This Week’s Forecast – Lots of Stars in NYC and LA…

Fireworks are a form of global joy. Around the world, at times of great celebration, civilizations have found ways to launch stars into the sky, to create near the earth what we usually can only see from a distance at night. I’ve watched fireworks all over the United States (as recently as Monday of this week!) and in Paris for Bastille Day a few years ago. It’s no wonder that when someone does something spectacular, we call him or her a “star.”

Later this week, I’ll be in New York City, where on Broadway, stars are born. It’s the culmination of our year-long showcase of the brightest young minds, the kickoff of the worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup, an event that brings together teams of students from around the world who utilize Microsoft technology to address some of the world’s toughest challenges.

The Imagine Cup is now in its ninth year, and has become one of the pre-eminent youth technology competitions in the world. Last year, about 325,000 students from more than 100 countries participated. This year, about 352,000 young people from around the globe signed up to compete.

Beginning Friday evening and running through next Wednesday, more than 400 of the brightest young minds from more than 70 countries will be competing – the winners from all of the local, national and regional competitions around the world over this past year.

It’s amazing to see how the students develop solutions for environmental issues, medical diagnosis, disaster relief and technology access for the disabled, and how they mix and match technology to reach those solutions.

For this competition, Windows Phone 7 is the most commonly used technology. It’s being utilized for a wide range of solutions, from diagnosing malaria, to finding the nearest recycling center, to helping disaster victims broadcast their locations.

Czech rescue workers used the Geographical Information Assistant (GINA), a project from last year’s Imagine Cup, during disaster response efforts after Japan’s massive March earthquake.

These students are very cloud savvy as well. Nearly half of this year’s software design projects use Windows Azure and almost 30 percent are using Bing maps.

Perhaps most encouraging of all: The number of female participants in the world finals has more than doubled from last year. In fact, four all-women teams advanced to the finals this year. This is an incredibly healthy trend that we want to support and encourage, so all the women participants will be getting together Sunday evening for a dinner with preeminent business leaders and women entrepreneurs and thinkers to discuss how they can advance their projects and ideas after the competition.

Some of the dinner participants include Allison Watson, corporate vice president of business and marketing, Microsoft; Earl Newsome, vice president of global shared services, Estée Lauder; Her Excellency Meryl Frank, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Council on Women & Girls; Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the American Islamic Congress; and Jane Prey, senior researcher, Microsoft.

Microsoft’s business and our entire industry are based on great ideas, on the intellectual property that comes from attracting the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. Our industry needs greater contributions from women, so hopefully the trend we’re seeing among Imagine Cup participants is indicative of a far more inclusive future for our industry.

No doubt, some stars will be born during this event, and you can follow the Imagine Cup action on the Microsoft News Center, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sources.

From NYC, I head to Los Angeles, another city where stars are hatched. It’s here where we’ll host our Worldwide Partner Conference and celebrate another year of amazing accomplishments with more than 14,000 partners from 130 countries around the world.

Like us, our partners are on the journey to the cloud. That was the primary theme of last year’s conference and while I suspect the cloud will dominate this year’s discussions as well, we’ll have news about Windows and other products and services that span from your pocket, to the desktop, to the traditional data center and into the cloud.

Senior leaders from across the company will talk about the unique and compelling experiences that we and our partners are creating for customers as we connect smart and increasingly powerful devices (PCs, phones and TVs, for example) at the edge of the network with smart cloud services.

But perhaps most important is the spotlight this conference shines on our partners, who really are an under-appreciated asset, the unassuming stars, if you will, of Microsoft’s business.

Few really appreciate how partner-centric we are as an organization. We have more than 640,000 organizations worldwide in our ecosystem who account for more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue. To put this in perspective: When we report our FY11 results later this month, partners will have been responsible for generating or fulfilling more than $60 billion of that revenue.

That’s obviously great for Microsoft. But more importantly, for every dollar that Microsoft earns, our partners earn $8.70 worldwide. That’s great for our partners, and for all the countries in which we do business, as our partners create new jobs, develop new skills, create new businesses and expand existing ones. A 2009 study by the IT research firm IDC found that companies that develop or sell products that run on or with Microsoft software, or that service and distribute Microsoft software, employ 6.1 million people, and that IT organizations employ another 8.8 million IT professionals who work with Microsoft software or the products and services based on it.

Together, those 14.9 million people accounted for 42 percent of the people working in the IT industry. Given the state of economies worldwide, few things are as important as the creation of new jobs, and new opportunities for macroeconomic and personal growth. That’ll be an important subtext to what occurs next week in L.A.

It’s an exciting future that we’re embarked upon together with our partners. Together, we’ve had enormous economic impact in all the countries in which we do business. Together, we’ve reached billions of people and millions of businesses, delivering value and creating new opportunities for customers.

And together, we’ll keep reaching for the stars…

Posted by Frank X. Shaw
Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications, Microsoft