Partnering with a purpose – reflections on Microsoft Inspire 2020

  • Posted on July 31, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

This article was originally written by Avanade alum John Held.

Unprecedented, purpose-driven and new normal. I’ve heard these phrases a lot lately and especially last week during Inspire, Microsoft’s annual partner conference.

Almost every Inspire session began with an expression of appreciation for partners along with special acknowledgment of those partners who are helping clients respond to the unprecedented societal, health and welfare challenges facing the world today. Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President, One Commercial Partner at Microsoft, described partners as “digital essential workers” and shared innovative examples where partners are assisting those suffering from poverty, racial injustice and the global pandemic. Having attended many partner conferences over the years, it was super interesting to see how these realities influenced Inspire 2020’s content, Microsoft’s challenge to partners and even the event’s format.

This year’s content focused on guidance that partners should lead with the purpose to make the world a better place. In fact, Pam Maynard, Avanade CEO, joined Microsoft executives in multiple sessions to discuss Avanade’s purpose. Over the last 20 years, Avanade has shaped our mission and values based on the purpose of making a genuine human impact for our clients and their customers, and our employees. Pam described Avanade’s commitment to inclusion and diversity programs that enable us to offer the largest, most skilled Microsoft-centric workforce in the world. Pam also described the Tech for Social Good program which we administer with Microsoft to benefit nonprofits. For Inspire attendees, Pam shared genuine human impact stories from Avanade clients like Ascension Health and Johns Hopkins and Answer ALS, and through Avanade’s long-standing partnership with Junior Achievement. It was invigorating for partners to receive such enriching business and technical content this year through the lens of leading with purpose. 

Activating the purpose-driven theme, Satya directed an impassioned challenge to partners. Satya began by coining the phrase “purpose-driven digital” which he defined as the art and science of leveraging technology innovation to drive business and social outcomes for good. Satya and Brad Smith’s sessions were filled with opportunities for Microsoft partners to help serve the underserved, increase access to those with disabilities, and “make the world a safer and smarter place.” Satya emphasized the premise that Microsoft partners can deliver profitable solutions which fuel local economic growth and offer new socio-economic opportunities that, in aggregate, can affect millions who are currently excluded from global prosperity. 

Microsoft effectively landed content and this challenge through the new “digital” format (as they like to call it). As a new normal for conferences, attendees streamed keynote and breakout sessions that began and ended on time, were moderated by a live newscast crew, and supported with chat for Q&A via the event console. Virtual networking was offered to almost 70,000 attendees which rivaled networking at in-person events. And since Avanade and Accenture won a record-breaking eight Microsoft Partner of the Year awards, we submitted group screenshots (using Microsoft Teams, of course) and sound bites which were integrated into the virtual partner awards celebration. As an attendee and content contributor, the new Inspire experience was refreshing and has set the benchmark for efficient delivery of content to a large, international audience.

Looking back, Inspire 2020 was truly inspiring. Microsoft deserves credit for educating and activating their partner ecosystem in ways that can address the needs of every country and community around the world and I’m excited to see how well Avanade is aligned to deliver remote work, business continuity, secure environments and cloud migration. I’m confident that we’ll see major progress over the next year, and maybe we’ll call it unprecedented and the new normal for years to come.

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