Microsoft partners reflect on a ‘crazy’ year as awards season wraps up

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Peter Griffin

As Microsoft Partners gathered in Auckland to celebrate the best tech projects of the year, it was also a time reflect on what the industry learnt from the Covid-19 crisis - and how to apply it to 'business as usual' in 2021.

Microsoft partners Equinox IT, Datacom and Fusion5 were among the winners at the Microsoft Partners Awards held in Auckland on Fright night, capping off what Microsoft Managing Director Vanessa Sorensen described as a “crazy” year.

Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director, Vanessa Sorenson

“Everyone has struggled, it’s been a tough year. It’s been crazy,” Sorensen told the crowd assembled at the Town Hall.

“But if there’s one industry out there that has shone bright and punched Covid in the face, it is the technology industry.” 

While the winning projects, such as Datacom’s Azure migration for the Financial Markets Authority and Fusion5’s business applications project with the Higher Education Centre of Excellence, weren’t initiated in response to Covid-19, Sorenson said she was struck by how the pandemic had influenced them.

“There are two phrases that stuck out in the applications,” she said.

“‘We are so proud of the work we have done for this customer’ and ‘the crisis forced us to focus’.”

The Datacom team pick up the Azure Migrate Award

Partners weathered the storm – and thrived

For Hamilton-based Aware Group, a Microsoft Partner, Covid-19 forced the company to temporarily pause its global expansion.

“It wasn’t great that we opened a Singapore office in February,” says Travis Corrie, Head of Commercial at Aware Group, which specialises in projects involving artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous systems, and advanced robotics

“We had to bring the team of four back in March.”

Aware Group, which was a finalist in three categories – Azure Innovate Award, Azure Migrate Award and Optimising Operations Award, plans to be back in Singapore as soon as possible. 

But the company’s business nevertheless flourished this year.

“There was a slow down in July and August, but by September things skyrocketed. We didn’t have enough people to deal with everything that was happening,” says Corrie.

Despite the uncertainty of 2020, Aware Group had increased its focus on staying at the forefront of emerging technologies. As Umbrellar Connect reported in August, Aware has been working on the dog-shaped robot from Boston Robotics to customise it for various uses across industries.

“That sort of thing really helps us stay relevant,” says Corrie. 

“That’s what will differentiate us from everyone else.” 

Equinox IT won the Azure Innovate Award for their work with Fulton Hogan

Equinox IT won the Azure Innovate Award for their work with Fulton Hogan

A compelling event that focused everyone

For Dave Howden, General Manager and Head of Cloud at Microsoft Partner Umbrellar, 2020 reaffirmed for him the importance of partnerships.

“We’ve always seen the relationships that bind us together as being key to getting us to a good customer outcome,” he says. 

Umbrellar was a finalist in the Channel Development Award category.

Umbrellar General Manager, Dave Howden

“The industry has had to dig really deep this year, to realise there has been a groundswell of customer activity when they’ve lent on our technology so much.”

The end of 2020 doesn’t signify the end of the pandemic, says Howden, but is a symbolic moment to reflect on what had been achieved at speed in the face of a major public health and economic crisis.

“It was a compelling event only that made this fast-paced decision making happen, one compelling event that everyone understood,” he says.

The question now is whether we can apply what we have learned to business outside of a crisis.

“When we are up against it, we can do it. I’m yet to see if we can create a compelling event that everyone can unify behind that isn’t something disastrous like this pandemic,” says Howden.

Howden said he had the Umbrellar team would reflect on what they had learned this year and what would need to change in the business as a result.

We are here to deliver tech for tomorrow’s world to all New Zealand businesses. 

“I’ve also said to my team, we are in a different working environment now, look after yourself and your mental wellbeing. You may not be around your peers in the office any more, so find what that balance looks like,” says Howden.

Full noise in 2021

For Sorenson, it was a particularly significant year, starting in the Managing Director year just as Covid-19 began to shut down the global economy.

“I took on my dream job on the 1st of April, April Fools Day. That was no joke. The first thing I had to do was close the office,” she told the partner community in Auckland.

Enabling business continuity for its customers had been the big focus for Microsoft in 2020 

“What I saw form partners was clear thinking, fantastic innovation and businesses thinking bigger than they ever thought possible,” she said.

In 2021, Microsoft will launch an Azure data centre region in New Zealand. It will be no outpost, says Sorenson, but “full noise”, bringing capability to the country enjoyed in 67 other Azure regions around the world. 

“There will be no ribbon-cutting, no Microsoft sign on our data centres, because security is everything to us,” she says. 

“We are going to digitalise this country, we are going to take businesses offshore and we are going to become the figurehead for global businesses to watch what we can do,” she says.

“We are going to kick ass.”

The full list of Microsoft Partner Awards winners:

Azure Innovate Award

Winner: Equinox IT – Fulton Hogan

Azure Migrate Award

Winner: Datacom – Financial Markets Authority

Highly Commended:  LANcom Technology – MMC

Highly Commended:  The Instillery – Watercare

Business Applications Award

Winner: Fusion5 – Higher Education Centre of Excellence

Channel Development Award

Winner: Dicker Data – Microsoft Azure Cloud Solution Provider Growth

Cloud for Good Award

Winner: Datacom – Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara. 

Highly Commended:    Softsource – Youth Horizons

Empowering Employees Award

Winner: Information Leadership – Tasman District Council 

Engaging Customers Award

Winner: NV Interactive – Te Puni Kōkiri

ISV Partner Award

Winner: Valocity – Valocity Connect

Highly Commended:  Theta – EVA Check-in

Modern Work & Security Award

Winner: DEFEND – Zespri

Highly Commended:  Vodafone New Zealand Limited – Bank of New Zealand

Highly Commended:  UNiFY NZ Limited – Ministry of Education

Highly Commended:  Lexel Systems Ltd – Alliance Group

Optimising Operations Award

Winner: Rocos – Robot Operations Platform

Surface Partner Award

Winner: Spark New Zealand – Kāinga Ora

Transforming Products Award

Winner: Fusion5 – Manawanui

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Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform,


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Microsoft partners reflect on a 'crazy' year as awards season wraps up - Umbrellar Connect

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