“We are at the dawn of a new generation of business systems,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in his keynote to kick off Microsoft’s 2015 Convergence Conference, “with unlimited computing capacity in the cloud.”

Microsoft’s cloud, and the systems of intelligence it supports in empowering people and organizations to improve their business processes, was at the core of the keynote presentation that spanned many of Microsoft’s products, customers and industry projections.  

The Internet of Things was prominently featured, both as a trend and the driver of Microsoft’s new Azure IoT Suite, unveiled as an evolution from the Azure Intelligent Systems Service introduced last April and available for preview later this year.

By uniting a variety of Azure services, the Suite will operate as the core infrastructure for customers and partners to build out SaaS solutions. Using Azure capabilities, the offering will leverage all connected devices and assets to capture data, integrate and orchestrate that data, and then manage, analyze and present it as usable information.

“We’re going to have 26 billion internet-connected devices by 2019,” Nadella explained. “With the explosion of devices comes explosion of data,” eventually amounting to 44 zettabytes of data in the cloud.

“Devices will come and go, but the most interesting thing is the data being collected,” Nadella continued, explaining that one of Microsoft’s biggest insights, internally, is the ratio of monthly active product usage to daily usage, revealing overall intensity of usage.

With this customer feedback in mind, Microsoft announced the IT professional and developer preview of Office 2016 for the Windows desktop. The early build will be available for commercial Office 365 customers to test, with new features delivered through monthly updates.

The presentation also briefly touched on the Spring ’15 release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which will be enhanced in the areas of: productivity, social, mobility, analytics and knowledge.

That announcement shared stage time with a flurry of other demonstrations, reflecting Convergence’s shift to a broader audience of 12,000 customers this year, marking it as the biggest conference yet.

“Traditionally, Convergence was a focused event for Dynamics,” explained Judson Althoff, president of Microsoft North America, during a press briefing. “It has been expanded to be inclusive of all our innovations.”

That includes the new Surface Hub, introduced in January and given a lengthy keynote demonstration by general manager Julia White. The collaboration device, available later this year, was built to modernize meetings with its large digital canvas that has advanced touch capabilities and integrates Microsoft Office apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote whiteboard and Skype for Business.

Skype for Business, a replacement for Micrsoft’s Lync communications tool for businesses, was also launched in test version and will be made generally available in April. Additionally, Microsoft announced the preview of business analytics service Power BI, along with the roll out of productivity tool Office Delve to eligible Office 365 customers.

As part of the Office 2016 preview, the new Microsoft Outlook was also highlighted. White demonstrated Outlook's new intuitive and collaborative attachment abilities, enabling users to select the most recently used documents across the Office suite and send them as links to be opened rather than physical attachments.

The integrated, collaborative nature of Microsoft’s many products are a necessity of today’s environment, according to Kirill Tatarinov, executive vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions.

“Data culture enables this completely new level of transparency,” he said. “Data [previously] locked in the deep cellars of the enterprise can be available to everybody.”

This information is especially critical for the back office, Tatarinov said, with predictive data an “imperative for people in finance.”

With transparency comes greater responsibility, of course, which Nadella touched on in explaining that “increasingly, the issue of our times is going to be privacy, and how you and as an organization are in control of the data that is being used.”

This will be bolstered by Microsoft’s cloud, he continued.

“We are building this intelligent cloud, with the richness of the cloud infrastructure and complexities and diversities of different industries. We want to build the most comprehensive cloud infrastructure to support hybrid computing in its purist form [providing flexibility for the customer] and thinking about empowering the individual, organizations and industries.” 

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