Initial Insights from Microsoft Inspire 2017

Innovation
Platforms
11 July 2017

I'm attending Microsoft's Inspire 2017 this week in the Nation's Capitol, in support of Rightpoint's participation in the new Customer Engagement Alliance. Inspire kicks-off a new fiscal year for Microsoft (FY18) and is a venue to engage channel partners by both acknowledging the performance of the previous year, while building excitement and momentum for the opportunities ahead. Many media outlets are providing verbatim coverage of the events, messaging, keynotes, etc., so I wanted to share a few emerging insights from the conference.

Ladies First

Silicon Valley and the Tech Industry at large, have come under fire recently for wage and opportunity disparity between men and women. It is a conversation that is long overdue, and a hot media spotlight is forcing companies to acknowledge a very real, deeply rooted double-standard. At Inspire this week, female leaders in the organization are very visible. During Day 1, the primary product and roadmap-focused keynotes were dominated by senior female leaders. Bravo!

Shifting Organization

Many rumors have been leaking to the media in regard to the current Microsoft re-org (shame on you, leaky-leakers). Messaging around this at the conference is being very tightly controlled, with just a few details being handed down officially. In North America, this seems to mostly be shifting roles (re-alignment of teams and resources) to support a more straightforward way for partners (like us) to engage Microsoft and create value for prospects and customers. I see this as a welcome sign, that Microsoft has been listening to past frustrations and is making strides to enable an increasingly vital partner channel, as they continue to battle with Amazon and Google on their exponential cloud business.

My colleague Sarah Doppelberger, who manages Rightpoint's partner relationship with Microsoft, reminded me that for such a large organization, Microsoft has always been willing to try new things to drive success and outcomes for customers. We all know that creating a more direct path between partners and the right resources within Microsoft translates to customer value. And on paper, the alignments look promising. Time will tell if it allows us to truly have a single point of contact to engage Mircosoft across solutions and areas of business. For now, I'm optimistic.

GTM & Partner Opportunities

Microsoft announced a Go-to-Market focus on Verticals.

Microsoft Inspire

This is a welcome sign. Customers want to understand solutions from an industry-relevant, use-case perspective. If Microsoft's organizational matrix is able to work with partners to a) directly get access to the right experts and resources, and b) tell a coherent solution story when engaging their clients, then this newly-aligned approach has real potential.

By far the most consistent messaging across the conference has been around Microsoft's approach for helping customers achieve Digital Transformation.

The summary: Microsoft has created a simple construct to discuss their focus on Digital Transformation, and how their platforms are aligned to enable their customers.

Microsoft Inspire

Microsoft’s Go-To-Market (GTM) Approach for helping companies achieve Digital Transformation.

This makes sense, it plays to Microsoft's platform strengths around enablement. The biggest gap here is under the Engage Customers category of Digital Transformation. Microsoft's tech doesn't really drive into this category, and traditionally they have relied on Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Agency or SI partners to help them close that gap. On the tech side, Data & AI plus Cloud Hosting are definitely a part of how companies need to engage customers, but omitted are the key integrations between CMS, CRM, Marketing Automation, and Analytics. This is all before we even talk about becoming more effective at engaging customers—which is the biggest hurdle for companies attempting to truly execute this type of experience transformation.

Deloitte Digital recently published their 2017 CMO Survey, and many of the findings spoke to the fact that while many companies are "doing digital things," very few are "becoming digital." Forbes' coverage is a good introduction to the insights. Team discipline and structure, business process, modern tools (both inside and outside of the Microsoft stack) and a customer-centric organizing principle, are all essential to achieving this type of transformation—and the stakes for many companies who are attempting to close this experience gap are high. Look no further than Fast Fashion Retail's implosion or what is starting to similarly emerge in Grocery, as evidence of industries that are being aggressively pressured by evolving customer engagement preferences.

For an Agency Partner like Rightpoint, this creates an opportunity for us to really help Microsoft engage organizations in an area where they don't have a plug-and-play technology solution. This is a good thing—because Customer Engagement transformation isn't a software problem, it is a customer understanding and business process problem. The right technology landscape can help make addressing this need more automated and scalable, but addressing the evolving digital customer starts with understanding them.

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