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Highlights of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2014

Each year, Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) represents the high point for thousands of Microsoft partners globally – a chance to understand Microsoft’s vision for the year ahead and what this means for our customers. With the dust settling on this year’s event, held in Washington D.C. in July, our leaders from the Intergen contingent in attendance have had a chance to ruminate on an intense week’s worth of session content and networking activity and distil their highlights.

The feedback from our team on this year’s event was unequivocally positive, with a number of people commenting on a sense of renewed energy and clearer focus, remarking that Microsoft’s vision is more unified and exciting than ever, with the cloud first, mobile first mantra at the heart of everything in Microsoft’s roadmap.

Below are the thoughts on WPC from our three country CEOs – Simon Bright (New Zealand), Michael Morgan (Australia) and Jay Templeton (Western United States – and our two New Zealand directors, Emma Barrett (Director Solutions and Services) and John Bessey (Director Client Development). 

Our leaders share with you their impressions, highlights, and what they’re most excited about – for Intergen and our customers – in the year ahead.

To read more about highlights from this year’s WPC and access session resources, visit the Digital WPC site.

Michael Morgan, Australia CEO

The cloud first, mobile first message came through throughout the conference and really set the focus for Microsoft’s core strength and go-to-market proposition: being the leaders in increasing the productivity of consumers and business. Productivity – enabled by this cloud first, mobile first was layered right throughout new CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote which was extremely well received and he certainly brought a new energy and enthusiasm to the partner community.

Microsoft: Cloud First, Mobile First

As an Australian, I was personally really excited about Microsoft’s big push on Azure and the data centres that are about to launch in Sydney and Melbourne. This is really going to change the game for us. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in the mobile space, with Microsoft offering the only complete mobile solution that allows control and security of the mobile environment across any number of devices, allowing users to do what they want to do, with the flexibility to work productivity in any context – whether at work or in their personal lives – and have the tools to make sure that data is secure and managed.

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen really great things happening in bits and pieces, across different products individually, but one thing that really came through strongly at WPC is that things are really starting to come together. What I mean by this is we’re starting to see products bundled together in order to address specific business outcomes. For example, sales productivity is now a solution, a package consisting of CRM Online, Office 365 and Power BI. Microsoft has never been so cohesive or business outcome focused.

I was also really pleased to make note of the seemingly simple improvements Microsoft is making, like being able to see Yammer groups and SharePoint feeds being surfaced directly within Outlook, which will help make Outlook as our ‘daily workbench’ much more powerful. There’s also lots of other functionality that we’re really not using yet, like the real-time collaboration capabilities in Office – for example the ability for more than one person to simultaneously edit Word documents and communicate via Lync from within the document online to discuss these changes as they happen.

It was interesting to see Microsoft’s new Cloud Solution Provider programme, which effectively allows Microsoft partners like us to manage the entire cloud engagement with customers, just as we would manage the end-to-end engagement with a Microsoft Dynamics implementation and its ongoing support, for example. For our customers, this means we’re the frontline and the single point of engagement.

It was also interesting to note the emphasis throughout the sessions on the buyer’s journey, and the fact that organisations typically do not come to a technology service provider wanting to find out what they need; instead, by the time they come to a company like Intergen, they know exactly what they want and need to know they’re working with the leader in that particular field of technology, finding a partner with superior knowledge and a focus on disrupting the status quo in order to innovate.

I was excited by the Microsoft Dynamics AX sessions and the chance to preview Rainier, the next, fully reskinned, release of AX, scheduled for the first half of the calendar year in 2015. Rainier is a complete move away from the typically bland and uninviting ERP system interfaces, with an attractive front-end Windows 8 tile interface and a change in the underlying technology to HTML5, making the AX user experience significantly more modern, light, web-oriented and intuitive. The cloud-first, mobile first experience applies even to AX. With Project Siena, mobile apps can be created right from within the AX production environment. In one demo, it took someone a total of 22 minutes to develop – from scratch – an app running on top of AX. It’s all part of Microsoft’s overall drive to empower organisations to take their information and to make it available via mobile apps to their people in the field, enabling greater productivity wherever they happen to be working.

AX deployment in Azure is also going to be very impressive, with the ability to have a full AX environment deployed in the cloud within 60 to 90 minutes. AX in Azure is an extremely powerful proposition worthy of much more airtime than I’m giving it here. In terms of development testing and disaster recovery alone, for organisations to be able to simply replicate their production environment in Azure, not to have to numerous backup servers in different locations, is a very big thing.

And in terms of AX development, Rainier will see the development environment move to Visual Studio under the .NET framework, massively increasing consistency for a multi-disciplined shop like ours and hopefully improving the experience and access to standard toolsets for our developers.

It was fascinating to see Microsoft’s new open approach to the technology landscape in action. The message was very clear: productivity is about empowering people, and if the focus is truly to be on every individual being at their productive best, Microsoft can’t put an artificial wall around technologies and insist that this productivity can only occur within Microsoft’s own ecosystem: it needs to be able to work with – an on – any of the many other non-Microsoft products and devices out there. Think Lync on the iPhone, or a Word document you’re halfway through working on at work when you get called away, wanting to pick it up later at home on your iPad.

In order to be truly productive, you don’t want to skip a beat. Microsoft’s focus is on ensuring the “dual user” – someone who computes across work and life in general in a seamless way – can achieve what they need to without process bottlenecks or the pain of unsuccessfully switching between contexts. Microsoft’s vision of interoperability simply comes down to this: enabling people to do what they need to do to be more productive, wherever they are, and on whatever device.

Simon Bright, New Zealand CEO

Having attended a number of Worldwide Partner Conferences over the years, this year I was really struck by the increased level of buzz and enthusiasm surrounding the event, largely in support for Satya Nadella as Microsoft’s new leader.  The mood of the conference in general felt a lot more upbeat than last year, and partners seemed more confident, all showing strong support for Microsoft’s direction and future.

Microsoft’s cloud first, mobile first strategy was evident throughout, and it was interesting to note than Microsoft has moved towards emphasising the need for us to understand the concept of consumption – in other words, how people consume technology – rather than to talk about the cloud itself. As a trend, cloud discussions will become a thing of the past: the cloud is simply the enabler and the thing that really matters is how people use Microsoft’s technologies. And with cloud now the accepted medium (with almost any combination of public, private and hybrid cloud options available in most situations), it’s now all about what you can get out of the cloud. Microsoft is very clear on their shift in focus on this – to give Office 365 as an example, in the past success would have been measured on licence sales; now success is about how many people actually log on and use the product.

Having Azure data centres in Sydney and Melbourne is definitely a highlight for the antipodeans amongst us. With the reduced latency more local data centres will bring, the cloud becomes increasingly more viable for Australasian organisations. This is a really big step forward for Microsoft.

I also noted a change in the way Enterprise Social is being framed. There’s now a big focus around Enterprise Social becoming more of a search capability, offering information to people as well as the standard Yammer news feed, for example. The best example of this is Delve, a solution that contextualises the information around you and offers it up to you, based on machine learning.

Microsoft Delve

The concept of Machine Learning also got a lot of attention, using predictive analytics to enhance Data Insights to predict what will happen in the future. This is going to be a huge growth area and will create strong opportunities in the BI space, for all organisations, not just those with large research budgets or big teams of data scientists.

As it is every year, one of the best things about WPC is the opportunity it gives for 16,000 Microsoft partners around the world to connect and network. In particular, it was great to see our new partner Sitecore  have such a strong presence at the conference. These networking opportunities are always a highlight, and this year it was even more of a highlight knowing that Intergen helped to build the WPC Connect SharePoint 2013 community site, a platform for the 2014 conference and future events, designed to bring partners together, help them find other partners, and to arrange meetings, all within the ‘Connect’ forum.

Networking with other Microsoft Partners at WPC14

Above: Networking with other Microsoft partners.

And ‘Connect’ wasn’t the only thing Intergen played a part in at this year’s WPC. It was great to see several demos Intergen helped to create feature on the big screen in front of an audience of that size, and fantastic to see so many of our Seattle Intergenites involved. Bringing an Australian leadership contingent to the States was also a great opportunity for us to catch up with what the ever-expanding Seattle team is up to. Lync is great, of course, but catching up in the flesh is even better. 

Jay Templeton, Western United States CEO

Of course I’m going to say that my highlight was seeing the keynote material my team helped build. Like a proud father, at one point I tweeted the following, using the opportunity for a bit of free promotion on the tweet board featured in the lead-up to each session.

Not surprisingly, quite a few people saw that tweet, and quite a few people – not sensing my tongue was firming in my cheek – asked if Intergen had in fact pulled together the WPC event. We may have played a part in helping out in certain areas (and of course we’re extremely proud of the part we played), but we most certainly did not pull the event together! Even though our North American team is growing fast and we’ve doubled in size in the last nine months, considering WPC delegates could fill the equivalent of 45 hotels, we’re a very, very long way from that sort of achievement! (Although, speaking of achievements, we did recently win Microsoft Corporation Preferred Supplier Programme Brand Value Partner of the Year for our work with Microsoft.)

Solution demo during WPC14

Solution booth at WPC14

Outside of our involvement with WPC it was great to see the momentum happening around the cloud, and all the Internet of Things and Big Data examples being showcased, centred around real world customer scenarios. This is particularly exciting because these are two of our key focuses and it’s great to see these big themes coming to life.

Big data numbers: MIcrosoft Azure now holding 30 trillion objects

Above: Azure by the numbers  – 30 trillion objects!

We had some great meetings and great opportunities to develop business with other partners. These meetings were of course seamlessly facilitated by the WPC ‘Connect’ community site we helped build – another WPC highlight!

Last but not least, as a WPC regular, I also have to say the food this year was excellent, a real improvement on previous years. As a kiwi living abroad, it was also a treat to get a chance to sample some fine New Zealand wines at the event hosted by Microsoft New Zealand and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

Emma Barrett, Director Solutions and Services, New Zealand

This was my first WPC... It was a fantastic experience and Washington DC is a great city, filled with amazing architecture, history and stories.  My highlights, in no particular order…

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. An inspiring person and what an incredible speaker.  His keynote was flawless.  A very impressive ability to hold the attention of 16,000 delegates through a 45 minute presentation with no cues or notes! Amazing to watch, and certainly something to aspire to.

Networking with the Microsoft team and other partners from the New Zealand contingent as well as our international partners including RecordPoint, Celinia, Ferrante, NC4 and SiteCore.

Meeting The Right Honorable Mike Moore (New Zealand Ambassador to the United States) at the NZ Embassy in Washington DC, an event for NZ Partners hosted by Microsoft and NZTE at Te Aka Aorere.

Emma Barret, New Zealand Ambassador to the USA Mike Moore and John Bessey

Above: Emma Barrett, New Zealand Ambassador to the USA Mike Moore and John Bessey

Learning more about the power of the cloud, and just how pervasive Azure is going to become. With Azure’s pending 16 data centres and its unique ability to offer hybrid, enterprise-grade, hyper-scalable services, the experiences and outcomes available by leveraging Azure capabilities provide an extremely powerful proposition for businesses of all sizes.

The potential of Internet of Things combined with tools such as the new Power BI suite. The next generation of Business Intelligence was demonstrated, and it’s very exciting.  PowerBI takes data from multiple sources and surfaces it in an easy-to-use graphical interface – data insights will power and enable predictive analytics, an endless opportunity!  The scenario presented was that of an elevator maintenance company monitoring the usage of elevators across the country, and using this information to predict where preventative maintenance was required to prevent outages.  Data is collected from each site and presented in a visual map built using Power Map with the Microsoft Power BI suite (watch the video here).

Microsoft’s intent to bring productivity to everyone, everywhere was clear.  The deliberate inclusion of two iPads in every demo, and showcasing the out-of-box integration of the new BI tools with Salesforce.com data sources emphasises the move towards removing any barriers to the reach of the Microsoft platform.

We got a glimpse of some very exciting tools to come, including Delve within Office 365 which surfaces information to you and encourages you to ‘work like a network’.  It presents you with material that you have viewed or worked on, but goes further to include material that you might be interested in based on who you are, who’s in your network, and what your network is interested in.  You can train it and teach it what you are really interested in.  It even shows you presentations that have been presented to you, it knows that someone has pressed F5 on a presentation when you were in the audience.  And just as I thought it was getting a little big-brother-like, I learned that teenagers today think that email is archaic! I realised it was time to embrace the technology and move with the times, and I am now excited about the potential of working like a network and what informative and insightful material DELVE will put in front of me.  The future capability looks very powerful and the new devices are too.  I have come home with a Surface 3, a Nokia 930 (green) ordered, and a semi-addiction to Wordament (you have to try it!).

John Bessey, Director Client Development, New Zealand

Having worked for Microsoft for a number of years and attended a number of Worldwide Partner Conferences in that time, the biggest change I noted this year was the impact Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has had, and the consistency of the cloud first, mobile first messaging. I it was the clearest communication of a strategy and the rationale behind it that I’ve ever seen from Microsoft. The way in which we implement cloud-based solutions, how these solutions are consumed, and the need to consider mobility in everything and thinking about our customers’ journeys to the cloud came through in everything.

Thinking about the cloud from a New Zealand perspective, the Christchurch earthquakes really started to change the way people thought about the cloud and get organisations thinking seriously about working out how to leverage the cloud for disaster recovery. Now Microsoft’s Azure proposition is stronger than ever, with Microsoft the fastest-moving player in this space, and is now increasingly becoming the first choice for organisations. Hybrid cloud solutions – a mixture of on premise and fully cloud-based solutions working together – are the most prevalent cloud option we’re seeing locally.

Microsoft showed a really strong focus on being much more responsive to customer needs and the user experience that is interchangeable across their work and personal lives, with a real commitment to delivering more value to users and creating a sticky experience across any devices a person may use. Mobility plays a massive role in this, as does Big Data and analytics.

Another key message I came away with, particularly after attending Gartner VP Tiffany Bova’s session, is that more and more IT decisions are moving away from the IT department to business decision makers, particularly the CMO. This is something we’re seeing increasingly in our own engagements, as marketers embrace the big trends such as social, big data and mobile. For a company like Intergen, increasingly we think of ourselves as a business applications company (delivering solutions like ERP), with an emphasis on the business. And in our engagements with our clients we’re seeing roles like the CFO and the CMO being charged – more so than ever – with responsibility for dynamic interaction with customers.

Big data and analytics will come to play a role in all solutions, helping organisations not only to understand information in the rear view mirror, but to also understand the road ahead through the front window. And in our development of Modern Applications we’ll all be making sure that mobile is a part of absolutely everything, making sure the end user has all the information they need, from all possible points of contact.

Cloud and mobile aren’t the solution; they’re just the technologies we need to leverage in order to create the solution, and more than ever Microsoft stressed this focus on solving real business problems rather than focusing on the technologies themselves.

Posted by: Katy Sweetman, Marketing Director, Empired Group | 11 August 2014

Tags: Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft

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