WPC 2014 Insider Perspective

WPC 2014

WPC, otherwise known as the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, was again a huge event this year with over 16,000 attendees descending on Washington D.C. July 13-17. This was my 8th WPC since first attending in 2003. Having traveled most of the nation, D.C. was one of the few cities I hadn’t previously visited. The historic landmarks made an impressive backdrop and the weather was warm, but nothing like the heat of Oklahoma.

Nobody does a conference as well as Microsoft, especially on such a large scale. In 20 minutes I was back in my hotel room, having registered and purchased the Surface 3 conference deal. The WPC app let you schedule the ten different sessions you could do each hour in seconds, while providing you full event information. Every aspect was well staffed and executed with an army of Microsoft people everywhere, including audio-visual techs in each of the hundreds of meeting rooms. From training sessions to evening parties at over a dozen famous venues, the longest I ever waited was for the light to change crossing the street.

Even though there are over 300 Microsoft Partners in the state of Oklahoma, I only ran into one other Sooner. This is not surprising, as IDC still reports that 70% of technology firms are not profitable. Microsoft also reports that only 3.5% of the 640,000 global Microsoft partners transact cloud services. Most partners can’t afford to go, much less spend one second away from their business without it going under. Unfortunately for clients, those same technologists also don’t have time for the continuing education in an industry that changes 10 times faster than any other. The partners that say “I’ll just get everything from digitalwpc.com”, never set aside the 40 hours to review – not to mention comparing experiences with other partners or meeting with key Microsoft personnel.

The tracks this year were:

  • Leadership, Sales & Marketing. I suppose these areas were grouped together because technology people generally have no clue about business, but leadership is and always will be a separate category. For certain today, sales is DEAD and you simply market and tell a story. Traditional sales people are absurdly ineffective with huge bravado, while being perpetually terrified about answering technology questions. Customers hate being sold, but love to buy from the people that are different. Your website better be mobile optimized and your look and story better be different than your competitors.
  • Mobility & Devices. 14% is the current market share of Windows devices in smartphones and tablets. Snicker if you want, but a Surface 3 does twice what an iPad and Mac Air do together for less than half the cost. Many of our clients are already deploying Surface 3 as the only equipment for employees, instead of  traditional desktop, notebook, and tablet combination. I’ll take my Windows Phone over a Droid or iPhone any time. The biggest exposure for both Google and Apple is security. Microsoft is decades ahead with fewer vulnerabilities and secure device management using Windows Intune.
  • Cloud. The winners will be Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Microsoft Online Services will soon pass the $2 Billion annual revenue mark. While the mantra was that cloud partners make more money, this statement is only true if you’ve been doing it for the past 5 years and have the volume of 5,000 subscribers or more. On-premise solutions are twice as profitable for partners. Customers should utilize partners that have been doing cloud for at least 5 years and traditional partners better stick to what they know or go bankrupt trying to catch up.
  • Enterprise Social. Somehow you found this blog and I’d say that Matrixforce is better than average at social media, but not yet stellar. Social is definitely not going away and no matter what you do, some employees don’t know what is going on without this curious medium. Some of the best information I’ve gotten about Microsoft solutions and offerings has come from Yamjams (kind of like a Reddit IAmA discussion over an hour), in spite of all the e-mails and websites. Overwhelmingly, the best demo of the conference was using Skype real-time translation, where the presenter on stage spoke in English to a woman in Berlin speaking German.
  • Big Data. Microsoft is ahead of the times, with offerings like Power BI (Business Intelligence) to take a series of spreadsheets and quickly create key performance dashboards. Established businesses have been clamoring for a way to make sense of massive information, but small business either won’t be mature enough to appreciate or will need to help to utilize.

More than anything this year, Microsoft continues to demonstrate the ability to adapt and tell their own story such as 88 Acres. While Apple churns out the next Mac and iPhone with no new benefits and Google just continues to increase ad costs, Microsoft is differentiating with productivity and security for business and consumers.

Although most Microsoft detractors are currently dumbfounded by Microsoft’s continued and improving profitability, some in the press couldn’t resist throwing some dirt and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) during WPC. Business Insider released Microsoft to Cut 18,000 Jobs trying to suggest that Microsoft is doing poorly. The first comment hysterically states Microsoft won’t exist in 20 years and then the comments degrade to discussions about H1B workers, even though the article explains that Nokia employees are being downsized from the acquisition. CNBC tried to keep Apple relevant with Apple, IBM in massive enterprise hardware, software partnership. Let’s take an unsecured device and unknown app and try to do business. Besides, IBM makes it money from consulting and financial services today.

Satya Nadella ended the final day keynote with the Nietzsche quote “Courage in the face of reality”. The meaning was really more for partners, as Microsoft has already made the transition to devices and services. The transformation is amazing given the massive size of Microsoft. Maybe Microsoft is using the Mike Michalowicz Pumpin Plan to kill off most partners leaving the 25,000 or so that truly help customers and Microsoft.

My focus for WPC was Azure and digital marketing, two things mid-sized businesses can’t afford to misunderstand. I’ll be briefing Guardian clients during CIO Reviews and if you’d like to know more about what I learned at WPC, please ask questions in the comments below.

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Yammer Curiosity

Yammer LogoIf you don’t know about Yammer, it’s effectively the Facebook for business – recently purchased by Microsoft and now included free in every Office 365 subscription.

Given this one fact, many people think “Social Media? No Way.” and promptly run away. Of those remaining, the majority have LinkedIn or some business features of the various other social networks and can’t fathom the use of something else internally.

Well that’s the rub. Yammer isn’t just internal. Plus, the communication in most organizations ranges from poor to terrible - despite phone systems, e-mail, and instant messaging. Yammer can be used to build relationships and provide more value to customers and vendors. Let’s face it. Your desk phone will soon meet the same demise as your home phone. Instant messaging is intrusive and e-mail takes the bulk of your time and focus with only 1% of messages useful.

Yammer is about curiosity. Yammer is a better approach to keep up with people and information on your schedule, rather than the flood of near defunct 40-year-old e-mail. If you don’t update your skills beyond current mundane tasks, they will be automated or outsourced in 3 years or less.

Businesses need a better way to keep up with the rapid pace of change. You need to work smarter and faster. Learn more about Yammer and start sparking new and innovative ideas today.

Technology Writers on Notice in 2014

2014 LogoIf you’re a journalist in the technology industry, then one of your resolutions should be to get your act together. Let’s start with Christopher Mims’ 2013 Was a Lost Year for Tech. In a word PATHETIC.

Mims doesn’t work in the industry, but had a deadline and went to a tired formula of: negative, salute to the favorites for advertising, trivialize the new, bash Microsoft for fun, and tell the industry it’s arrogant.

For the record, technology has been the main industry that has brought the U.S. economy back. Like in most years, it’s really the software that was the story and not the stray gadgets like wearables. Why pay homage to Apple, while giving back-handed comments about Google and Microsoft?

The tired “Microsoft is evil and the PC industry is dead mantra” just screams out of touch. Microsoft wrote off $900 Million for Surface RT, but that pales greatly to the $29 Billion in iPhones unsold in the channel by Sprint and Verizon. Smartphones and tablets proliferate, but maybe since Microsoft supports popular products like XP for over a decade people are simply keeping their computers longer? Microsoft killed the stack rating nearly 2 months before the Mims bashing comments.

Yes, there were acquisitions and mergers that are usually lauded in other industries. Instead of discussing how Silicon Valley has hurt manufacturing and jobs, why not talk about 3D printing that will make us competitive again? Mims redeems himself somewhat with insight on social media and the NSA, but the damage was already done.

Go write for the tabloids if you just want to cause controversy. Your job is to report the facts and give something helpful for your audience. Cut the crap with the tired old formula, as my resolution this year is to regularly expose such drivel.

2013 Virtual CIO Blog Review

This is the annual report from WordPress.com. Blog posts increased to weekly, page views nearly doubled versus last year, and the most notable referring site was LinkedIn. Obviously, no one got the April Fools joke and interestingly several of the most popular posts were from the prior year:

  1. WordPress.com Google Authorship (November 2012) – Author rank will be one of the most important aspects of content marketing in 2013.
  2. SEO Sabotage (September 2012) - For the effort involved, you could definitely work on improving your own content and value to customers. Hopefully, tools like the Google Hummingbird will eliminate this pending cottage industry.
  3. Ballmer and Microsoft Misconceptions (August 2013) – A short review of mainstream media referenced as obviously doing no fact checking.
  4. iPhone 5 Flop (September 2012) – Apple sold millions of the new device, but failed to meet sales expectations. Maps was a huge debacle, battery life is still bad, iTunes continues to wipe data, and e-mail ActiveSync problems remain.  Apple stock is still down overall and the hip and young crowd no longer think Apple is cool.
  5. Java Fades to Oblivion (January 2013) – The year started with CNN reporting on yet another Java vulnerability. Java developers continue to dwindle, Java updates rarely work as the bane of security audits, and the world will be a safer and simpler place without Java.
  6. 10 Modern About Page Tips (January 2013)  - Approach and presentation is dramatically different from the 5 paragraphs of boring text.
  7. 25 Expert WordPress.com Principles (January 2013) – Get to writing, avoid common mistakes, and accelerate your success.
  8. 10 Things to Know About Microsoft Partners (April 2013) – 20 years of insight about being a Microsoft Partner revealed.
  9. Authorship: Does Your Baloney Have A First Name? (September 2013) – Why would anyone believe anything from a nameless and faceless author?
  10. Testimonials Are Contrived (October 2013) – Testimonials are just another commercial.

THANK YOU for following this blog and I look forward to providing more expert business, marketing, and technology insight for 2014!

HubPages Pursuit

HubPages App IconHubPages is an a community site for writing, pictures, and video. The content ranges from art to technology and most things in between. This unique platform gives you another piece of the web to promote your products and services in an interesting format.

HubPages has been around since 2006 and unlike a blog, you can have hubs about various topics. Your motivation should really be about providing something different while improving your skills. Almost no one gets rich from writing, even though there is a great deal of information about ad revenue, affiliate programs, and increasing traffic. After blogging for nearly 5 years and working with Squidoo for a year, here are my initial impressions:

  • A stellar hub or post has: an attractive format, succinct and compelling summary, minimum of 1,150 words, minimum of 3 photos, at least one video or podcast, at least one map or table, and at least one quiz or poll.
  • HubPages is rewarding for accolades in hub views, number of followers, questions made, questions answered, and best answers. There is also the Hub of the Day and Annual Hubbie Awards.
  • 10 hubs is the level you must be at to be established and the highest accolade for number of hubs is 10,000!
  • You can create a niche with a Hub Group and there is plenty of information about linking and being search friendly.
  • It’s a mostly a family place with no sex, hate, gambling, illegal downloads, or affiliate marketing topics allowed.
  • If you have some videos or podcasts already, then you are ahead of the game for content.
  • Images must be properly attributed to the source and author. To make Hub of the Day, the first graphic must be sharp and clear and originally 800 pixels wide by 600 pixels tall.
  • One of the best features of HubPages is Following for Topics and even other Hubbers, because you get feeds on your interests, along with a perspective and feedback opportunity of like-minded authors.

Since there is not much information published about it, my first hub is Visual Studio Bootstrap Journey.

Innotech Oklahoma Technology Bubble

Innotech Oklahoma Image

Innotech Okahoma for 2013 was the culmination of another technology bubble that’s already burst. The Cox Convention Center was a great venue, that with the matching Ford Arena will draw regional events from larger metropolitan areas like Dallas and Kansas City for some years to come. The Innotech personnel were top-notch and their expertise for putting on events always shows.

However, it didn’t matter as November 7, 2013 in Oklahoma City was when the technology industry imploded once again. The cause is mainly a disconnect from reality for both the public and the technology channel. There are over 35,000 businesses in the city proper of both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In start contrast, attendance was a minimal 1,000 or so attendees.

It’s amazing that virtually no one can do their job or have any quality of life without technology, yet Continuing Professional Education (CPE) in technology represents only 1% of content and most working adults only get the wash of cable TV as learning after their formative years. The major part of the huge apathy is misconception of “Innotech is just for geeks right?”.

As a speaker and exhibitor, many of the comments were also telling like “People get fired for even mentioning the word cloud” or a smirking “Aren’t you embarrassed to represent Microsoft Cloud Services?”.  It doesn’t matter what type of organization, you will never even get close to offering the security or compliance of Microsoft. With Office 365 alone running a nearly $2 Billion per year run rate, detractors are as foolish as they are ignorant.

The booth next door was a staffing firm that paid to have the Thunder’s Rumble as a draw. Staffing dominates the Oklahoma technology channel, with large employers paying outrageous fees for inordinate salaries. Meanwhile old technology and basic infrastructure jobs are being decimated nationally. In an industry where good people are always in demand, it’s frequently puzzled me why you would hire an employee through a staffing agency. The prospective employee doesn’t have the ability to get their own job versus other candidates. Plus, that person and the staffing agency are simply motivated to go to another unsuspecting company as soon as possible for higher salary and fees.

Twitter has a multi-billion dollar IPO for a web site that hosts text messaging. Big industry players are buying small companies with unknown value for billions as well. Haven’t we heard all of this just 10 years before? How long can Wall Street continue to tell investors that the iPad Mini and Gold iPhone really are different from the iPad and iPhone of 2007?

For all of these reasons, it’s official. The technology bubble has burst and it’s reached the conservative center of the nation. Next year the Innotech should be in south Tulsa away from downtown and government employees who can spend no money, perpetually captured by beltway bandit contracts. Tulsa is generally 10 years ahead of Oklahoma City in technology and business savvy, and I’m betting attendance will be much better next year in a growing over-taxed and high unemployment economy.

Horrific Technology Expectations

Frightening House In MoonlightAlthough it’s Halloween, most people have horrific technology expectations all year round. Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified for 3 1/2 hours before the House Energy and Commerce Committee concerning Obamacare implementation. Being a former insurance commissioner, Sebelius knows insurance and is very articulate. However, the damage was already done. Her only choice was to apologize profusely, accept blame, explain where possible, and pledge to do better.

Putting political views aside, expectation levels were set far too high on the implementation of Obamacare. In fact, the spectacle televised yesterday is a common occurrence in businesses large and small around the world every day. The only difference is that there is no video of the carnage.

Pick any technology project and various camps have their own agenda. For whatever reason, software troubles tend to be personal. With any hint of problems, the attack is always on who is to blame. It’s a fruitless endeavor as the real issue is correcting problems and preventing similar mistakes in the future. The first and on-going mistake is failing to set reasonable expectations upfront, and communicating potential pitfalls throughout.

If the message from the President had set a different tone and progress regularly communicated, then the nation wouldn’t be quite so upset at this late juncture:

We are embarking on one of the greatest endeavors of our time to build one of the largest and most sophisticated systems to provide affordable healthcare options to everyone. The timeline is aggressive and at startup, there will be more people accessing the system than the largest websites in the world combined. The demand will be high and we anticipate some potential glitches, but are committed to providing this service and appreciate your support and patience.

Timeframes and budget are difficult to control in large technology projects. You’re not building a road. There are dozens of more things out of your control. Sebelius drew a line in the sand for when all the problems would be resolved. Like in Obamacare fails with custom code, there is a high likelihood that new needs will surface as “problems” and trigger more costs now and for pending upgrades in just a few years.

Perhaps all of the above is Project Management 101, but we’re missing another basic understanding. It’s amazing that after nearly 70 years, there is no general term for people who provide technology that parallels attorney, doctor, or accountant. No Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) exists for the majority of the technology industry either. Since technology will increasingly be at the forefront of virtually every modern issue, maybe this oversight should be corrected soon?

Mavericks Free Myth

OS X Mavericks LogoThe mainstream media has definitely missed the mark concerning Apple’s new Mavericks operating system for the Mac being free. You can read the views from Wired like “Apple Just Ended the Era of Paid OSes” or Bloomberg with “Why Apple Wants Its Software to Be Free“.

There are a few things to set straight:

  1. Apple copied Microsoft. Windows 8.1 was released before Mavericks and is free to all Windows 8 users or those with Software Assurance.
  2. Operating Systems are free on all tablets. For sure, it’s likely baked into the price. However, there is no separate operating system cost when you buy Microsoft Surface, Google Nexus, or Apple iPad.
  3. Mavericks is the last Mac OS. Apple dropped “Computer” from the name in 2007. A Mac is just another PC-like device. Development going forward is strictly iOS.
  4. Apple is behind providing free services to consumers. Consumer services like Microsoft Live and Google Gmail have been free for many years. Apple is just catching up with offerings like iWork.

Apple wants to be your prestige status symbol from smartphones to watches and TVs, along with growing more media services like iTunes. Microsoft makes software, is starting to dominate online services, and expanding in consumer devices beyond Xbox with Surface. Google makes money from advertising and all of their products consume some type of search as the hook.

Let’s not get confused about the free Mavericks being an innovative concept from Apple, or that it is somehow an attack on Microsoft or Google.

Obamacare Fails with Custom Code

Obamacare LogoThe utopian concept of taking care of everyone is a great ideal, but cost and execution are the debate. One of the main business and technical problems is that Obamacare fails with custom code.

It’s common to hear businesses say they are unique and there is no software off the shelf that supports the way they do business. However, the reality is that there is usually a software package that does the majority of needs with custom developed software minimized.

Not since American Airlines deployed Sabre in 1960, has there been any custom code software that revolutionized an industry. Fifty years later, most business and technology people understand why large custom developed software projects should be avoided:

  1. Maintenance and upgrades are many times the original cost. The vendor that develops the software is generally the only party qualified to upgrade the system, on technology that is generally outdated by the time it is deployed.
  2. Business requirements are fuzzy. Vague or frequently changing business requirements wreak more havoc in software development than going to a homebuilder daily and changing room dimensions.
  3. Waterfall effect is crushing. The biggest blind spot for most business people in a technology project is failing to think about what other business processes and systems are affected. The “information hub” of Obamacare means that any change to a system on the hub will require an update to each of the connected systems.

Many studies have been done over the years that show such projects: usually fail, commonly run far over budget and schedule, and vendors often go under with responsible parties fired. Avoid large custom software projects in your business and let’s hope Obamacare doesn’t become the largest technology tax on the government and our pay checks.

Check The Requirements Forrest

Forrest Gump Meme

The number one mistake in technology that’s made continuously is failure to check requirements. It reminds me of the line “Stupid is as stupid does” from Forrest Gump. In the simple rush to help in everyday tasks or desperate struggle to finish a stalled major project, a lot of time and money is wasted jumping into action before evaluating what is possible.

An exasperated engineer calls up more than aggravated that he’s spent a couple of hours updating a Windows XP desktop and then was unable to install Office 2013. Office 2013 is only supported on Windows 7 or higher and will refuse to install on anything else.

Everyone’s got a similar story and for large projects, someone often gets fired. Before you go down the rabbit hole or lose your job, focus on:

Outcome. There is usually a better way to do something in technology than your current approach. If you get a full list of what people are really trying to accomplish, the answer is either simpler or you can provide alternatives to that idea that doesn’t exist yet from the movies.

Rules. You know what happens when you assume. In technology, seemingly easy requests are often difficult and the complicated ask is usually a breeze. Save yourself grief and everyone time because software and hardware manufacturers have specifications that dictate what works together and is supported.

Stop time. The fatal flaw of virtually every technical person is that they don’t know when to say when. An hour into everyday tasks is a good cut-off to stop when you’re over your head or no resolution is in sight. You may have missed something or simply need to contact the manufacturer or others with more knowledge. Hopefully, you paid attention to outcome and rules above before starting that big project.

Maybe this advice will keep you from being a shrimp boat captain.