Microsoft Inspire 2020: Building a Purpose Driven Community

Microsoft Inspire is the annual conference where members of the Microsoft Partner ecosystem are brought together for 3 days of networking, Q&As, and innovation. It’s usually held as an in-person event, however that wasn’t possible this year – and so it was hosted entirely online through a portal called MyInspire. Admittedly, at first I was sceptical as to how an “online-only” conference of thousands of partners would work. My concerns were soon belayed by the smooth-running MyInspire interface (with some brilliant accessibility features such as closed-captions, and ASL captions).

Becoming Purpose-Driven

The conference opened with a talk by Gavriella Schuster (CVP, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft), Judson Althoff (Executive VP, Microsoft), and Nick Parker (CVP, Global Partner Solutions, Microsoft). The opening remarks discussed the importance of the Microsoft Partner ecosystem, and showcased some really incredible partner solutions that have helped customers throughout the COVID Crisis.

The theme for this keynote session (and wider conference) was around developing purpose-driven technology. This is innovating in a way that benefits society and business as a whole. Once again, more partner solutions were brought up to demonstrate how Microsoft Partners are doing this.

Nick Parker also took the opportunity to introduce some of the amazing Azure innovations that Microsoft have been working on. Namely the new Azure HCI stack – a hyperconverged infrastructure operating system, delivered via Azure. This means that some of Microsoft’s amazing Azure services (e.g. Azure Backup, Azure Security Center and Azure Site Recover) can be utilised on a hybrid infrastructure, but managed through the Azure Portal.

The “Purpose-Driven” messaging really resonated with me, as Peak Indicators was founded on a platform of using technology to improve the world. One reason that we’re proud to partner with an organisation like Microsoft is that we share core beliefs and values. Our mission statement is “To use data to build a better world”, with Microsoft’s being “to empower every person & every organisation on the planet to achieve more”. Combining these mission statements with the Purpose-Driven theme of Inspire 2020 has even further cemented the alignment of our strategic and organisational aims.

The opening messages really made Inspire live up to its’ name. It inspired me to think of ways that we can leverage Microsoft cloud technology to not only serve our clients’ requirements in the best way, but how we can make our engagements more purpose-driven. 

Breakout Sessions

Despite the event being hosted online, it seemed that Microsoft took this in their stride – providing a huge number of different online breakout sessions across the 2 days. The sessions covered a variety of topics, from Microsoft specific sessions such as “Making the most of the Partner Network” to professional development sessions such as “How to build and lead a successful business when you represent a minority group”.

I could happily rattle through all of the 19 sessions I attended, but for the sake of brevity, I’ve picked the two sessions that I found most captivating: “Leading with Purpose: Building towards more Inclusive and Sustainable Growth” and “Financial Services: State of the Industry”.

1. Leading with Purpose: Building towards more Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

This session was a panel discussion featuring Gavriella Schuster (CVP, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft), Pamela Maynard (CEO, Avenade), and Arnaud Mourot (VP, Ashoka). The session was geared around how we as a partner community can react to changing requirements in business and society as a whole. The world has changed rapidly in the past 6 months – with society having to battle a worldwide pandemic, civil strife, an ecological crisis, and a looming recession. How do we as a partner community step up to the plate, and navigate society through these issues?

By developing purpose-driven organisational strategies.

Pamela Maynard introduced the inclusivity programs and the benefits that they have brought to Avenade. Improving the diversity in leadership positions in large organisations has wide-reaching benefits. During Pamela’s tenure as CEO, the introduction of inclusivity programs and a purpose-driven culture has driven higher employee engagement, and this is naturally followed by higher profitability.

Arnaud Mourot also raised some extremely compelling points around who society looks to to create positive change. The world has evolved to not only expect public sector organisations to enrich the wider society – but also private business.

Statistically speaking, organisations with involvement in creating a positive social impact become more profitable, more engaging (for employees), and more trusted. The current world climate is crying for more businesses to be positive corporate citizens, and business leaders now have an inherent responsibility to act.

Watching this session, it reaffirmed my own belief in Peak Indicators’ leadership team’s vision of “tech-for-good” being the right way forward. We are now living in a world that needs tech companies to innovate, disrupt, and contribute positively to society. Data analytics and data science are at the forefront of that movement – and working in one of the largest tech ecosystems in the world (the Microsoft Partner Program), I look forward to collaborating with other partners in building towards a more purpose-driven, inclusive, and sustainable tech community.

2. Financial Services – State of the Industry

This may seem like an oddly specific choice – but I found that the takeaways from this session are of benefit to more than just the financial sector. The session was an in-depth investigation to what is happening in the financial services sector across the world, and how they are using technology to adapt to an ever-changing world. This was led by Bill Borden (CVP, Worldwide Financial Services, Microsoft).

The key point that this session highlighted was that in the space of 4 months, the attitude shift towards cloud data management has been huge in the financial sector. The question now isn’t if, but rather when will financial institutions migrate their data to cloud. The current crisis is acting as a tech accelerator for the financial sector. This is mainly because in the “new world”, new challenges are appearing, and old challenges are escalating.

One of the new challenges that has presented itself is the need for almost universal remote working. How can an organisation be both data-driven and remote without a centrally hosted, cloud data infrastructure like Azure? Simply put, it can’t – and organisations that had already taken steps towards becoming data-driven are now picking up the pace to rapidly migrate to cloud.

An old challenge that financial services have faced from the beginning of their inceptions is that of fraud and scam attempts. It was widely published in the news that at the advent of the COVID crisis, rates of fraud and scam attempts against financial institutions skyrocketed as feelings of financial uncertainty plagued the country. One strong way to combat financial fraud is by using cutting-edge advanced analytics, AI, and data science techniques to identify fraudulent and suspicious behaviour. The key to unlock the gateway to these capabilities lies with migration to a cloud data service – where these techniques can be applied.

Despite the case-studies presented were largely based around the financial sector, these kinds of challenges are being seen in every industry. Once again, we see that data companies and the wider tech community have an opportunity to now drive society in a positive direction. As new challenges arise, we have a shared responsibility to innovate and respond in a way that benefits society and business as a whole.

Takeaways

Overall, Microsoft Inspire 2020 was a resounding success. Despite the unexpected hurdle of orchestrating an online-only event, I think that Microsoft hosted a strong catalogue of sessions and built a great platform for networking (despite the lack of human contact!).

It was refreshing to listen to the vein of “Purpose-Driven change” being driven throughout the sessions. When you consider the current world environment where we are concurrently experiencing a worldwide pandemic, a financial crisis, and an ecological disaster, Gavriella Schuster and her team gave us a reason to be optimistic. Innovation from our partner network shows that with technology being utilised in a sustainable, purpose-driven way, we can be the torchbearers through a dark time towards an exciting future.

Bring on Inspire 2021!


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