There's a lot of excitement around AI and IoT, but two bigger-picture themes stand out ahead of Microsoft Inspire.

July 12, 2018

5 Min Read
Big Picture

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Vince Menzione

By Vince Menzione, Founder, Cloud Wave Partners

As we gear up for Microsoft Inspire 2018, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my recent conversations with thought leaders about what we can look forward to. While there is a lot of excitement across topics like AI, containerization, DevOps and IoT, two bigger-picture themes stand out in my mind: simplification and scalability.

Within the Microsoft ecosystem – as with the technology industry on the whole – the emphasis is so often placed on what’s next, what’s bigger, what’s better. We ask ourselves how we can add the newest, most bleeding-edge innovations to offer customers the very best value; however, with all these new bells and whistles comes added complexity, so it also becomes necessary to balance this by simplifying whenever possible. Eliminating the extra noise is a great way to ensure technology is addressing real business objectives, and is essential to scaling and growing any business.

IT providers should focus on embracing simplicity and transparency to engage their customers in a meaningful way and speak directly to their real needs and pain points. The easier it is for the customer to understand your offerings and the value you bring, the more comfortable they’ll feel giving you more and more of their business. This goes almost doubly in the case of cloud computing. So many organizations feel overwhelmed by the options and complexity and are looking for an expert to simplify and guide their IT journey.

In a similar fashion, Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster touched on simplification as an important principle guiding the company’s channel programs and resources. I asked Schuster how she envisioned scaling these to better serve Microsoft partners.

“There are always so many things that we want to do,” she said. “I think we tend to put too much into the market at the same time. So that’s one thing, is to clear the noise. When we have a simpler program or simpler sets of engagement, simpler tools, it is easier for people to engage on it and understand it.”

Schuster isn’t alone in touting simplicity. In my conversation with Vadim Vladimirskiy, CEO of Nerdio, he zeroed in on how partners should focus on technologies that take the burden of complexity off their plates.

“The slogan ‘work smarter, not harder’ has never been more relevant to the channel as it is today,” said Vladimirskiy. “The trend is towards harnessing automation to eliminate complex manual processes, thereby reducing both cost and risk while maximizing efficiency. If you can complete the same exact task in three point-and-click steps instead of in lines and lines of PowerShell scripts, why wouldn’t you? Without embracing simplicity, IT providers will find it increasingly difficult to scale their businesses.”

Scalability, it seems, starts at the individual level for Schuster.

“Make sure that you are collaborating and scaling yourself,” she said. “There are so many great minds and so many people that have so much to contribute that you want to make sure that you are checking in early and often with people.”

Of course, a hot topic for Inspire will be artificial intelligence, and how providers are …

… leveraging AI to maximize data services.

“That is clearly what all of our partners want to learn more about,” said Schuster. “It’s what all of our customer engagements are about, and every single one of our partners is building some sort of a data service, AI service, into their applications of the service that they deliver, and so that will be the theme of the whole event.”

Despite its many intricacies and complications, AI is a solution borne of a need for simplicity and noise reduction. While getting started might seem a bit daunting, there is an easy way to get started, according to Eduardo Kassner, who serves as chief technology and innovation officer for the worldwide One Commercial Partner Organization.

Kassner says that integrating AI can be as simple as starting with a chatbot.

“You can write an FAQ; you give it to the FAQ chatbot that we have and it converts her into a working chatbot that can answer questions,” he said. “You can embed AI fairly simply — the first stage is fairly simple, and as long as you have a good developer, you can use it to enhance your products, your services, etc.”

And what about scaling AI implementations from there? Kassner says this can involve any number of things, including custom models around big data, custom algorithms and deeper dives into applications specific to certain verticals, from finance to insurance to retail and beyond. He will no doubt be expanding upon these concepts during his session at Inspire, which is titled, “Are you ready to capture the Artificial Intelligence opportunity? Come and learn from the best in the market.”

And of course, as the name suggests, Inspire is about sparking new ideas and conversations that bolster the success of the Microsoft partner community and the greater ecosystem as a whole. There are different paths to this success, but ultimately, Microsoft’s intention is to provide all of the building blocks partners need.

“I would say that there’s never a better time to start a business, join the technology trend, jump in and have no fear because there’s plenty of work and plenty of opportunities to co-create and build great new solution services and products using these LEGO blocks that we have available,” said Kassner.

Vince Menzione is a strategic channel and partner sales acceleration consultant, and former general manager of partner sales and strategy at Microsoft. He founded Cloud Wave Partners to enable organizations to realize the art of the possible through proven sales, innovation and partner strategies aligned to disruptive digital technology. In addition, Vince hosts a podcast featured on iTunes and Google Play focused on helping technology giants and channel partners connect and thrive in this age of digital transformation, “Ultimate Guide to Partnering.”

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