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Microsoft Inspire: Four takeaways from the company's partner meetup

Microsoft Inspire, the company’s renamed annual partner conference, concluded this week in Washington, D.C. Here are several things I learned over the course of three days:

The Microsoft cloud partner base keeps growing

Microsoft says it has some 64,000 cloud partners at the moment and is adding more than 6,000 new partners each month. During his keynote address at Microsoft Inspire, company CEO Satya Nadella said some of those partners are “coming from other ecosystems,” citing the Linux, Hadoop and Java ecosystems as examples. “That ability for us as a partner-led company and a partner ecosystem to continuously welcome new partners and help them thrive as part of this community is what defines us,” Nadella said.

People spend a lot of time on Azure training

But perhaps some of the cloud partner growth stems from Microsoft’s training regimen. Individuals interested in Microsoft’s public cloud logged 1.2 million hours in Azure training during fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. Cloud students spent 365,000 hours on Azure online training, several modules of which were offered free of charge late last year. Each course calls for at least four and up to 16 hours of study. The most popular online training modules have been converted into what Microsoft terms “official courses,” according to Eduardo Kassner, chief technology and innovation officer of worldwide channels and programs at Microsoft. Official courses are those that a Microsoft partner with a learning practice can offer to customers in a classroom setting. The classroom training proved even more popular, with students spending 883,000 hours learning about Azure in an on-premises environment. That’s proof “people want to learn both ways,” Kassner said.

Microsoft thinks highly of digital transformation

At last year’s partner conference, Microsoft identified digital transformation as one of its fiscal year 2017 priorities and one the company planned to enlist the channel to pursue. The declaration was somewhat of an isolated reference to digital transformation, but, at Microsoft Inspire, digital transformation was a key theme and the subject of numerous speeches and panel discussions. Digital transformation calls for a restructuring of how companies do business as much as it calls for new technologies. So, Microsoft will need partners to play a pivotal role in understanding customers’ businesses, providing consulting services and managing the process of change. Microsoft also needs to transform to position itself in digital transformation, and the company’s new industry orientation appears to be one step in that direction.

Microsoft wants partners to look into GDPR, security

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union’s bid to provide a common set of privacy protections across member nations, goes into effect May 2018. At Microsoft Inspire, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, called for partners to help company customers implement GDPR. To that end, Microsoft recently published a guide for partners working with customers with GDPR duties. Microsoft officials believe GDPR will have a wider-ranging channel reach since companies handling the personal data of EU residents will be subject to the law, whether or not they have physical operations in Europe.

“GDPR is one of the few compliance [initiatives] that affects almost everyone in the market,” Kassner said.

Cybersecurity is ultimately pulled into the privacy question. “There’s no privacy without security,” Smith said, encouraging partners to develop security practices if they haven’t done so already.

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