In July 2017, 17 000 people descended on Washington D.C for Microsoft’s 2017 world partner conference, now called Microsoft Inspire. As always, the goal of the event was to share Microsoft’s plans for the upcoming year, build the case for partners to grow their businesses with Microsoft, and to announce new products and services.
If you usually follow these conferences, you’ll know that Microsoft, like everyone else, has been talking about digital transformation and the “cloud-first, mobile-first” world for a few years now. This year was an evolution of that discussion, one that affirmed Microsoft’s commitment to partners, offered real-world examples of digital transformation, and unveiled game-changing updates to Microsoft’s products, including what CEO, Satya Nadella, terms the move towards “AI-infused applications”.
Microsoft affirms commitment to partners with new One Commercial Partner Organization
One of the first keynote announcements came from Ron Huddleston, who emphasized Microsoft’s ever-present focus on being partner-led. He explained that the organization has been listening to partner feedback, and as a result, has created a new team, the One Commercial Partner Organization. This new team is designed to make it easier for partners to unlock opportunities Microsoft by working with one team. Rather than working with multiple teams, partners will now work with one team “to build, go to market, and sell with you.”
Huddleston also announced that Microsoft is investing $250 million dollars to connect partners with customers and that it will be paying reps on Azure-consumed revenue.
Microsoft invites partners to drive digital transformation
Next, Satya Nadella took to the stage to share Microsoft’s vision and strategy. He explained the paradigm shift that’s occurring around the world, as people embrace multi-device, multi-sense digital experiences. These, he says, are enabled by “the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge”.
Nadella explained that the growth of the Internet of Things, augmented reality and artificial intelligence have spurred the drive towards digital transformation, creating an opportunity for Microsoft and partners worth an estimated $4.5 trillion.
There are four areas of digital transformation that Microsoft plans to help partners and customers with: empowering employees, engaging customers, optimizing operations, and building better products.
Microsoft 365 is unveiled: a simple, all-inclusive productivity & security solution
To help customers embrace digital transformation, Nadella announced the release of Microsoft 365, saying, “it represents a fundamental shift in how we will design, build, and go to market to address our customers’ needs for a modern workplace”.
Microsoft 365 will come in two versions:
- Microsoft 365 Enterprise – Windows 10 Enterprise, Office 365 Enterprise, Enterprise Mobility, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.
- Microsoft 365 Business – Office 365 Business Premium with tailored security and management features from Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.
Sonia Dara, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft, demonstrated some of Microsoft 365’s features. These included a look at the benefits of an AI-infused Outlook, that can sort a user’s mailbox, identify important emails, and collate them into a “focused” folder. In Word, AI can enhance spelling and grammar, and in Excel, it helps users find insights faster. Dara also introduced Microsoft’s intelligent whiteboard app – a very impressive tool for global collaboration.
According to Nadella, Microsoft 365 will provide opportunities for partners to increase deal size, grow revenue, and differentiate their offerings. One study found that Microsoft 365 Enterprise grows partner revenue by over 50%, compared to the traditional approach of deploying Office 365 as a standalone.
Watch the Microsoft 365 day 2 demos here.
Business applications – more automation, more integration
Next, Nadella explained his plan to connect Microsoft 365, LinkedIn, and Dynamics 365 together to achieve the levels of automation and connection needed for the modern business. Not only will this simplify work, Microsoft’s AI capabilities will help customers unlock the intelligence contained in all this (currently-siloed) data.
Alysa Taylor, General Manager of Business Applications at Microsoft, introduced Microsoft Relationship Sales. She showed how the solution can help sellers grow their networks and close more deals by managing relationships and sharing content in Dynamics 365 from their smartphones. Taylor also explained how Dynamics 365 can be used to transform and streamline the hiring process.
Artificial Intelligence in action with Azure
One of the best demos of the week came from Julia White, who leads product marketing for Azure.
She showed how AI-infused Azure will transform customer service transactions.
It started with a bot agent helping a customer select a car insurance policy. Facial recognition capabilities enable the bot to read and respond to the customer’s facial cues, transferring them to a human customer service agent if the cues are interpreted as frustration. The customer service agent has access to the previous conversation and can continue the conversation seamlessly.
Azure Stack now available
Azure Stack gives on-premise environments cloud computing capabilities. Nadella called it a “truly consistent” hybrid cloud platform capable of helping customers execute their cloud strategy quickly, and sensibly, without having to change the way they build applications. He announced that it is now available through Microsoft’s hardware partners.
ISV Cloud Embed – helping ISVs modernize their business applications
Microsoft also introduced ISV Cloud Embed, a program that helps ISVs modernize current business applications and develop new ones using embedded building blocks of services, such as Dynamics 365 Embedded, Microsoft Flow Embedded, PowerApps Embedded, and PowerBI Embedded.
In conclusion: A huge opportunity for Microsoft partners
Inspire 2017 really was inspiring. We encourage you to watch the 3 on-demand keynotes and ensure that your organization is ready to usher in real digital transformation. As technology companies, and as Microsoft partners, we have an amazing opportunity to shape our future.
Finally, to paraphrase Satya Nadella, there are 17 million people around the world who are employed by Microsoft partners, these people are leaning into, and shaping our digital future.