October 3, 2016
By Paul Barker
A record 16,000+ delegates converged in and around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in July for the 2016 edition of the Microsoft Worldwide Partners Conference, otherwise known as MWPC.
The annual event, the Redmond, Wash.-based software firm stated is designed to inspire new thinking and drive new business opportunities across the partner ecosystem, which collectively account for 90% of its revenues.
Enterprises, said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s worldwide partner group, are dealing with major disruptions in the way they work with the proliferation of mobile devices, the explosion of data, a growing number of millennials in the workforce and the ever-evolving landscape of threats to data security.
Much of the discussion during the three-day event revolved around a key question every organization, regardless of size, must now answer, namely how best to implement their digital transformation.
It was also a central theme of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s opening day keynote speech held at the nearby Air Canada Centre.
“As a percentage of GDP, IT is a healthy 5%, which is fantastic and it’s growing at around 8% CAGR so by itself we are lucky to be in information technology as the world is digitizing,” he said.
“But when you look ahead, you see that every place where today there is operating expense, there are increasing levels of automation, increasing drives for productivity, increasing drives for efficiency, which mean opportunities for digital services and products from all of you.
“Every city, every traffic light, every retail operation is going to be connected and digital. That is truly the opportunity in front of us. The entire GDP is being shaped by digital technology as we go forward. This represents a huge opportunity for everyone in this room.”
The big news on Day One of the MWPC revolved around the announcement of a major partnership between Microsoft and GE. Under terms of the deal, Predix, GE’s software platform which according to the company, ingests machine-grade data at scale and analyzes it to deliver outcomes, is now available on the Microsoft Azure cloud for industrial businesses.
“Every industry and every company around the world is being transformed by digital technology,” said Nadella. “Working with companies like GE, we can reach a new set of customers to help them accelerate their transformation across every line of business – from the factory floor to smart buildings.”
Nadella was joined on stage by Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, who discussed how the multi-national has evolved.
“Like most industrial companies, we have always had software engineers and things like that, but increasingly we saw that the nature of our technology was changing. That a jet engine was no longer a jet engine. A jet engine had 30 sensors and was taking a terabyte of data for each flight.
“(Around) 2009-2010, we decided that industrial companies would become software companies. The nature of our products was changing and the nature of our customers was changing. We didn’t go to bed one night and dream, and say tomorrow we have to be Microsoft. We said to be a better industrial company we cannot allow our digital future to be created by others.
“We invested massively in a digital transformation. Five years ago, the biggest goal was to outsource everything. Today, if you outsource all of your technology, all of your software, all of your notions on digital, you are going to lose and lose badly. The nature of the CIO is also going to change dramatically from a staff function to an operational productivity function.
“If we can do it, you can do it. Not only must you change, but you can change, but it is going to take investments in culture, investments in technology and you are going to have to change the business model with which you interface with your customers.
“We are in a line of demarcation for industrial companies. There is a past and there is going to be a future. The future will be derived on who digitizes the fastest.”
Plans call for a developer preview to be released toward the end of the year with Predix on Azure being commercially available by the second quarter of 2017.
During his keynote, Nadella also discussed a key Microsoft initiative moving forward – Conversations as a Platform (CaaP), which he said when it was released at the Build 2016 conference for Microsoft developers in San Francisco, pairs the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence.
The key to the vision is the creation of intelligent bots. In early August, Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Skype, wrote that “we envision a world where digital experiences mirror the way people interact with one another today. A world where language will become the new user interface, bots are the new apps, digital assistants are like meta apps or browsers and intelligence will be infused throughout all interactions.
“We believe Conversations as a Platform will fundamentally change the computing experience.”
While Microsoft hit a massive pothole with the release of a chatbot called Tay in March, which ended up tweeting what company officials called “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images,” Nadella and other senior executives plan to press ahead.
Nadella told his Toronto MWPC audience that “conversational interface is a new way on how computing is accessed.
“Just like the browser of the past was born on the desktop PC, the Web was born on the desktop, these conversational interfaces will be born on the devices you use today as an additional entry point, an additional experience, but over time will fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody. It is time to start thinking about these bot interfaces.”
Peter Lee, corporate vice president at Microsoft Research, wrote following the Tay fiasco that “looking ahead, we face some difficult – and yet exciting – research challenges in AI design. AI systems feed off of both positive and negative interactions with people. In that sense, the human challenges are just as much social as they are technical.
“We will do everything possible to limit technical exploits, but also know we cannot fully predict all possible human interactive misuses without learning from mistakes. To do AI right, one needs to iterate with many people and often in public forums. We must enter each one with great caution and ultimately learn and improve, step by step, and to do this without offending people in the process.”
Meanwhile, Jason Brommet, director of partner business and development with Microsoft Canada, said during a roundtable with Canadian media that the importance of the partner channel is immense.
“We sell solutions powered by Azure and our ability to get to that point is purely predicated on our partners’ ability and the willingness of our partners to adopt it as a technology set.
“What we are trying to do is commoditize or democratize the core essence of the cloud and make it accessible to everyone.
“We have to put it into context and the people who are best to do that are our partners. From mobile device to back-end, front office, back office, those are the things we care about. As consumers, that’s what we download is apps because they mean something to us or they solve a business problem.”
As for how best to survive the digital revolution, Brommet had this piece of advice for all organizations, large and small: “If things change faster on the outside than they do on the inside, the end is near. It is the reality.” C+