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Inspire 2017 Highlights: Microsoft’s evolution continues

By Jonas Jasinskas

 

A lot of interesting news came out of Microsoft Inspire 2017 in Washington D.C. earlier this month, for partners and users alike.

In many ways, it’s the culmination of how the company has been changing over the past few years under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella. The clear message to the conference attendees, fellow partners from more than 140 countries, was around digital transformation and taking a solution-focus over license sales and transactional deals. This was refreshing to see, since it parallels with what we are doing as a global company (and COMPAREX Canada’s approach since day one).

Focus on solutions and the platform

Take the announcement of Microsoft 365, the complete combination of Office 365, Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security into one solution (for Enterprise or Business, respectively). The announcement demonstrates Microsoft’s interest in moving beyond asking partners “How many subscriptions did you sell,” into the far more important question: “How are your customers using these services and how can we accelerate the adoption of Microsoft technology?”

Azure similarly illustrates Microsoft’s evolution. The company has spent untold resources building the datacenter of the future to digitally warehouse everything a customer could need. Over the past decade or so we have seen organizations evolve from physical to highly virtualized environments. Now the transformation from localized infrastructure to a cloud based datacenter is in full motion. At the conference, Microsoft displayed high levels of confidence in their datacenter technology and go to market strategy. Microsoft’s announcements around new services for partners will also enable accelerated digital transformation for our customers.

Innovation and other exciting stuff

The learnings from the conference weren’t all licensing and changes partners should expect around how they work with Microsoft. There was no shortage of cool technologies and innovations coming down the pike from the company.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is really exploding now that cloud has caught up to accept vast numbers of connections and data types. For new or growing verticals, IoT can be used to help build solutions on a massive scale; for mature verticals, it can help optimize everything from service delivery to manufacturing to business analytics.

The Microsoft HoloLens “mixed-reality” display has amazing potential for applications for organizations in industries from healthcare to engineering to the public sector (yes, and gaming). At $5,000 it might still be a little pricy for many applications, but this is the first augmented reality device — the Atari of augmented reality — we can be sure to see it become more consumable and developers will flood the market with exciting solutions.

Artificial intelligence isn’t the stuff of science fiction anymore. The vast amounts of data that can be collected is driving greater need for AI and cognitive technologies. How else can we filter, stream, review it all and make data-driven decisions? Microsoft announced AI for Earth, an incubator for solving some of the most difficult challenges around artificial intelligence to ultimately solve the biggest challenges on the planet, like sustainability, water and biodiversity.

Many of the coolest devices (aka toys, toys, toys!) were on full display at the conference — both from an enterprise and consumer perspective. The new Surface and Surface hub demonstrate Microsoft continued commitment in the end-user hardware space. I’ll confess to being a gamer, and the presentation of the new Xbox and gaming rigs from Microsoft partners show how the device has evolved to become a digital gateway or platform for consumers’ living rooms. (See, it’s all about the platform.) Cortana has become fully integrated into Microsoft’s console platform, giving consumers a digital assistant at the ready. Stream movies? Search the web? Start a Skype call? Home automation? Yes, to all. So exciting.

Moving forward

The announcements from the conference don’t just demonstrate the company’s ongoing movement from a transactional software license-based business to a solutions and services model, there are big bets placed on how the future of IT, business and life will shake out. Necessary ones.

Inspire 2017 is my sixth WPC (World Partner Conference) and Microsoft has really been catching up to competitors like Salesforce, Google and Amazon where they have to, and investing heavily in the future (and its future), which is a cloud- and solutions-focused one.

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