This July, the annual Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) took place in Washington which seemed appropriate for the biggest partner event in the firm’s history.

As usual, we were there to witness the future according to Microsoft, but this was our first as a 1-Tier Cloud Solution Provider which made it somehow even more important for us and our clients.

We joined more than 17,000 attendees from all around the world to enjoy and marvel at Microsoft Inspire 2017 for a three-day event that would map the future of Microsoft’s business and the reasoning behind the changes it was making.

The message from Microsoft at the outset was clear, make the most of your time here, we have a lot to get through and not much time to waste. Busy was not the right word. Hectic was nearer the mark.

Cloud is now all silver lining

Microsoft wants to ’empower every person and every organisation to achieve more’, which is a laudable aim, but the phrase about leading a horse to water, sprang instantly to mind.

Despite all the effort put into developing Office 365, just how many organisations are exploiting the full potential on offer with SharePoint, Dynamics365 and Power BI to name a few underused resources.

Core to the event was the story that the future is all cloud. Analogue phones will disappear in 2020 to be replaced with cloud phone systems and cheaper, smaller, more secure cloud storage systems will replace physical servers, if Microsoft is to be believed. Their predictions are usually pretty accurate.

But as much as this is a learning experience for our team on tour, it is very much a two-way communications event, with Microsoft as keen to learn our plans, as we are to understand theirs.

Flying a team across the pond is always a sign we’re committed to the relationship. Recognising that their new business model closely resembles the one we have pursued for almost our entire 30-year history shows they’re committed to the relationship too.

Microsoft 365 is explained and launched

The big story at Inspire was the launch of Microsoft 365 Business, which combines Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility + Security to deliver the complete, intelligent and secure solution to empower not just businesses, but every employee. Big claim.

This new approach demonstrates how Microsoft will design and build solutions that more closely address the needs of the modern workplace. It is designed to meet the challenge of growing employee expectations, remote, diverse and globally distributed teams, along with an increasingly complicated and sophisticated threat environment.

There are differences as you would expect between the Enterprise and Business offerings. Business is aimed squarely at the SME market (those with up to 300 users) and is designed to help organisations achieve more together by better connecting employees, customers and suppliers.

It empowers employees to get work done from anywhere, on any device, whilst protecting data across devices with always-on security. A single IT console simplifies the set-up and management of employees devices and services, which is another positive step.

If you’re good enough, you’re big enough

There has always been the feeling that enterprise customers were ‘encouraged’ to work with the larger Microsoft partners. However, Microsoft is changing the way it works, with capability now more important than size – which is never a particularly good measure of competence in any facet of life.

This shift gives smaller, better, more committed partners like Quiss more opportunity to grow, which is good for our clients and the IT managed services industry as a whole, with rewards for those that get it right. The ‘big boys’ will now have to up their game, rather than rely on economies of scale to win contracts.

Network to the max

The side of the event that attracts the most comment is the networking, with most of those who do not attend, believing the party atmosphere the main reason we turn up year in, year out. To think like that is to miss the point. Forget the technology, business is still about people.

The focus might be on productivity and how Power BI provides in-depth data analytics and how SharePoint makes it all accessible, etc., but people still deal with people.

The opportunity to spend time with the whole UK team from Microsoft offers us  valuable insight into the future direction of travel, which shapes the advice we offer our clients about the future technology landscape.

Okay sometimes it involves beer, chicken wings, loud music and late nights, but we’re happy to take one for the team to achieve the right outcomes for our clients.

Exhausted but job done

It was a lot to cram into three days and nights, but all the exciting news to come out of this year’s WPC Inspire 2017 made the trip worth it.

The message is simple, there is more life changing technology on the way and the cloud will help people collaborate more easily and communicate more quickly with ever greater insight into the inner workings of their business. All of which will help businesses increase efficiency, improve productivity and ultimately profitability and that’s good for everyone.

Andy Michael, Managing Director, Quiss Technology plc