Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Ignite 2018: Thoughts on Nadella's Unorthodox Keynote

Unlike previous years' opening keynotes, Monday's was less focused on product announcements and demos, and more on CEO Satya Nadella's vision for digital transformation across industries.

As someone who has spent practically their entire career writing about Microsoft products and technologies, I always look forward to the Microsoft Ignite conference (and TechEd before that).

I am particularly interested in seeing what the company will cover during its opening keynote. After all, the information revealed in the keynote not only sets the tone for the remainder of the conference, but is also a clear indicator of what can be expected from Microsoft over the next year.

I don't want to fall into the trap of rehashing the entire keynote, because I'm sure there are plenty of others already doing that. Instead, my goal is to tell you about some of the things from the keynote that I found to be the most interesting.

Before I get into that, I have to say that this was definitely one of the more unusual Ignite keynotes. Unlike past years, there weren't any product announcements (although there was a humanitarian announcement), and there weren't any tech demos being performed on stage. My guess is that those things will probably come later in the conference.

Instead, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spent most of his time on stage discussing the way that technology has been infused into every conceivable industry, and outlining his vision of the next steps in the so-called digital transformation. Not only was this somewhat unusual for an Ignite opening keynote, but the keynote was just under an hour in length -- quite a bit shorter than some of the ones from the past. I'm sure we all remember the over three-hour-long keynote of a few years ago.

Despite the unorthodox nature of the keynote, there were a couple of things that caught my attention. One of those things was a very brief mention of how blockchain technology is being used to ensure food safety. Blockchain has traditionally been used for tasks such as ensuring the integrity of financial transactions. With regard to food safety, however, blockchain is being used for sourcing. The keynote didn't go into much detail about this, but presumably the technology could be used to trace tainted food back to its source, thereby preventing widespread illness.

I think that using blockchain technology in that way is a great idea, but I also think that the technology can be applied in similar ways to other industries. For example, I do a lot of work with spacesuits. Someone once told me that because of the critical role that spacesuits play in keeping the human inside alive, there are very stringent regulatory requirements associated with the manufacturing process. One of those requirements is being able to source the materials that have been used in the construction of the suit. Integrating blockchain into the supply chain would presumably make it easier to comply with this requirement.

The other item from the Ignite keynote that struck me as being very important was an initiative between Microsoft, Adobe and SAP. The idea is to begin to do away with data silos, and to make data more fluid and easily accessible between the various platforms.

The keynote did not address the specifics of what this interoperability would look like, but believe it or not, I think that we can take a clue from the distant past. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, data was far more siloed than it is today. Each application that a person would run on their PC saved data in its own proprietary format. That data could be used with that application, and typically nothing else.

Now, contrast that with the way that data behaves in Microsoft Office, which is been around for decades. One of the things that made Office so successful was its ability to share data between the various Office applications. If you want to move a block of text from Word into PowerPoint, it's no problem. If you want to copy a portion of an Excel spreadsheet into Word, you can do that, too.

The point is that the data within Office is not siloed. All of the Office applications are designed to be extremely flexible with regard to the types of data that they support. In fact, Office applications are just as flexible with non-proprietary data types such as picture files, audio files and video files. I gave a presentation at one of the Ignite pre-events in which I embedded HD video clips into PowerPoint.

The thing that makes Office so powerful is its ability to seamlessly support so many different data types in an extremely flexible way. My guess is that this is the same type of behavior that Microsoft, SAP and Adobe are envisioning for the future. The difference will be that data will finally become vendor-agnostic.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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