2017 has been an exciting and interesting year for Microsoft and its partners. We've entered a new phase in our relationship, which has brought many good changes to the way we work together and how we'll enable partners to help their customers compete in a dynamic digital landscape.

But change is hard and it leads to lots of questions. At the recent Executive Partner Summit (EPS) in Cannes, I met with partners to answer questions about our new approach. We spoke about what these changes mean and how we'll navigate the future together - especially with Microsoft "competitors". While some of those meetings were intense, there was a fresh, invigorating energy to the conversations when we discussed how Microsoft can collaborate with other organizations to build new solutions and ecosystems for their customers.

Gavriella at EPS 2017

Defining a culture of partnership

During the summit, I stood on stage with my longtime friend and colleague Mike Angiulo, who is the corporate VP of Microsoft's independent software vendor (ISV) and systems integrators (SI) group. We talked about the culture of partnership that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discusses in his new book, Hit Refresh. We challenged the audience to consider what partnership really is. When you break it down, partnership is a combination of trust and empathy, mixed with an exchange of value.

Stop and read that last sentence again, because each component is critical. You can't have one without the other. As Mike said during our talk, if you only have an exchange of value, it's just a transaction. If you only have trust and empathy, you have a friendship. Exclusively, those two things are nice, but the combination of the two -  transaction with the currency of empathy and trust - is what creates partnership.

That's what Microsoft is building with our partners. It's a critical change, because if we don't support and learn from each other, we're missing out on a multi-billion dollar opportunity at our customers' expense. And they're the ones driving the change.

Rising to the challenge

Customer expectations are at an all-time high. Building seamless solutions between mobile and desktop, work and home, is no longer a luxury - it's a necessity. Customers aren't satisfied with disconnected products and services. They demand fully integrated, high-performance solutions. Together, we need to deliver on those expectations.

We've already noticed a shift in how our partners - customers are adapting. They're operating with a new sense of fear in their quest to create leading solutions in the market. They want to be the disruptor, not the disrupted. As they try to figure out what to do and how to do it, they're finding the best path forward is to leverage the deep knowledge of other Microsoft partners.

Recognizing the opportunity in disruption

Toni Townes-Whitley, our corporate VP of industry, had an incredible statistic at EPS this year that demonstrated the opportunity at stake. Currently, less than one-half of 1 percent of the data consumers have put out into the world is being put to use. That means 99.5 percent of consumer data is waiting to be tapped! The key to unlocking all that data? Partnership. That's why Microsoft is pivoting to help mutual customers re-envision their products and find the disruptions they want to create.

Now, this whole partnership thing can be tricky. Looking across Microsoft's partner portfolio, there are many companies we compete with, in multiple spaces. Like Microsoft, they're household names. But our new approach pushes all of us to think bigger. We can drive our businesses separately and together, by focusing on points of alignment instead of areas where we compete. As Satya noted in his book, "Done right, partnering grows the pie for everyone."

This isn't a zero-sum game. It's not a we-win-you-lose sort of deal. In fact, it's the opposite. Every time we come together with our partners for a solution, we open a new socket that creates value for everyone. We all need to work together and use transformative technology to help partners build successful ecosystems for customers.

Microsoft has Hit Refresh on our partner philosophy. I look forward to more conversations with partners and employees in the field to discuss how our collaboration benefits everyone, so when someone asks, “Are we partners or competitors?” the answer is simple: Yes, we are.

Share your own story of partnership and collaboration below.