language packs (but not the latest version that included the support for 3D models in PowerPoint) and other gremlins that suggested the devices were not going to be the most functional.

The Solution – Making Lemonade


Some of the Surface Pro needing configuring

It became clear that a Plan B was going to be required to get these devices ready in the very short period of time that we had available and so Amit and I conferred and decided we would need to change tact. Our solution was to:

  1. Create a demo tenant here – https://demos.microsoft.com/ – this gave us temporary demo licenses for M365 A3 and A5 meaning we had temporary O365 ProPlus and Intune liceneses.
  2. Map a domain name to the demo tenant to make it easier to use (fortunately, my forward thinking colleague had a spare one handy).
  3. Create sixty demo user accounts in the Tenant using Excel and FlashFill
  4. Download the ISO and create Windows10 installation USB drives. Fortunately, being in Singapore there is a local Microsoft Data Centre only a few kilometers down the road meaning it did not take long to download the ISO. I had my ‘always travel with’ USB of Win10 so we could get a head start with that one.
  5. Amit then configured Intune for Education in the demo tenant to automatically push out Office365 and Minecraft: Education Edition to any users who signed into the Tenant that were connected via AzureAD and Intune and were licensed appropriately (see step 1 above).

Configuring the above did not take long, with the biggest wait being having Windows 10 reinstalled on the Surface Pro devices.  When the first couple of devices were complete they presented us with this screen in the Windows10 setup steps:


We chose to “Set up for an organisation” meaning we could automatically enroll the devices into Intune

By choosing the first option of “Set up for an organisation” we were presented with the option to sign in with an email address and password where we used the user names we created in step 3 above. Because the users all had AzureAD P1 and Intune Licenses they were automatically enrolled into our demo tenant (based off the domain name of the email address) and then the magic started to happen:

Office365 ProPlus applications and Minecraft:Education Edition started to immediately download to the device with no need for any further intervention. Intune For Education took over and recognised the configurations of Amit had set up and automatically pushed out the applications to the correct users.

We could then test the first few devices to ensure that Minecraft:Education Edition could be signed into and that when launching PowerPoint it had support for the 3D Models and as an added bonus, the user was automatically signed into Office365 and activated it based off the temporary demo licenses in the tenant – there was no need to manually activate Office.

Selling The Dream – The Lemonade Stall

At this point, I may be stretching my analogy around life, lemonade and lemonade stalls, however what excited me about this was it proved, in a real-world time-sensitive and under pressure situation, that the modern device management (MDM) dream can work very effectively. Intune for Education and AzureAD worked exactly as intended meaning once the initial configuration was completed, it was as easy as signing into the devices with one of the demo user accounts to complete the deployment. In the end, I had to leave at 5:30pm to catch a flight home out of Changi Airport and my colleagues all had other events to get to. As a result, they had to come in on the Saturday morning to finish the re-installation of Windows10 which was the longest part of the whole process, and then simply sign into the freshly installed Surface Pros with the new user accounts and wait a few minutes for the download and installation of Office365 ProPlus and Minecraft:Education Edition to complete.

This was a very satisfying solution and conclusion to a busy week and a great example of ‘eating your own dog food‘ (if you’re not familiar with this curious phrase, have a look at the explanation here).

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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