Neil Logan, CEO of Incremental Group, reflects on his time at Microsoft Inspire 2017 and the key messages from Microsoft

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Attending Microsoft Inspire, the tech giants annual partner conference, is always an interesting prospect.  Inspire is Microsoft’s way of getting the partner community together and kicking off the new financial year, detailing the future strategy.  The event itself is something of an odd mix: part technology show, part sales conference.  As a Microsoft partner, it is the annual event to get along too and this year I, along with another 17,000 partners, travelled to Washington DC to do just that.

Over the last few years Microsoft has gone through something of a renaissance.  Under the stewardship of the bombastic Steve Balmer, Microsoft seemed to lose sight of where it played best.  Competing with the resurgent Apple and the upcoming Google, Facebook and Amazon proved to be more difficult than they imagined. That struggle manifested itself in an increasingly confused strategy – was the focus consumers or businesses?  Microsoft’s failure to react to mobile saw them miss out badly.  They had succeeded in their mission to put a PC on everyone’s desk but 2 decades later they missed the opportunity to put a device in everyone’s pocket. This misstep ultimately cost Balmer his job as CEO. Balmer’s replacement is an altogether more measured individual. 

Satya Nadella has been with Microsoft for 25 years and CEO for the last 3.  In that time, he has worked to refocus Microsoft, doubling down on their cloud strategy by investing massively in their Azure cloud platform and transforming their product licensing model which has seen Office 365 cement Microsoft’s dominant position in the workplace.  The result: Microsoft stock price has increased by over 50% since Nadella became CEO in 2014. Nadella took to the stage in Washington last week having just announced that Microsoft was overhauling its sales and marketing organisation cutting around 4000 jobs (a little under 10% of the existing headcount) in the process. 

As CEO, Balmer would literally bounce onto the stage, hollering about the magnificence of the organisation regardless of the challenges it faced. Nadella walks calmly, but swiftly and speaks with the confidence of someone who isn’t scared to make tough decisions and believes Microsoft has its best years ahead of it. Unsurprisingly given the internal changes at Microsoft over the last year, Nadella’s Inspire keynote this year was not focussed on new, cutting edge technology. 

Instead he chose to speak about how Microsoft’s focus would remain steadfastly on Digital Transformation – empowering every organisation to achieve more.  Under Nadella’s leadership Microsoft believes that enabling organisations to understand and apply digital technology, to digitally transform themselves, is a $4.5tn opportunity for both themselves and their partners.  The message was very warmly received. At Incremental Group we firmly believe that technology can help every organisation achieve more and as such the focus given to digital transformation was very welcome.  I was also delighted to hear that Microsoft has realised that, as we move further into the 21st century, what contributes to competitive advantage is less to do with scale and more to do with agility. 

During his keynote Nadella announced Microsoft 365 – a new offering for businesses that combines Office 365, Windows 10 as well as Microsoft’s security and mobility services, enabling SMEs and large corporates to simplify their IT estates unifying management across users, devices apps and services. Over the 3-day conference, Microsoft continued to focus on the enterprise with Dynamics 365, (Microsoft’s unified cloud based ERP and CRM solution) taking centre stage throughout. 

Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn for $26.2bn captivated everyone’s imagination and the integration between the corporate social network and the Microsoft Dynamics product range was showcased repeatedly.  The acquisition of LinkedIn signalled to competitors such as Salesforce and SAP that not only is Microsoft prepared to compete in the ERP and CRM markets but can shift the dial dramatically. Elsewhere, Microsoft focused on their advanced data analytics and Artificial Intelligence offerings.  Again, all powered by the Microsoft cloud, Microsoft showcased solutions built for both SMEs and large corporates demonstrating that class leading technology solutions are no longer the preserve of large businesses. From a Scottish perspective, Microsoft’s change in focus is very welcome. 

The Scottish economy’s success is largely governed by SMEs and with Microsoft increasing their focus on this section of the market, smaller businesses can expect a much more level technological playing field.  The technology industry continues to accelerate forward rapidly, but this year’s Inspire demonstrated that Microsoft understands that success isn’t just about bringing new technology into the market, it’s also about democratising access to that technology and that really is something to be inspired by.

For more of Neil’s updates, click here