Inside Microsoft Inspire 2018 — Transformation in Play

Author: Bob Moore, Managing Director
July 31, 2018

I attended Microsoft Inspire this month along with 20,000 other partners. And for the first time, 20,000 Microsoft sales people joined the partner community at their Ready Kickoff. As promised by the event name, there was a lot of inspiration in the air.
 
This year, Microsoft Inspire celebrated the company’s record growth with an emphasis on gaining greater intelligence from data and doing useful and new things with it. Partners are leveraging APIs in Office 365 and Dynamics 365 and relevant data to create insights and digital assistants. Microsoft has built the tools for this. Power Apps, Power BI, Cortana analytics and Azure Stack can be leveraged to do the processing.
 
Like last year, the challenge to partners was clear: Rethink your business model by shifting your value position and revenue earning engine from what you do to what you know.
 
Here are my top three takeaways from the event.

Higher value services built on Azure Security

I won’t be so bold (or naive) to claim that Microsoft has completely solved security. I will note that for the past two years, Azure security has been a prime focus at these events. But it was interesting that this year, while security was clearly an important foundation, it wasn’t taking center stage.

At this transformative juncture, security should be the emcee of the show, not the star. Security now acts as an enabler but it’s not the end goal. It seems Microsoft has committed significant investments in creating systems and processes and is now moving into something much more interesting—the era of intelligent cloud, intelligent edge. More on this in takeaway number 2 below.
 
That said, there was one security session I attended that was packed. That was Azure Sphere—Microsoft’s play to secure billions of IoT devices. Born from the Xbox team, this is the capability for Microsoft Processing Units (MCUs) in IoT devices that use certificate based authentication for security to have a Linux-based OS for developers that is constantly monitored and managed by Microsoft’s cloud IoT machine learning and AI.

 

Azure Sphere will manage billions of IoT devices with 10 years active security management from Microsoft through a single purchase
 

This is targeted at the hundreds of IoT chip manufacturers. It’s available for free as an install on the chip and is sold as a one-time activation, not as a subscription. Microsoft said they didn’t want customers wondering, ”Mmm, let’s see, do I need security this month?” With the license comes 10 years of Microsoft security management and a platform for vendors to push updates to the devices.

AI, digital assistants, bots and the shift from integration to configuration

There was a call to action for partners to think about the markets they serve and how they can transform them using AI, automation, digital assistants, and bots. This is the realization of intelligent cloud, intelligent edge. It’s about finding innovative ways to discover or create value in data or eliminate inefficiencies through AI and bots. Microsoft is saying to partners, “We’ve given you the tools (Azure Graph APIs, Power Apps, Power BI, Cortana Analytics, Azure Stack), you know the customers and market segments, so go and be creative, look ahead, and build for the future.”

For better or worse, I am constantly drawn to the future and admittedly, this is a long-term view. But I believe it’s more than mere speculation. We are still in the early majority phase of cloud transformation and there are still a large number of systems and processes to be transformed. But intelligent cloud, intelligent edge is the justification for licensed software and will result in a fading need for systems integration and perhaps even a traditional sales force.

As cloud transformation moves to majority over the next decade, the need to connect system A with system B will diminish. Most of that hard work will be pre-configured and will come with the application (offered as a SaaS, of course).

So, imagine this: It’s time to upgrade your ERP or EMR system and your vendor says, “All of our new development is in the cloud platform.” Then your SaaS application providers announce support for direct provisioning. No need for group management because Workday has already done it. And finally, Microsoft announces full parity between on- premises AD and Azure AD with a script. New users in Workday are created directly in Azure AD and accounts are provisioned directly in applications. MFA and contextual access controls are enabled automatically by policy. When it’s time for access review and certification, the platform provides much of that support. If it can provision it, it can attest to it. What’s left? There are some legacy apps that just don’t make it to the cloud. But even in those cases, access will be managed by the cloud IAM system.

The need to have large sales teams will also diminish. Digital marketing, crowd sourcing, and platform-based strategic acquisitions will reduce the role of the traditional sellers and new models—perhaps very effective sales bots—will become more prevalent. Is it even fair to try to negotiate with a bot that essentially has “God knowledge” and knows all your tells?

Building integrations into the platforms

Microsoft has long stood firm on their strategy as a partner-led organization and this was reinforced this year as they brought their sales team and partner community together. It seems that while Microsoft recognizes that they need technology partners to reach scale, technology partners need Microsoft to reach the next level of scale, too.

Microsoft and application partners like SAP and Workday are building integrations into the platform. The partner solutions Microsoft wants now drive adoption and add value to the platform both for the client and for Microsoft.
 
Microsoft calls this Inspire for a reason. But these days, they don’t inspire by telling you how great they are. They inspire by their vision, humility and leadership. I’m looking forward to making the vision real this year.

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