Earlier this month more than 18,000 Microsoft professionals from around the world gathered in Las Vegas USA for Inspire, the company’s annual partner conference. They came to see what is new, and to learn about the company’s transformational technologies directly from the visionaries, executives, personnel and partner experts that make the Microsoft ecosystem powerful. They got their money’s worth.
Microsoft CEO focuses on customer-centric strategy
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote speech focused on customer success, digital transformation and the ongoing paradigm shift – “bigger than anything that’s come before” – that is moving the industry toward people-centered experience, decoupling that experience from the device, and decoupling input and output. And all of this, he said, will be powered by a ubiquitous computing fabric like the Azure platform.
To illustrate the concept of ubiquitous computing, he highlighted this quote from visionary computer scientist, Mark Weiser:
"The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they're indistinguishable from it."
– Mark Weiser, father of “ubiquitous computing” and CTO of Xerox PARC
Nadella offered additional insight: “Fundamentally, so far, we've built applications which are what I would describe as device-centric. We've really not, whether it's the operating system or the application, not broken free of the device. And that's what's going to have to happen.
“That means put people at the center, the relationship people have with other people, the activities and tasks that you do,” Nadella continued. “That's what's got to drive the devices in our life, not the other way around. And to us, that's what we're trying to do across the board […] it's about building these people-centered, multi-sense, multi-device experiences.”
Nadella also touched on the future state of business process automation: “When you think about business process in particular,” he said, “one thing that is going to be true is more things are going to be digitized. As we see the power of IoT and other tools that are going to be used, every workflow is going to be automated on an ongoing basis. That means we need to have a set of tools that allow us to reduce the total cost of these customizations and automations.”
CTO talks about the intelligent edge
Kevin Scott, Microsoft CTO, focused on the next wave of computing – intelligent edge and intelligent cloud. “When we take the power of the could down to the device – the edge – we provide the ability to respond, reason and act in real time, and in areas with limited or not connectivity,” he said.
Scott offered several examples of how this concept can be applied to solving critical world challenges, including…
- Increasing global food supply: The world will need 70% more food to feed a global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. A growing number of farmers are using the intelligent edge (specifically Microsoft’s FarmBeats solution) to execute precision agriculture with real-time intelligence to guide planting.
- Ecological research and conservation: The intelligent edge creates opportunities to collect data on natural disasters and threatened habitats. Smart sensors can collect data on events as they happen, providing researchers with the info they need for greater fidelity in the models, and enabling them to take actions and make predictions.
- Improving efficiency and safety in the energy industry: Because natural resources are limited, it is critical that energy companies work efficiently. Smart companies are using the intelligent edge in oil fields to monitor and configure settings and operations remotely, only sending personnel on-site when necessary when sensors, systems and analysis indicates – or predicts – a problem.
Azure enhancements enable digital transformation and IoT
Jason Zander, EVP – Microsoft Azure, noted the company’s recently announced four-year, $5 billion USD investment in IoT, and discussed new MS technologies designed to help organizations navigate their digital transformation and build the critical foundations for cloud and artificial intelligence (AI), including…
- The recently announced general availability of Azure IoT Edge
- Azure IoT Central support for Power BI and Microsoft Flow – to enable customers to visualize real-time intelligence and create workflows based on those insights. With the new Power BI capability, customers can see IoT data in Power BI, such as how many measurements have been sent, which devices are most active, etc. With this window into real-time insights and historical data, customers and partners can analyze the long-term trends to inform business actions. And with new connectors in Microsoft Flow, customers can build workflows triggered by alerts, such as field service job orders.
- Azure Stack’s hybrid solution, which will allow customers deliver Azure services from their data center – or in completely disconnected environments like an oil rig.
- Azure Data Box expansion: Rolled out on a limited basis in 2017, Azure Data Box, an appliance designed to overcome data-transfer barriers (which slow productivity and innovation) now is available worldwide.
- Azure Global Network: One of the world’s largest cloud networks will continue to grow and adapt to enable customers to move to a cloud-based model. Two new services are available in preview: Azure Virtual WAN and Azure Firewall.
In addition, in the past three months Microsoft has…
- introduced Azure Sphere.
- announced Visual Studio for Azure Sphere to accelerate innovation at the outer edge, as well as new IoT edge capabilities and partnership.
AI for Earth teams up with National Geographic
Microsoft announced a new partnership with National Geographic to advance scientific exploration and research on critical environmental challenge using the power of artificial intelligence (AI). The newly created $1 million USD AI for Earth Innovation Grant Program will provide recipients with financial support, access to Microsoft Cloud and AI tools, and affiliation with National Geographic Labs, an initiative launched to accelerate transformative change and solutions by harnessing data, technology and innovation.
AI for Earth grant will provide support for five to 15 projects TBD using AI to advance conservation research, and will support the creation and deployment of open-source trained models and algorithms that will be made available to other environmental researchers.
This grant is part of Microsoft’s $50 million USD commitment to AI for Earth, which Microsoft President Brad Smith called “a force multiplier” for organizations working to create sustainable solutions for climate, water, agriculture and biodiversity challenges.
The upshot: All these developments and investments are good news for Microsoft partners -- and for Productive Edge. Microsoft toolsets, platforms and marketplace strategies continue to align perfectly with PE’s focus on partnering with our clients around differentiated customer engagement, enhanced employee experience and operations optimization. And they speak directly to PE’s specializations and offerings in customer experience, digital strategy, enterprise mobility, digital marketing smart services/IoT cognitive automation and AI/machine learning.