On Microsoft’s M4 Roadshow

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BitDepth#964, originally published on November 24

Mariana Castro, General Manager, New Markets for Microsoft Latin America gives the keynote speech at last week’s Microsoft M4 Conference. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Mariana Castro, General Manager, New Markets for Microsoft Latin America gives the keynote speech at last week’s Microsoft M4 Conference. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

On Thursday (November 18), Microsoft T&T hosted a major local conference at the Hyatt Regency, with a strong slate of speakers ready to explain the company’s offerings to a profile of visitors that ranged from IT professionals to Public Sector infrastructure planners.

But it wasn’t immediately clear what the company hoped to accomplish with the event, which trotted out an impressive phalanx of positive statistics and put several of its Latin American managers centre stage to reiterate the new cloud first, device agnostic positioning of its software and services unveiled by new CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year.

Mariana Castro, General Manager of New Markets for Latin America (LATAM), got the ball rolling with an impressive reiteration of its refreshed market approach and offerings in the region.

Microsoft has had a presence in LATAM for 20 years now and has been delivering cloud based solutions for just as long. The company has invested US$2.3 billion in its cloud infrastructure, creating geo-redundant data centers at locations in North America, Europe and Asia.

Castro explained that the company has migrated from its previous model of licensing its software to one in which products can be turned off and on according to client need, rather obscurely described as “digital work and life experiences.”

The company has been leveraging the scalability of its cloud services to offer decisive advantage to companies, most notably small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and governments who have large spikes in their resource use. That allows IT administrators to temporarily buy more support resources to serve temporary need.

The Government of Haiti is running their systems in Microsoft’s cloud in the wake of the infrastructural collapse there, the Sochi Olympics scaled their capacity to meet demand using the service and the Mexican tax administration office uses Microsoft’s cloud to manage more than 16 million invoices per week with peak surges that run as high as 147 million.

Barcelona hosts 1.5 million guests for its La Merce Festival and uses Microsoft’s cloud services to manage the surge in foot, bike, auto and public transportation demand that ensues.

But these impressive top-level wins never seemed to be followed through with any meaningful detail. It all seemed like roadshow that was only marginally adapted for local consumption and that’s surprising for a company that’s so deeply embedded in the T&T market.

Now that Microsoft has moved virtually all its productivity and enterprise support software to the cloud and made clear its intention to pursue subscription models that can be extended to most computing devices, it’s surprising that the company would still be selling features over implementation models to the extent that it was last week.

Yammer, a Facebook-like social collaboration tool created by Microsoft was lauded for its success after being deployed in 85 per cent of Fortune 500 companies, but I don’t remember seeing a screenshot of what it looks like, far less a demo of how it works.

The company has a Digital Crimes Unit, but the company offered no details on how customers or governments have made use of its capabilities, preferring instead to tout its customer-centric policies on data access and protection.

The company offers its server side products across a range of four tiers of hybridization; On Premises, which affords the customer complete physical ownership of the IT infrastructure; Infrastructure as a Service, for which Microsoft offers cloud based hardware; Platform as a Service, in which the customer runs the software and stores the data and Software as a Service; which turns everything over to Microsoft.

The sales pitch, which was pervasive, is compelling. Microsoft’s cloud based management oversees, among other things, anti-spam, anti-virus, version control and rights management, all issues that consume significant IT department time and effort.

The prospectus for the offering was robust enough that Digicel T&T’s John Delves appeared to announce that the telecommunications provider would be a reseller of the Office 365 suite as part of its converged solutions.

It’s possible that I missed a deeper dive into the case studies that were dangled before the audience like tasty morsels, but the modus operandi of the event seemed to be to tempt and woo rather than offer details on projects that might be seen as more directly relevant to local issues.

Microsoft will probably argue that it targets specific markets with case-studies and examples and leverages its significant partner network in T&T to offer customised solutions, but a conference should inspire thinking as well as sales.

M4, unfortunately, seemed to miss that aspirational boat.