Since my planned 15-minute conversation with Raul Bandeira, Microsoft's worldwide head of certified partner programs, had lasted an hour (see last week's ARN), I only caught some of the next keynote. But since all speeches were made available via CommNet, I could pick up the content without the hoopla - double bonus!
My next Rio-arranged appointment was a lunchtime meeting with Mark O'Shea from Microsoft Australia. It strikes me as ironic that I have been selling Microsoft products for more than 13 years and often drive past Microsoft's headquarters in Sydney, yet I had to travel 12,000km to finally meet any Microsoft staff in the flesh.
My meeting with Mark lasted almost two hours and was an amiable chat about the general business model that we employed and how Microsoft fitted in with it. Again I saw a refreshingly open Microsoft executive who was willing to listen and offer help. As part of this help, each Fusion attendee was assigned a "guardian" from Microsoft Australia to offer assistance with general enquires. I was lucky enough to be paired with Mark for this duty and his approachable attitude meant I felt as though I could ask any simple questions I had.
Undoubtedly the hardest part of Fusion was working out how to fit in everything that was available to me. I had travelled a long way and was determined to get the most out of the four days, so I sat down with my comprehensive Fusion booklet and selected the best sessions and events. I had the rest of the afternoon mapped out but sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry. As I was walking past the Asia-Pacific designated meeting area, a Microsoft executive jumped up and introduced himself as Alex Keay (aka Ben Elton).
Alex wanted to make sure I knew where and when the awards event was being held, however this led to further discussion and eventually we ended up sitting down and covering an entire range of issues, to which John Ball of Microsoft Australia joined in. These impromptu meetings were the single greatest benefit I was to gain from attending Fusion 2002. Of course it takes effort and a little bravery to approach executives and introduce oneself, but once the normal human reticence is cast aside you could engage in many fantastic discussions about every topic imaginable.
Back on track after my impromptu meetings, I then headed off to the motel to prepare for the awards ceremony that night. This, after all, was the catalyst for my journey to Fusion 2002 and the excitement started to build. I wasn't expecting to win an award but whenever you are in the running you are forever hopeful.
The awards ceremony was an eye-opener. Every important Microsoft executive was present and happy to talk. I met up with the Microsoft Australia executives again and also got to meet Rosa Garcia. Her passion for everything Microsoft was even more evident in person than on stage. I also met Bob Clough, who is the American equivalent of Mark O'Shea. I wasn't sure if Bob's name was licensed from Microsoft after the release several years ago of Microsoft Bob - I will have to check further on this. As with all Microsoft executives I encountered, Bob was quick to hand over his business card complete with e-mail address and all were happy to receive e-mails from me. I had seen Bob's name on a Small Business Server book published by Harry Brelsford so I was meeting a celebrity! Bob introduced me to Allison Watson who again was even more impressive in person than on stage - and this time she was, thankfully, minus her high-five routine.
Allison, Bob and I spoke at length about the SMB market, which they both explained was very near to Microsoft's heart at the moment as a potentially huge untapped market. As mentioned previously, Microsoft generates the majority of its revenue from the SMB market and it still sees it as being far from saturated. Both Allison and Bob were keen to hear my story and asked many questions about Axxis Technology's operations - showing that the willingness to listen definitely starts from the top and filters down through the Microsoft ranks. Allison described me as a poster child for the SMB market and Bob had to explain the meaning of the term poster child for me. Luckily for everyone involved it has nothing to do with sticking my face on a big poster - if anyone has ever seen my mug they will appreciate the severity of this thought!
I was extremely impressed the next morning, however, when Allison mentioned our organisation in her keynote address. To me it was proof that she really was listening and if her sincerity filters down through the ranks then I look forward to an even better relationship with Microsoft in the future.
The awards ceremony was a little disappointing for me personally and Microsoft Australia on the whole. The nine category awards failed to produce a winner for the Asia-Pacific region, with five of the nine awards going to North America. Still, all the Asia-Pacific finalists were proud of their efforts and determined then and there to perform better next year. The after-party provided further opportunities to meet and greet and more invaluable contacts were made as the night rolled on.
Rising on the second morning, I had almost adjusted to a new time zone and it was time to plan the activities that would benefit my organisation the most.
Mathew Dickerson is managing director of Dubbo-based reseller Axxis Technology.