With a sea of flickering lights shining onto the stage, Satya Nadella exposed the world to Microsoft’s new way of thinking.
In laying out his vision for the years ahead at 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, the forward-thinking CEO spoke of a digitally driven world, outlining how Redmond is building the business brain of the future, underpinned by an intelligent cloud and a changing partner network.
But sometimes, it’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say that counts.
In dedicating a 90 minute opening keynote to the notion of digital transformation, drilling down into its impact on businesses and industries, Nadella addressed a new breed of partner.
For the last time Microsoft and its changing channel descended on Toronto, the partner makeup was different.
Four years on, new faces litter the crowd, with born-in-the-cloud partners, startups, Systems Integrators (SIs) and Independent Software Vendors (ISV) outnumbering the traditional value-added resellers (VAR) and transactional players.
Of the 16,000 partners in attendance - a record-breaking haul - 40 per cent are first time attendees, demonstrating a sizeable shift in the Microsoft partner ecosystem.
Triggering such a shift is the tech giant’s focus around reinventing business processes, utilising the huge graphs of information now available.
“Businesses of all sizes in every country will not just use digital technologies, but become digital companies themselves,” Nadella said.
“Each company is attempting to digitally transform to achieve the same four outcomes - to engage customers, empower employees, optimise operations and transform products.”
Whether it be data and analytics, mixed reality, cognitive services or new powerful algorithms, the air of intelligence permeating through the Canadian city showcased the smart bets at play.
“This is a million miles away from the notion of traditional reselling,” added Microsoft Director of Partner Development, Phil Goldie, when speaking to ARN on the ground in Toronto.
“Our ecosystem is changing and that is evident through the new partners in attendance, which differ to those of four or five years ago.”
With a week of announcements still to come, the biggest story coming out of Worldwide Partner Conference will no doubt be the changing face of the channel, as Microsoft’s digital agenda drives traditional resellers away, and new partners to the table.
Fresh from Cortana recapping the momentum of the past twelve months, Nadella took to the stage to emphasise the digital outcomes that CIOs consider top priorities.
After showcasing C-level testimonials from Adobe, PayPal, General Electric and Best Buy among others, Nadella explained that digital change isn’t just restricted to the larger end of town, carving up new opportunities across small and medium-sized organisations.
“And not just Silicon Valley startups,” he qualified. “Every small business is going to become a digital company. Business will not just use digital technologies, but will build digital technologies of their own.”
With a digital mandate clear, Nadella warned partners that such change won’t happen with “another bolted-on cloud app” or “a giant implementation of monolithic and closed business application packages”, highlighting a shift towards a more creative way of thinking.
“Digital transformation requires systems of intelligence that are tailored to each industry, each company, each micro-task performed by each person,” he explained. “Systems that can learn, expand and evolve with agility as the world and business changes.”
Echoing Nadella’s comments, Goldie told ARN that value can be derived through specialisation for partners, representing a shift in thinking for the market.
“The focus is around industries, customer verticals, customer sizes, geography and specific business problems,” he explained.