Update: Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2016 - Live from Toronto

By Roger Leyland, Esteem Director of Professional Services

What a fantastic and insightful week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference! As the Director of Professional Services at Esteem, this week was a real reminder of just how committed Microsoft is to providing real benefits to our customers, not just in technology space, but social and environmental as well.

The first day saw Satya Nadella give a visionary keynote around the advancement of the intelligent cloud platform with a range of new products coming on stream and an awesome demonstration of the latest ‘Mixed Reality’ advancements that are providing the first real useable interface from the 2D screens of today. ‘Conversation as a Platform’ is now part of the ever growing XaaS portfolio and Microsoft is betting heavy that this will become the de-facto method of interacting with an application.The route in is via micro-services, with more frequent upgrade cycles and quicker development, speed to market and costs drastically reduced. The time of annual upgrades is coming to an end, with quarterly patches now driving constant change. However, the most exciting part is the rise of Artificial Intelligence, via the Cortana Intelligence Suite. With the exciting opportunities it brings, customers need to ready themselves for the idea that soon they are going to be providing digital assistance across their environments, with specialist Digital Assistants using machine learning to give their employees and customers expert knowledge and predictive information at their fingertips.

'Conversation as a Platform is now part of the XaaS portfolio and Microsoft are betting heavy that this will become the de-facto method of interacting with an application'

“Digital transformation” was highlighted in an interview with Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, with the powerful message that every organisation will soon have to undergo a digital transformation. Jeff’s stark message emphasised that those who fail to transform and understand the nature of digital transformation will lose badly. Microsoft has positioned themselves as the ‘go to’ partner with the launch of the Cortana Intelligence Suite, enabling elements of Microsoft’s AI products to be integrated and leveraged, digitally transforming the way we do business today.

Day two and three and more announcements from Microsoft. Before we look at them, one thing that struck me this year is the just how inclusive Microsoft has become under Satya’s leadership. The old boundaries between technology giants are disappearing fast, with Apple products used in keynote demos, and Facebook announcing on stage they are moving to Office365 across their business.

On to announcements: the first is more personal computing, it is easy to forget with the rise of mobile devices just how many desktops are still in use every day, and are still critical to their everyday tasks. Windows 10 appears to have finally swept up the last of the debris of the somewhat traumatic and unloved Windows 8, but more importantly, it is a genuine replacement for Windows 7, with many new productivity and security improvements that really sell themselves. The latest numbers announced include 350 million devices and around 320 million desktops, making it the fastest uptake of any Windows version. So if you are on Windows 7, my advice is that it is finally safe to move, and more importantly you should, if only to get the advanced security features in these turbulent times. Microsoft now sells Windows on a monthly subscription basis of $7 per month, who knows what that will be in sterling in the coming months, but it still reflects a genuinely attractive price, and if you haven’t heard already, it is now available on a Surface with a new subscription based model.

'It really is simple, the first organisations to embrace digital transformation are going to be the ones who not only survive, but thrive in an ever more competitive world'

Following on from day one, the theme, building the intelligent cloud was continued and the importance of the advancements being made here just cannot be underestimated. It really is simple; the first organisations to embrace digital transformation are going to be the ones who not only survive, but thrive in an ever more competitive world. Several new versions of key infrastructure products like Server and System Centre 2016 were confirmed to launch this autumn. It is critical that you don’t let this become just another upgrade cycle. It is not just new features and more of the same, but faster. To think like this is really missing the true potential of what the intelligent cloud can offer your organisation. To get a flavour of the potential, it is worth checking out the Microsoft portal, AppSource, a method for getting enterprise applications, not quite as quick as the mobile, but not far behind. Compare that to how long it takes to buy an enterprise application today.

Finally the third theme highlighted was reinventing productivity and business processes, which is basically all things Office 365. For those of you who still think of Office 365 as email and the traditional office suite with a few small tools people don’t use, the world has moved on, and is only accelerating. Office 365 now includes PSTN, conferencing, online meetings, 1TB storage per user, intranets, corporate social networks, broadcast meetings (up to 10,000 people), analytics, digital rights management and email protection. It really is becoming a true end-to-end business tool.

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