Top 5 takeaways from Satya Nadella’s Microsoft Ignite 2020 keynote address

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Satya Nadella kicked off Ignite 2020 with an exciting (and the first ever virtual!) keynote address. To help you make sense of all the exciting news, company updates, and product announcements, we made a list of 5 key takeaways from the opening of this year’s event.

Satya Nadella’s keynote speech is always one of Microsoft Ignite‘s most hotly anticipated events. Traditionally, Microsoft’s CEO has kicked off the tech giant’s biggest event of the year by taking to the stage. This year, like many events, Ignite moved online. And while Nadella’s speech was pre-recorded, it was no less exciting—full, as per usual, of products news, feature updates, and announcements.

The details of each year’s keynote give a sneak peek at Microsoft’s roadmap for the year to come. And this year’s keynote, titled “Building Digital Resilience”, was no different. If you didn’t manage to tune in yourself, don’t worry—the ShareGate team was watching closely and taking notes!

To help get you up to speed on what to expect from the world of Microsoft in the year ahead, we made a list of 5 key takeaways from the opening of this year’s event.

The case for digital transformation has never been more urgent

In a year that has seen many organizations rapidly transition to new methods of collaboration and fully remote work, technology has played a critical role. “The case for digital transformation has never been more urgent,” Nadella said towards the start of this year’s keynote address.

Building off last year’s popular theme of “tech intensity”, he emphasized the concept’s continuing importance, calling it “key” to business resilience, the focus of this year’s keynote and the conference at large.

For any organization to succeed in a world of unprecedented constraints, they will need to empower employees, foster a new culture of hybrid work, engage their customers in new ways, intelligently and virtually transform products and services with new business models, and optimize operations to keep customers and employees safe and secure. And they will need to take data from one system to use it and to optimize the outcome of another. We call this tech intensity.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Ignite 2020 key session: “Building Digital Resilience”

According to Nadella, tech intensity comes down to three things:

  1. How you adopt the latest technology and integrate in your own organization
  2. How you build your own unique digital capability
  3. Trust—in both in technology and in business model alignment

Nadella next took the opportunity to highlight how innovations across Microsoft’s “unparalleled” tech stack—including updates to the Microsoft 365 productivity suite and the Azure cloud platform—are helping organizations address real-world challenges while staying agile and secure.

“Our solution areas were built to enable this, and we are the only company that has a complete technology stack to support both tech adoption and tech capability building—and ultimately, increase your own ability to achieve success through digital technology.”

Azure innovations are helping remove barriers for moving to the cloud

First up was the infrastructure underlying it all: Microsoft Azure. In this year’s keynote, Nadella introduced Microsoft’s vast and multi-faceted cloud computing service as “the world’s computer.”

The designation makes sense, as the Azure innovations he proceeded to highlight all seemed to share a common theme—that Microsoft is continuing to remove barriers for moving to the cloud.

“We’re committed to bringing the power of Azure wherever you are,” said Nadella, pointing to the company’s 61 data center regions located across the globe, more than any other provider. And with the introduction of Azure Orbital, Microsoft is launching its infrastructure into outer space, as well—enabling anyone to access satellite data and capabilities from Azure.

Azure Arc, the hybrid and multi-cloud platform first announced at Ignite 2019, extends Azure service to any infrastructure. With Azure Arc, customers can manage resources deployed within Azure and outside of Azure through a single control pane. And now, Azure Data Services are Arc-enabled, giving you the ability to “run Azure’s fully managed data services across multiple clouds, data centers, and at the edge, even in a fully disconnected state.”

We are extending Azure from under the sea to outer space.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Ignite 2020 key session: “Building Digital Resilience” Tweet this

Meanwhile, with Azure SQL Edge, Microsoft is bringing the SQL data engine to IoT devices, “supporting data, streaming, storage, and AI across connected or disconnected environments.”

With Azure Sphere, the company is “securing millions of microcontroller unit (MCU) IoT devices”. Nadella announced the upcoming release of a new AT&T device built on Azure Sphere, Microsoft’s defence-in-depth IoT platform that mixes hardware, software, and the cloud protect your network and devices. The cellular-enabled guardian device will enable you to securely connect devices via AT&T’s cellular network, “bypassing the need for Wi-Fi.”

Azure Synapse Analytics, an evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse (SQL DV) that got a rebrand at last year’s Ignite, also seems to be gaining traction. “The first and only service that has run all the TPC-H queries at petabyte-scale,” Azure Synapse is a limitless analytics service that brings together enterprise data warehousing and Big Data analytics in a unified experience. Since launching Synapse a year ago, Microsoft has seen “a 500% increase in the number of customers running petabyte-scale work”, according to Nadella.

Over the past few months, the need to understand data in real-time has never been clearer. In the wake of COVID-19, scientists turned to data to try to understand the virus and manufacturers had to pivot their product lines to keep critical supplies in stock. Microsoft’s innovations in Azure are working to meet these urgent needs.

Microsoft is democratizing breakthroughs in AI and automation

Microsoft has been doing fundamental research in AI since the start of Microsoft Research in 1991. But in the past four years, the breakthroughs Microsoft has had in achieving human parity—from object recognition to speech recognition to machine-reading and comprehension—have all been accelerated. “Just last month, our teams achieved human parity in image captioning,” said Nadella. “These breakthroughs are no longer just theoretical.”

Nadella’s focus in the keynote, however, wasn’t the technological achievements themselves; instead, he highlighted the ways that Microsoft is making new technology available to its users, “translating breakthroughs from research and data scientists into capabilities for any developer.”

With Azure AI, Microsoft is “democratizing” those technological breakthroughs by making it easy to add AI to any application. “We’ve providing the best cognitive services to bootstrap AI—making it easier to build applications that see, hear, speak, search, understand, and accelerate decision making.”

Then there’s Azure Communication Services. Microsoft’s response to Twilio, Azure Communication Services lets developers add voice, video, chat, and good old-fashioned telephony to their apps. “Every developer can bring rich communications APIs into their applications across any device on any platform—using the same reliable secure infrastructure that powers Microsoft Teams.” That means that the infrastructure behind Microsoft Teams is now available to developers as APIs they can embed in their own apps.

We’re providing the best cognitive serves to bootstrap AI, making it easier to build applications that see, hear, speak, search, understand, and accelerate decision making.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Ignite 2020 key session: “Building Digital Resilience” Tweet this

But tech intensity requires collaboration between every type of developer. And that’s where Microsoft Power Platform comes in. Nadella calls it “the bridge between professional developers and citizen developers.” A set of no-code tools that encompasses Power Apps (a custom app builder), Power Automate (a workflow automation tool), (Power BI (a data analysis tool), and Power Virtual Agents (a chatbot builder), Power Platform tools are accessible to beginners and integrate seamlessly with the pro dev capabilities in Azure.

Nadella touched on the following Power Platform innovations in the keynote address:

  • With the introduction of Azure API management for Power Apps in Teams, Microsoft is giving pro developers new options to easily build applications inside of Microsoft Teams.
  • Microsoft is adding Azure Bot Framework extensibility for Power Virtual Agents to eliminate the gap between local and pro code bot development.
  • An updated Power BI app in Teams will make it easier to discover organizational data and collaborate on insights directly within the Teams experience.

The message is clear: if organizations are going to be truly resilient and agile, innovation needs to involve everyone. Microsoft’s “democratization” of technologies like AI and automation means that anyone, from citizen to professional developer, can help build digital resilience.

Teams is the future of productivity in Microsoft 365

Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365’s “hub for teamwork”, continues to be central to Microsoft’s vision for the future of productivity.

These past few months have served as the largest at-scale experiment in history for remote work. “We’ve been studying this closely to understand the changing nature of productivity and applying these learnings to inform how we build our products,” said Nadella. “We are creating a system of collaboration for every organization. Core to this is Teams, the platform for work.

Usage and adoption of Teams has soared since the start of the pandemic, and Microsoft has released a steady stream of updates and feature releases in response. Recent innovations to the Teams video meetings experience include Together mode (which uses machine learning to superimpose meeting participants in front of a shared background) and “Dynamic view” (a set of enhancements to video meetings that uses AI to optimize how you see shared content and other participants).

But as Nadella points out, work doesn’t begin and end inside a meeting. With Teams, Microsoft is focused on “the entire workflow around a meeting.”

It’s the only solution with meetings, calls, chat, content collaboration with Office, and business process workflows. And Teams doesn’t just connect people inside the organization. It also seamlessly connects you to customers through video meetings, webinars, remote selling, supply chain, and other scenarios.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Ignite 2020 key session: “Building Digital Resilience”

In his keynote speech, Nadella promised that Microsoft will continue shipping new features each week “for both first-line and knowledge workers.” Meanwhile, an announcement posted to the Microsoft 365 Blog during the keynote provided some additional insight, as well as the following announcements about Microsoft Teams:

  • Microsoft Teams templates: Jumpstart the creation of new teams with templates created for common business scenarios and industry-specific templates. You’ll also be able to create custom templates for your organization, making it easier to standardize team structures and apply best practices.
  • Info pane: Get a summary of active members, important posts pinned by team members, and other relevant information—all at a glance. Helpful for getting new members up to speed fast and keeping current members up to date.
  • New search results experience: Powered by the new Microsoft Search experience (available in late 2020), find messages, people, answers, and files faster and more intuitively.
  • Improved integration with SharePoint: The new SharePoint Home site app for Microsoft Teams will enable you to bring the power of your SharePoint-based intranet home site directly, and seamlessly, into Teams.

Productivity can’t just be about short-term employee output

The changes that have come about in 2020 involve more than product updates and new features. Employees have had to adapt to fully remote work, virtual collaboration, and context collapse as their office moved into their home.

According to Nadella, one-third of remote workers say the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their well-being. And thirty percent of information workers and front-line workers say the pandemic has increased their feeling of burnout at work.

As it turns out, one of the most important aspects of digital resiliency is the need to address employee productivity holistically: “Productivity just can’t be about short-term employee output.”

In a world where you can easily feel isolated, organizations need to equip employees with the tools to rebuild social capital, focus and stay healthy, and they need to better measure and improve employee engagement using tools like workplace analytics.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Ignite 2020 key session: “Building Digital Resilience”

To help employees adapt, Microsoft is bringing new well-being features and productivity insights directly into Microsoft Teams, including:

  • Insights tailored to their role along with recommended actions, making it easier for them to change habits
  • A new “virtual commute” feature to provide structure to the remote workday and help carve out time for cognitive breathers—ensuring a mindful disconnect in the evening and a productive start in the morning
  • New integrations with mindfulness apps like Headspace, to help people tap into dedicated moments of mindfulness during their breaks and reduce work-related stress

It’s refreshing to hear a discussion around making employee mental health and well-being a priority. And in the context of “resilience” as this year’s theme, it makes sense.

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