I just returned from the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans, Louisiana (July 13-16, 2009). It was my first Microsoft Partner conference. Now I understand why so many of my ObjectSharp colleagues regularly attend developer conferences. WPC is a great professional development opportunity. It is an intensive training program led by dozens of insightful, motivating coaches, not to mention some of the world’s most successful business people. How can you pass up an opportunity like that?
In the next few paragraphs, I’ll share just a few of WPC’s highlights – from my perspective.
I felt great anticipation sitting in the front row of the first Vision Keynote in a room of almost 8000 people from over 100 countries. Kicking off every morning’s keynote were live performances by Playing for Change (gems like “What’s Going On”, “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, “Billy Jean” and many more). You have probably seen Playing for Change doing “Stand By Me” in their viral YouTube video. I’ve never seen a more talented group of singers and musicians. They injected sincere passion into each and every performance. I felt a bit embarrassed because we were such a geeky, undemonstrative crowd. Fortunately, we all made up for it later (read on).
WPC is not; however, about music. It is Microsoft’s yearly opportunity to thank their 640,000-strong worldwide Partner Network since it is Microsoft’s Partners after all who sell Microsoft software and services. Since their Partners sell the software and services, Microsoft can focus on marketing and R&D. Did you know that Microsoft spends more on research and development than any other company in the world? They spent 9.5 billion in their last fiscal year! Compare that to IBM who spent 6.3 billion, Google 2.8 and Apple 1.1. Here’s an example of what that kind of spending can get you. Microsoft’s The Future of Productivity video will give you a taste of Microsoft’s vision of our collective technological future. It’s going to expand your conception of applied technology. No, that’s an understatement. I was telling my partner Ivan about this video and his reactions were “no way”, “no way” and “Get outta here!” Well, according to Microsoft – yes way. What looks like science fiction to the 2009 eye is currently being explored by real Microsoft teams and Partners in the industry. Enter Bill Buxton, a Canadian (yes!) pioneer in the human–computer interaction field who’s a Principal at Microsoft Research. Bill explained that Microsoft Surface (a large clunky kiosk that digitally reads natural hand gestures and real-world objects like business cards) will become ‘thin film’ very soon. It will be readily available and inexpensive. Thin film will be cheaper than a white board was the analogy Bill used. As a result, researchers at Microsoft are working on putting Surface in context so it fits seamlessly into our office and home lifestyles. Say goodbye to that expensive elephant in the room.
Next up was the charismatic Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO. My colleague Gisele nailed it when she likened him to a football coach. He is well-spoken (absolutely no pauses, umms or ahhs) and he even took notes while he was being interviewed live on stage when some of the questions piqued his interest. He described what happened during the last year as an economic ‘reset’, not a recession. He believes that when the economy turns around (and in his opinion Windows 7 may be the catalyst) there will be a technology ‘refresh’ that will stimulate purchasing and business. Ironically, he said that the complaint he hears most from CEOs around the world is this: “I’ve spent a lot of money on my organization’s IT infrastructure. Yet, why is it still so difficult to get the financial info I need to make decisions about my business?” This was great reinforcement for ObjectSharp’s BI Practice and proof that technology still has a long way to go to better serve our needs.
Since I’m on the sales, marketing and customer service side of business, I won’t comment on the new versions of Visual Studio or SharePoint. I’ll let my colleagues do that. What I can say is that I was very intrigued by the Windows 7 and Office 2010 sneak previews. We saw some exciting demos of many of the new features and I can honestly say (as someone who uses Office daily) that I was impressed and can’t wait to try them. How about MSN and voicemail access via Outlook? Transcribed voicemail messages so you don’t need to check your voicemail on your cell or even call into the office phone – just read them via email. There was also a great sorting feature by email conversation thread and an email retention function. In Excel 2010, you’ll get 100 million rows of data and the ability to create a BI application in minutes! It’s transformative and it “brings BI to the masses.” Excel 2010 redefines data analysis, making it easy and illustrative with data visualization capabilities and slicer tools. In PowerPoint and Word, we saw a demo on live simultaneous co-authoring. And since Microsoft is ultimately a sales organization, they compared features of their newest products to their competitors’ counter offerings. Office trounced Lotus Notes.
Some of the great sessions I attended include:
Steven M. R. Covey’s “The Speed of Trust: Leading in Crisis” which really hit home for me. I’m now reading the book. Just to give you a teaser, his big ideas are that “Trust is the new currency of the new economy” and that “Building trust is a learnable skill and asset we can move a deal on.”
“The IAMCP Partnering Maturity Model: Roadmap to Higher Profits and Increased Customer Satisfaction”
“Become a Trusted Advisor and Win Big Business”
For me, WPC was a chance to make connections with people who work in similar roles, or whose different roles help inform my business knowledge. I met people from Russia, Armenia, France, Mexico, the US and England. We were a diverse bunch, but had much in common. Attending sessions that placed a huge emphasis on Trust and Partnership (with customers, colleagues and business partners) definitely rubbed off on us. I was encouraged and buoyed by an amazing vibe of camaraderie and progress. The conference culminated in an amazing party featuring Playing for Change. The audience was engaged! After our WPC experience, I think we all changed for the better.