Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Tech Ed/BI Conference 2010: Signs of Recovery

I tried writing a post for this blog last night, while at the this year's Microsoft Tech Ed and Business Intelligence conferences in New Orleans. But I literally fell asleep while writing it. That's probably a sign that my readers might have done the same while reading it.

Why the writer's block? This was a very good show for me, but I think I was having trouble figuring out exactly why. Now that I'm on the flight home, I'm starting to piece it together.

One reason, for sure, was that I've spent years in both the developer and the BI worlds, and a show that combined the two was really enjoyable for me. Typically, the subject matter, the attendees, the Microsoft execs and managers, and even the social circles have been separate. This year's Tech Ed facilitated a fusion of each of these previously segregated groups.

That was good for me as a speaker; for example, I facilitated a Birds of a Feather session on PowerPivot (Microsoft's new self-service BI offering) that was well-attended, and by a large number of non-BI pros no less. The fusion was good for me as an attendee too, as Microsoft BI, in the form of a new Pivot Viewer control, made it into the Day 1 keynote, demoed by Microsoft's key BI champion, Amir Netz. And it was good for me socially, as I was able to meet with peers in both camps, and at one location.

Speaking of meeting with industry colleagues, I did a lot of that at this show. Probably for the first time ever, I carefully scheduled and conducted a series of meetings with friends and business acquaintances in the developer tools, data visualization, utilities, publishing and training areas of the Microsoft ecosystem. Beside the time efficiencies in conducting so many meetings, I discovered another benefit. I got a real handle on the tech industry's economic health.

The news here is good. First of all, 2010 has been a great year for just about everyone I spoke to. The mood is positive, energy is high, and people are working really hard. This is, of course, refreshing to see, and it's a huge relief. Add to that the fact that this year's Tech Ed was about 2.5 times larger in headcount than last year's (based on numbers from unofficial, but reliable, sources), and the economic prognosis seems excellent. But there's more to it than that.

Here's the thing: everyone I talked to seems to be working, and succeeding, at changing their business models to adapt to changes in the industry. Whether it's the Internet's impact on publishing and training, the increased importance of the developer audience in South Asia, the shift of affordable developer and business talent to unfamiliar locales abroad, or even lapses in Microsoft's performance in the market, partner companies aren't just rolling with the punches; they're welcoming the changes and working them to their advantage.

No one seemed downtrodden, or even fatigued. Even for businesses who have seen core revenue streams become commoditized, everyone seems to be changing their market strategy and winning. Even Microsoft, of whom I have been critical recently, showed signs of successful hard work and playbook change, in the maturing of their cloud strategy, their commitment to it and their excitement around it. And the embedded, managed, self-service BI strategy that Microsoft has been touting looks like it's already being embraced by customers, even though PowerPivot, and other new Microsoft BI products, were released only recently.

The collective optimism I have witnessed, and that I have felt, tells me good things about this industry and the economy. The stock market had huge mood swings during my stay, and that may yet subdue the industry recovery I have seen this week. Nonetheless, I am convinced that a strong foundation of hard work, innovative thinking and, if I may, true renaissance is underlying this industry's success.

That kind of strength will generate a strong recovery, I am certain, whether now or once we're past another round of choppy weather in the broader economy. The fundamentals are good.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 06/11/2010

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