There was something different about this year's Future Decoded conference put on by Microsoft at London's ExCel conference and exhibition centre. The arrival of Windows 10 earlier this year meant that the company - and in particular CEO Satya Nadella - had something concrete to talk about.
And he took the opportunity, against a background set up at the start of the conference by Steve Clayton - a man with a job title, both enviable and misinterpretable, of Chief Storyteller for Microsoft.
Pointing to the fact that the UK is currently ranked lowest of the G7 countries when it comes to productivity, he suggested to a largely city-based audience that now was the time to start looking to promote digital transformation within their businesses as the means of improving that poor productivity.
The Windows 10 theme became the underpinning of Nadella's presentation rather than the main course, as he used his own experiences as a model for how recent developments in digitalisation can help to improve productivity. This, he said, now lies at the core of Microsoft:
The goal now is to empower every individual and organisation to do more. Businesses need to be able to bring people together, and the cornerstone for this is mobile first, coupled with the cloud. And the future now is wearable devices - the computer is now on our wrists.
He suggested that there are a number of ways in which Microsoft can contribute here. One way is in the reinvention of productivity and business processes in ways that help allocate the scarce resources - and people resources in particular- as effectively as possible. In his view, there is now a growing need to help people make progress in both their personal development and contribution to a business so that they do not become a boundary to the improvement of productivity.
There is, he said, a need for businesses to build out their cloud infrastructures to give themselves the most intelligent, flexible platforms possible. And to that end he then threw in a specific new announcement:
I can today announce the expansion of our public cloud in Europe. The development of our data centers in The Netherlands and Ireland are now complete, and in 2016 a UK datacenter will be started. This is empowering for users as it should give users a feeling of infinite capacity being available to them. So they can now have the ambition not to be limited by capacity issues.
That additional computing resource opens up, in his view, new opportunities to businesses to re-think what they do and how they do it. This almost goes back to first principles of re-evaluating what `personal computing' now actually means, pointing to the arrival of Windows 10 and what it can represent as a first step in the wider transformation of whole businesses:
For example, it changes the rules of user interaction with devices, the inputs and outputs of using computers, when there is inking on things, voice, and gesture controls available to use. The question then becomes one of what to do with it all.
His suggestion is to re-evaluate first principles and take a new look at personal computing, for that is the opportunity that Windows 10 represents as a first step in achieving business transformation. Key here is the way that it changes the rules on user interfaces - the inputs and outputs of using computers. Developments such as voice and gesture interactions are, he feels, significantly changing the rules of what can be achieved with the old UI.
As an example of what can be possible by combining mobile and the cloud he turned to the UK company, BioBeats, which collects the personal health data of a wearer to not just log them but to predict health issues and help point the wearer towards changes in personal lifestyle strategies so as to change a possible health outcome.
This looks to be an interesting development because it combines wearable technology with Big Data analytics and a good touch of Internet of Things technology into a system with broad ramifications. Not only does it aim to keep the wearer more healthy, it also aims to help reduce the contribution to the depletion of health care costs the wearer then makes.
Nadella then used his own work pattern as an example of what is now possible. Or perhaps it was more the edited highlights of his day, as became evident. Like many senior execs these days, he has become increasingly dependent on his phone. Using it to stay in touch with key business performance indicators, as well as collaborating directly with key staff and partners.
Using what he called an `ìPhone Pro' - an iPhone equipped with all the latest Microsoft applications - he set about giving a personal demo of using a mobile in a real, working environment, running through a number of apps on Win10 and Office 365, such as personal ID program, Hello, and Power BI.
This latter hinted that some of the demo have just been the edited highlights of his day, as Nadella ran through a real time look at data on received hashtag messages, by sentiment, over the last hour. It was interesting to note that the sentiment division was just 'neutral' and `positive'. Strangely, there was no `negative', let alone `hostile'.
Despite that, Nadella did quietly drive home the point that the combination of Windows apps on mobiles, integrated with mainstream business apps in the cloud, can now build business management environments that offer users a good deal of flexibility and power.
This then led him into an observation that could well strike a chord with businesses looking to do business amongst the emerging nations:
When working in emerging countries the phone is often the only IT tool available, so making it as functionally rich as possible is an important factor.
He could also have noted that emerging nations often have better mobile comms than some first world countries, but was probably too polite.
Ho now sees IT standing on the cusp of some startling new developments that use new technologies such as augmented reality and holograms to share data, information and ideas in new ways.
In this case, he cited Microsoft's HoloLens application as a specific technology providing such capabilities. This, he suggested, could lead to a new burst of development in new types of 'personal computer' that would be geared to creating new tools that help boost personal productivity and business transformation:
These developments can empower everybody.
As an example of this he pointed to developments in creating 3D soundscapes that become both virtual `guide dog' and information resource for visually impaired people. And there is plenty of scope for re-use of the technology in other areas, such as providing location-associated translation/information services for foreign visitors in their own language.
This is a bit like a first attempt at creating Douglas Adams' famed Babel fish. It is a bit of a whale at the moment, but evolution is obviously now in progress. And the potential that raw technology might have on the productivity of companies with busy export markets could be an interesting prospect for many of them.
Last year, Nadella could only talk around the possibilities that were coming with Windows 10 and the cloud, and ended up ducking the issue. This year, with something concrete to show, he used himself to show what might be possible for others, and he created a comfortable easy-to-achieve view of, not least by not using the word `disrupt' once.