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First Look: 10 Key Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Sessions

With a few months to go before the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in July, Microsoft is starting to post details on some of the hundreds of sessions that will be available to partners at the show in Orlando.

Even with only a small percentage of sessions listed in the online catalog, some key themes for Microsoft's fiscal year 2016 are becoming clear.

What follows are RCP's suggestions for major keynotes and other sessions to start building your WPC calendar around:

1. Satya Nadella Vision Keynote
By far the most talked-about keynote at any WPC is usually the CEO's session. Following in Steve Ballmer's footsteps, Satya Nadella spoke last year and will once again headline WPC this year. Nadella's two-fold mission will be to first reassure partners that they are critical to Microsoft and, second, to outline the broad trends and priorities for Microsoft for the coming year. Nadella will give one of the first keynotes of the conference on Monday, July 13.

Nadella giving his keynote address at WPC 2014. (Source: Microsoft.)

2. Kevin Turner Vision Keynote
After the CEO's talk, COO Kevin Turner's annual barn-burner of a speech is usually the second-most talked about single event of WPC. With his folksy humor and competitive, can-do spirit, Turner usually delivers a dozen or more memorable one-liners.

Microsoft has famously discontinued its annual enemies list this year, the group of companies whose employees are barred from attending WPC. The list has previously included Oracle,, VMware, Amazon, Google and Cisco. As Nadella presents a friendlier face of Microsoft to former rivals, the list has gone away. It will be interesting to see if Turner pulls his competitive punches.

The official theme is "Our Roadmap to Profitability." Turner usually closes out the second and final day of Vision keynotes from Microsoft executives. He is slated to talk on Wednesday morning.

3. Phil Sorgen Vision Keynote
Somewhere in those Vision keynotes on Monday or Wednesday, Microsoft's worldwide channel chief (formal title: Corporate Vice President of the Worldwide Partner Group) Phil Sorgen will get more specific for partners. Judging by previous years, he'll talk about partner momentum on cloud and will detail new programs, competencies, incentives and priorities for Microsoft's massive community of channel partners. Expect to see a short parade of other senior Microsoft executives talking about specific products that Microsoft wants partners to sell in FY '16.

4. Microsoft Partner Programs and Opportunities
Another perennially significant event is the annual update diving into specific details about the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) for the coming years. Running this session in her second year at WPC as Microsoft's No. 2 channel executive is Gavriella Schuster, general manager of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group.

5. U.S. Regional General Session (and Other Regional Sessions)
The WPC truly attracts an international audience, and multiple regions have country- or region-specific keynotes. U.S. partners account for the single biggest group of attendees, making the U.S. Regional General Session one of the key events of the show. The title of the U.S. general session this year is "The Trifecta Partner Will Win the Race for Customers Wanting to Digitize Their Enterprise." In that case, the trifecta applies to Cloud Platform, Cloud Productivity and Sales Productivity.

An inside-baseball theme is that there should be a new U.S. channel chief giving the keynote. Longtime Microsoft channel executive Jenni Flinders retired from the role this month, and the U.S. keynote at WPC could be the first opportunity for partners to take the measure of her replacement.

6. "Gartner: Reading the Tea Leaves -- Top 10 Technology and Channel Trends"
This session isn't just important because it's about where Gartner sees the industry going, although that can be interesting. The reason it's significant for Microsoft partners is because it's given by Tiffani Bova, a Gartner analyst who has the ear of senior channel Microsoft executives. If you want to know how Microsoft executives are thinking about the industry and what partners should be doing, it's wise to sit in on Bova's session.

7. Evolution of Windows Licensing
The previous six sessions are all specific recommendations for sessions that will probably generate news and chatter in Orlando this summer. RCP's remaining four recommendations are less about the specific sessions than they are about the themes these sessions touch on that are already emerging as important for the coming year.

"Evolution of Windows Licensing: How SA Per User and the Enterprise Cloud Suite Modernize the EA and Position Your Business for Revenue Growth" hits one of those themes. Over the last few months and with relatively little fanfare, Microsoft rolled out some major changes to the options for licensing its software. A lot of the changes relate to cloud, and the fanfare is coming.

8. Consumption of Cloud Services
Microsoft is becoming concerned about how many (or how few) customers are actually using those Office 365 licenses that were included in their Enterprise Agreements. If Microsoft is concerned about it, its incentives will be configured to make sure partners are worried about it, too. "Moving the Needle: Boosting Customer Value by Driving Office 365 Adoption" is an early example of a WPC 2015 session that sounds that theme.

9. Windows 10
With Windows 10 on the near horizon by mid-July, partner readiness for the next operating system will be a major theme. A few sessions are already focused on it. The most intriguing one listed so far is "Stories from the Trenches (Uncensored Edition): Migrating Customers to Windows 10." The session promises both Microsoft-presented opportunity analysis and a panel discussion by early adopters, including systems integrators, ISVs and the Microsoft IT department.

10. Cloud Solution Provider
One of the biggest announcements at WPC 2014 was the introduction of the Cloud Solution Provider partner model. Details and elements of the two-tier program continued to trickle out throughout Microsoft's fiscal 2015. By WPC 2015, the program should be fully baked with some best practices starting to emerge and tweaks coming out.

One session aimed at delivering those details is "Own the End-to-End Office 365 Customer Lifecycle: the Cloud Solution Provider Partner Opportunity."

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 09, 2015