Sunday, September 5, 2010

Quick Recap: Microsoft Australian Partner Conference 2010

I registered for APC this year with a not insignificant amount of trepidation. For years we attended Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference and gave the local event the swerve. For the last four years we've attended both the Worldwide event and the local event. I think the lure of tropical North Queensland was what got us over the line initially.

The two events have always been different. Both have always had a strong business, marketing and product roadmap focus - these are not events for technicians. For technical info, you'll be wanting TechEd.

I didn't love WPC this year, but I'm relieved to be able to report that APC was a great event and I left with great enthusiasm for working with the Microsoft Australia team. Here's a few highlights.

SMB Pre Day
Mark O'Shea lead a small but keen group of SMB'ers through product line up with a deep dive into Aurora and SBS7 sharing with the us hot content straight from the product team. We discussed nifty features built into Aurora designed to allow deployment and management of Online Services – from BPOS and CRM Online as well as the opportunity for other hosted providers to utilise the SDK and offer their services straight from the console.

At morning tea I reluctantly left the SMB pre day to head to the Sofitel for the Partner Advisory Board meeting. Other content included Intune and a session on virtualisation and management. Whilst the presenter had considerable enthusiasm for Microsoft’s management tools, he seemed to have missed to part of the brief asking to adapt the information to an SMB audience, spending most of his airtime talking about System Centre et al and very little time on Hyper V.

Congratulations to Mark O’Shea who provided most of the content and did a great job of really providing useful info for SMB Partners

Partner Advisory Board
The most important thing I want to share with readers about this part of APC is that Microsoft Australia have a strong leadership in Tracey Fellows, Paul Voges and George Stavrakakis. The team took the board through an open discussion/Q&A session where some hard hitting questions were put to the panel. One thing was demonstrated in this session – Partners at every level need to assess what Cloud means to their business.

SMB Kick Off & Content
Wow! Best kick off at any conference anywhere! That was the feedback from partners who attended the first official SMB session of the conference. “Overworked and Under Laid” was the title of this session, delivered by Nigel Marsh, former CEO of George Patterson Y&R (recently replaced by Russel Howcroft who you may know from The Gruen Transfer). His colourful delivery and ability to cut to the core and ‘tell it like it is’ was appreciated by the audience. He spoke about the lack of real leadership inside many organisations and the challenge of business owners and leaders to give people a reason to show up to work – describing many workplaces as abattoirs for the soul. He spoke of his realisation of what it meant to lead and some of the important realisations he personally had discovered as a CEO, father and leader. If you get an opportunity to hear Nigel speak, I highly recommend it. If not he has two great books ‘Overworked and Underlaid’ and ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’, both of which I highly recommend.

We then got into the core content of the conference with sessions from Clayton Moulynox, Bill Vlandis, Bruce Rasmussen and David & Ursula Paddon focused on marketing and sales opportunities and actions. Day 2 of the SMB track was lead by Brad Clarke and Rosemary Stark and looked at partner business models and opportunities with HAAS, Open Value licensing, virtualisation and Aurora.

There was much less of the title/content mismatch of previous years with only a couple of sessions leaving you scratching your head. However the most notable example of this was the session “We’ll Show You The Money – Find Hidden Revenue From Existing Customers” which turned out to be about software piracy and SAM audits! Whilst the concept of SAM audits are fine, the companies Microsoft engages could do a better job of understanding licensing, thus lessening the pain for partners and End Users. Frankly a good Partner will be ensuring the lead their customers on a path to compliance (and license sales) from day one and needs to help from the SAM audit process to do this. This session was a great opportunity to catch up on some email and Twitter!

We were also treated to not one but two SMB parties – the first a classy soiree supported by Ingram Micro and the second a beach themed bash complete with loud shirts, silly hats and fake tan! These parties, and APC were a great opportunity to network with other partners and for me these conversations are always the highlight of any Microsoft event.

MAPA Awards & Closing Dinner
A reformatted Microsoft Australia Partner Awards presentation was one of the highlights of the conference. A number radical changes saw the Awards go from the tedium of 30+ category squished in around three courses and entertainment to a focused and entertaining afternoon awards presentation hosted by Adam Spencer. Robert Schwarten, Qld Minister for Public Works and ICT also reprised his appearance and his (unintentional) gags about 'getting on the scoot'. This format really put the focus back on the Partners and a special congratulations to Evolve IT for taking out Small Business Partner of the Year in a strong field with Calvert Technologies and Solutionware also nominated. Decoupling the Awards from the Closing Dinner meant that partners could relax and enjoy the evening after a very full and rewarding conference.

Thanks again to George Stavrakakis, this years APC host and to his team at Microsoft who organised the event as well as Mark O'Shea for an excellent SMB Pre Day.

Keira McIntosh is the General Manager at Directions Technology - an Australia owned small business providing managed and reliable IT Support in Brisbane. You can also find her on Twitter and Linked In.

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