Microsoft Inspire – what we learned

Microsoft Inspire – what we learned

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend Microsoft Inspire in Las Vegas. This is the company’s annual partner conference, with thousands of attendees from all over the world.

As you might expect, Microsoft focussed a lot on digital transformation and empowerment, and how organisations use technologies that can enable this transformation and drive effective change.

To be more specific, there was a lot of discussion of what Microsoft calls the ‘modern workplace’, and the software that helps companies collaborate, communicate and make the most of technology – such as Microsoft Teams, Power BI, IoT, PowerApps, Flow, and Dynamics 365.

Microsoft also reminded us that it sees the customer at the centre of all engagements, and that it’s vital for partners to work closely with customers, to understand their issues and requirements, and to empower them. As you’d expect, this is talking to the already-converted at Total, as we have always had a customer-centred approach, with a focus on listening, not talking.

Monday keynotes: collaboration and innovation
On the first day, there were two keynotes (or ‘Corenotes’, to adopt the Microsoft jargon), from senior channel execs Gavriella Schuster and Judson Althoff.

Schuster talked about priorities for the next year, and specifically how Microsoft wants to drive more adoption of Office 365 and Teams. I think everyone is familiar with Office 365, as Microsoft has been promoting it heavily for years, but Teams is still new to some customers. That’s even though it already has 13 million daily active users, and Microsoft says it’s used by more than half a million organisations, and is available in 44 languages.

So, what does Teams offer you? Launched two years ago, it’s a workplace collaboration platform, with features such as group chat, online meetings, and video calls, as well as integrating closely with Office 365.

At Inspire, Microsoft announced some interesting new features to improve the Teams experience, such as better-managed notifications. It sees Teams as a hub for teamwork, and a key part of Microsoft’s offering – helping people to work more closely together, and encouraging a culture of engagement.

Also, Althoff mentioned that Microsoft plans to improve all of its offerings in the next year, as you’d expect, but specifically to add AI, for example in Teams. By adding AI features across many widely-used applications, Microsoft sees itself as ‘democratizing’ AI. The AI capabilities may seem conceptually simple, but can be immensely useful – for example, automatic transcription for catching up with webinars or conference calls, or automated customer support.

Then, Schuster moved on to explain the benefits of migrating from Windows Server and SQL Server 2008 into the cloud with Azure, and how the cloud can drive digital transformation. She introduced an intriguing new service called Azure Lighthouse, which is aimed at helping partners deliver managed cloud services.

Wednesday keynote:
On Wednesday, it was the turn of the CEO, Satya Nadella.

Nadella, as you would expect, also talked extensively about Azure, and Microsoft’s progress in cloud. He described Azure as ‘the world's computer’, and talked about how the service is now in 54 data centre regions, including the Middle East and Africa.

He also mentioned the ‘intelligent edge’, which is a way of describing computers out in the world all being connected to Azure – apparently Starbucks already has all its coffee machines linked up this way. It’s not too far from the Internet of Things (IoT) conceptually, with perhaps more of a cloud flavour.

Nadella’s talk included multiple case studies, discussing how technology continues to become more accessible and easier to use. For example, he showed a great video about Martin Lee, who works at Autoglass in the UK. He used to use traditional apps like Excel for reporting, but found it laborious. Then he discovered PowerApps and started to develop his own applications to make his job easier – and he's now an application developer.

Microsoft’s Power Platform got some airtime too: it’s an application platform that enables what he called ‘citizen developers’ to build custom apps or automate workflows. Everything links up to Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365, with a common data model. And our old friends Office 365 and Teams both got their share of promotion.

Summing up
Microsoft is a huge organisation, with many diverse product lines. But at Inspire it presented a coherent and well-integrated message, of collaboration, digitalisation and empowerment. It’s working, too, with last week’s financial results showing a ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit year-on-year revenue growth.

Hearing Nadella talk about Microsoft's near- and longer-term plans, it's clear that Microsoft is going to be at least as important to the way we run our organisations in the future, as it has been to date – and most likely more important.

There are many new features and enhancements to look forward to over the next year, but Microsoft’s message remained consistent: customers are central to everything. That’s something everyone at Total can buy into.