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Microsoft Inspire 2020: 5 Big Takeaways From Gavriella Schuster And Judson Althoff

The executives addressed the accelerated shift to cloud and the opportunities for partners around managed services and solutions such as Windows Virtual Desktop.

Microsoft’s top channel-focused executives on Tuesday told partners that the coming year will be a pivotal period in the transition to cloud solutions and managed services.

The executives spoke during Microsoft’s Inspire 2020 global partner conference, which begins today in an online-only format amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Related: Microsoft Channel Chief Schuster On ‘Minimizing’ Changes For Partners Amid Economic Crisis]

Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella told partners that “you’re the digital first responders--the unsung heroes--supporting and lifting the frontline workers up as they respond to this crisis. And your speed has been remarkable.”

“When our world started to change around us, partners did what you do best--innovate and problem solve, using technology to help customers just figure stuff out, regardless of the complexity,” said Schuster, who is corporate vice president for Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organization.

Meanwhile, Judson Althoff, Microsoft’s executive vice president for worldwide commercial business, also offered a keynote session where he addressed the acceleration of the cloud shift.

What follows are five big takeaways from Schuster and Althoff’s keynotes at Microsoft Inspire 2020.

Partners Were Ready For This Moment

“When there’s uncertainty all around, you manage it by creating certainty, wherever you can. The truth is, the Microsoft partner ecosystem--you were built for this moment in time. You are the certainty,” Schuster said during her Inspire keynote. “We were ready because the solutions we’ve been building together over the last 18 months are the same ones our customers need right now--solutions and services around remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migrations.”

Accelerating The Cloud Shift

“If it looked good to get out of your data center, pre-COVID, it looks really good to get out of your data center now. The growth of the cloud is still very important to helping customers achieve these economic goals,” Althoff said. “Our solution areas, our cloud capabilities--from modern workplace through security, business applications, apps and infrastructure, data and AI--across Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure, these are the ingredients that will help customers persevere in these difficult times.”

Ultimately, “the world now needs us more than ever before. And I’m counting on all of you as our partners to help make that happen,” he said. “Whether you have the consulting practices that bring these virtual solutions to life, or the assets and intellectual property as an ISV or a SaaS provider--we need your help to address customers’ needs, now more than ever. And the world is counting on us.”

Partner Priorities For The Coming Year

Schuster said that Microsoft sees four top partner priorities for its fiscal year 2021, which began July 1. Those priorities are remote work, business continuity, secure environments and cloud migration.

“Customers are looking to do those four things while saving money. And with our help, they can do it all,” Schuster said. “As their needs have shifted, we’re adjusting to make these the core priorities for this coming year. This is your call to action--to focus on these four solutions. And I know many of you already are.”

Remote-Work Opportunities

While demand for remote-work solutions such as the Teams collaboration app has surged, “adoption is only part of the opportunity here. What‘s truly transformative is what happens when customers start working in Teams and learn the full value of Microsoft 365 as a secure, remote work collaboration solution,” Schuster said. “This pandemic has changed the way we work forever. Add to that the customizations that you can deliver through the Power Platform, and you light up the customers’ business process. So from a partner perspective, this moment unlocked a huge opportunity to come in with a change management and managed service mindset.”

Schuster pointed to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) as a particular opportunity for partners going forward.

“With WVD, organizations can get up and running in minutes from the Azure portal. You have the flexibility to choose the virtual machines, the regional locations, and you can set up multi sessions for the users,” Schuster said. “You can even manage that environment and turn it into a managed service opportunity, without much heavy lifting. Especially if you team up with a partner like Nerdio. They’ve developed tools specifically for partners, for both SMB- and enterprise-focused partners, that can help you begin to deploy a WVD environment in only 60 seconds, and deploy a complete desktop in just a few hours.”

Additionally, “when you add on VMware and Citrix for hybrid environments, you have an end-to-end, hybrid solution for your customers,” she said.

Shifting To Managed Services

“Managing desktops isn’t the only opportunity for you to make a pivot to managed services. I’ve had so many conversations with partners, who’ve been putting off the transition into cloud and managed services, as well as monthly subscription billing,” Schuster said. “[But] now is the time. This is the opportunity--when you can meet customers where they are.”

“For years I’ve heard your concerns about how to transition your books from up-front revenue to subscription service, and you’re worried about disappointing your investors,” Schuster said, noting that she has heard partners say, “If my customer is willing to pay me up front, do I really want to transition from projects into monthly payment service schedules?”

“But today, with customers uneasy about these big up-front costs, you can develop a managed service practice, build a monthly, and show up as a hero to the customer,” she said. “I know the reason you haven’t gone there is because you’re going to have a dip in revenue. And the question is how quickly you can fill that dip with new customers. But my question back to you is, what happens if you don’t take this step? Now may be the time. Maybe this year, your investors are expecting a little less from you, and the customers are asking for monthly terms. You can make the investment into managed services that will help your customers and build your business long-term. And if you don’t have the resources for all the support, this is a great opportunity to partner together.”

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