Ignite 2021: A resilient, reimagined future and next big ‘whoa’ moment

We all have moments when we realize the world got smaller and our imagination got bigger. I remember the first time I travelled internationally. I got on a plane in Cherry Point, North Carolina, fell asleep and woke up in Rota, Spain. The sense of age and time for the city, the food, the culture – it was something I’d never experienced before, and my perspective changed all at once. The flight had been a portal to a completely new world.

When I got my first cellphone, I went outside during lunch and called one of my friends from the car. “Guess where I’m calling from?” I said, not realizing how transformational that invention would become, that I could be present for someone, no matter where I was.

Maybe you felt it when the Xbox first came out. Suddenly you were talking smack through your headset while dunking on your buddy from 3,000 miles away. Again, technology helped me connect, be present in a way I hadn’t seen before.

This is a long way of saying that in this world there are certain moments that feel like they throw open a door to change. And that advances in technology often power these moments.

Now more than ever, we need conferences like Microsoft Ignite

If this were any other year, right now we’d be holding our Microsoft Ignite tour events in person around the world. Instead, we’re hosting more than 150,000 technology leaders and practitioners virtually for a 48-hour event.

The challenges of this past year have forced these kinds of changes. And the things that have kept us going – curbside ordering, telehealth, remote manufacturing, video calls with team members at work and family members at home – have more often than not relied on the public cloud.

These capabilities were not made possible overnight. They were available when we needed them because of a decade’s worth of investments in new technologies and new thinking. And they took on new meaning and importance over the past several months as countless innovations were put on an accelerated path. So now, as an industry and as a company, we must reflect on what’s next. We must anticipate what the world requires to continue its digital transformation and to continue making lives better through technology.

As Satya shared in his keynote, we believe five attributes will drive the next generation of innovation from the cloud: First, ubiquitous and decentralized computing; second, sovereign data and ambient intelligence; third, empowered creators and communities everywhere; fourth, expanded economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce; And fifth, trust by design. If you were not able to join live, I encourage you to watch his keynote on demand.

The people who come to Microsoft Ignite are dedicated to being on the forefront. They’re here because they know the world will continue its digital transformation, and because they know that Microsoft is committed to enabling IT developers, IT implementors and IT leaders of all kinds with the platform and tools they need to be ready for the next disruption.

This week we’re going to walk you through how that future is taking shape across industries now and offer a look at some exciting things to come.

And with that, let’s get into the steps we’re making toward that vision today — starting with our next big “whoa.”

Step into a new reality with Microsoft Mesh

During today’s keynote, Alex Kipman revealed how we’re bringing mixed reality to collaboration through a first-of-its-kind immersive keynote experience, delivered through a new platform, Microsoft Mesh.

In my examples above, I talked about how technology like cellphones and connected gaming gave me the ability to feel present, regardless of geographic location. Microsoft Mesh takes this to the next level. It is a mixed-reality platform that creates a real feeling of presence. People feel like they are in the same room as each other even when they’re on different continents. They can interact with 3D content or with each other through Mesh-enabled apps across any platform or device.

We’re starting with the ability to virtually travel and meet with people as if you’d gotten on that airplane and were sitting with them in a conference room. But like everything with Microsoft, this is a platform opportunity for the ecosystem to build on. And the opportunities for this are really unlimited. A travel company could create an experience for you to virtually tour the ruins of ancient Greece, or an architectural firm could design a first-of-its-kind building by creating a virtual model that allows team members to create and collaborate no matter where they reside; and on a manufacturing floor, a remote expert could work virtually right next to their colleague. Like our partners who were with us in the keynote, Ocean X, the world’s best scientists can collaborate from anywhere in the world, creating new discoveries from a shared perspective. It’s really interesting and inspiring to imagine what’s possible.

We’ll be integrating Mesh with Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Dynamics 365, and we expect our partner community to do what they always do and build a wide variety of new and exciting experiences on Mesh. For now, it’s fun to daydream about what’s next.

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The hybrid work world

We may start to move back to offices and classrooms in 2021, but there’s no going back to our pre-pandemic reality. As you will hear from Jared Spataro in his session, people often think of 2020 as the year work moved home. But in reality, it’s the year work moved to the cloud.

In a hybrid world where people work from home, office and everywhere in between, we’ll need cloud-powered solutions to keep up. Companies need to rethink workspaces to accommodate both physical and digital presence.

Microsoft Teams is an organizing layer for all the ways we work, providing the modes of communication, the collaboration tools and the ability to extend it with other apps and services. At Ignite, we’re announcing Teams Connect, which provides the ability for multiple organizations to collaborate across company boundaries. We’re also introducing new presenter views in Team meetings, and building upon last month’s launch of Microsoft Viva, our new employee experience platform. Check out the new Microsoft 365 and Teams announcements here.

Continued cloud innovation and control

Azure cloud services have become more important than ever to help companies survive and thrive in a constantly evolving world. While performance, reliability and security will always be the foundation of Azure, we’re also working to make the platform much more useful and powerful so our customers and partners can innovate with data.

At Ignite we are announcing many powerful new features and updates to unlock the power of the cloud. Azure Percept will help customers build and manage edge AI solutions. Azure Synapse Pathway will accelerate migrating workloads to our limitless analytics service. We’re bringing more options to Azure Purview to help customers map and understand their data. Azure Arc-enabled machine learning for hybrid cloud is now in preview as well. Azure Communication Services now interoperates with Microsoft Teams.

Security is everyone’s priority

We’ve seen some unprecedented attacks lately and we know security is more critical than ever. Microsoft is always working to bring its two security superpowers together — our integrated end-to-end approach and our AI and automation capabilities — to tackle security from all angles, at scale. At Ignite, we’re announcing several new enhancements to empower users and organizations, and to protect devices and back-end systems.

There’s one in particular that a lot of customers are pretty jazzed about: Users everywhere can rejoice in the fact that password-less authentication in Azure Active Directory is now generally available, eliminating the need for passwords in many instances.

There’s a lot more, including new Threat Analytics reports in Microsoft Defender and Secured-core coming to Windows Server and Edge devices to enhance protection from current and emerging vulnerabilities at the firmware layer. We’re also announcing that Teams will support end-to-end encryption, which has many benefits including protection of sensitive online conversations.

Deliver great customer experiences

More than ever, great customer experiences result from a coordinated effort across every touchpoint from frontline to fulfillment, back office to service. This requires breaking down barriers between CRM and ERP — to ensure everyone is empowered to act on insights, innovate and rapidly adapt.

Together, Teams and Dynamics 365 offer a unified platform that ties together collaboration and business processes. At Microsoft Ignite, we will spotlight new integrations to enhance workflows across the organization, and new customer journey orchestration capabilities in Dynamics 365 Marketing to personalize every moment that matters for customers across all channels and touchpoints.

We’re also announcing a new application, Dynamics 365 Intelligent Order Management, enabling organizations to re-imagine omnichannel fulfilment to meet order and fulfilment complexities while supporting newer delivery methods like curbside pickup.

Low-code experiences to make building transformational solutions easy

Power Platform enables anyone, regardless of technical ability, to build apps and automate cumbersome processes. And over the past year we’ve seen amazing adoption among citizen developers creating low-code apps and automations without having to write any code, and increasing use among professional developers relying on low-code to enhance their productivity alongside their favorite professional developer tools.

At Ignite we’re announcing two key Power Platform updates. Starting on March 2, Microsoft Power Automate Desktop — which offers robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities that easily automate time-consuming manual work — will be available to Windows 10 users at no additional cost.

We’re also announcing a new open-source, low-code programming language called Microsoft Power Fx, a language for low-code based on Microsoft Excel. Using formulas already familiar to hundreds of millions of users, Power Fx allows a broad range of people, from business users to professional developers, to bring skills they already know to develop low-code solutions.

Three new Industry clouds

Last week we announced our expanded industry investments with three new clouds for the manufacturing, financial services, and nonprofit sectors.  These join our already available healthcare cloud and our retail cloud, currently in private preview.

What exactly are the industry clouds? Think of them as clouds that can speak an industry’s language. Our industry clouds help organizations make faster, more intelligent decisions – so they can be more agile, more efficient and derive value faster from their cloud investments. This is all aimed at helping organizations provide better experiences and value to their own customers and employees.

At Microsoft Ignite, customers can learn more about the industry clouds and how to join in the coming previews.

Come join us at Ignite

Whew, that’s a lot, but there is so much more coming this week. If you weren’t able to catch it live, I’d encourage you to watch Satya’s keynote on demand and to check out all the highlights on our news page. We have several new customer stories to share, and there are also more than 300 sessions available to watch virtually.

Tags: Ignite