Microsoft Inspires Partner Focus on Customer Solutions for 2018

The “power of partnership,” a main theme at this year’s Inspire, Microsoft’s annual partner conference, transformed the event from a series of lectures and presentations into a unique opportunity for partners to collaborate and build solutions together.

Traditionally, Inspire focuses on enabling partners and sellers to speak to the latest and greatest in Microsoft’s developments. Partners get the opportunity to meet, learn and discuss all things Microsoft, but in the past have mostly been left on their own to determine how to best apply what they learned toward customer solutions.

This year’s event highlighted new products and features, but emphasized how partners can use these tools to solve increasingly complex customer challenges. This dovetails with Rackspace’s focus on meeting customers where they are and offering unbiased expertise to guide them through a digital transformation that meets their unique needs. So instead of sharing a recap of events or a list of new features, this post will focus on how customers will benefit from the latest Microsoft capabilities, and how they address common challenges.

Azure Expert Managed Service Provider program

One of the most fundamental challenges customers face is identifying the right managed services provider for their needs. It’s no longer enough to provide facility space and connectivity; customers need a partner who will help oversee their solution’s entire lifecycle, from assessment and design through support and optimization.

To meet this challenge and simplify the selection process, Microsoft announced its new Azure Expert Managed Service Provider program this week. This program identifies a select few Azure MSPs that have proven their ability to deliver high-quality managed services across the entirety of customer cloud adoption and operations. Partners — including  Rackspace — that have been awarded this badge must demonstrate a strong track record of verified customer success, prove strong technical knowledge and skills and complete a rigorous third party, independent, 64-step process and technology audit.

Microsoft Advanced Specialization

If you need more than broad view of provider services, Microsoft’s Advanced Specialization may speak directly to you. Microsoft Partners receive an Advanced Specialization tag by meeting a set of Microsoft-validated criteria. Advanced Specialization tags highlight a provider’s capabilities to support specific workloads and technologies, helping customers identify their ideal partner with even greater precision.

Azure Marketplace and AppSource

For the enterprise, digital transformation is no longer a question of if, but a matter of when. The challenge is identifying, evaluating and procuring the specific applications and add-ons that will help accelerate this process. Microsoft has two revamped storefronts geared toward slightly different audiences, Azure Marketplace and AppSource, each which help clients find, test and purchase the necessary tools and services for their transformation. Here’s a breakdown of the two storefronts to help determine which is best for you:

Target Audience IT Professionals, Developers (specialist roles include DBAs, SecOps, DevOps, etc.) Line of Business Decision-Makers (specialist roles include Procurement, Manufacturing, Accounting, etc.)
Built to Extend Azure Azure, Dynamics 365, Office 365, PowerBI, and Power Apps
Types of Solutions and Services Infrastructure Solutions and Professional Services Finished Line of Business Apps and Professional Services
Publishing Options Contact Me, Consulting Services Offer, Trial, Virtual Machine, Solution Templates, and Managed Apps Contact Me, Consulting Services Offer, or Trial
In-app Experience Azure Portal and CLI Office 365, Dynamics 365, Power BI, Office client apps

Internet of Things and Edge capabilities 

For some organizations, Internet of Things complexity has impeded innovation and adversely impacted business results. To address this, Microsoft developed several new, powerful but easy-to-use features that help our partners and their customers create enterprise-grade IoT solutions.

Ahead of Inspire, Microsoft announced new features in IoT Central, including support for Azure CSP subscriptions, making it easier for enterprises to provision and manage applications. Integrations with Power BI templates provide device and trend analytics as well as new data exports tools for extended analytical capabilities. In addition, newly released connectors with Microsoft Flow greatly simplify building management workflows for devices.

Microsoft also moved Azure IoT Edge into general availability and has expanded the current Certified for IoT program to include edge functionality and devices.  You can now buy IoT Edge software modules directly from Azure Marketplace, greatly simplifying billing. 

Business intelligence and analytics

Microsoft’s Power BI takes analytics to the next level with a few new business intelligence features. Using the Power Query experience business analysts can ingest, transform, integrate and enrich Big Data directly in the Power BI web service from a large set of data sources, such as Dynamics 365, Salesforce, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Excel and SharePoint.

Power BI will also support the common data model, which gives organizations the ability to leverage a standardized and extensible collection of data schemas. Additionally, integration between Power BI and Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 ensures unified access to data for all users throughout an organization, empowering enhanced scaling, performance, security, analytics and self-service capabilities.

Office 365 collaboration

Streamlining collaboration between various users across multiple business units is not a new challenge. Last year, Microsoft introduced Microsoft Teams, integrating chat, meetings, calling, files, and applications into a shared workspace. For this year, a new free version is now available.

This year, the company introduced the Intelligent Event capability, which allows anyone in your organization to create live events in Microsoft 365, which can be viewed in real-time or on-demand, with high-definition video and interactive discussion. Additionally, a new Workplace Analytics solution uses collaborative insights to help teams run efficient meetings, create time for focused work and respect work/life boundaries. Another neat feature is the Whiteboard application, enabling users to ideate, iterate and collaborate across multiple devices and locations.

Microsoft Inspire 2018 was more than just a tech conference. It was instead a reflection of the next-generation ideals of partnership, collaboration, proactive solution development and customer-focused advancements in the technological landscape. Read more about how Microsoft is helping partners grow their businesses with all these new investments.

Learn how Rackspace can guide your organization through its own successful digital transformation with Microsoft Azure.

Tim serves as a product marketing manager for Rackspace; previously, he served as a product manager at Datapipe. Tim has unique insight into the latest product developments for private, public, and hybrid cloud platforms and a keen understanding of industry trends and their impact on business development. Tim writes about a variety of topics including security and compliance, business strategy and Microsoft Azure.


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