Microsoft’s partner conference, Inspire, kicked off with a lot of discussion about simplification.
A simplified partner experience, explained Ron Huddleston, corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner, would help drive more money into the pockets of its partners and resellers, as the company reduced the number of organizations within Microsoft that its resellers would have to work with.
That simplification was already underway, with news of a large reorganization leaking a few days earlier.
But it also means a simpler, consolidated offering that was focused on a bigger bundle, dubbed Microsoft 365 and including Office 365, Windows 10, and cloud-based security.
To an extent, Microsoft 365 (or at least the Enterprise version of it) is an evolution of Microsoft’s existing Secure Productive Enterprise, but one executive said the announcement also marks a shift in vision: With the subscription that spans Microsoft services, Microsoft can push to keep all the aspects of the users devices and services up-to-date and in sync.
That vision scales across an array of business: Microsoft 365 itself has both Enterprise and Business editions, with the latter targeted for the SMB market.
And the vision for simplicity scales up: Azure Stack officially went on sale today, shipping in September.
While many customers were disappointed that Azure Stack dropped support for using your own hardware, Julia White, corporate vice president for Azure, said that selling Azure Stack with appliances meant the company could do more to ensure a simplified, consistent, and dependable experience. In fact, the key feature Microsoft executives reiterated about Azure Stack was that you basically don’t need to think too much about it.
“People keep asking me when there will be a development kit for Azure Stack,” White said. “I tell them it’s already there; use Azure.”
That key theme of simplification underpinned almost every early discussion at Inspire: One executive bragged that Microsoft had been able to consolidate over 40 options into twelve in a new and improved management dashboard.
And much of the complexity that has survived the recent purges at Microsoft has instead been waved away, as if by magic, with Artificial Intelligence.
“We have an integrated solution, a complete solution that has AI infused into it,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive, after the company demoed recent improvements to Dynamics CRM, PowerPoint and Excel that made it a few shorter clicks to go from idea to polished presentation.
It’s worth keeping Microsoft’s AI everywhere message in context. While Azure Cognitive Services have some tremendous capabilities, demos tend to have a Great-Oz-behind-the-curtains effect, such as when its able to discern when your taking a flight and pull out relevant information for adding to a calendar or setting an alert. Useful, sure, but not quite a sign that they’ve created HAL 9000 so much as invested engineering hours into useful features.
That wouldn’t be a big deal except that AI often underperforms when dropped into the market as the key selling point, such as the rather uninspiring performance to date of chatbots or IBM’s high-profile medical failures.
No one can forget nor forgive that Microsoft’s early “AI” efforts gave us Clippy.
Fortunately, however its messaged, the utility generally seems focused and real: Put together a decent looking PowerPoint more quickly, or get a heads up on a customer who might be thinking of straying.