I have been working in the channel for over two decades, attending Microsoft Inspire for the last 15 years. The events have involved some glamorous locations including Las Vegas, Washington, New Orleans, Toronto, and Houston with anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 attending from across the globe.

The highlight of these conferences has undeniably been the packed-out, high-energy keynotes delivered by Microsoft superstars like Satya Nadella, Gavriella Schuster, and Steve Clayton. And let’s not forget guest speakers like Bill Clinton – talk about star power! These inspiring sessions have taught me so many new skills, leaving me brimming with motivation and ideas.

But on a personal level, there was one unforgettable moment that takes the cake. In 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to present my own session titled ‘Creating Stories that Bring Home the Bacon.’ To my delight, it achieved the number-one slot out of over 750 sessions. I mean, wow! It was a surreal experience, to say the least.

There have been cocktail parties, fantastic food, and hundreds of new friendships built along the way. Not to mention the launch of the WIT Network which now has over 9,000 members in 60 countries.

But that was then – pre-pandemic.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Microsoft UK Inspire Managed Partner Event at Microsoft’s fabulous Paddington office. I was invited to join Microsoft Top UK Managed Partners to support Wendy Carstairs, Microsoft UK D&I Lead, and represent TC4RE (Technology Community of Racial Equality).

Two years in, 150,000 engagements and 143 partner events later – TC4RE’s 11 founders, Microsoft, Insight, TD SYNNEX, Softcat, Protiviti, SoftwareOne, Claranet, Boxxe, Computacenter, Lumen, and ResourceiT are working hard towards our mission to support UK technology businesses. We aim to employ, develop and upskill 10,000 black and ethnic minority individuals by 2026.

There is no doubt that DEI is a top priority for many organisations.  As we shine a light on the predicted staff shortages in the industry and think about how we can attract more young people to choose a career in IT, we strive to ensure that every person is given the same opportunities and not held back regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Back to the event. As always, I was greeted with warm smiles and a delightful spread of great coffee, fresh fruit, and mouth-watering pastries.

The day opened up with the keynote session that was streamed on the big screen. Orla McGrath took the stage and set the tone for what was to come. She shared Microsoft’s vision for partner opportunity, shedding light on what the future holds for the programme.

FY24 is about collaborative co-selling; Microsoft is enthusiastic about empowering its partners to excel in this domain. Combining the strengths of partner businesses with Microsoft’s reach and powerful technology is the way forward, and it’s inspiring to see the dedication to mutual success.

The Partner Programme has undergone a revamp and is now known as the Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Programme. This comprehensive program offers support across the board, from onboarding and skilling to go-to-market strategies, incentives, and co-selling opportunities. Already, there are 750 UK partners with more than one designation and 1,000 UK partners boasting specialisations.

In addition, a staggering 3,000 new UK ISVs have joined the Microsoft marketplace, which has outgrown all other platforms. The marketplace is now home to over 4 million buyers, and Microsoft is doubling down on its investment in this area.

The numbers speak for themselves – Microsoft is poised to tap into its estimated UK market opportunity of $132 billion, and Microsoft partner services opportunity of $57 billion. Key areas of focus include data platform, security, and of course AI, which present a remarkable $21 billion partner opportunity in the UK alone.

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to accelerate the co-selling process this year. For partners to succeed, the focus should be on client acquisition, particularly in the small and medium-sized customer (SMC) segment. The Partner of the Year award saw a whopping 4,200 entries which further highlights the enthusiasm and passion within the partner community.

One of the highlights of any event is reuniting with old friends from the channel as well as making new connections. I had insightful and stimulating conversations with Apay Obang Oyway, Microsoft Partner Sales Director, GPS, and Angela Evans, Partner Strategy and Marketing Director. They are both so passionate about the new partner opportunity for AI and the launch of Microsoft Co-Pilot.

Among the familiar faces were Paula Costa, Alex Smith, Georgina Rollins, Rebecca Walmsley, and Jon Short, from Microsoft.

I also chatted with Giles Horwood from Simpson Associates and Ryan Langley, CEO of Atech Cloud. Both of these companies were Rising Star award winners for 2023.

It was great to see Gabrielle Deeny from Microsoft’s UK Services Partner of the Year, Kainos. I first met Gabrielle at one of the US conferences many years ago and I am so pleased to see Kainos get the recognition it deserves.

Other partners I was delighted to connect with included Justin Langford from leading-edge analytics and data management experts, Coeo, and Steven Webb, VP, UK CTO of Cap Gemini.

All in all, the event was a day filled with insights, networking opportunities, meeting old friends, and a great chance to learn about the latest developments in the tech world. Until next time.