Tech Ed kicks off with a bang and a thump

Tech Ed kicks off with a bang and a thump

CFO Chris Liddell delivers keynote, talks of delivering innovation in the future.

Microsoft's keynote developer event, Tech Ed, kicked off at Auckland's Sky City convention centre today to the rousing beat of African drums. Scott Wylie, developer and platform group manager, welcomed developers to the 14th Tech Ed, thanking them for coming despite hard economic times.

Wylie declared the event the “Windows 7 Tech Ed”, saying 50,000 Kiwis had already installed the new operating system. There are 31 sessions in the Windows track at the conference, Wylie says.

Wylie introduced Steven Joyce, Minister of ICT, saying he was referred to as the chief operating officer (COO) of the government.

Joyce talked about how dependent New Zealand was on the use of ICT and of how much more has to be done to take advantage of it. Joyce says the government was elected with a mandate to secure a brighter future for New Zealand and getting our telecommunication infrstructure right is an important part of that through facilitating investment that is ahead of the curve of that the telcos think is required.

He reaffirmed the priority of health, education and business in the rollout. Joyce says improving rural services is also a prioirity and recapped last week's $300 million investment announcement. He says the six-year timeframe for the rural rollout, compared to the ten year investment planned for other sectors, is a reflection of the fact that the need there is “truly urgent”.

Joyce said improving digital literacy is another priority to take advantage of ICT and thanked Microsoft for its support in that area and of organisations such as the 2020 Trust and the Computer Clubhouse.

He said workforce skills are also important and that's why driving fibre to schools is important. He talked of the new curriculum raising the profile of ICT in schools and funding to support the NZ Computer Society's ICT certification programme.

Joyce said if he were starting his career now he wouldn't be embarking on a career in radio, as he did, but in ICT.

“I'd be sitting where you are,” he said.

Keynote speaker Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer, then took up the theme “Innovating for the future”, and talked about New Zealand's uniqueness, that is, the fact it is small but also has complete access to new technologies. He said per capita, Tech Ed in New Zealand is the biggest in the world.

Liddell first addressed the world economy. He said the path of the current crash initially followed that of 1929, but has since diverged. He says while things are not getting better, they've stopped getting worse.

“The environment is still relatively bad, but not as bad as I would have said a few moths ago,” he said.

Liddell then talked about the concept of the “new normal”, how the world was now different. He said we may be mostly through a “reset period” and heading into a new environment. From there growth could recover to where it was, to a lower level where it should have been without debt fuel and a lower path where consumers continue to contract their spending.

He then said Microsoft is relatively conservative in its analysis and predicted continued subdued activity.

In that environment, he said, the role of software will be even more important in driving GDP growth. He says successful companies in the new environment will, first, focus on cash. Capital will allow companies to drive growth.

Second, he said, companies need to streamline their cost structures. Microsoft initially forecast US$4.1 billion growth in its cost base in 2009, but has “put the brakes on” and scaled that back to $0.7 billion, said Liddell.

That was the cue for a demonstration of Microsoft Outlook and Exchange with a single unified inbox, video conferencing and other productivity enhancing features.

Liddell then said the third key to success was driving operational excellence, which means different things to different organisations. He said for Microsoft it was about driving the product pipeline and getting products out on time.

The fourth key to success in the “new normal” is to compete and grow market share, Liddell said. He said companies that can grab market share in the downturn will grow faster coming out of the downturn.

He said Microsoft now has the strongest product portfolio ever to help it claim market share.

And that was cue for a second demonstration, from the company's web tech guru Nigel Parker: Microsoft's Photosynth, Silverlight and rich web technologies as well as Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. Ad agency TBWA used Photosynth to launch the new Adidas All Black jersey.

Windows Azure launches in November.

Liddell's final key to success is to invest in innovation. He said one way to look at that is in the amount spent, though that does not always sit comfortably with a CFO. Despite that, he said, R&D is one of the few areas of spending that is still growing at Microsoft.

The final demo was, of course, Windows 7, which launches next month.

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