I had the pleasure of attending the Microsoft Ignite Conference last week and thought I would share my experience.

Microsoft Ignite 2015 was the first of its kind, combining the mainstay we know as TechEd, the SharePoint Conference, and a few other niche product conferences.  It was hosted in Chicago and attended by more than 20,000 of the Microsoft faithful and/or those IT Pros interested enough to give up five days of pouring through server logs back at the brick and mortar.

To put things into relationship terms, I feel like I’ve been married to Microsoft for most of my IT career.  While the relationship started off with a bang during the Windows 95 and Windows NT era, Microsoft and I have been through some rocky times.  We held things together during the SharePoint years but, if truth be known, I’ve had my eye on Apple and must admit to being less than faithful, even during work hours.

I’m proud to say that, thanks to our brief getaway to Ignite in Chicago, Microsoft and I are all good.  Sparks are flying again.  Here’s why.

I’m all about the software.  Microsoft is a software company first, and a device company second.  This was never more clear than when Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, opened with the Keynote.  Emulating Steve Jobs (RIP), Satya was dressed in crisp denim and a funky golf-like shirt.  Unlike Steve Jobs, Satya did NOT show off wiz-bang features of the latest XBox Console or Surface device.  Instead, his message focused on a Mobile First, Cloud First strategy, committed to three big ambitions:

MicrosoftIgniteCloudWhile these are noble ambitions, Microsoft clearly demonstrated its ability to deliver.  Let’s break that down and give you the top 3 things I took away from Microsoft Ignite:

1.       In a Mobile First world, mobile is NOT about mobile devices.  “Mobile First” acknowledges that we, the users, are the important elements in motion, interacting with our universe in diverse ways across diverse devices.  Microsoft is intent on making that interaction as seamless and productive as possible.  Devices will evolve and Microsoft may even choose to build a few along the way, but the software commitment to the user experience enabled by software is what really drives Microsoft.

We can already see this through the recent release of Office for iOS.  The app has quickly become my go-to app when I’m on the fly.  The integrated experience with my desktop Office is beyond what Apple software gives me even though I have no intention of giving up my iPhone.

Let’s take this blog, for example.  In the Microsoft days of not-so-long-ago, I might write the blog using Word and send the .DOC to Marketing.  Marketing cleans it up, saves it as a PDF, and sends it to our Web Development company.  The Web Development company cleans it up and puts it into a browser friendly format using Dreamweaver then posts it to the web.  Users can then get to the content on the web.  God bless those users who try to read the blog on a smartphone.

Fast forward to 2015.  Microsoft will be launching a SharePoint Blog service within Office 365, later this year.  The new-and-improved blog service will have cross-platform web authoring capability.   I can start creating content from my desktop browser in the office.  I can then hop on the C-Train and add some more text and multimedia content using my iPad.  I can polish my blog on a home PC when I get home and send the link to Marketing.  Marketing can open the blog, in place, make the requisite changes and publish it with a single click. The blog is instantly indexed and searchable and everyone can effectively read my blog in the morning across any desktop, tablet, or mobile device (iOS, Android, Windows).


2.       In a Cloud First world, don’t move to the cloud, invite the cloud into your organization.  This was a huge AHA (see Oprah) moment for me.  Microsoft is NOT advocating that you move your entire shop to Azure and Office 365 so they can charge you money on top of the Enterprise Agreement to use their hardware and System Administrators instead of yours, though in select cases you might well save significant dollars by doing so.

Instead, Microsoft is providing opportunity for you to leverage the collective speed and power of a SaaS universe outside your firewall to make a difference within your firewall TODAY.

Here’s an example.  Microsoft just released a piece of functionality in Office 365 called “Groups”, targeting agile organizations with teams that spin up and disband in a short period of time.  Using Office 365, business users can spin up “Sites” for groups to share activities, data, and documents.  They can invite team members who are outside of their organization to participate.  Sound cool?

Here’s the catch.  This functionality is ONLY available TODAY in Office 365.  Is Microsoft being Machiavellian, forcing us all to into monopolistic licensing practices?  Absolutely not.  I spoke with one of the lead Engineers on the SharePoint team who looked me in the eye and simply said “Microsoft is introducing features in Office 365 first because THEY CAN”.  While Microsoft is fully committed to delivering the “Groups” functionality as part of an upgrade to SharePoint 2016, the software rigour of delivering on-premises software to a worldwide audience simply can’t be done any faster.

Here’s another catch.  Even if this functionality was released to an on-premises SharePoint farm today, it’s likely behind a secure firewall.  Say good-bye to effective collaboration with external team members.  The result is less efficient teams that would fall back on email and network file shares.

Why not deliver a Hybrid solution to your business whereby you extend your internal, on-premises, SharePoint powered Intranet with “Groups” enabled by Office 365.  Nobody forced you to move anything.  You simply have the luxury of adding value to your internal customers by extending their experience to the cloud.


3.       Microsoft’s BI platform is for real.  Really.  Microsoft’s monopoly of the spreadsheet market through its Excel franchise is legend.  With SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), we know that Microsoft has been in the game for some time.

Following their Mobile First, Cloud First strategy, Microsoft has quietly been building the software muscle to enable data insights that rely on complex mash-ups of public and private data, structured and unstructured data; dashboards that can be shared to any device.

My vote for the sexiest software of the show goes to Power BI.  Power BI rocks.  Those of you BI aficionados who have been long time users of Cognos or Business Objects or more recent converts to Tableau or Spotfire are probably snuffing your nose at this point.  You’re point is well taken; partially.  The sexy front-end graphs and charts, that many tools can deliver, are only part of the picture.

Enter Azure and the Big Data challenge.  Microsoft has released a suite of data and analysis services enabled by Azure.  HDInsights gives you access to Hadoop resources to tackle complex analysis of unstructured data such as social data feeds or computer logs.  Stream Analytics pushes real-time data from the Internet of Things (IoT) to waiting dashboards.  Machine Learning fuels predictive analytics.  The Data Factory transforms your data and assembles it with line-of-business data from sources such as CRM Dynamics Online or even

My Microsoft Ignite experience was a refreshing one, fittingly completed by a traditional deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s.  Will it be eternal smooth sailing for me and Microsoft?  No.  But I’m looking forward to the next few years of our IT journey. Read more about our Microsoft relationship