Microsoft Partner Conference in Review

An Article By: David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CHIPS Technology Group Inc.

Every July, Microsoft starts off their fiscal year by bringing together their biggest sales and distribution channel, their partners, at their annual Worldwide Partner Conference.  It’s an opportunity to spend 4 days reflecting on lessons learned from the past 12 months, but also understand the direction Microsoft is taking as a company, which invariably shapes the decisions of their partners.  Despite anything that anyone might feel about them, Microsoft is still a company that moves the needle in IT, especially for a business like us, who has built so much of our expertise and practices around their offerings.  It’s essential to be in lock-step with them on many fronts, and it’s a great opportunity to hold high-level meetings with key management people.

We have been attending since 2004.  Many of the decisions we make are shaped by things we hear and conversations we have at this event.  This year seemed a little different for me however.  There was an obvious change to Microsoft’s approach across the board, and it was obvious right from the start, when CEO Satya Nadella took to the main stage Monday morning to get the event kicked off.

Nadella spoke for close to 90 minutes, and it was a great showing by him.  I’ve seen him talk on many occasions and I think he’s really starting to get better talking to partners and customers and understanding all our collective needs.  What struck me though was how much different this talk was than anything I’ve seen in the past, and the feeling grew as the conference continued.  Nadella went about 75 minutes out of his 90 before he even uttered the word Windows.

Now this may seem trivial, but trust me, it’s fairly monumental.  Windows is Microsoft’s bread and butter.  Their cash cow, and it has been for well over a decade.  Just about everything they have done in the past has been tied to the core operating system.  For the CEO of Microsoft to spend 75+ minutes talking to partners and not mention Windows truly illustrates the change of tide Microsoft has undergone in the last 5 years.  The trend continued throughout the conference – focusing far more on solutions and business enablement than raw products.

I think Microsoft gets the trend we have seen emerging for years.  Nobody is making purchasing or business decisions based on features and functions.  That went away years ago.  Microsoft products are the foundation for business solutions.  Before talking about Windows, Nadella talked about everything from Office365 to Dynamics365 (a newly announced cloud solution for ERP and Business Productivity Solutions) to the HoloLens and Surface Hub.  In general, the conference was very light on “product” announcements.  Some of the biggest announcements were around things like enabling customers to lease Surface 4 devices and consume them as a service, and retiring scores of old partner competencies around legacy products.  Everything Microsoft is pushing from the partners out is about solutions, and specifically cloud solutions.

We have seen this trend emerging for years.  It used to be fun to sit with customers and talk about speeds and feeds, or features and requirements, but that hasn’t been beneficial for us or our clients for some time now.  New versions and applications are always much more about what they do to enable your business, or make your business safer, or more productive.  This is why we have spent so much time and energy working with clients on strategies for innovation.  If we understand your business process intimately, we can find ways to help you embrace technology to optimize and improve your operations.

Microsoft isn’t always the most progressive company, and they are often very reluctant to make large changes in strategy around their key product offerings.  The writing is on the wall however, and they are the ones leading the change in many ways.  If you ever have to look at a list of features or functions for a technology component or partner you are evaluating, you are 2 steps behind the times.  We have said for a while that every company needs to think of themselves as a tech company.  Understand how the solutions you are buying can be developed to make your business work better, and you will be leaps ahead of the competition before the race even begins.