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Inspire: Microsoft Sets Partner Priorities for FY 2021

In the opening sessions of the Microsoft Inspire partner conference Tuesday, Microsoft executives urged partners to pivot their efforts to remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migration over the next year in a work world that the pandemic has "changed forever."

Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's worldwide channel chief, detailed the four priorities for partners as the next steps for Microsoft's fiscal 2021, which started July 1. Microsoft is holding the Inspire conference virtually on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In a keynote called "Partnership Through Pandemic," Schuster heralded the role that partners have played to ensure that their customers could stay in business.

"You're the digital first responders, the unsung heroes, supporting and lifting the frontline workers up as they respond to this crisis. And your speed has been remarkable," Schuster said. "When our world started to change around us, partners did what you do best: Innovate and problem-solve using technology to help customers figure stuff out."

Schuster says that the initial phase of enabling organizations to support remote work environments were coincidentally set up by the work Microsoft and partners had been doing for the previous 18 months -- in terms of ongoing migrations to Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, as well as partners having gotten trained and proficient on Teams and Windows Virtual Desktop.

Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft, piggybacked on the theme in his keynote by emphasizing how priorities have changed radically -- for customers and for Microsoft -- over the last few months. "If it looked good to get out of your datacenter pre-COVID, it looks great to get out of your datacenter now," Althoff said. "If you think about it, we've seen more digital transformation happen out of necessity over the last two months than we've seen in the last two years alone."

Althoff also endeavored to impart meaning to the efforts of partners amid the overlapping public health, economic and societal crises. The name of his keynote was "Purpose-Driven Digital," and he defined the effort as "the art and science of leveraging technology innovation to drive business and societal outcomes for good."

As another example of the kind of effort that fits the purpose-driven digital theme but has been put on the back burner because of more recent events is Microsoft's ecological initiative. The effort was announced earlier this year with big goals for carbon-neutral and carbon-negative milestones for both Microsoft and its ecosystem, and a few months ago probably could have been expected to be a big theme at Inspire. On Tuesday, Althoff mentioned the environment in passing as something Microsoft and its partners could address under his framework. (Microsoft did provide details on progress with the initiative here.)

Schuster positioned the four priorities -- remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migration -- as a continuation of the critical work partners have been doing in the pandemic, and an opportunity to transition their businesses.

"This pandemic has changed the way we work forever," Schuster said. "From a partner perspective, this moment unlocks a huge opportunity to come in with a change-management and managed-services mindset."

Schuster said that in a follow-up session on Wednesday she would detail investments that Microsoft is making in each of those areas. Also speaking on Wednesday are Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft President Brad Smith.

One partner found Microsoft's FY '21 priorities to be consistent with Microsoft's pre-coronavirus initiatives and to be sensible, as far as they go.

Migration to cloud, for example, is certainly a pre-coronavirus priority that has increased in importance in recent months, said Ric Opal, a principal at BDO Digital who leads strategic partnerships and national go-to-market efforts. "It's true, but it's vague. They want migration to the cloud in the advanced workloads," Opal said in reference to applications tied to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) versus virtual machines that can easily be ported to a competitor's cloud. "Ultimately, they want them to be sticky. I want the same thing. I want sticky customers."

Opal also sees potential in security but contends compliance will be just as important in many cases. "We feel organizationally that a lot of people raced to get remote. Probably in going remote, they didn't care for security and compliance as much as they should have," Opal said. "Our viewpoint would be that compliance is a huge deal."

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 21, 2020