ATLANTA: Empowerment was the overarching theme of Microsoft's Convergence 15, with chief executive Satya Nadella using his keynote at the event in Atlanta to declare: "We are in the empowerment business."
Warming to his theme, he said: "We as a technology provider are very focused on one single thing: empowering you as individuals and organisations across every vertical and every size of business, and any part of the world."
To achieve this, Nadella said Microsoft will focus on offering services and products that are integrated together and driven by data. An example of this is the integration of Office 2016 and Skype for Business with Microsoft's Dynamics CRM, which means sales people will no longer have to jump between application to access the productivity and VoIP tools.
Jeremy Cox, principal analyst at Ovum, believes Nadella's vision is easier to grasp than what came before under Steve Ballmer's leadership.
"I think [the strategy] makes sense," Cox said. "Satya made it far clearer than what it was before he came on board.
"All that devices and services stuff was rather convoluted; now it makes sense because the whole of Microsoft is converging on the same aims. So my view is they are definitely moving in the right direction."
V3 asked Cox whether Microsoft can truly deliver on its promise to empower people: "Judging by the speed they are developing things, I would say yes," answered Cox.
Underpinning Microsoft's empowerment agenda are data and the cloud. Nadella said Microsoft will focus a lot of its attention ways to harness data harvested from a myriad of sources, including personal and corporate devices as well as the Internet of Things (IoT).
"Devices will come and go. The most interesting thing is the data that's being collected," Nadella said.
Cloud-powered products such as Power BI and Delve were presented by Nadella as ways for users to easily get access to the data they want from within their organisation.
Nadella noted how these tools present data in a visual and easy-to-understand format, thus giving users the clarity and confidence to take action based on that data.
"Only when businesses create a culture that empowers everyone to have access to data and insight that drive action will they be positioned to truly transform," he said.
A cloud with clout
Microsoft's Azure cloud will play a major part in enabling the company's empowerment strategy.
The majority of the products Microsoft showcased at the event can be deployed within a public or hybrid cloud environment.
These include "systems of intelligence" such as Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana, which Nadella boasted as being able to learn everything about a user from their personal data.
Microsoft is also aiming its cloud at supporting the use of IoT data, with Nadella unveiling the Azure IoT suite, a collection of tools that enable users to build software services on top of IoT data.
This again falls under the banner of empowering businesses through cloud and data-centric products.
Andrew Snodgrass, vice president of research at independent Microsoft-focused analyst firm Directions on Microsoft, told V3 Microsoft's cloud-reliant strategy is a serious move for the company.
"Microsoft wants everyone to move to a cloud-hosted solution. I think they're betting the company on it," he said. "I think that's the direction they're heading and they're very serious about it."
Snodgrass noted Microsoft's "cloud-first" approach has advantages for both the company and its customers.
"From Microsoft's perspective, if they can move everyone to a subscription then they don't sell perpetual licences anymore they just sell a subscription and they've got a nice cash stream associated with it," he said.
"From a customer's perspective, if you're comfortable moving to the cloud and you're able to go in that direction, then to have someone else deploying these systems and keeping them up to date and having an organisation of that size being able to do all the integration, then there's some real benefits to it."
Over the several days of Convergence 15, V3 heard a lot of praise for Microsoft's strategy and the way Nadella presented it in clear fashion. However, the company will not have everything its own way.
There are many technology companies making a similar play, either with specialist products, like Salesforce Wave which effectively rivals Microsoft's Power BI, or with complete platforms, such as IBM's SoftLayer cloud and Amazon and Google.
Clearly, though, Microsoft has the clout to make its strategy succeed, and with the launch of Windows 10 on the horizon it will be interesting to see how Nadella and Microsoft develop in the months, and years, ahead.
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