Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Ignite 2020 Predictions

Ignite is Microsoft's most important event of the year. What direction will Microsoft take for Ignite's first-ever virtual outing, during the IT industry's most challenging year on record?

Over the years, it has become something of a tradition for me to write a column just before Microsoft Ignite outlining my predictions for the event. Since my Tips & Tricks column is primarily focused on Windows, Office and other Microsoft technologies, I try to give the appropriate emphasis to what I see as being Microsoft's most important event of the year.

Of course, I don't have to tell you how different things are this year. While I am certainly disappointed about not making a trip to New Orleans (where Ignite was originally scheduled to take place), the event will be held virtually during the week of Sept. 21, and presumably Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will deliver his opening keynote as usual. The big question is: What can we expect from this one?

Before I attempt to answer this question, let me say that I do not have any inside information about what Microsoft has planned. While I do usually receive Microsoft presentation materials in advance of the actual events, those are typically delivered a day or two before the event. Microsoft never gives me any sort of information when an event is this far out. All that is to say that the best I can do is take an educated guess as to what we might expect from Microsoft at its Ignite keynote.

I have actually been giving a lot of thought to what the Ignite keynote may look like, and I think I have it figured out (at least in a general sense). Being that this has been such an abnormal year, however, it's entirely possible that Microsoft comes up with something completely unexpected.

As I'm sure you know, this is the first time that the Ignite keynote has ever been virtual. Even TechEd (the Microsoft conference that eventually morphed into Ignite) never had a virtual keynote, as far as I can remember. This year, all of the major tech conferences have been virtual, and many of the smaller events have been canceled altogether.

While I completely appreciate how much work it must take to turn major IT conferences into virtual events, I have seen numerous reviews and blog posts describing those events as lackluster and disappointing. My guess is that Microsoft has probably seen those comments, too, and will therefore do its best to try to keep the Ignite keynote as normal as possible.

In some ways, this isn't quite as tall of an order as it may seem. Typically, the Ignite keynote draws 20,000 to 30,000 live attendees, with millions more watching online. Microsoft simply has to do what it has always done, but without an in-person audience. The company has already had plenty of practice with giving online viewers the same experience as those attending in person. In fact, even though I make it a point to attend Ignite each year, I often watch the keynote from my hotel room because the experience is just as good as being there in person, but without the crowds.

So if I am right, and Microsoft's goal is to provide virtual attendees with a sense of normalcy, then my guess is that it will stick to the tried-and-true format that the company has used over the last several years.

Ignite keynotes typically consist of a series of case studies outlining the success that Microsoft's biggest customers have had over the last year, and a number of demos and product announcements showcasing the work that Microsoft has been doing behind the scenes and the new products and technologies that will soon be available to customers.

To that end, there are two things that I am expecting Microsoft to focus heavily on during its keynote. First, I expect to see a huge emphasis on collaborative technologies. Microsoft has been investing heavily in Teams in recent months, so I expect to hear a lot about new Teams features, Teams integration into other products, and how Teams is helping Microsoft customers to grow their businesses.

The other thing I am expecting is for Microsoft to make some bold predictions about what the post-pandemic world will look like, and what the company is doing to enable its customers to meet the related challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities that might exist. I would love to make a more detailed prediction about what that may consist of, but at this point I don't think anyone knows for sure what the world will look like in six months to a year.

What I am predicting, however, is that Microsoft will make the messaging positive and upbeat, pointing to the idea that it will only be a matter of time before the world can fully reopen and that businesses should be poised to take full advantage of that reopening, even if employee and customer expectations end up being a little bit different than they were before the pandemic.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-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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