Our favourite highlights from Microsoft Inspire 2021

Following in the footsteps of last year’s event, Microsoft kicked off Ignite 2021 as an online-only affair once again. Whilst our fingers are crossed that Inspire will return to some form of in-person event for 2022, that doesn’t mean we haven’t enjoyed participating in this year’s conference from the comfort of our homes, offices, and home offices.

 

In this blog post, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest highlights from Microsoft Inspire 2021.

 

Windows in the cloud – a new opportunity for Microsoft Partners

You may be familiar with Azure Virtual Desktop (formerly Windows Virtual Desktop) – Microsoft’s existing “PC in the cloud” technology. The remote desktop solution saw a significant increase in traffic from Microsoft’s enterprise customers throughout the course of the pandemic, serving as a means for employees to access their apps and files from (thin) client devices at home.

 

It’s therefore no surprise to see Microsoft expand upon Azure Virtual Desktop with a more complete solution for a broader range of customers with Windows 365.

 

Windows 365 “introduces a new way to experience Windows 10 or Windows 11 (when it’s available later this calendar year) for businesses of all sizes. Windows 365 takes the operating system to the Microsoft cloud, streaming the full Windows experience — apps, data and settings — to any device” describes Nick Parker, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Global Partner Solutions.

 

And with Windows 365 comes a bunch of new opportunities for Microsoft’s partners. Systems integrators (SIs) and managed service providers (MSPs) can help organizations to make the most of their Windows estates, whilst independent software vendors (ISVs) can build and deliver apps in the cloud to support customers wherever they may work. Hardware partners can also integrate Windows 365 into their portfolio of services alongside feature-rich devices and secure hardware.

 

Windows 365 currently operates on the basis of streaming a full desktop environment to client devices, but it’s not difficult to imagine a future whereby individual apps can be streamed to thin clients instead. That would make it much easier for legacy win32 apps to run on Macs, Android devices, Chromebooks, and maybe even iOS devices if Apple plays ball. Regardless, it’s clear that Microsoft sees remote desktop solutions as an important feature for customers looking to mobilize employees.

 

A fairer commercial marketplace

Speaking of Apple, you may have heard about that snafu between Epic Games and Apple regarding the App Store’s 70/30 revenue split. Well, amidst all that public tension between the two conglomerates, Microsoft revised its own consumer app store policy by decreasing its revenue cut for paid listings. And now that same approach is being applied to Microsoft’s commercial marketplace, which includes the Azure Marketplace and Microsoft AppSource.

 

For all transactable offers in the commercial marketplace, Microsoft will be dropping its industry-standard cut from 20% down to 3% starting this month.

 

It’s a big (and very welcome) change which Microsoft hopes will enable them to do more business with partners in the future. It comes as part of Microsoft’s wider company strategy to do right by developers and make Microsoft platforms the best place to offer apps and services. It makes a lot of sense, and we’re sure many Microsoft partners will be happy to hear this news.

 

Viva updates

We’ve talked previously about Microsoft Viva and its promise to deliver a better online experience for employees. For Microsoft partners, the opportunity to integrate their services with Viva is perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the platform (we’re all up for more Headspace!)

 

At this year’s Inspire, Microsoft gave partners an update on the platform’s status, including new integrations with services such as Workday and Qualtrics, as well as the promise that more APIs will roll out for partners later in the year.

 

Specifically, new Viva Connections APIs will enable partners to integrate with the Viva Connections dashboard, enabling greater discoverability of services within the Viva itself. And Viva Learning APIs will allow learning providers to integrate their content into Teams, Office, and other Microsoft 365 endpoints.

 

Microsoft launched Viva earlier this year, but its plan has always been to expand the platform with additional functionality throughout 2021. This Inspire announcement reinforces that roadmap, and we should expect to see more changes as the hybrid revolution takes off.

 

New partner tools

Last year’s Ignite saw the introduction of Microsoft 365 Lighthouse in private preview – a new tool enabling IT partners to onboard, monitor and manage Microsoft 365 customers from one place. This year, Microsoft is announcing the public preview of Microsoft 365 Lighthouse, available to MSP partners serving SMBs using Microsoft 365 Business Premium.

 

But that’s not all. Project Orland is a new experience for cloud solution providers (CSPs) which enables Microsoft-powered customer insights designed to improve account management. Using actionable guidance, Microsoft anticipates that CSPs will be able to build more effective Customer Lifestyle Management practices “to better acquire, retain, and grow your Microsoft 365 customers”. Launching in private preview, Project Orland will use data models built by Microsoft Data Scientists to surface relevant actions for CSPs to take.

 

Each of these tools are intended to help partners identify new growth and profitability opportunities – further proof that Microsoft sees their partners as a valuable piece of the puzzle when it comes to Microsoft software.

 

Investing in partners for the hybrid future

Microsoft’s Nick Parker described how the company will be investing "more in partners across the company than ever before" during the fiscal year of 2022. In addition to the big Ignite highlights, those investments include new go-to-market and technical benefits such as ISV App License Management, discounted dev environments, and substantially reduced revenue sharing, all of which will enable partners to grow their businesses through unique solutions and rapid scaling with Microsoft. Curated training, one-on-one consultations and marketing resources will also help partners scale their solutions and become titans in the Microsoft partner network.

 

Substance to support the pledge

This year’s Inspire made it clear that Microsoft’s partners will remain an invaluable asset to the company long into the post-Covid work environment. Companies can sometimes fall into the trap of making empty promises or underdelivering on their word, but in this case, we’re glad to see the substance to support their pledge.

 

Each year at Microsoft Inspire, we discover more about the partner network and empower companies to achieve more through their digital marketing strategies. If you want to improve your marketing, get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.


Boost your business: partner with Microsoft (or another leading tech company)

Since Fifty Five and Five was founded in 2014, we’ve worked extensively with Microsoft’s partner companies and with Microsoft itself. It’s no secret that during the agency’s early years, we soon made our name as ‘the Microsoft marketing experts' – a badge we still wear with pride today. Although we've diversified and expanded our client list a great deal since then, we’ll always be glad to be part of Microsoft’s world.

 

Developing a relationship with one of the big players in the tech landscape can do wonders for your business. It can open an entirely new horizon of opportunities, paving your organisation’s path to future growth and success. In this article, I’ll explore the best ways to go about doing that.

 

The value of partner networks

If you want to get closer to one of the industry’s heavy hitters, the first thing you can do is to look at all the other companies who’ve done so. Partner networks such as the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) are full of organisations who had the same goal as you have now. Partner with Microsoft or another tech titan and it can be the start of a highly beneficial arrangement – for both parties.

 

Whether they’re reselling a big brand’s products and services or providing something new that fits into that brand’s ecosystem, partner network members bring their own value to the bigger company’s table. And, in exchange, they receive access to new connections with other partners and affiliates, valuable partner-only resources as well as other benefits. More than enough reasons to hitch your wagon to an industry leader.

 

Making the most of your network membership

Ok, so you’re a partner network member. Now what? It’s time to double down and develop your relationship with the brand even further. You need to demonstrate even greater value and invest even further in cementing your place in this new ecosystem you’re now a part of.

 

Tailor your product or service

In our experience, the tech giants love it when one of their partners creates a new piece of intellectual property (IP) that uses their technology, extends their tools or accelerates customers’ ability to adopt their technology.

 

So, if your product or service can be shaped to do any or all of those things, that will set you in very good stead for a better and closer relationship. You may identify a valuable gap in the market that will appeal to customers within the brand’s ecosystem, as well as your fellow partners – they may want to resell your solution, for instance. Making the right moves here can be a very good – and profitable – thing for everyone.

 

Focus your marketing efforts

When you partner with Microsoft or another big-league brand, your partner status and relationships can be very beneficial to your marketing efforts – but only if you devote enough focus and energy to them. If you’re experts in the big brand’s technology, make sure your customers know that. If you’re a ‘gold partner’, for instance, then don’t just stop at putting a logo in your email signatures – shout it from the rooftops.

 

Microsoft and other brands take partner marketing very seriously, and they provide resources and funds to network members who want to broadcast the merits of their service or solution. So, whatever resources and guidance are available to you: seize them with both hands. They have the potential to boost your marketing efforts a huge amount.

 

Succeeding with partner marketing and growing the relationship

There is a hurdle that can stand in the way of your organisation really making the most of its partner network membership and taking your relationship with the brand as far as you want it to go. Here it is:

 

As mentioned, the most successful tech brands take marketing very seriously indeed. They pay great attention to the intricacies of their branding, for instance – it’s part of how they achieved their success and intend to continue it. They’re likely to have a whole raft of strict guidelines that need to be adhered to, laid out across a sometimes bewildering array of documentation. They are also likely to have defined and documented very specific marketing messaging that’s been carefully developed and will need to be reflected in all your promotional activities as a partner.

 

If your marketing materials don’t hit the mark, they’ll be out of sync with wider campaigns, won’t resonate with customers, and won’t paint a very good picture of your business for your high-flying partner. If it’s too far off the mark, your partner may even reject a proposed marketing campaign or asset entirely – or you could end up mired in endless revisions as you bring it up to scratch. That’s how seriously big technology brands take these matters. Trust us, we know.

 

So, how can you ensure you’ll avoid all the pitfalls and succeed?

 

Stay on-message and on-brand with the right partner marketing strategy

By working with a marketing agency that knows the brand well, they can help you meet all the requirements every time. They’ll help you define and follow a partner marketing strategy that will satisfy all parties – and deliver the best results. You can rest assured that everything you do will fit neatly into your partner’s ecosystem, with all the correct branding and messaging, as well as aligning with your organisation’s own wider strategic and marketing goals.

 

This kind of marketing agency can be an accelerator for long-term growth and success, helping you to nurture your most important relationships—including your technology partners. Ultimately, that may be one of the most valuable aspects of our work.

 

Interested in building your relationship with a technology giant such as Microsoft, or perhaps you want to grow in a particular market? Get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.


Virtual team collaboration, Microsoft Viva and why organisation change doesn't have to suck

For the past year, businesses and workers everywhere have been facing a working situation that can most politely be described as ‘uncertain and fluid’. ‘Change’ has been one of the words that’s defined 2020 and 2021, often combined with the phrase ‘at relatively short notice’. Virtual team collaboration has been the hero of the hour, helping countless people and organisations to keep soldiering on and keep communication going – both externally and internally.

With all this in mind, we’ve been thinking about change and how businesses can best communicate it to employees – from mergers and acquisitions to internal restructuring – as well as how they’re getting it wrong. And (because we’re a tech company as well as a marketing agency) we’ve been mulling over the role technology can play in ensuring organizational change doesn’t, for want of a better word, suck.

Changing the channels

We conducted a survey recently that asked this question: “How has your company communicated organisational change during the pandemic?” Here’s how people responded:

  • Chat (Slack, Teams, etc.): 29%
  • Group video meeting: 29%
  • One-to-one video call: 18%
  • Email: 24%

As you can see, in total more than three quarters of the people we polled said that their organisations communicated change via platforms like Teams and Slack or via video meetings/calls, rather than by email. This is encouraging – it indicates that businesses are taking advantage of the new channels open to them today, not just sticking with email, that overly formal old stalwart of internal comms that’s not too many rungs above a letter.

Organisations – and the creators of the tech they use – are clearly giving some consideration to how remote employee communication can do the job it needs to. That means helping to maintain company culture and unity and ensure change is conveyed and handled well.

Nurturing the life and soul of your business

The release of Microsoft Viva earlier this year shows that Microsoft, for one, has been thinking about how customers can do a better job of employee comms, engagement and support. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Well, maybe a year earlier, but they’re not Nostradamus, are they?

Microsoft says that Viva is designed to help organizations to amplify culture and communications, balance productivity and wellbeing, harness knowledge and expertise, and accelerate skilling and growth. It does this via a series of modules:

  • Connections – curated, company-branded gateway for news, talk and resources
  • Insights – a data-driven, privacy-protected view into productivity and wellbeing
  • Learning – encouraging and empowering employee education and development
  • Topics – organising organizations’ content and expertise and facilitating access

Sounds good, right? We’ll be sure to let you know our verdict when we’ve had a chance to test out this new set of tools over a proper period of time, but right now we can say that Viva looks extremely promising. And if you want to try Viva for yourself, you can learn more about it here.

Our CEO’s advice for internal communications

Like most organizations out there, Fifty Five and Five has handled its own fair share of organisational change during the last twelve months – you’d be surprised if we said we hadn’t, right?

As he captained our ship through the strange and stormy seas of the COVID-19 pandemic, our founder and CEO Chris Wright has his own insights into how best to communicate change. Take it away, Skipper:

  • “Communicating change only via chat messages is 100% the worst idea. Even if it’s harder to do it (nobody likes delivering bad news) change should always be shared face-to-face first or at least video.”
  • “Re-enforcing important messages in posts is fine, but that isn't how people should find out in this kind of information the first place. I think you owe it to people to explain it properly, in your own voice.”
  • “Company-wide change is hard to communicate in one go. I often think it’s best to share news about change with the people who it will have the most impact on first of all. Then tell the wider group.”
  • “Giving people a forum to ask questions is important. People need time to collect their thoughts after the initial announcement, and if you provide more Q&A opportunities, they’ll always think of new questions or remember thing they missed.”

There you have it – while making posts or sending messages via virtual team collaboration tools may be perfect for keeping business going during times of widespread remote working, it’s not the best channel for conveying organization change. For those purposes, there’s no substitute for talking face-to-face – even if those faces might be appearing in video feeds, rather than directly facing each other.

Toba’s tips for communicating organization change

Toba Shahabi is Fifty Five and Five’s Head of Project Management. And as a member of the Leadership Team as well as the Employee Representative, she also plays a central role in communication between management and the rest of the agency.

So, who better to consult on a topic like this? Toba shared her own thoughts on communicating organization change:

  • "Adaptable and fluidity are key. Change should be up for discussion if possible. The idea that the people in your organisation won't have an opinion on a particular change could be a huge oversight. And you as a company should strive to be able to take on feedback about change in a responsive way. Things should be able to adapt towards a more practical and hopefully more efficient future after employees voice their feedback."
  • "Keep it frequent. Adopt a variety of styles of comms to suit different people's preferences. More importantly, provide consistent and frequent touchpoints to check in with employees. This allows leaders to have a pulse on the feelings of the company at any given time. That allow them to either continue or change track depending on positive or negative feedback."
  • "Don’t be a dictatorship. Being rigid in terms of policy and not asking for feedback is a sure way to find your colleagues and employees frustrated and looking for other companies to work for, especially, ones who will listen."

Good advice, I think you’ll agree. Transparency and opportunities for open dialogue are always appreciated – after all, communication is a two-way street. Remembering that is sure to set organisations in good stead – whatever changes they need to communicate, and via whichever methods they choose to communicate it.


How to write a winning Microsoft Partner of the Year award entry

Do you want your company to be awarded Microsoft Partner of the Year? Of course you do, what Microsoft Partner wouldn't? But how do you write an award winning entry for that sort of coveted prize? I'll keep this post short and to the point. You don't. Don't even try.

But of course you do want to win a Microsoft Partner of the Year award. You might not get to walk about Microsoft Inspire with a sash and maybe a flag, the pandemic has again seen to that for another year, but winning is an incredible achievement recognising amazing work on behalf of your clients. So what should you do to succeed? That bit is easy, pay an expert. At this point I could wax lyrical about the benefits of getting an expert in, about the craft of writing, the insight to know what to include and what not to include. But I won't.

Instead let me outline what we offer in our 'Award writing package':

  • Step 1 - We'll help you select the right awards to enter
    We've been writing Microsoft Partner of the Year awards for a long time now. So we'll work with you to select your best work for the most appropriate award categories. There is an art to this, and as we live and breathe Microsoft, we know what to look for.
  • Step 2 - Next we will interview you and your clients
    We've been interviewing clients and writing case study style material for years. So asking the right questions and seeking out the right answers is what we do. It is harder than it looks.
  • Step 3 - We craft the award entry
    This is when our writers craft the actual entry. It's part case study, part adhering to a wide set of rules, and part crafting a story people can buy into. It takes a bit of experience to get right.
  • Step 4 - We take care of all the back and forth
    Edits, client approval, tweaks. Whatever it takes, we take the pain out of the admin for you.
  • Step 5 - We'll advise on what else you need
    Microsoft will encourage you to upload supporting material. What should you provide? What do you have? What should you create? We can advise.

If you have the time to execute something like the above (and have the people to do it) then good luck to you. But if like most companies you are better at doing the award winning work, then writing award winning copy - why not get in touch? We have a history of writing awesome Microsoft Partner of the Year award entries, and for a very reasonable cost. Follow the call to action below or email me direct.


Report cover Digital top 50

Our all new Digital Top 50 Report

We’ve received many enquiries about our Top 50 Report in the last 12 months. Of course, COVID-19 and a virtual Microsoft Inspire have impacted us all somewhat, but we took the circumstances as an opportunity to fast-forward our plans for an all new Digital Top 50. You can find it at https://top50.live or read on to find out more. 

Top 50 goes digital 

So, we’re excited to announce that we will soon be launching the 2020/2021 Microsoft Partner Top 50 – in a brand-new digital form. For the first time, you can: Browse and navigate the Top 50 online, benchmark yourself against competitors, gain even more insights into your digital marketing efforts 

 

“We’ve always prided ourselves on the quality of the data and the rigour of our analysis. Now we’re giving everyone the ability to run their company through our analytics tool and not only find out their scores but also benchmark themselves against their competitors. In real time. For free!” 

 Chris Wright, Founder

Access real data in real time 

And that’s not all. The new Top 50 website will be running in real time, meaning data will be updated on a regular basis. We're also taking this chance to hone our scoring system even further this year. The brain behind our data is smarter, as our analytics engine has been updated to better understand what makes great content – and thus great content marketing. 

 

"The excitement and build up to the final reveal at Inspire grew year on year - Partners eagerly visiting our stand or visiting our website to get their hands on a copy of the Report and find out their position. Now you won't have to wait. Not only can you find out your score but you'll see how that compares to your peers and competitors."

Barnaby Ellis, Head of Creative

Stay competitive and ahead of the curve 

In our current climate, it’s more important than ever before to strategically plan your marketing output. To do this, you need a clear overview of your own strengths and weaknesses – alongside those of competitors in your field. By benchmarking yourself against competitors and accessing our data-driven insights, you’ll be able to track your marketing progress and ultimately improve it. We can help you to stay ahead of the curve and realise your full potential. 


Microsoft Inspire 2020 Satya Nadella highlights

To follow on from our blog about Gavriella Schuster’s opening keynote speech, this post will provide a quick round-up of the topics discussed at Inspire 2020 by Satya Nadella.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, presented a half-hour keynote address at Inspire 2020, the virtual event, before making another appearance in an interview with Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster.

Here we will cover the highlights of his address, including:

  • Microsoft’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • How the partner network will navigate response and recovery
  • The value in Microsoft Teams for remote collaboration
  • The growing need for end-to-end security solutions

"We've been confronted by something unprecedented"

At Inspire 2020, Satya Nadella opened his keynote speech by celebrating the diversity of “our community of partners [and] global sales team.” He paid tribute to every business function, from sales and marketing to finance and operations – thanking them for all their contributions to Microsoft’s ecosystem and its customers.

He reflected upon how we, on a global scale, have been “confronted by something unprecedented” with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic issues of racial injustice and inequity in society. These issues, he stated, require a global response.

Nadella went on to commend the partner network, who he said have shown leadership amid such challenges – helping customers to become more resilient during this time of acute crisis.

“You’ve acted as digital first responders to the first responders, supporting those on the front lines of this pandemic, from healthcare to education to public sector, to critical manufacturing in grocery and retail.”

He continued to explain that, as we navigate the response, recovery and reimagine phases, we all have a collective opportunity and responsibility to define what comes next.

“It won’t be business as usual”

Nadella told his virtual audience how important it was to develop an acute sense of what should be rebuilt, and what needs reimagining. He also stated that the pandemic had accelerated a shift to the cloud – with 89% of CIO’s claiming they would hasten their public cloud investments. This figure, he went on, was at 54% prior to the pandemic.

The Microsoft Partner Network, Nadella explained, can build more successful businesses across fast growing areas like Teams, security and Azure.

“For Microsoft to do well, you all as partners have to do well. That’s ingrained in our business model...that’s why I always talk about us being a partner led company.”

“The hub of teamwork in Microsoft 365”

A key tenet of Nadella’s message at Inspire this year focused on Microsoft Teams. He outlined new and forthcoming updates for the app, including the Together Mode, due to launch this month. This new functionality, he explained, uses AI to digitally place participants in a shared background – making users feel as though they are sitting in the same room while reducing background distractions and making it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues often missed on video call.

“Our research shows that the brain exerts less effort when participating in a meeting using the Together Mode, compared to the standard grid view.”

“Businesses of all sizes depend on partners to provide critical security and compliance”

Nadella highlighted how Microsoft is helping customers protect sensitive information and meet compliance requirements. He referenced the new Endpoint Data Loss Prevention in Microsoft 365 which helps businesses to identify and protect information and data across all endpoints.

He discussed how security is a strategic priority for every organisation and that the shift to remote work only increases the need for an integrated zero trust security architecture that reduces complexity and cost.

“We’re the only company that offers integrated end-to-end capabilities across security compliance as well as identity powered by cloud intelligence.”

Nadella explained that Microsoft received eight trillion threat signals each day, and that COVID-19 has made the situation much more acute. Cybercriminals, he said, have exploited the fear and vulnerability created by the pandemic to scam people and organisations for personal information.

It's up to the partner network, he continued, to provide the end-to-end security solutions that are so crucial and essential for business across all industries.

"Microsoft is innovating to address customer needs across the cloud and edge”

Nadella turned to Azure and pointed to its AI and responsible machine-learning capabilities, which can help customers better understand, control and protect data and models. He referenced the multiple functionalities of Azure that make AI accessible and allow companies of all sizes to automate solutions and improve productivity.

“We are the only cloud that extends to the edge, from Azure edge zones for 5G to Azure Sphere for secure IoT – and we’re removing barriers for anyone who wants to migrate to the cloud by addressing their data sovereignty and regulatory needs.”

He concluded this point by highlighting how Microsoft are using such technology to make a positive impact in the world – encouraged by the “enormous potential for partners to have a local impact that ultimately has a profound global impact.”

Inspired by our Inspire 2020 Satya Nadella roundup?

Nadella’s key takeaways shine a positive light on the work being done by the Microsoft Partner Network. He highlighted the need for continual growth, innovation and the importance of staying connected so that communities around the world can build business resilience in these trying times.

Everyday innovation, from COVID-19 symptom checking bots to remote assistance working, has helped businesses, services and communities round the world adapt faster than ever to business continuity and resilience.

We learn about exciting developments in the Microsoft Partner Network each year at Inspire. With these insights, we help companies to realise their ambitions and achieve more through their digital marketing efforts. If you’d like to improve your marketing, drop us a line today.


Inspire 2020: The future of remote work takes centre stage

Like much of what’s happened this year, Inspire 2020 turned out a little differently from what we originally expected. Since 2018, the annual event has taken place in Las Vegas. This year, however, it took place in our homes, transmitted via laptop screens, phones and other portable devices. It was perhaps fitting therefore that the theme of this year’s conference was the future of remote work – and how Microsoft is supporting businesses in their remote working journey.

In this blog, we take a look through some of the key takeaways from the Inspire 2020 conference and consider how that will affect the direction of travel for the Microsoft Partner Network over the next year.

The rise of Microsoft Teams

No conversation about the future of remote work could be complete without a mention of Microsoft Teams. Before 2020, Microsoft Teams was already one of the most popular pieces of Microsoft software. Since the global lockdown, however, it’s only risen in popularity, with companies now relying on the software as a vital part of their business continuity plans.

In his keynote speech, Nadella acknowledged the significant rise in the popularity of the software, giving examples of businesses as diverse as a Miami based florist, L’Oreal, and the University of Texas now relying on it to keep going during the pandemic. The latter of this group have moved around 13,000 classes online since the going into lockdown.

Nadella also announced several new features to Teams, including ‘together mode’. This feature uses AI to digitally recreate the impression of being in a shared space with colleagues, reducing background distractions and making it easier for people to communicate. At a time when, for many, physical collaboration is impossible, Teams is working to bring people closer together.

Focus on: The Power Platform

We’ve heard plenty about how Microsoft Teams and similar software has helped countless businesses keep going during the pandemic. But it’s not the only Microsoft technology that’s featured prominently in the Inspire chatter over the last few weeks. The Power Platform, and in particular PowerApps, has enabled businesses everywhere to transfer more complicated processes into the remote working world.

Much of enabling remote work involves installing the right videoconferencing software and scheduling the right meetings. But not everything is quite this simple, as Nadella outlined when discussing the case of T-Mobile. After having been designated an essential service, they realized they’d need a way to share information about which employees were willing to work and where.

PowerApps: the unsung hero
Within 48 hours, PowerApps allowed the mobile communications company to build an app that encouraged employees to give information about their availability, location and willingness to work. This meant that the company had the information to complete this complicated re-allocation of staff, allowing the maximum number of employees to stay working, and enabling business continuity for T-Mobile.

All over the world, PowerApps is allowing companies to solve complex problems that would have otherwise made remote working either difficult or impossible. One of the vital takeaways of the Inspire 2020 conference is the emphasis that Microsoft is placing on those unsung heroes like PowerApps that have helped keep businesses afloat during this time.

The future of security and compliance

Earlier this year, companies were forced to facilitate remote working in the space of just a few short weeks. That means security, access and compliance has been top of every IT or network managers’ list of concerns ever since. As remote working is almost certain to be a fixture of working for the foreseeable future, this year’s Inspire conference featured a renewed focus on how companies can enable this safely. As Nadella said:

“The shift to remote working only increases the need for an integrated zero trust security architecture that reduces both the cost as well as complexity”.

Relying on people to remember information or maintain best practices is an inherently risky way of staying secure, which is why it’s so much more effective to build a security system that doesn’t require this. Using AI-powered risk-based, and multi-factor authentication, technology companies can start to build a truly secure IT system.

Planning for the future of remote work

For some time, enabling better mobility and remote work has been consistently discussed as vital trends in the partner network and wider technology world. The events of 2020 haven’t forced a drastic change in direction but they have provided a fresh stimulus, meaning the need for change is now more important than ever.

It’s clear that for Microsoft the future of remote work lies in supporting as many businesses as possible through their transition to a new way of working. And for partners, there is clearly vast business potential in helping transmit this ambition and direction directly to the customers that it will benefit.

If you need help communicating your message and direction to your customers, get in touch. We help technology providers of all shapes and sizes realise their ambitions.


Microsoft Inspire 2020: keynote takeaways

Microsoft Inspire 2020 kicked off on Tuesday – this time in an online-only format. Like the rest of the partner network, we were disappointed to miss out on attending in person (last year, Queen and Adam Lambert played – yes, it was epic). But it hasn’t stopped us from enjoying the highlights from the comfort of our homes. Vegas will still be there next year.

As well as the Nevada sunshine and musical headliners, another regular highlight at the Microsoft conference are the annual keynote addresses. In case you missed it, we’ve put together the main Inspire 2020 keynote takeaways from the speakers on the first day, which was led by Gavriella Schuster (Microsoft Corporate VP of Commercial Partners) Judson Althoff, (Executive VP of Worldwide Commercial Business) and Nick Parker (Corporate VP of Consumer and Device Sales).

The COVID-19 pandemic

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic was a central talking point for this year’s event. The speakers celebrated frontline workers throughout – highlighting how they continue to make daily life possible. Schuster, Althoff and Parker also commended the many Microsoft partners that have built solutions to help the world adapt to these trying times.

Althoff referred to the ‘digital first responders’ behind frontline workers – those that have built rapid solutions to make continued education, remote working and accessing necessary services possible. He praised these people for connecting the world digitally and helping communities to move forwards.

Accelerating the cloud shift

Althoff explained that the growth of the cloud is still crucial in helping customers achieve their economic goals:

‘Our solution areas, our cloud capabilities – from modern workplace through security, business applications, apps and infrastructure, data and AI – across Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure – these are the ingredients that will help customers persevere in these difficult times.’

He continued by explaining that the world needs this innovation now more than ever. He called on partners to help in addressing customers’ needs – whether they have the consulting practices that bring these virtual solutions to life, or the assets and intellectual property as an independent software vendor (ISV) or software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider.

Opportunities for remote working

On the topic of remote working solutions, Schuster explained that the pandemic has changed the way we work forever. She referenced how demand for Microsoft Teams has surged, and highlighted how the real transformation could be seen when customers learnt the ‘full value of Microsoft 365 as a secure, remote work collaboration solution.’

To expand on this point, Schuster turned to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) as a notable opportunity for partners moving forwards:

‘With WVD, organisations can get up and running in minutes from the Azure portal. You have the flexibility to choose the virtual machines, the regional locations, and you can set up multi sessions for the users...You can manage that environment and turn it into a managed service opportunity – without much heavy lifting.’

Moving towards Managed Services

Schuster told her audience that now is the right time to meet customers where they are. She said that, with customers uneasy about big up-front costs, it’s possible to develop a managed service practice and show up as a hero to the customer.

‘What happens if you don’t take this step? Now may be the time. Maybe this year, your investors are expecting a little less from you, and the customers are asking for monthly terms. You can make the investment into managed services that will help your customers and build your business long-term. And if you don’t have the resources for all this support, this is a great opportunity to partner together.’

Partners were ready for this moment

Perhaps the most inspiring part of this keynote was Schuster’s comments on the Microsoft partner ecosystem. She explained that, while there is uncertainty all around, the MPN manage it by creating certainty – wherever they can:

‘You were built for this moment in time. You are the certainty...we were ready because the solutions we’ve been building together over the last 18 months are the same ones our customers need right now – solutions and services around remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migrations.’

Each year at Microsoft Inspire, we discover more about the partner network and empower companies to achieve more through their digital marketing strategies. If you want to improve your marketing get in touch with the team at Fifty Five and Five today.


Meet the team: Alex, writer

Today, we’ll have a chat with Alex Carnegie, a writer in our content team. Alex will tell us a bit about his working life and the insights he brings to our client base here at Fifty Five and Five.  

Hi Alex! Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m Alex Carnegie, a writer at Fifty Five and FiveI come up with ideas and write copy for our clients’ content and campaigns. That can include website copy, articles, eBooks and whitepapers, as well as ad copy, social media and really anything else that pops up 

Who do you report to? 

I report to our Head of Content Stephen Reilly, who oversees anything we do with words in itOf all my colleagues, I’d say I work most closely with other writers, but my job takes me all around the agency. Most days I’m collaborating with designers, SEO specialists and the accounts team.  

Describe a typical working day 

It all starts with a coffee and checking my to do list. The longer the list, the stronger the coffee, generally. The main chunk of most of my day is sat at a computer, creating content and working on campaign concepts. This ranges across many different clients, which is great because it provides a lot of variety. Alongside that, I’ll also edit and proof-read other writers’ work, using the full Microsoft Word comment functionality. Some would perhaps say too much use… 

Sometimes, an entire day of time can be reserved to one client, for instance working on a big website project. For work like this, simply getting a hold on all the moving parts is a task in itself, there’s a lot of collaboration with our web design and development team. We spend a lot of time keeping complex projects like this moving, avoiding bottlenecks in communication or one person waiting for something from someone else before they can get their work done. I’ve no idea how project managers are able to keep all these plates spinning at once.  

What skills do you think are needed to be good in your role as a writer? 

The obvious one here is attention to detail in writing and a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of language. Spelling, grammar and generally knowing how to construct an effective sentence. But really, that’s the bare minimum. To write copy that’s engaging, persuasive and achieves what it sets out to, you have to really enjoy writing – even if the subject matter is challenging. This comes across in the final piece and helps you to find creative ways to say things, creative concepts, and make the work stand out. It’s more of a mindset than a skillset.  

In terms of writing skills, you need to be able to express your message, without leaving anything out, and still make an impact – often within a fairly tight structure. Writing banner ads and social copy is good training for this; it teaches you to write good copy and clear meaning within rigid character limits. Website copy is similar – another format that has to be very immediate punchy and attention grabbing.  

What do you love about your job?

Writing, as obvious as that sounds. There’s a sheer joy in finding the best way to say something, which gets the message across and does so smoothly, vividly, sometimes funnily, sometimes seriously and hopefully enjoyably. There are few things more satisfying than hitting the ‘Enter’ key after you’ve just written something really good. That’s why I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.  

What’s the hardest part? 

Writing. When the right word or phrase has eluded you for an hour and is still nowhere to be found… it can be tough. A lot of writing is just staring at a blank page, and the gears are turning but no words are appearing. And then suddenly everything will come together at once and you’re left thinking ‘wow, it really took me half an hour to write that paragraph?’ But, as they say, the only way out is through – so you just have to keep trying ‘till you get there. 

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a writer?

Make your peace with criticism; you’re going to get a lot of it as a writer. Some will be constructive, some less so, some will be more pointed than it needs to be, some will be genuinely frustrating and some of it will be just plain wrong. Many new writers get into a trap of seeing criticism as something they have to defend against, getting stuck in an endless cycle of taking criticism to heart and arguing with it. It’s much easier for everyone if you get used to the fact that you’ll get a lot of criticism – and try and take it in a constructive spirit.  

A comment or question might seem quite cutting in the black and white comment box – but at the end of the day we’re all trying to do good work. Don’t lose sight of that.  


Illustration women holding placards

Licences to kill: Changes to Office 365 licence types, from Office 365 to Microsoft 365

Something Earth-shattering has happened in the Microsoft world. From the 1st of May 2020, the tech giant’s flagship productivity suite Office 365 became Microsoft 365. We’ll explain what these changes to Office 365 licence types mean for businesses – and also consumers – and explore how this fits into a wider trend for Microsoft. Read on to learn more.

What’s in a name?  

Microsoft 365 has already existed for businesses since way back in 2017. That was when Microsoft first bundled Office 365, Windows 10 and more into one package: a step that many would describe as bringing us all closer to Microsoft-as-a-Service. More on that later.   

With so much overlap between the two offerings, abandoning Office 365 and going all-in with Microsoft 365 addresses customer confusion. As well as Office, the original Microsoft 365 package also included Windows 10, as well as Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security – a big draw for customers as well. This move is intended to simplify things, focus Microsoft’s offerings, and make it clearer for customers what’s available and what they should choose.     

The reinvented Microsoft 365 now offers all Microsoft’s indispensable business tools packaged in a series of tiers, from ‘basic’ to premium’. These new tiers correspond with the existing Office 365 packages. For instance, Office 365 Business Essentials is now Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Check out the table below to see how they’ve been grouped.  

Don’t panic! 

OK, we’re sorry for alarming you earlier. Maybe ‘Earth-shattering’ was a little over the top. Existing Office 365 subscribers don’t need to worry. As you can see, there are no changes to which Microsoft apps, services and features you receive. And the prices haven’t changed, either. Customers don’t need to do anything to move to Microsoft 365 – your subscription updates automatically.  

These changes to how Microsoft’s products and services are positioned may take some getting used to. It’s possible there could be more in the future as Microsoft refines their portfolio further. But for now, if you’re a Microsoft reseller or you work elsewhere in the Microsoft 365 or Office 365 ecosystem, there shouldn’t be too much disruption to your business.  

And there’s good news for new customers looking to get on board with the new Microsoft 365. Microsoft has announced that it’s offering small businesses six months’ free Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Right now, many organisations are grappling with the need to move to remote working as quickly as possible, catalysed by social distancing and the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. Right now, businesses need all the help they can get to maximise productivity and stay on track, so this will come as welcome news to many.  

Microsoft 365 for personal and family users 

The changes in Microsoft’s enterprise offerings are also accompanied by changes in the consumer sphere. Although businesses have been on board with Microsoft 365 for some years now, personal and family subscriptions are finally following suit with the arrival of Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.  

Microsoft has called the new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family ‘the subscription service for your life’. They’re packaging up everything for consumers, including the latest desktop and browser-based Office apps, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage per person, 60 minutes of Skype calling, as well as advanced security features and tech support.  

Personal and family users will also have access to a range of new AI and cloud-powered features. They’ll receive more than 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons for use in Word and Excel. They also get more than 200 new templates for Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

MS Office features  

Microsoft’s Editor writing assistant is also coming to Word and Outlook.com, as well as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge Extensions. Forthcoming Excel features include Money, which helps consumers to track, manage and analyse their spending. And PowerPoint now includes the AI-driven Presenter Coach, which looks at tone of voice and grammar, helping people to give better presentations.  

There is also new functionality planned for outlook, bringing together personal and work calendars so users can better manage commitments in their working and personal lives. And a new Microsoft Family Safety app for Android and iOS allows families to manage screen time across Windows and Android devices, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. Parents can easily monitor their children’s internet usage and gaming, set limits, and keep them away from age-inappropriate content. It also provides location sharing to help keep tabs on everyone and keep them safe.  

Changes to Office 365 licence types: The latest step toward Microsoft-as-a-Service 

Thchanges to Office 365 licence types is Microsoft’s latest move toward simplifying and consolidating their branding and services. It’s part of a trajectory that began when they first introduced Office 365 in 2011. When Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon announced at Inspire 2015 that Windows 10 would be the ‘last version of Windows’, it was another sign of where the future is headed: Microsoft-as-a-Service.  

Enterprise customers have had a while to get to grips with the as-a-service model and its numerous benefits. For instance: swapping sporadic, larger capital expenditures (CapEx) for smaller, regular and more easily planned and managed operating expenses (OpEx). Spotify, Netflix and other services have already gotten consumers used to consuming their digital content on a subscription basis, from consolidated sources. It seems Microsoft has decided that they’re now ready to extend this to their operating system as well as their word processor, spreadsheet, and other tools.  

Powered by the cloud revolution, this paradigm shift in the way we pay for and use our technology is changing everything, and it’s the way the wind’s been blowing for some time. We’re interested to see where the road will ultimately take us.