NEW ORLEANS — July 13, 2009 — For Tom Chew, national solutions general manager for Slalom Consulting, a chance to visit steamy New Orleans in July (forecast: 93 degrees F and thunderstorms) is about more than trying one of the city’s famous shrimp remoulade or sweet beignets. It’s about finding software tools he can put to work for his clients.
Chew is one of 5,500 Microsoft partners from around the world descending on New Orleans July 13–16 for the 2009 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). It’s an annual event where Microsoft shows partners the newest products in its pipeline, gives partners insight into future direction for Microsoft products, and offers workshops and classes that help partners master Microsoft technologies and learn about new business opportunities. For partners, it’s an opportunity to talk with peers, meet Microsoft executives and hear about new technologies they might put to work for their business.
This year’s WPC promises details about the slew of new products and services Microsoft has in the pipeline. Partners want to know more about how they can use Microsoft Azure Services Platform — Microsoft’s cloud-based software plus services initiative — in ways that help their customers. They want to hear Microsoft’s take on the economy. And they want to know how they can take advantage of the positive reaction to Windows 7, slated for general release Oct. 22, 2009.
They should hear plenty about that in news-making keynote addresses by Allison Watson, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group; Bill Veghte, senior vice president for the Windows Business; Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division; and Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Business for Microsoft. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will also make an appearance, joining Geoffrey Colvin of Fortune Magazine on July 14, and Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner takes the stage on July 15.
For Microsoft, the Worldwide Partner Conference is a chance to connect with one of its most important constituencies. More than other software companies, Microsoft relies heavily on its partner network to take Microsoft’s innovation to deliver applications, solutions and added value that businesses, government, healthcare institutions and many other enterprises large and small can use. Partners also sell and service Microsoft solutions to a wide range of businesses, government agencies and other enterprises. In fact, nearly 95 percent of Microsoft’s $60 billion in revenue is generated from its ecosystem of more than 640,000 partners.
Partners’ eagerness to attend the conference reflects the importance they put on it as well. Slalom Consulting, for whom Tom Chew works, is sending some 20 people to the conference. “That’s the biggest number we’ve sent to one of these,” he says. “All of our general managers will be there for a quarterly meeting. It’s a great opportunity to work with Microsoft as well as to plan internally.”
While at WPC, partners such as Slalom’s crew can focus first and foremost on information about Microsoft products. Some 200 breakout sessions are scheduled during the conference, with topics that range from “How to Increase Profits and Enhance User Experience With Microsoft Silverlight” to “The OEM Business Value of Windows 7.” The sessions offer partners deeper information and insights to help them build and strengthen their businesses.
“I love the fact that there is so much offered at WPC,” says Chew. “There’s a real ability to go deep into some subjects, while in other cases getting just a taste of what else is happening. We’re investigating some future investments around Microsoft Dynamics and software plus services, and it’s a great chance for us to take a look at that space and figure out where to make our bets.”
Mike Rogers, director of development for Attachmate, a Microsoft partner that, like Slalom Consulting, is a based in Seattle, adds that WPC gives partners an opportunity to better understand Microsoft’s thinking about the future of technology and how businesses will change. “It’s always a good idea to get a first look at Microsoft’s new strategies, so we can align our own products with what is coming out,” says Rogers. “Particularly, the keynotes are always a good place to hear a good framework for the next five years of Microsoft’s direction.”
This year’s keynotes should be especially interesting, as they’ll have news about some of Microsoft’s biggest product launches in some time. Windows 7 will be getting plenty of attention, as will Windows Server 2008 R2. News about next steps for the Azure cloud-services operating system is of interest to thousands of partners. And there will be announcements around Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Dynamics. Says Per Werngren, CEO of Sweden-based Microsoft partner IDE, which specializes in solutions for small and midsized businesses, “At WPC I really learn how to use new technology and methodology and also learn about industry trends — that’s really is important for me and for my clients.”
That big product stream can be a little daunting, but partners attending WPC are looking forward to having new technologies with which to work. “There can never be too much innovation,” says Werngren. “As a partner I rely on Microsoft giving me new products that I can work with in order to better help my clients. I am excited about the new Windows 7 and the new Windows Server 2008 R2 because that will help me further reduce cost in my customer’s IT operations. That is something that they welcome — especially during this recession.”
Still, for all the keynotes and workshops, WPC participants agree that networking with their peers and other Microsoft partners is one of the most valuable facets of attending WPC. “It’s great to talk with partners who may have a strong presence in technologies that we do not,” says Chew, who adds that Slalom Consulting often uses events such as WPC to do some talent-shopping for new hires. Adds Werngren: “I meet people informally all over the conference — in the dining hall, in sessions and during partying. But I also pinpoint people that I like to meet and schedule meetings with them. Structured networking is important, but unstructured is how you get opportunities that you did not know existed.”
And while sometimes other partners may represent competition, Chew says it’s typical to find common ground. “It’s all about how we win as Microsoft partners,” he says. “We all want to win together against the big competitors, whether it’s Google-compete or Oracle-compete or whatever it might be. Sometimes it takes the collective abilities of a bunch of different partners to bring the breadth of capabilities needed to compete in some of those product sets.”
As well as meeting other partners, Worldwide Partner Conference attendees also have a chance to network and talk with Microsoft executives and key employees. This year Microsoft is bringing in more vice presidents for what it calls “value keynotes” — segment-specific talks from executives such as Simon Witts, corporate vice president of the Enterprise and Partner Group; Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of the Original Equipment Manufacturer Division; and Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions. Microsoft also is bringing in 1,500 field employees to meet partners in business planning sessions and technical discussions.
Microsoft has created tools for the WPC Web site to make it easier for partners to find and meet with the Microsoft executives or partner peers they’d like to see. Partners also can find breakout sessions by market segment, session type and more. And the company has reorganized the expo floor to make it easier for partners to find independent software vendors that are linked to specific Microsoft products.
“We really want this time to be productive for our partners,” says Pam Salzer, the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group executive responsible for the annual conference. “We want them to find the people and sessions they need. And of course we’re hosting this in New Orleans, one of the most famous tourist destinations in North America, so we want them to enjoy themselves as well.”
Partners will indeed have a chance to see what New Orleans has to offer. Despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, New Orleans remains a place renowned for jazz, fine dining, superlative architecture and a particular vibe that few American cities share. WPC attendees also had a chance to help in the continued rebuilding of storm-damaged New Orleans, with coordinated volunteer rebuilding activities offered to early arrivals on Sunday, July 12.
And if it’s hot, well, partners can opt for staying indoors and attending more sessions at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. “Air conditioning is good,” says Chew.