What happens in Vegas… INSPIRATION 

The past week has been an absolute whirlwind here in Las Vegas, so while I'm en-route to San Francisco and the week's experiences are fresh I thought I would share some of my personal insights and learnings from a week in the Vegas heat...

Firstly; I had no idea what to expect prior to arriving at Inspire given this was my debut at a Microsoft conference but my overwhelming takeaway is that Microsoft with freshly announced revenues of $100 BILLION is an ABSOLUTE force to be reckoned with. 

Secondly; man does Microsoft know how to partner! Evidenced by a literal never-ending factory of success stories during the week combined with the highly capable talent from across the globe, the mature programmatic approach and genuine willingness to invest in both partners and customers to deliver meaningful and impactful innovation.  

Finally… kiwis in tech are prolific! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the kiwis on stage, delivering real and impactful insights to the global Microsoft community and connecting with kiwis working in the Microsoft ecosystem from NZ and all over the world. These guys and gals are doing amazing things, it’s never been more clear that we are forging an exciting path in Aotearoa leveraging Microsoft technologies and I’m confident that as a direct result of our attendance at Inspire that with our powers combined we can achieve even amazing things but partnering is going to be critical to achieving the art of the possible.. we can’t continue to ride solo! 

Hope you get something out of my brain dump below! 

Bringing it all together… The Carlsberg Digital Transformation with Microsoft 

With so much to cover across the course of Inspire, I was stoked to see Carlsberg (yes the world famous beer company) get up on stage at one of Corenote’s to not only Tell their story but also demonstrate it LIVE…. 

No doubt this will be a very popular success story and when the live stream links are released I’ll include here but my highlight from this Corenote was the application of the full suite of Microsoft technologies including 365 and Azure including AI to help answer the question of: 

“Can AI help brewers predict how new beer varieties will taste before they taste it?” Carlsberg says “YES” 

Here’s a little-known fact for your next pub quiz, one of the reasons it takes so long to develop new beers is because brewers have to rely on actual humans–and techniques to test liquids and detect flavours and aromas.  

Carlsberg thinks it’s found a better way. With help from researchers at local Danish universities, the beer-maker has developed sensors that are able to detect differences between beer flavours, and the company is teaming up with Microsoft to help interpret that data via artificial intelligence and streamline the lengthy beer-making process. 

Now.. no offence to our kiwi crafties (shout out to our favourites Good George and Fortune favours) or the big giants of Lion and DB but fair to say that I was blown away by Carlsberg’s commitment to scientific research and their massive investment in technology to support this. 

Here’s one for you smithy… Carlsberg has recently built upon research into how light and sound affect plants….. Carlsberg took soil from Liverpool’s own home pitch at Anfield, planted plants in their greenhouse, installed big-screen TVs in their greenhouse and played winning Liverpool FC matches nonstop for the crop of red hops growing there, to create a special brew infused with the soccer team’s colours and the fans’ roaring cheers. (You cannot make this stuff up!) 

So it’s no wonder that Carlsberg now is leading the way to bring Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) to one of the world’s oldest industries. The Beer Fingerprinting Project the Carlsberg team demonstrated will help researchers at Carlsberg, the fourth-largest brewing company in the world with 140 beverage brands in 150 countries, use advanced sensors and analytics to more quickly map out and predict flavours. And it’s all aided by a move to the cloud to help speed along the company’s growth strategy and better contend with increased competitive pressure. 

Carlsberg’s own Sarah Haywood, Chief Technology Officer said, “From our founder on, Carlsberg has had this history of innovation, of disrupting the brewing industry and constantly looking for ways to do things better, so this digital transformation ties in nicely with that.” 

MASHUP – Inspire & Ready – partner led 

One of the big talking points of Inspire 2018 was the “beautiful collision” of Microsoft’s two largest annual events—Inspire (Partner event) and Ready (Annual Kick off for staff) 

For me personally, this signals some real intent about the importance of Partners to Microsoft and a desire to work more collaboratively with the emerging partners to help support our clients, embrace and accelerate the realisation of the well-documented benefits of Cloud with Microsoft. 

The Future Of Microsoft 

It’s well documented that Microsoft went through a pretty big shakeup in 2017 with lots of churn in talent largely attributed to the re-alignment of its sales and go to market teams with the needs of partners.  

Fair to say that the transformation worked! 

Microsoft executives shared estimates this week that to compliment over 100 billion in revenue this year, partners generated nearly $1 trillion in revenue over the past 12 months through working with Microsoft solutions.  

On a personal note was a real privilege to hear first-hand from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his corenote… an absolute icon in our industry. 

During which he described his excitement to help capture the opportunity to better serve our customers in this new era of the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge.  

"I've lived through the client-server, the web, mobile, cloud. But what we're going to see going forward is going to be even more profound." 

The Paradigm Shift not LIFT AND SHIFT. 

Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge were the resounding themes of Inspire this year but really what that boils down to is that Microsoft is signalling their intent to smash through the glass ceiling of IaaS and PaaS in the public cloud. 

Satya said one of his personal aims is for Microsoft to "express how we do things very differently" as a result of the move into the new era of "intelligent cloud and intelligent edge." What is common across the solution areas that Microsoft is focusing on -- including modern workplace, business applications, applications/infrastructure and data/AI -- is "this profound shift to a new way of doing things," he said. "Ultimately, though, we've got to measure ourselves not by technology for technology's sake, but by how are we empowering people? How are we helping organisations with their digital transformational outcomes? That's what this is all about." The "paradigm shift" that's coming, Nadella said, is "probably bigger than anything that's come before."  

In part that's because "there are three things that are happening simultaneously," he said. "At the experience layer, we are moving to this people-centred experience. That means we're going to, in some sense, de-couple the experience from the devices" 

Satya stated very directly that Microsoft is going to infuse EVERYTHING with AI continuing by saying “It's going to have perception capability, language capability, and autonomy that's going to be built into the applications going forward. And to power all of this, the one thing that's needed is a ubiquitous, distributed computing fabric." 

Compute everywhere 

Specifically on the topic of the evolution of Azure and mass adoption by businesses and government departments across the globe. The Microsoft team almost in unison stated that they want us as Partners and customers to challenge the conventional wisdom of what a data centre is. 

In Satya’s Corenote he stated: "Of course, computing needs will go far beyond the data centre. Essentially, wherever there is data, compute will migrate to data. And so Microsoft is going and taking Azure to Azure IoT Edge, to Azure Sphere. This is that one ubiquitous, distributed computing fabric. One programming model that is event-driven, serverless, so you can write an application that truly works across all of this." 

Having all of these pieces, Nadella said, "I believe is the biggest unique thing that this ecosystem has as the world gets embedded with computing. Every use case out there is going to be powered by something like this."  

#AI (Artificial Intelligence) & #ML (Machine Learning) 

Firstly… a quick recap of what AI is vs Machine Learning. Because in all honesty… people even at Inspire were using them interchangeably… 

AI: to me is a discipline as opposed to a feature. The goal of which is to create intelligent machines as opposed to the natural intelligence that is demonstrated by humans and animals. 

ML: is a subset of AI that often uses statistical techniques to give machines the ability to learn from data without necessarily being explicitly given the instructions on how to do so. 

During his corenote, Nadella placed a pretty special focus on artificial intelligence & machine learning technologies. He highlighted recent advances in AI have been pretty epic in how they're reaching parity with human perception and language capabilities. However, "it's not about celebrating these breakthroughs for Microsoft Research alone. Instead stating that Microsoft’s collective objective was to take these breakthroughs and democratise them, with the tooling we create, and with the expertise and the skill set and the services that you provide," Nadella told the 13,000 partners in attendance.  

Ultimately, the potential is "for us to be able to turn every industry into an AI-first industry -- whether it's retail or health care or agriculture. We want to be able to make sure that they can take their data, in a secure, privacy-preserving way, [and] can work that into AI capabilities that they get the return on." 

He also provided a handful of very cool examples of Microsoft AI in action…. Including a project by solution provider Blue Metal to reduce costs at hospital operator Steward Health Care using AI and machine learning, as well as efforts at Toyota to build a fully autonomous “blackout” warehouse.  

Satya went on to share that Microsoft is working to democratise autonomy into a set of toolkits that everyone can use and was quoted as saying: “Autonomy is not just about a few self-driving projects. This is about autonomy everywhere." 

Betting Big On IoT 

Microsoft in April announced its plans to invest $5 billion over the next four years in IoT to encourage partner and customer use case innovation through research and development, new programs and offerings. In fact, Zander said that much of the money is "earmarked" for generating leads and doing IoT projects with partners. 

To that end, Microsoft has invested heavily in products such as Azure IoT Hub, a platform as a Service for IoT. It has also invested in the first software as a service solution for IoT, Azure IoT Central, an offering that now supports Power BI and Microsoft Flow, which lets customers visualize real-time intelligence and create workflows to take action based on these insights. 

Microsoft 365 & How Satya uses it daily… 

Having only just made the move of The Instillery business to the Microsoft 365 suite – thanks to some VIP training from Microsoft NZ’s own Emma Halpin & JJ … It was very cool to see Satya Nadella dedicate some of his keynote walking us through how he personally uses the 365 suite along with using Outlook (which Nadella described as "the best Gmail client"), he harped on the point of how the Teams app has come to dominate his daily collaboration with his inner circle essentially reducing the number of emails he sends and receives by half.  

Microsoft has been heavily promoting Teams, a competitor to Slack (which we still use at The Instillery), and launched its first free version of Teams just prior to our trip to Vegas in connection with Inspire. Nadella also pointed to his own use of the Cortana virtual assistant -- which has a "commitments" feature that reminds him of things he's committed to doing but hasn't put into a to-do list. Commitments is "one of the features that saves me every day," he said. On a personal level, I’m excited to start experimenting with Cortana in my own day to day role. 

For partners, almost all core note execs signalled that Microsoft 365 is a way to help customers transition into a paradigm of "people-centred experiences" rather than device-centred experiences. 

There was no greater demonstration of this than the Carlsberg digital transformation… more details about this below... 

The opportunity for everyone here is to take Microsoft 365 and apply it for cultural and digital transformation in large enterprises and for productivity gains in small businesses. To be able to really do industry-specific workflows across healthcare, manufacturing, retail and financial services and take it directly to the people who really need it…  commonly referred to as "first-line workers.”  

Salesforce killer? – Microsoft is going hard with Dynamics 

Dynamics 365 - Microsoft's combination cloud CRM and ERP system -- saw 100+ percent growth during FY18 2018 (Microsoft's results were released on Thursday…. $100B+ Revenue…. Amazing!). That makes it one of Microsoft's fastest-growing businesses, even faster than Office 365.  

Microsoft executives this week announced a number of new ways they're working to assist partners with getting involved with Dynamics 365, as well as with other business applications such as Power BI data visualization. During his Inspire Corenote, Nadella said that Power BI is "one tool that's changed the culture inside the company," thanks to the way that it helps bring the focus to leading indicators rather than lagging indicators.  

"When you think about business process, in particular, the one thing that is going to be true is more things are going to be digitised. As we see the power of IoT and other tools that are going to be used, every workflow is going to be automated," Nadella said. "That means we need to have a set of tools that allow us to reduce the total cost of these customisations and automation. And now we've built a completely new app platform, which I think represents a tremendous opportunity for everyone in the room - Power BI, PowerApps and Flow. The combination of it is just going to change how applications are built and deployed." 

Cool new stuff 

Now; full disclosure… I didn’t come to Vegas to learn about the latest features or devices… But the reality is, I’m super passionate about tech; so wanted to share a couple of pretty cool new features/ functions/ products that I discovered while at Inspire this week. 

Intelligent Events for 365 

As I was cruising the exhibition booths I saw a small group of people rallied around a giant surface screen and discovered Intelligent Events for 365. 

While I’m pretty sure this is only in preview it’s going to be epic once in production. 

This new capability essentially allows anyone in your business to create live and on-demand events. Events can be viewed in real-time or on-demand, with high-definition video and interactive discussion including Q&A etc and can be as simple or as sophisticated as you prefer.  

You can use existing webcams, content, and screen sharing for informal presentations or stream a studio-quality production for more formal events. Very cool for a number of our ISV SaaS clients that I know go to great pains today to pre-record everything from onboarding to product updates etc. This is also coming to other services such as Yammer and builds on the Skype Broadcast technology in 2017. 

I think I may have mentioned Satya intends to inject AI into every Microsoft Service... so there’s no exception here: 

AI-powered services will enhance the on-demand collaboration experience with: 

  • A speaker timeline, which uses facial detection to identify who is talking, so you can easily jump to a particular speaker in the event. 
  • Speech-to-text transcription, time coding, and transcript search, so you can quickly find moments that matter in a recording. 
  • Closed captions to make the event more accessible to all. 

Whiteboard is Not Beta Anymore 

Now; I haven’t used it personally but like intelligent events… I plan to now! 

Microsoft Whiteboard is now generally available for Windows 10 and is also coming soon to iOS, Android and Web. Whether meeting in person or virtually, people need the ability to collaborate in real-time. The new Whiteboard application enables people to share, create, iterate, and work together both in person and remotely, across multiple devices…. 

Using pen, touch, and keyboard, you can jot down notes, create tables and shapes, freeform drawings, and search and insert images from the web.  

Probably my favourite new app at Inspire.  

Surface GO. 

OK, full disclosure… I’ve only been running my Surface Pro for a week. But I’m a fan! YES: even after a decade running MacBook’s… (am I allowed to say this here?) 

Probably the most exciting announcement during Inspire was that of a new class of Surface device, called Surface Go. 

The idea behind Surface Go was to produce their smallest, lightest, and most affordable Surface yet. Because let’s get real… no kiwi business can afford to roll out the 1TB versions to all staff… 

It was designed to fit ideally into a number of industries and user profiles that need a cheaper and super lightweight device, but still need full laptop power and want to benefit from all the good Surface type things such as a detachable keyboard, pen and of course all the security services like facial recognition login etc. 

Hope you enjoyed… found useful… Team Instillery will absolutely be back at Inspire next year!!!