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Nadella Outlines Microsoft’s Future at 2016 Worldwide Partner Conference

In an opening day keynote presentation, Microsoft's CEO highlighted snap-together business applications, artificial intelligence, and “mixed reality” solutions as core elements of Microsoft’s long-term strategy. By Rich Freeman

In a wide-ranging opening day keynote at the 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, CEO Satya Nadella boiled Microsoft’s vision for the future down to two words: digital transformation.

That’s the big, broad, increasingly popular catch-all label for the many capabilities that cloud computing, predictive analytics, and other fast-evolving technologies are making possible. It’s not just for big businesses either, Nadella emphasized.

“It’s going to be for every small business, not just Silicon Valley start-ups,” he said. “Every company going forward is going to be a digital company.”

Most of the Nadella’s ensuing presentation focused on specific examples of digital transformation in action, which he organized around Microsoft’s three over-arching “ambitions”: reinventing productivity and business processes, building the intelligent cloud, and more personal computing.

With respect to the first of those, Nadella noted that today IT providers must weave together the systems their customers use at work manually. Dynamics 365, the business application suite Microsoft introduced last week, aims to simplify that time-consuming task by enabling solution providers to build highly customized software environments using industry- and function-specific apps designed to snap together easily. According to Nadella, that deployment approach opens up entirely new ways to serve clients with significant implications for everyone in Microsoft’s channel.

“You’re going to have a very different business model,” Nadella said. “It’s no longer about one monolithic suite and its deployment.”

Channel pros can make money creating Dynamics 365 apps as well as implementing them, he added, noting that AppSource, the new online store for business apps that debuted alongside Dynamics 365, provides a venue for publicizing and distributing those products.

“We are creating a platform of opportunity with AppSource,” he said.

Nadella pointed to artificial intelligence, bots, and solutions like Cortana Intelligence Suite as the underpinnings for Microsoft’s intelligent cloud ambition. Using those systems, Nadella asserted, along with platform technologies like Microsoft Azure and the forthcoming Microsoft Azure Stack hybrid cloud solution, Microsoft partners can create “digital feedback loops” that enable their customers to adapt rapidly to shifting market conditions.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said.

So too, he added, is devising “mixed reality” solutions using Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality system. Though Microsoft shared little new information about features and release dates for that product, Nadella positioned HoloLens as a core component in an emerging class of solutions that enable people to interact with information and people in innovative ways.

“You can be everywhere from anywhere,” he said.

Nadella closed his presentation with a look at what Microsoft Philanthropies has been up to since its introduction nearly seven months ago. Aimed, he noted, at helping people without access to technology tap into IT’s poverty-eradicating power, that organization and its mission of empowerment stand in stark contrast to recent headlines about terrorist bombings, sniper attacks, and police shootings.

“There is no place in our society for bias and senseless violence,” he said. “We at Microsoft stand with everyone who’s driving positive change, and I urge us as part of this conference to all push to do the same in the communities that we live in, we work in, and we serve.”

Microsoft will pivot from the long term to the months ahead during tomorrow morning’s keynotes, which will focus on the company’s latest and upcoming products. Presentations by senior Microsoft sales and services executives—including Judson Althoff, who was recently appointed executive vice president for Worldwide Commercial Business amid the executive shakeup triggered by the impending departure of COO Kevin Turner—are on tap for Wednesday.

According to Microsoft, this year’s WPC is the first to draw sell-out attendance in the event’s history. Over 16,000 people from 144 countries are expected to attend.

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