I was fortunate enough to attend Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington DC last week and I have to say what a great experience it was and a refreshing view of what a Microsoft conference can be.

Like many I’m sure, I had begun to wonder if Microsoft could ever regain their past glories or would they suffer a slow decline in the face of the likes of the revolutionaries Apple, Amazon and Google?

I work very much in the world of Microsoft as a Solution Advisor at Professional Advantage and of course any balance of power shifts in the IT industry not only stand to impact my clients’ IT investments and skillsets, but potentially my own career.

However while questions had crept in, there had been enough promise shown and enough innovation in recent years to suggest to me that it was only a matter of time before Microsoft once again became the innovator they once were. After what I saw and heard last week, I am convinced that’s absolutely the case.

With Satya Nadella at the reigns of Microsoft, the communicated strategy is clear, the product sets evolving to meet market needs are spot on and the partner engagement to help deliver and support the market is impressive.

What struck me most was the short turn around in attitude from just a few short years ago (during which time) Microsoft, to their detriment, viewed other platforms and competitors as well as their users, as evil. If they walked past you and you were holding an iPad their staff would chastise you in a playful… but meaningful way!

This year at WPC there was an air of grace shown with demonstrations actually conducted on stage on iPads, announcements about partnerships with Salesforce and a Salesforce app to be released on the Windows App Store, commentary about the number of Linux servers being run in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. The short-sightedness about what users actually wanted has been replace with an embrace with Microsoft saying, “Come all, come many, we have something for you!”

That is not the end of this story, however. You see while Microsoft is cleverly saying to others “we have something for you,” they are also cleverly leveraging the message “but we also have something better for you”.

The Surface Pro 3 being released in August is a true tablet experience that is also a laptop replacement. ‘Ho hum’ for some perhaps, but a win for many fed up with carrying around two devices. This has the potential for many brave enough to try it, to realise that there is more than one real tablet option and now one that is a true ‘work’ device as well.

This then links with the fact that apps developed for Windows 8.1 will have a common development platform, meaning apps developed for the desktop will also work on Windows phone 8.1? Could it be possible that if an iPad user tries a Windows tablet and likes it like I like mine that they might actually be brave enough to let go of their seemingly irreplaceable iPhone with a Windows Phone? I dare you to try it, you might be surprised.

But what about my Siri? I couldn’t do without her? Microsoft’s Cortana an Apple Siri – like function is being released on the Windows phone 8.1 as well. OK so Microsoft is playing catch up here, but they appear to be doing it well.

So what, you say. Who really cares about devices…?

Well let’s talk about business platforms. The acquisition of Yammer has really educated Microsoft about the insights gained in truly connecting people with information. SharePoint was once viewed as the future glue between Microsoft applications and its growth has been phenomenal in the market. But moving forward, Yammer and its social networking presence in the Microsoft stack looks impressive. Imagine reaching out on Yammer looking for skills or a previous proposal regarding a particular sales opportunity you have in Microsoft CRM. Now picture opening that proposal and seeing that Yammer discussion pop up in a pane in the Word interface. The same Yammer discussion is also visible in the opportunity being tracked in your Microsoft CRM application. The discussions are also visible in the Proposal Site created in SharePoint and this unified discussions experience will then be visible in your unified communications tools like Outlook and Lync.

The connected people and information experience doesn’t stop there. With the pending release of Delve and the Microsoft Office Graph, users will be able to see a Pinterest type view of content they are working with and filter by content that is been created by them, content presented to them, content relating to a specific thread or project or more. The Office Graph will then show them others in the organisation that are working with similar information or have related skills to the content or topics being worked with.

This intelligent view of what we are working with and who can help us has huge benefits for enterprise organisations looking to maximise productivity and actively and efficiently leverage existing skills and IP.

Everything Microsoft is aiming for is device- independent as mentioned and as such their Enterprise Mobility suite that allows the management and separation of people’s corporate apps form their personal apps is a good move. The ability to control and manage corporate information is key to organisations embracing the BYOD cultures that are infiltrating corporations by default.

Their Cloud App Discovery tool that allows corporations to scan for apps being used, user count, access instances, etc will be welcomed. Organisations will be able to bring into play a single sign-on service and automatic user account setup and user account removal and view reports showing individuals who logged in from different time zones and locations so they can scrub for suspicious activity and attacks.

Still boring you? Well how about their Microsoft Machine Learning service or Project Siena that allows rapid and easy mobile application development. Or perhaps the pièce de résistance ‘Skype Translate’ that Microsoft is hoping to have in preview by the end of this year, which allows a voice conversation in one language to be translated in transmission and be voiced at the other end in the native language of the recipient. Just think about the game changer this is for business, medical education and more.

So make no mistake Microsoft needed to play catch-up in a number of areas… And they are.

But innovate and lead the market… they still can.

The one thing they still hold on to that seems far less at risk than it was 12 months ago ( I believe), is their massive install base across the corporate market. Their ability to revolutionise this with some of the innovation they showcased last week has me thinking about acquiring a few shares in Microsoft for what should be great returns in the years ahead.

I can’t wait to share these visions and many more picked up at the conference with my clients in the coming weeks.

 

Professional Advantage is a Microsoft Gold Partner, a member of the 2014 President’s Club for Microsoft Dynamics and in the 2014 Inner Circle for Microsoft Dynamics.

You can read more about Professional Advantage here.

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