Cloud computing has become an integral part of business technology worldwide. According to Statista, spending in the sector has significantly increased in recent years, with forecasted figures suggesting $1,191 billion in 2021 and $1,294 billion in 2022.
As organisations realise the value of digital transformation and undertake migrations from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud, Microsoft has been bolstering its efforts in the area with the launch of a series of sector-specific industry cloud platforms.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen how resilience and agility play a substantial role in ensuring an organisation is able to endure challenges,” says Rodney Clark, corporate vice president of channel sales, and channel chief at Microsoft. “The intent for our industry clouds is to scale through partners and offer a value-additive platform for them to seamlessly integrate their solutions.”
A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works in business, particularly when it comes to the specific nuances of individual industries. “This is why Microsoft has committed to industry-specific cloud solutions for retail, healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, non-profits and sustainability, all of which are tailored to help customers address the unique needs of their industry, so they can act faster and make more intelligent decisions,” says Clark. “Customers will also benefit from the deep expertise that many of Microsoft’s partners have in specific industries.”
But the greatest opportunity for partners lies in leveraging the common data model, according to Clark. “Service partners can better serve customers with a pre-defined architecture,” he explains. “There’s also room for other technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed reality to be built on top of the clouds to meet evolving business needs.
“Additionally, services partners will be able to help customers address the most urgent challenges facing each industry today. They will be able to unlock new revenue and service opportunities, such as functional implementation, last mile configuration, and customisation to customers’ environment, business processes, and organisational change management.”
There are many opportunities for independent software vendor (ISV) partners too. “ISVs can extend the Microsoft industry cloud value with rich features and capabilities for mutual customers,” says Clark. “They can scale their go-to-market by aligning to Microsoft marketing and sales motions. Any new solutions can take advantage of whitespace opportunities, extend core cloud capabilities, or deliver complete healthcare business processes. Partners will be able to unlock new revenue and service opportunities.”
In addition to these cloud platforms, Microsoft also released Windows 11 in October 2021. Developed to help users be more productive and creative, the new operating system has significant enterprise potential, particularly from a security perspective. “Windows 11 is a major milestone for Microsoft,” says Clark. “What customers have in Windows 11 is a deeper, more secure integration that is built on the consistent, compatible and familiar Windows 10 foundation, making it easy for IT teams to manage.
“Security is at an inflection point as cyberattacks become more sophisticated and those attack surfaces increase. When you look at the number of attacks that are coming in and originate from edge-to-edge devices and through different peripherals, it’s vital that customers have an operating system that is capable of managing that. We provide the building blocks of security, compliance and identity, and our partners have an opportunity to engage in that from training to developing solutions, all the way through to go-to-market to ensure they can secure our customers’ business. More so than any other release of an operating system, Windows 11 gives the managed service providers in our ecosystem an opportunity to build and service a complete business, with end-to-end productivity and security.”
Clark also highlights the value of the new operating system in delivering better hybrid work and learning experiences. “If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that organisations must be resilient, and technology has been more critical to that resilience than ever before. Windows 11 offers deeper integration with Microsoft Teams for more efficient collaboration and communication. There are also a number of accessibility enhancements, such as expanded gesture and voice features.”
Moving to a new system like this can pose challenges to businesses hoping to leverage it, especially those running on older devices. Consequently, Microsoft is focusing on democratising access where possible.
“Ultimately, every business will need to evaluate what path is right for them if they want to benefit from Windows 11, which ensures a more secure environment as well as deeper integration with extensions of services, cloud engagement, applications, productivity solutions and suites,” says Clark. “For businesses looking to minimise expenses, retaining existing PCs is an option, assuming their devices meet the minimum hardware and chip requirements for Windows 11. We continue to add device compatibility for Windows 11, so you will see more new devices come online in the coming months.
“We have learned from years of releasing Windows 10 updates to over one billion devices worldwide that a phased and measured roll-out ensures a more reliable and quality experience for customers. So, in some cases, this will mean businesses waiting or planning phased deployments for Windows 11 upgrades.”
While business continuity has been top of mind for organisations worldwide of late, the other key buzzword of 2021 is sustainability. Research has shown that a greater focus on sustainable practices would benefit the planet as well as business. For example, a study by Cone Communications found that 92 per cent of respondents were more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues, and Harvard University research showed that overall sales revenue can increase up to 20 per cent due to corporate responsibility practices. The business case is clear, and Microsoft is leading by example.
“Microsoft is committed to being carbon negative by 2030 and, by 2050, we aim to remove all the carbon the company has emitted to the environment since it was founded in 1975,” says Clark. “Most recently, we’ve announced initiatives to support the path to net zero for our customers as well as for ourselves.”
This news includes the public preview of Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability which aims to empower Microsoft’s customers and partners to drive their sustainability progress through vertical and industry solutions. “This new cloud offering is designed to help companies take control of their environmental initiatives, offering a set of comprehensive, integrated and automated insights for organisations to accelerate each stage of their sustainability journey.
“With Cloud for Sustainability, we’re creating a whole new category, going beyond capturing data to helping customers aggregate sustainability data in an actionable way. It includes software-as-a-service offerings that can discover and connect to real-time data sources, accelerate data integration and reporting, provide accurate carbon accounting, measure performance against goals and enable intelligent insights for organisations to take more effective action.”
Microsoft has also devoted resources to finding creative, innovative solutions to operational and engineering challenges surrounding data centres, like reducing carbon emissions and water use for cooling.
In a year filled with so much innovation, Clark says: “It has been nothing short of a whirlwind. From a personal level, stepping into the role of Microsoft channel chief has been a major highlight. It’s given me the opportunity to dig deeper into how we can work with our partner ecosystem to make a real difference and see first-hand how Microsoft’s latest technology innovation is ensuring businesses have the agility to meet evolving needs.”
And there are many facets to helping businesses achieve more. “For example, some of the technology trends that our CEO, Satya Nadella, discussed at Ignite event – including the metaverse, hybrid work and hyperconnectivity – can create opportunities for partners to build new solutions and services, especially around cloud migration, data and AI, security, compliance and identity, Azure Virtual Desktop and Microsoft Teams,” says Clark. “And as I mentioned earlier, our industry clouds are a significant opportunity for us, together with our partners, to address specific customer needs in each industry, especially as they continue their digital transformations.
“Digital transformation has swept through nearly every industry, driving structural changes that will far outlast the pandemic,” adds Clark. “As a result, we’ve seen how critical technology is in helping businesses, citizens and societies adapt and the significant impact Microsoft’ Cloud has had. As I look towards the year ahead, I’m excited for the work Microsoft is doing to streamline and improve the way we do business with our partners. We will continue to invest in key areas to help partners through their journeys, especially in their digital engagement, technical skilling and profitability. Microsoft is dedicated to helping our partners across every industry master the complexity, so they can be agile, build resilience and ultimately succeed.”
We asked selected Microsoft partners how they are using the organisation’s cloud technologies alongside services such as Windows 11 to deliver highly secure and compliant products that empower workforces. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 41 of the digital edition of the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record.
Rohana Meade, president and CEO of Synergy Technical, said: “The release of Windows 11 represents a massive step forward in securing Windows workstations.”
Athanasios Maragkos, platform product manager at interworks.cloud, said: “The level of security that we deliver gives channel partners and end users a heightened sense of protection, especially when combined with the robust security features of Windows 11.”
Trudi Hable, global alliance leader for Microsoft at AVEVA, said: “Together with Microsoft, AVEVA is committed to empowering the connected workforce to leverage the value of cloud and become agents of change.”
Danny Jenkins, CEO and co-founder of ThreatLocker, said: “By tracking Microsoft updates, ThreatLocker delivers highly secure and compliant products that empower workforces to operate without living in fear of the next cyber breach.”
Lauren Brockman, product director of business application integrations at Bandwidth, said: “Microsoft’s open ecosystem allows third parties to build innovative integrations with Teams, creating an environment for app developers like Bandwidth to build solutions that solve new and ever-changing enterprise cloud communications challenges.”
Zhi Wei Li, director of innovation and engineering at ICONICS, said: “With the Microsoft cloud, ICONICS takes advantage of Microsoft’s breadth, security and reliability investments, making it possible to easily and quickly build solutions that can be deployed globally to empower workforces wherever they are.”
Willian Bain, CEO of ScaleOut Software, said: “ScaleOut Software’s recently announced integration of real-time analytics and machine learning with Azure Digital Twins offers breakthrough new capabilities for intelligently tracking large numbers of IoT assets and enabling system managers to maximise situational awareness."
This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.