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A Bumpy Ride at Microsoft's First Envision Conference

Fair or not, almost every conversation at the first Microsoft Envision conference, which took place earlier this week in New Orleans, began with a comparison to Convergence, the discontinued Microsoft Dynamics event.

Loyalty to the Convergence legacy borders on fanatic, but the event is a tough act to follow by any measure. The Convergence team had become a well-oiled machine that consistently delivered great content and smooth operations.

The most puzzling part of the whole Envision experience is why Microsoft seemed so set on reinventing the wheel instead of building on the strengths of Convergence. Unfortunately, it made for a bumpy ride.

Beginning with its astonishingly late announcement in January, confusion was an underlying theme for Envision. Session lists weren't posted when the initial announcement was made, so that ISVs and customers already registered couldn't make an educated decision about whether or not they should attend.

Even though a number of longtime Convergence exhibitors stayed away, the expo hall still felt full of familiar ISVs. Molly Van Kampen, director of sales for Greenshades, a tax and payroll solutions ISV, agreed that the late notice was challenging. "We start planning for next year's Convergence as soon this year's is over, so a change of direction makes a big impact," Van Kampen said.

Greenshades decided to continue with its plans, bringing six employees to staff the booth.

"We've done business with Microsoft for 20 years," said Van Kampen. "We can understand why they wanted to expand the focus from just Dynamics. Change is hard, but we want to participate in this new direction. We see the event as an investment in the community."

Another longtime Convergence exhibitor, Solver, chose to maintain its Silver-level sponsorship after the switch to Envision. "Like most ISVs, I was skeptical when they made the announcement," said Nils Rasmussen, CEO of the business intelligence ISV. "Convergence has been our biggest sources of leads. In the end, it will all come back to the ROI. While this year may not match Convergence, we have had many good partner meetups and a fair amount of traffic."

Even if there weren't as many people visiting the booths as vendors (and Microsoft) hoped for, exhibitors universally reported that they were having high-quality conversations with attendees. Eric Jensen, account executive with Cutwater, an inventory management solution ISV, said, "We are seeing a high percentage of business decision makers instead of IT folks. They are the right people for the conversations that we want to have."

Guessing the actual attendance was a favorite topic at the conference. During the opening keynote, Chris Capossela, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Microsoft, declared that there were 6,000 attendees -- a number that was viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

In terms of content, both customers and partners seemed to feel Microsoft was headed in the right direction. There was a clear focus on changing the conversations from the functional to business outcomes. One customer provided good reviews to a session that focused on controlling business risk instead of simply addressing IT security.  

Partners and customers alike reported a mixed bag on the quality of sessions. "State of the Industry" sessions featuring panels of experts were widely praised. The number of presentations that included outside experts instead of Microsoft employees was a promising development. On the other hand, there were not nearly enough customers included in panels and presentations -- which may simply be a reflection of the late planning of content. 

In addition, quality control on partner-led sessions seemed to be lacking. Many were little more than a sales pitch without any discernable educational content.

Multiple people reported errors in the schedule, including roadmap sessions that most thought were canceled and weren't. The highly trained staff of Convergence past may have set a high bar, but the Envision staffers were woefully underprepared, providing consistent misdirection delivered with a lackadaisical attitude.

To his credit, Capossela was a visible presence, attending events and mingling with crowds -- clearly observing and listening. Hopefully, his engagement will be reflected in a more consistent experience at next year's Envision, already announced for Feb. 27 in Los Angeles.  

Overall, Envision wasn't the disaster that some expected but it wasn't as good as it could have been. The session content was reasonably good, customers had a full expo hall to seek out solutions, and vendors had conversations with well-qualified prospects. The disappointment of Envision was that someone at Microsoft apparently made a decision to create something new instead of building on the longtime success of Convergence. That decision was a disservice to every vendor and attendee. 

What was your Envision experience? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on April 07, 2016 at 12:37 PM