Microsoft finally put your business first. At Microsoft Ignite 2021, the company showed powerful technology to bring distributed teams together with augmented reality (Microsoft Mesh), showed the future of distributed work with and without business partners (Microsoft Teams and Viva), presented mind-blowingly complex IT architectures for hybrid cloud configurations (Azure, Azure Stack), and then put a happy face on it all with Power Automate the tools that will force business users to connect complex systems not designed to talk to each other. Ignite 2021 is the culmination of a thirteen year journey for Microsoft.
Long-time Microsoft followers might recall the product Mesh, envisioned by Ray Ozzie the brains behind Lotus Notes. Mesh began life as a peer-to-peer file synch tool that became SkyDrive and now the ubiquitous OneDrive. Mesh was the first cloud document storage platform from Microsoft. Ironically Mesh is now Microsoft’s virtual reality platform, which signals Microsoft’s goal to push the new Mesh into many business functions in the next three years. I bring Ray Ozzie into a post about the transformation because he defined the vision behind Ignite 2021. From his 2008 strategy paper , he established the transition roadmap to the cloud: “The concept of My Computer will give way to the concept of a personal mesh of devices, a means by which all of your devices are brought together, managed through the web, as a seamless whole.”
Careful readers are saying, wait “all you are talking about is technology. Where is the business transformation?” Thank you. Let me start again.
Every transformation needs an engine, and Microsoft Ignite 2021 unveiled the engine for digital transformation: Azure cloud, Power Platform, Azure Cognitive Services, and Microsoft Teams with Viva. I’ve not even mentioned OneDrive and Microsoft Graph, the speedometer of business [link to other post]. Yet never has Microsoft put the power of doing business in front of the art of deploying technology. Thanks to Judson Althoff, EVP Worldwide Commercial Business for Microsoft, they focused on business over tech.
Digital Transformation Is About Business Transformation
Embarking on a journey is stressful. Do I have the best path? The best tools? We frequently focus on the start of the journey, then try to ignore the messy middle. The middle is filled with ambiguity, uncertainty, and the need for endurance. If you focus on the messy middle of digital transformation projects, then five solutions areas will appear:
Modern work: what are the best tools to help global teams be productive? Business applications: what are the essential applications for my business and are they consuming the appropriate resources (e.g., people, compute, user experience, cost)? Infrastructure: do I have the right mixture of resources to achieve my performance, availability, risk and cost mandates? Data & AI: is my business learning from data and apply assistive technology to the right problems? Security: am I using the appropriate user identity tools, data encryption and cybersecurity to balance productivity and protection?
These areas apply to any business. The job to be done as a leader is to overlay these solutions on your business. The project portfolio must use these solutions areas to guide your project portfolio. Then, select the best tools. Your mantra is:
“Technology must be the servant of the business outcome.”
For example “digitize my business” and “get to the cloud” are not the same. Lifting and shifting assets to the cloud is not enough. To navigate the messy middle of change, you must select projects with meaningful outcomes and remember:
“Digital transformation is about business transformation, empowered by technology, and in that order.“ 
The one certainty is Microsoft customers with an E5 license grow and leverage Microsoft resources. In fact, we might expect a Microsoft E11 license tier soon (a joke). Microsoft delivered their intention to innovate this decade, so why not turn it up to 11? And let the builders build in 2021.