Attending Microsoft Inspire, the US tech giant’s annual partner conference, is always an interesting prospect. Inspire is Microsoft’s way of getting the global partner community together and kicking off the new financial year, while detailing future strategy.
As a Microsoft partner, myself and a colleague along with 17,000 others travelled to Washington DC earlier this month to hear about the latest products and trends.
Microsoft has gone through something of a renaissance in recent times. Under the stewardship of former CEO Steve Balmer, industry commentators agree Microsoft lost sight of what it did best. Competing with Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon proved to be more difficult than imagined and manifested itself in an increasingly confused strategy - was Microsoft’s focus consumers or the business world?
The Seattle-headquartered tech juggernaut succeeded in its mission to put a PC on everyone’s desk but two decades later they missed the opportunity to put a device in everyone’s pocket.
Balmer’s replacement in the top job, Satya Nadella, became CEO in 2014. Since then, he has refocused the business, doubling down on cloud strategy and transforming their product licensing model. Microsoft’s strategic shift has literally paid dividends with its stock price up 50 per cent during the period.
Nadella’s keynote address centred on how Microsoft’s focus would remain steadfastly on digital transformation - empowering every organisation to achieve more. Under Nadella’s leadership Microsoft believes that enabling organisations to understand and apply digital technology is a $4.5 trillion opportunity.
We firmly believe technology can help every organisation achieve more and we are building long-term relationships across the commercial and public sectors to support the delivery of digital solutions. As we move into the 21st century, competitive advantage is less to do with scale and more to do with agility and it’s now clear that technological leadership can be achieved by businesses of all sizes.
From a Scottish perspective, Microsoft’s change in focus is very welcome. The Scottish economy’s success is largely governed by the performance of our SMEs and with Microsoft increasing its focus on this section of the market, smaller businesses can expect a much more level technological playing field.
At the same time, industry research consistently shows that business could be further ahead of the curve. Deloitte Digital’s recent CMO Survey found that while many companies are “doing digital things”, very few are “becoming digital”.
During his keynote Nadella announced Microsoft 365 - a new offering enabling businesses of every shape and size to simplify their IT estates by unifying management across users, devices apps and services.
Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year was on everyone’s lips during Inspire, and the integration process between the corporate social network and the Microsoft Dynamics product range was referenced repeatedly.
Unsurprisingly, there was also a lot of narrative around advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). This was particularly interesting for us given Scotland’s rising currency in all things data, highlighted only last week with news of the City Deal for Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife and the Borders, which is expected to see significant investment in data science and provision in the private and public sectors.
In 2017, the technology industry in Scotland and across the globe continues to accelerate and this year’s Inspire demonstrated that Microsoft understands that success isn’t just about bringing new technology into the market, it’s also about democratising access to that technology and that really is something to be inspired by.
l Neil Logan is CEO and co-founder of Incremental Group and chairman of The Data Lab