Microsoft WPC16: Why I felt like an abacus salesman at a Casio conference

02 Aug 2016

What is a WPC?

Let’s take over 16,000 people, around 300 of them from Australia, add seven Australian global award winners and send them all to hear from Microsoft at their annual conference. This year it was held in Toronto in Canada. That is WPC. As a regular attendee from 1999 onwards, this one rocked. Not least because DDLS won the Global Learning Award – the first time it has been to Australia. Aussie Aussie Aussie.... Win Win Win

The general WPC format is:

  • Start the day with a keynote from the Microsoft leadership team, Satya Nadella and Kevin Turner are always a big draw card. More on Kevin later.
  • After the keynote, there are various themed sessions, some good, some great, some ok. I mainly chose learning and market related sessions this year.
  • Between sessions have some meetings, this year I spent some quality time with Chris Capossela, Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer, Alison Cunard and the rest of the Microsoft Learning Leadership team. I even got a cheeky hand shake from Satya.
  • After a full day of conference, there is usually a full evening of NwC (Networking with Corona). Amazingly, these events are superb networking opportunities.


Listen between the lines

The keynotes are often where you get the heads up on what Microsoft is thinking for the year(s) ahead. Back in 1999, at my first WPC, Bill Gates talked about a “PC on every desktop” he described devices that you could write on with a pen that didn’t take two minutes to power up. He described the Surface (and later, .NET).

This year, Satya Nadella talked about Microsoft’s mission, or is it vision...

“ …to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

He set this in the context of digital transformation (I’m assuming we have all now been digitally disrupted), this is happening in a world where Microsoft is no longer unilaterally obsessed with its own platforms. The world now has an eco-system that sees Office on the iPad and Linux on Azure. Microsoft apps and services have gone large and gone wide. I recently span up Open EdX on Ubuntu Linux on Azure for the new Professional Degree. Took me an hour.


Remember years ago, Steve Ballmer attempted to smash an employee’s iPhone, today, many a Microsoft employee carries a fruity (or robot) powered device openly, fully loaded with Cortana, Office, OneNote and OneDrive of course.


CEOs care about Digital Outcomes (or is that Digital Incomes?)

A recurring theme of WPC was digital transformation, Satya talked about transformation from the CEO’s perspective. It is compelling and engaging content. What does that mean? I’ll paraphrase Satya:

“CEOs desire to use digital technology to change their business outcomes. Whether it be how they engage their customers and personalise that, how they empower their employees so that they can make better decisions and drive their business forward, how they optimise their operations, how they build out that predictive power inside of their organisation so that every operation is intelligent, and lastly how they transform their products and services and the fundamental business model, it’s these digital outcomes that every CEO deeply cares about”.


Is that a large digital outcome? With fries?

Let’s talk Big Mac related examples. We were shown digital transformation in action at a McDonalds drive-thru. Transformation that would improve the customer experience, reduce waste and have an immediate bottom line impact, and render my daughter under employed. In the demo, we heard a nearly inaudible order for food. The conversation as a platform not only translated it, but because McDonalds has a limited product line, it was able to put the order, and customisations into whatever McDonalds uses for its back end CRM. Ensuring a Big Mac, large fries, hold the pickle and a Coke was delivered, on time, on budget and to specification. With no human intervention until the kitchen. That is a happy CEO meal!


More new “products” than you can shake a server at

Whist the days of talking about boxed products in keynotes are long gone, there are so many new services that if you blink, you’ll miss three new ones. I learnt more about Dynamics 365 and found out about Azure IoT and Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite for the first time. Now the three year release cycle has almost gone, I was almost intimidated by what Microsoft can do that I’ve missed Azure Stack, AppSource, HoloLens, Windows Server 2016 (actually I don’t think he mentioned Server 2016)…


Crystal ball as a service. To quote Cortana:

“Analytics that enables action. Take action ahead of your competitors by going beyond looking in the rear-view mirror to predicting what’s next.”

When I heard that Microsoft has recently release Skype Bot as a Service and was talking openly about conversations as a platform (blink), I pretty much had the same experience as an abacus sales man at a Casio convention. I hear the words, but don’t know (yet) what half of them mean. Are you plugging in your applications into Cortana?  If you have not had enough yet, there is a round-up of more innovations from WPC here.


Flipping classrooms

DDLS has been working on a pilot programme for a MOOC for the Microsoft Professional Microsoft Degree, a "university-calibre" curriculum for professionals at any stage of their career. The program launches with an initial offering in data science. DDLS is one of only three partners in the pilot and the only one in Australia. This is a huge and exciting development and we are excited to bring this to market over the coming months. Learning as a Service. Watch this space.

The degree looks great, but that is not the biggy in the training world, no siree bob as our American cousins might say. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some great learning projects over the years, from grad programs for banks to social media enablement training for the security services. My dream training gig? Anything aircraft. Say, finding your way around a Rolls Royce Trent Jet Engine. My first question would be, how many engines can I get for the classes? In a month that has gone mad with the augmented reality of Pokemon Go, Microsoft treated us to "hybrid reality" with a non-whimsical demo of HoloLens. As used to train technicians in Japan, a virtual Rolls Royce jet engine that the learner can spin, resize, disassemble and start with the flick of a wrist and a flick of a finger. Think of the wider training opportunities. And, longer term, more valuable than collecting Pokemons from parks and pizza parlours.


Changes at the top

The keynotes on day one were a bit shorter than usual, perhaps because Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s larger than life COO, has left the business. Ex Walmart, Kevin always brought a no nonsense message to the masses in his keynotes. He’d take swipes at the competition with glee, check out his Siri keynote from 2012. He’d talk competitors with the same passion as Ballmer would about developers. With Turner and Baller gone, Microsoft will continue to refine its direction. Satya, whose hand I had the pleasure of shaking, is presiding over a very different Microsoft than the one joined by Kevin Turner 11 years ago. If you really are a Microsoft watcher, Judson Althoff takes over the COO hot seat.


Who said Microsoft just become cool again (and found its mojo)?

The answer to that question may surprise you, it came on day two of WPC where we learnt that the 13,000 people who work at Facebook were all in the cloud, the Office 365 Cloud. Facebook CIO Timothy Campos declaring that Microsoft had got its mojo back and was now “cool again.”

Microsoft is clearly doing something right… increased revenues and rising profits just announced. I bet Azure Cortana Intelligence Suite saw that coming.


Shameless self-promotion

The DDLS team were so excited to be called out as the winner of the 2016 Global Learning Partner of the Year. In our 25th year. Our entry was based on a multi-faceted project we did for an Australian government department. We took on the might of the US, the stiff upper lip of the British, the efficiency of the Germans, and won. So let’s see the pictures.

We were all in DDLS polo shirts and a medal for 10 years + service to WPC. The green lanyard means this individual is a mentor. That's me, always giving.



This is day one and the view from the winners’ pen.... pretty cool to be cheered by 16,000 + people. 

Luckily there were seven Australian winners, including good friends like Filipa Preston and Nicki Bowers.


This is me, an award, and Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's new Corporate Vice President, WW Partner Group.


We also received a Learning Trophy, presented here to Mike Devitt and myself by Alison Cunard and Kyle Uphoff


We also got a call out at the APAC keynote, this time with a hug from Valerie Beaulieu-James, GM Small, Medium Business & Partners Asia-Pacific - Microsoft. She is a lovely lady.


The view from the stage. The good looking chap in the middle of the photo is Alan Watts, Microsoft PSE from Perth.


...and finally, it would not be a Duffield photo session without that "pose”. Seen here with Pip Marlow, MD Microsoft Australia, Mike Devitt, Sales Director for DDLS and Alan Watts, PSE Microsoft. 


I'm exited to see the wealth of "new" from Microsoft. If you are an IT Pro who has been in a bunker for three years, you'd emerge to an unrecognisable Microsoft. And it's great. This Abacus salesman is off to learn how to use the new Casio PRIZM fx-CG10.