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Microsoft's Pall Talks Transformative Change

Quoting former GE CEO and Chairman Jack Welch, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president in charge of Skype, kicked off his portion of the Microsoft Ignite keynote address yesterday morning with an emphasis on the transformative and important role technology must play in driving today's business success:

"If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."

Pall was one of several Microsoft executives, including CEO Satya Nadella, who spoke of the transformative power of technology during the three-hour opening keynote at the inaugural Ignite conference, which runs through the week in Chicago.

"Everything is connected; everyone is connected. And it's all because of technology," Pall said. He pointed to new companies like Uber and AirBnB that came into existence on the "inertia of technology." They are enabled by new technology rather than being encumbered by legacy technology.

This means that the way we work with technology in our business has to change, he said. "It's no longer sufficient for us to be sending around attachments in email. It is no longer sufficient for us to be having meetings over audio conferencing bridges with 20 people on a call and five dogs barking in the background."

This applies to Microsoft as well, he added, noting the company has to keep up with the pace of change just as everyone else does.

"While technology is the catalyst of change, the Millennials are the carriers of this change," Pall said.

As a Millennial myself, my ears always perk up when we are mentioned in the context of technology. Pall referred to Millennials as an "interesting group of study," stressing that Millennials have always known the Internet; many owned a smartphone before they could drive a car.

"They think different, they live different, they talk different," he said. "And they work different, too. They work in a virtual hive, and the reason that is important to you is that by 2020, the majority of your workforce will be Millennials."

Now, I've read some data that says that we are already the majority as of 2015 -- but different data sets, different conclusions, I presume. Pall also claimed that in 2010, 10,000 Baby Boomers hit retirement age every day in the U.S. The rapid transition to this new type of workforce paired with the transformative nature of new technology is driving the need for businesses to change.

The name "workplace" is a misnomer, Pall said, because "work is what you do, it's not where you go. People will work from wherever they are, with whatever devices they have, and they'll work on their own time."

While individual productivity is important, team productivity is critical, Pall said. "Because it is a team of people that is accomplishing stuff, which becomes even more challenging when you consider that they are working from their own place." Teams no longer are sitting around in a cluster of cubicles, and this changes the way optimal productivity is achieved.

"The serial, chunky workflow that has really served us well over the last 20 years is not going to serve us well in the future," he said. "It is all about co-creation and rapid iteration -- so the environment really has to support that. Information is a lot more open, so people discover things for themselves rather than having to be fed information. Finding solutions is important; figuring out solutions may not be that important. Tapping into global expertise is very important."

He compared modern work to that of a beehive, where you have many worker bees working together with a shared sense of goal without requiring direction from the queen bee.

"At Microsoft, we consider ourselves the custodians of productivity," Pall said to the roughly 23,000 in attendance. "And as custodians of productivity, we have to be there with the right tools and the right work environment so that you can bring it to your businesses, and so you can succeed in the coming decade."

Pall addressed the five big areas that Microsoft is focused on in order to provide this modern productivity.

These areas will sound familiar to anyone who attended Enterprise Connect Orlando back in March, as Google's Adam Swidler, technology evangelist for Google for Work, hit the same themes during his keynote there.

For teams to work effectively, collaboration has to be simple. To enable the work-from-anywhere approach, Microsoft is focusing largely on the mobile user experience across devices, largely by providing Office and Skype on all platforms -- Android, iOS, Windows.

In regard to meetings, Microsoft is focusing on making the Skype for Business video conferencing experience more effective and simple for all participants, including remote attendees. It cannot take 13 minutes to start a meeting, which is the average amount of time it takes to launch a video conference with many of today's systems, Pall said. Users need one-touch access to meetings, and they need to be able to participate in high-fidelity video conversations.

Microsoft's HoloLens, which makes holographic computing a reality, was featured as an example of how the company is adapting to provide tools for the new way of collaborating and content co-creation. He showed a video that showcased how architects wearing the HoloLens glasses were able to work as if they were in the same room, with a 3-D, body-sized projection of a person able to interact with a 3-D building projection and make adjustments in real time with a person located in a different part of the country. Office 2016 is another example that Pall brought up to highlight its focus on co-creation, which includes the ability to naturally co-create documents, with multiple parties able to collaborate on a document at the same time.

"Last but not least is intelligence," Pall said. "And this is a huge, important element of the modern workplace." In 2020, there is going to be 44 zettabytes of data in the cloud - that's one million petabytes. "That's a lot of data. That's the kind of information that can completely inundate you... so how do we deal with this?"

With intelligent indexing and inferences, Microsoft is working to make sure all this data can be made sense of with the Office graph, an analytics capability that will enable many intelligent experiences for us, Pall said. Delve, available since last September, aggregates relevant documents and other information into Office 365 from email, SharePoint, Yammer, and OneDrive.

With Office graph, team managers and other business users can analyze flows from email, Skype, and Yammer to glean insights on how effectively, or not, teams are communicating and collaborating. Pall pegged the analytics capabilities in Delve as the way to make sure users are achieving intelligent experiences.

Pall was just one of many other Microsoft notables who took the Ignite keynote stage Monday morning, and this is just a sampling of the subject matter that we'll hear this week. The conference continues through Friday.

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