And once again an eventful Microsoft Inspire conference has now ended!
The main difference from this year’s Inspire was that it was held as a fully virtual online event. While this was a massive change and very different to previous years, it was still filled with invigorating keynotes, great market insights and of course, who didn’t love Judson and Gavriella’s dogs!
It’s a huge undertaking to try and re-create an event like Inspire with its networking and flair as an online event without missing out on the personal feel of people coming together to celebrate, but Microsoft pulled it off with so many lovely little touches. The Ask the Expert sessions following the mains were invaluable and allowed attendees to truly connect with the speakers and the roaming correspondents giving updates were fantastic at linking with the audience. Dux and Marleen being our two key favourites of course!
This year was an exciting one for us, having been named Global Partner of the Year for D&I and scooping up two finalist awards for Teamwork and Apps and solutions in Microsoft Teams, so we truly wanted to embrace ‘Inspire Week’. Due to it being a virtual event it allowed us as a team to have far more presence and it gave everyone a chance to attend sessions. In fact, our round up below was brought to you by two of our new marketing team at Akari, The lovely Jess and Rory, who scooted from session to session and kept our MD company online well after midnight watching some of the mind blowing AI sessions. We were also extremely honoured to run our own session at inspire this year with Microsoft’s own Gavriella Schuster on how to become a partner of impact. If you missed our session you can catch up HERE
As always though the true power of Inspire is the chance to see what is coming up this year from Microsoft; What is driving change and how can technology help in this ever-shifting world, particularly with the challenges of the last few months. Now we could never cover off all the announcements and updates, but we have tried to give you a flavour below with our own key takeaways.
Teams and Power Platform
If there were any clear front runners in the Microsoft technology stack this year it was Microsoft Teams. With 75 million daily active users and a reported 5 billion of meeting minutes in a day, Microsoft Teams has been key in the enablement of remote working and communication through this global pandemic. Fixes and updates have been quick and plentiful so you may have thought you had seen all you could from Microsoft Teams this year – but you would be wrong. It remains a key focus at inspire and one of the stars of the show and it was clear very early on that there is still so much more coming from Microsoft Teams.
While it may seem at times that Meeting fatigue has hit us all, Microsoft have challenged this with Teams together mode, allowing users to feel more, well – ‘together’. They have also brought in more features to allow for a more interactive meetings experience with dynamic view, 7×7 gallery and meetings for a 1,000 plus participants. Further, more personal features like emoticons and feedback options bring an element of personality to Teams which is very much needed during an era where team members can feel disconnected.
However, we feel that it is with the new accessibility features that Microsoft has really stepped up its game. With live captioning and the ability to identify speakers and search transcriptions, the momentum really shifts towards inclusion and shows that Microsoft are investing heavily in their mission statement to empower every person on the planet.
Another key feature was the introduction of Microsoft Dataflex, a Teams-tailored version of the relational database behind Dynamics 365 and Power Platform (formerly CDS). Providing storage rich data types with one click solution deployment shows that it is clear Microsoft is on a mission to enable citizen developers and partners to get the most out of Teams and firmly put aside the notion that Teams is a strict Skype for Business replacement.
Dataflex carries the same initial features and functionality as the CDS with the added features of business logic and rule creation across APIs and applications. We have spent the last six months working with our customers on how to leverage the benefits of Teams Apps and Power Platform and this helps improve Power Platform capability across centre of excellence and app build Dataflex also adds an easier move into data governance and security.
The ability to create Power Platform solutions through the Microsoft Teams interface will be a huge benefit to organisations which are looking to open the platform to citizen developers or IT developers without learning a new interface.
Further, through Power Virtual Agents, Power Apps & Power Automate being able to link apps to Dataflex across the Bot Framework, as well as custom applications within an organisation allows great advantages to IT organisations looking to build out application capability.
Azure and Security
Throughout Inspire it was clear to see that Microsoft have made huge investments and commitments to handling the increase in traffic and customer deployments throughout COVID-19 for all customers but particularly across the healthcare & enterprise space.
Hyperconverged infrastructure is a new level of investment for organisations which are moving into or already have a defined hybrid strategy. By deprecating legacy ‘rack’ infrastructure and deploying HCI solutions, which typically connect to cloud by design, allows for moving workloads across, or connect legacy workloads to, modern data solutions from the edge or datacentre. The investment and introduction of Azure Stack HCI demonstrates Microsoft and its hardware partners capabilities in this area.
Running through many of the Azure sessions there was a clear focus on enabling remote work, optimisation of costs across the platform for customers, as well as ensuring proper security. All three of these points are incredibly relevant for both our customers as well as the wider Microsoft customer base. This year has seen a massive shift towards moving to remote working solutions, often at scale and at pace. While this typically requires the deployment of networking or supporting infrastructure, the prominent featuring of more accessible solutions, like Windows Virtual Desktop, to enable access to critical systems without the deployment of over-complex solutions was a key takeaway.
Optimisation of cost is also a crucial consideration; as we have seen in our own conversations with customers over the last six months in trying to help them manage budget versus new key priorities. Cost optimisations and analysis are an important consideration that we’ve assisted customers with across the board from IaaS & PaaS deployments, with a focus on automation and reprioritisation. This was demonstrated to great effect at Inspire as we saw amazing drive from partners across the globe to enable customers to deal with this change quickly and affordably without sacrificing customer experience for cost. Microsoft also assisted with costs by throwing in their own offering of free Teams for six months, which not only helped massively with cost, but also enabled a much quicker uptake of new technology. As Satya Nadella himself quoted, they have seen “2 years of digital transformation in 2 months” as Teams enables a new cutting edge solution for home working that is changing constantly to serve the existing market better.
It is, of course, vital that with remote working security is interlinked. Security has always been important, but now with organisations requiring staff to operate across a mix of corporate, personal systems and mobile devices, it is absolutely critical. This has required everyone to have a strong focus on security and with zero trust access and secure identity perimeters being a pivotal requirement. Alongside other solutions that assist with this, Microsoft have released their Microsoft Intelligent Security Association to help enable customers and partners to fully realise security benefits at scale during this unique time.
Marketing & Customer Engagement
As we are the marketing team at Akari, we were of course extremely excited to see what the go-to-market sessions had to offer, and we were not disappointed. It’s a loud marketplace out there and even top partners are having to remain extremely competitive.
We were really enthused to see a focus on making marketing personal ; with sessions on knowing your target audiences and some great messages to enable partners with Go-to- market solutions, as well as the importance of trust and building relationships with your customer. This is something we so firmly believe in at #teamakari as our customers are at the heart of everything we do so it was great to see such a strong focus on it from Microsoft as well. For those not convinced of how important personal connection is, some key stats shared were:
Retail demand has fallen by 90! That is such a huge shift in public behaviour. In addition, a survey from 1000 people showed that 70% will only buy from a brand they trust and / or brands that they know. That is seven out of every ten customers. For partners who haven’t got a marketing department or are just starting to build on this message, Microsoft Go To Market was featured in a lot of the sessions and is an amazing resource for partners old and new including Partner Marketing Centre and a digital on demand service. These can help companies with marketing strategies and have digital assistants look at your website and social and help you see where you can grow and improve. They also can help with webinars and help you with lead generation and demand generation campaigns. But don’t just take our word for it, go check it out here.
Accessibility (From our MD)
One of the key things I was excited to see at Microsoft Inspire this year was a focus on digital inclusion. We started Akari based on the founding principles of using technology to level the playing field for everyone. As the winners of this years Global Partner of the year for Diversity and Inclusion I was excited to see a true focus on what it means to be a ‘Partner of Impact’
Microsoft showcased that amazingly well at Inspire. From the new additions to Microsoft Teams to the sessions on how we as partners can continue to drive this. From our own session to the sessions on how accessibility can push the boundaries there were an array of different messages and content that can truly enable partners on this journey and Microsoft highlighted some great resources to help and support you on this. An excellent place to start is with Microsoft Accessibility in Action https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility Every single member of Team Akari has now taken this course and found it helped us massively in understanding the challenges faced and how we can help overcome them
To us digital inclusion is both a responsibility and an opportunity. I think Jenny Lay Flurry put it best, when she said you need to treat Digital inclusion as a business. It needs to be actively managed and measured, we need to prove the ROI for our customer and show them why they need to take it seriously. Partners need to embrace it as a key part of their business and not to think of accessibility as a buzz word or a nice to have. It’s a must, the world is changing and we need to change with it and understand that doing this will make your busines better, it will give you an edge over competitors, it will help customers choose you and it will make your business more profitable, and it has the added advantage of being the absolute right thing to do
So these were our teams key takeaways from this years Inspire. But we have only just scratched the surface. Sessions are still up on the Inspire website and well worth a watch over the next few weeks. We may not have had the heat of Vegas or the pleasure of catching up with our friends in the Microsoft and Partner community and there were challenges with time zones and truly not enough time to catch every session we wanted to, but one thing is for sure, we definitely were ‘Inspired’
Over and Out!
Jess & Rory