Microsoft’s Conference Strategy Reboot

To say that 2020 has been anything other than nominal is the mildest of understatements. As the IT Pro world tries to adapt to the new reality that remote work is an essential activity, and no longer a luxury, the overhead that this has introduced is taxing hardware and humans alike.

For Microsoft and many other companies that host large conferences, this is introducing a new complexity that the modern world has never seen before. With everything going remote, so are Microsoft’s conferences.

The company has officially announced that all internal and external events will be virtual-only which is a significant change from prior years. In a note to its MVPs, the company stated the following:

In light of the challenges presented by Covid-19, Microsoft has been closely monitoring the developing global situation and re-assessing the overall company-wide in-person event strategy. As a company, Microsoft has made the decision to transition all external and internal events to a digital-first experience through July 2021. This will include the future MVP & RD Summit which is currently scheduled for March 28-April 2, 2021. We will continue to evaluate the situation and look forward to connecting in person when the situation allows

No longer is Microsoft trying to sell tickets or booth space, the company is now focusing on how to deliver its major conferences through new mediums and in ways that are not simply videos playing on webpages.

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Microsoft is not planning to have an in-person event until after July of FY2021 concludes – Microsoft is currently in FY20 with FY21 starting July 1st, 2020. What this means is that Build this year will be virtual as well as next year, and the company’s largest event, Ignite, that can attract up to 40,000 people, will go virtual as well. And for Surface fans, it doesn’t look like their will be in-person hardware events either this year or likely until Oct 2021, at the earliest.

Internally at Microsoft, according to those familiar with the company’s plans, those tasked with hosting these events are looking to modify the status-quo of simply creating videos, posting to company channels, and calling it a day.

Historically, Microsoft has recorded nearly all of its sessions from its events and shared them following the conclusion of the conference. With everything going digital-only, the company is looking for ways to utilize the entire Microsoft stack, including Teams, Stream, Microsoft 365 Live Events (based on Stream) and other resources to showcase how Microsoft’s productivity suite can be used, at scale, to enable live and interactive sessions.

This may seem like an obvious thing to move towards for Microsoft, considering they have the stack to make it happen, but hosting hundreds of Ignite sessions, all streaming at the same time, will stress even the best hardware and software solutions.

Along with thinking about new ways the company can deliver a digital conference, the company is also taking this time to evaluate its annual events. The company hosts several large events like Build, Inspire and Ignite, as well as many smaller events like MVP summit, TechReady and more throughout the year.

Don’t be surprised if when the company does return to its in-person conferences if the schedule looks different than what we have seen during the past couple of years. At this point, Microsoft is re-thinking the strategy around its events to determine what is the long-term, sustainable, path forward.