Microsoft Inspire 2017: New Light Through Old Windows?

02 Aug 2017

That 1988 Chris Rea album title was too good not to use for the title of a post about my recent experience at Microsoft's flagship global partner conference. A conference that almost saw Windows cast in a supporting role.

15 Minutes of Fame:
The worldwide Microsoft conference is a whirlwind of networking, meetings and content gathering. This year DDLS got 15 minutes of fame as I was invited to talk at the Australian pre-day (thanks Sarah and Michelle). Sharing a stage with superstars like the Microsoft lead for Azure, Josh Boys, and Steven Worrall, the new VP for the Sub that is Australia. I got the chance to talk to the 370-ish Australians there, mainly about ROI but I happened also to remind everyone that DDLS is no longer owned by Dimension Data so, as Microsoft partners, we are no longer competitors, if we ever were.

What about the content:

Over the years I've got used to attending this conference and hearing about stellar new products, like NT4, Windows Vista, Azure, Surface Hub and HoloLens. I'd argue that this year, with Azure now a "mature" product that stands on its own two feet from a revenue and usability perspective, the conference was as much about Microsoft's evolution at the edges. Suddenly we are routinely talking about Dynamic 365 integration with LinkedIn, AI, Machine Learning and One Commercial Model and not Windows, Exchange Server or Edlin. Mind you, Azure Stack interested me, on-premise Azure for those workloads that must stay close to home.

We did see another brilliant HoloLens demo, around training in aviation. Think this VR is a gimmick? Then think again: Microsoft announced the virtual arrival of the Mixed Reality Partner Program. If I went back in time to my first conference back in the late 90s and talked about a Mixed Reality Partner Program, I'd have been locked up in the Star Trek wing of Redmond.

4 Pillars:
What I sensed more this year were more conversations about organisation change. Having washed Nokia out of its system, it's time to reboot. Microsoft after all was built to sell Client Access Licenses and Server licenses every three years with an upsell of Software Assurance. It is now about consumption via driving workloads to the cloud. The way they sell and the way we buy must change.

Reaffirming its commitment to partners, Microsoft has restructured its sales engine, sadly with the potential loss of 3000 members of staff. We've known that EPG and SMS&P were changing; we now learnt that Microsoft is organising its commercial field sales team around two customer segments: Enterprise and Small, Medium and Corporate (SMC). They reaffirmed the six high-priority vertical markets as Manufacturing, Financial Services, Retail, Health, Education and Government. It's now charging its sales, partners and services team with building, selling and consuming solutions in four solution areas.

  • Modern Workplace
  • Business Applications
  • Apps and Infrastructure
  • Data and AI

The most interesting of these for me is the last one. There is huge investment going into these areas. Expect this time next year to be talking about bots in the same way we talk about Azure Machine Learning.... It's no coincidence that DDLS is working on a Data Science track.

One Commercial Partner:

This sharpening of focus sees the arrival of something Microsoft are calling One Commercial Partner. This is under the leadership of Ron Huddleston. It also brings a new role, the Channel Manager. The aim being to better connect partners and Microsoft. To quote Ron:

"Channel Managers have responsibility for connecting the right partner solutions to the right customer at the right time. Armed with best practices, marketplaces, and solution maps, they will work hand-in-hand with Microsoft sales teams and customers of all sizes and across industries."

They described this individual as someone with loads of LinkedIn connections who knew what was going on locally and in partner land. I described it to someone as conduit, connecting partners to partners, partners to Microsoft and partners to customers.

Did you spot that product has become solution?
Back in the day we would have product demos and announcements. Like Server 2000 and Active Directory or Skype Translator, HoloLens or even Xbox Connect. This time it was more about solutions. They showed us examples, great examples, of problems being solved using Microsoft something, all of which drove consumption. It was great to see Perth-based Aussie business Track'em get air time on the big stage in front of 17,000 people as they demoed their Azure backended solution for keeping tabs on "things" – a sort of Internet of Things. Their demo included flying a drone on stage to zap an RFI tag and a bar code. 17,000 geek wannabes cheered.

As many products now are "evergreen" there were several announcements of "old" products with new tricks, such as nice additions to Office 365 like:

Windows 10 got some air time with talk about security additions in the creators' edition and now the option of upgrade rights as part of a creative bundle Microsoft are calling Microsoft 365. Available in Business and Enterprise versions, Microsoft 365 brings big business protection and functionality to all, for a very reasonable monthly fee. Cloud-based PABXs, Teams and a 50Gb inbox (plus much more).

We were also treated to a sneak peek at how the recent purchase of LinkedIn will be leveraged by Microsoft solutions including the very in-focus Dynamics 365.

"It's not about a collection of more business applications," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Inspire keynote address. "We need to connect processes end to end and create systems of intelligence, systems of action."
Nadella added that monolithic suites "don't cut it anymore".

There was a lot to take in at Inspire, a lot of people to meet. My core take away is that Microsoft has stopped being the "Windows company" – I'm not sure I heard Server 2016 mentioned often; I did hear digital and disruption. With so many features and services now easily accessible via the cloud, the 1999 me from the first conference would be amazed there could be more to computing than SuperCalc, and F: drive and a shared HP Laserline printer. Can't wait for next year.

Watch the keynotes from Inspire 2017 here.



I of course was under orders from the current Mrs D to make it back for the Dockers and Eagles Derby. Sadly thanks to a lost case and a missed connection, I didn't make it. Click the picture to read the story.




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Gary Duffield