Microsoft Inspire: Nadella talks development, AI applications

Will the Microsoft partner's future be in software development and AI applications? Company CEO Satya Nadella suggested that may be the case in his Microsoft Inspire address.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emphasized the partner-as-developer role at this week's Microsoft Inspire conference, pointing to opportunities in AI applications and mixed reality.

Nadella, in his keynote address, pointed partners toward the software-driven investment occurring outside of the traditional technology market. He said technology spend will double its share of global gross domestic product from 5% today to 10% by 2030, when the market is expected to reach $14 trillion.

"But the real opportunity is the other 90%," he said. "That, to me, is what we are all going to enable."

Nadella said he envisions a world where every business is a software business and will need to build its own software capability, noting that nontech companies are already hiring technical personnel at a faster rate than technology firms. He pointed to GitHub, Visual Studio, Azure DevOps and Azure PlayFab as a Microsoft toolchain to support partners.

Bigger software role

Partners can anticipate a bigger role in software, as technology becomes core to more and more businesses. "We'll see the trend ... increasing," said Mark Sami, vice president of delivery management at digital transformation agency SPR, based in Chicago.

But the real opportunity is the other 90%.
Satya NadellaCEO of Microsoft

The need to support citizen developers is another offshoot of the growth in digital businesses, Nadella said, noting professional developers won't be able to keep up with the rising demand for software. He said 500 million new applications will be developed over the next few years, apparently citing IDC numbers. Microsoft's Power Platform, which includes the PowerApps low-code offering, is the company's play in this market space.

Sami said newer tools with more intuitive interfaces reduce the development learning curve, letting more line-of-business users create applications. The opportunity for SPR, he said, is empowering citizen developers, while working with IT departments to create governance approaches for dealing with grassroots development.

AI and MR applications

Microsoft suggested development work will stem from fields such as AI and mixed reality (MR).

Satya Nadella, CEO of MicrosoftSatya Nadella

Nadella cited democratizing AI as a goal, "so every developer can build out these applications." He also pointed to AI-based Insight modules that are part of Microsoft Dynamics 365. Modules such as Sales Insights and Customer Insights open opportunities for partners to infuse AI into customers' business processes, Nadella noted.

In MR, Microsoft demonstrated a hologram of a Microsoft executive giving a speech in Japanese. That demo was based on Microsoft's HoloLens 2 and Azure cognitive services that perform speech detection and translation. Nadella said commercial opportunities for MR are already "in front of us."

Sami said AI development is one of the biggest growth areas in his company's data and analytics line of business. Mixed reality, however, hasn't yet caught on among his company's clients, he added.

"We don't see it embraced as much in the space we work in," Sami said, noting SPR focuses on medium-sized businesses and the lower end of the enterprise market.

Momentum for Teams

Nadella, discussing other product categories at Microsoft Inspire, singled out Microsoft's collaboration platform for particular praise. "The one product that has had an absolutely breakout year is Teams," he said.

Keith Carvalho, vice president of alliances at Vitalyst, a technology change management and software training firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., said Teams' ability to bring together multiple applications to simplify the user experience is central to the platform's growth.

Vitalyst adopted Teams internally in 2017 for employee training and storing sales collateral, among other uses. The company soon applied the same adoption formula to create an offering for external customers. The preliminary launch of Vitalyst's customer-facing Teams services -- dubbed Vitalyst Digital Adoption Solutions for Teams -- took place in August 2017.

"We have updated that solution set each quarter since its preliminary launch," Carvalho said.

In January 2019, Vitalyst launched Continuous Learning for Microsoft Teams. The company's second service offering for Teams is for customers who have already moved to Teams and need advice and training.

Carvalho said customers are migrating to Teams from a range of platforms, including Skype for Business Online and Slack. He has also seen legacy Cisco users make the move.

"Very often, customers have Teams and other competing solutions, which may be there because of acquisitions, [and] legacy tools used by specific parts of the organizations," he said. "Rarely are we seeing a clear-cut transition from one product to another."

Microsoft Inspire wraps up July 18 in Las Vegas.

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