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Microsoft Inspire 2018: Industry focus, co-selling among top trends

Microsoft aims to double down its focus on specific industries, a year-old initiative that company executives said is already bearing fruit in customer response and new business.

The continued emphasis on such vertical markets as financial services, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and government ranks among the top developments at Microsoft Inspire 2018, the company’s annual partner conference that runs through July 19 in Las Vegas. Microsoft’s industry focus was a key theme at Inspire in 2017, when the company said it would reorganize around industry lines to better understand its customers’ businesses. That shift affected a range of areas at Microsoft, from engineering to sales.

But the industry  approach  has already helped land such customers as Starbucks, Unilever, Dun & Bradstreet, and Komatsu, noted Judson Althoff, executive vice president of worldwide commercial business at Microsoft. He said partners are a crucial element of its industry campaign.

“Partners are the beginning and the end, the first and the last mile of our industry strategy,” Althoff said, speaking at Microsoft Inspire 2018. “[Partners] bring forward the differentiation we need to make our customers’ digital transformations come to life.

While last year’s focus was on launching a new go-to-market strategy and structure, Microsoft is now looking to execute on that industry-oriented foundation. Althoff said the industry approach would remain a consistent part of the company’s strategy moving into Microsoft’s 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Chart summarizing Microsoft's strategic initiatives
At Microsoft Inspire 2018, the company continued to emphasize digital transformation as a pivotal opportunity, while restating its focus on vertical industries.

Industry partnering

Microsoft is tapping partners for their industry experience and knowledge — important qualities to have on hand as the Redmond company shifts from selling licenses to delivering digital transformation, which the company has identified as a $4.5 trillion opportunity.

But Microsoft is also looking to partners to develop solutions that build upon core offerings such as the Microsoft Azure platform, Microsoft Office and Dynamics 365. Althoff said Microsoft’s commercial marketplace has five times as many solutions available today than a year ago, noting partners are “building code” and “investing in IP.”

I really love the fact that we can build onto Microsoft core product.
Richard Marrisonnational leader of technology advisory, KPMG Australia

A Microsoft partner venture in the financial services vertical provides one case in point. KPMG Australia, Microsoft and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia are collaborating on a software platform called Wiise, which is slated to launch in August 2018. The system, which targets small and medium-sized businesses, integrates online banking functionality into a business management platform. Wiise also integrates with other offerings such as Office 365.

Richard Marrison, national leader of technology advisory at KPMG Australia, cited the ability to develop solutions on Microsoft infrastructure.

“I … really love the fact that we can build onto Microsoft core product,” he said during a panel discussion at Microsoft Inspire 2018. “There are very few technologies where you can actually do that in a structured and systemic way.”

In the healthcare vertical, ClearData, a healthcare cloud security and compliance company based in Austin, Texas, this week unveiled an offering for Microsoft Azure. The company said the product lets healthcare organizations using Azure maintain compliance with laws relating to protected health information.

Matt Ferrari, CTO at ClearData, said the company views industry verticalization inside of Microsoft as a driver for customer adoption of the Microsoft Azure platform.

“Microsoft has spent significant time building up their capabilities on the security, compliance and privacy side of Azure, and this has helped lead to healthcare organizations feeling more comfortable with moving their data to Azure-based services,” he explained.

Ferrari said ClearData is seeing significant demand in the healthcare vertical for the Microsoft Azure platform.

“Healthcare providers and payers are often familiar with Microsoft services — whether it be Office 365, SQL or other services — and often have a level of ease when adopting Azure-based services,” he said.

In addition to familiarity, other factors driving Azure demand include an overall increase in cloud adoption in the healthcare space and a Capex-to-Opex shift as healthcare organizations look to move away from traditional data center and IT infrastructure expansion, Ferrari said.

Co-selling offerings

Another important theme at Microsoft Inspire 2018 is the co-sell concept, in which partners sell their offerings in conjunction with the Microsoft salesforce.

“The biggest theme that we have coming from this conference is the term ‘co-sell,'” said Dana Berg, COO at SADA Systems Inc., a business and technology consulting firm in Los Angeles. “It is not necessarily new, but it’s being more emphasized this year.”

Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner (OCP) applications catalog is an important co-sell component. Once Microsoft approves partner applications for inclusion in the catalog, Microsoft’s sales people are incented to start selling those solutions, Berg noted.

The rationale: Partner offerings help boost the consumption of Microsoft’s cloud platforms and also provide solutions that fill the gaps where those platforms don’t address industry-specific needs.

Berg said SADA Systems has packaged a number of offerings the company has developed for customers over the years and has worked with Microsoft to get those applications approved and featured in the OCP catalog.

Vertical developments at Microsoft Inspire 2018

Microsoft executives, meanwhile, discussed specific partner opportunities within vertical markets at Inspire.

Rita Tenan, senior director of government industry EMEA at Microsoft, listed a set of fiscal year 2019 priority solutions for the public sector. At the national level, those solutions include systems supporting digital tax, social programs and labor, digital justice, and transportation. Local and regional government priorities include coordinated first response, urban mobility, smart building and citizen services solution. And in the defense and intelligence sector, the priority solutions include command and control, border security, cybersecurity training, and wargaming andsimulation.

In Microsoft’s manufacturing and resources segment, the company is placing “big bets” on smart energy, industrial IoT and precision agriculture, according to Çağlayan Arkan, general manager of manufacturing at Microsoft.

“All of this will require partner capacity to deliver,” he said.

HPE’s HCI system takes aim at space-constrained data centers

The latest addition to HPE’s HCI portfolio aims to give smaller IT shops a little less bang for a lot less buck.

The HPE SimpliVity 2600 configures up to four compute modules in a 2U space, and features “always-on” deduplication and compression. Those capabilities often appeal to businesses with space-constrained IT environments or with no dedicated data center at all, particularly ones that deploy VDI applications on remote desktops for complex workloads and require only moderate storage.

Examples include branch offices, such as supermarkets or retailers with no dedicated data center room, who might likely keep a server in a manager’s office, said Thomas Goepel, director of HPE’s product management for hyper-converged systems.

Higher-end HPE HCI products, such as the SimpliVity 380, emphasize operational efficiencies, but their compute power may exceed the needs of many remote branch offices, and at a higher cost, so the 2600’s price-performance ratio may be more attractive, said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions LLC in Gilford, N.H.

“Remote branch offices tend to look at lower-cost approaches over efficiencies,” he said. “Higher-end [HPE HCI systems] and in some cases the lower-end boxes, may not be the right fit for what we think of as a ROBO server.”

Dana Gardner, Interarbor SolutionsDana Gardner

On the other hand, many smaller IT shops lack internal technical talent and may struggle to implement more complex VDI workloads.

“[VDI] requires a lot of operational oversight to get it up and rolling and tuned in with the rest of the environment,” Gardner said.

The market for higher compute density HCI to run complex workloads that involve VDI applications represents a rich opportunity, concurred Steve McDowell, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “It’s a smart play for HPE, and should compete well against Nutanix,” he said.

There has been a tremendous appetite [among users] for HCI products in general because they come packaged and ready to install.
Dana Gardnerprincipal analyst, Interarbor Solutions

The HPE SimpliVity 2600, based on the company’s Apollo 2000 platform, also overlaps with HPE’s Edgeline systems unveiled last month, although there are distinct differences in the software stack and target applications, McDowell said. The 2600 is more of an appliance with a fixed feature set contained in a consolidated management framework.

The Edgeline offering, meanwhile, targets infrastructure consolidation out on the edge with a more even balance of compute, storage and networking capabilities.

Higher-end HPE HCI offerings have gained traction among corporate users. Revenues for these systems surged 280% in this year’s first quarter compared with a year ago, versus 76% growth for the overall HCI market, according to IDC, the market research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

“There has been a tremendous appetite for HCI products in general because they come packaged and ready to install,” Gardner said. “HPE is hoping to take advantage of this with iterations that allow them to expand their addressable market, in this case downward.”

The 2600 will be available sometime by mid-July, according to HPE.

Land O’Lakes CIO strives to optimize economics of digital farming

Powered by big data, digital farming aims to help farmers grow crops in smarter, more sustainable and more efficient ways than ever before. Today, Land O’Lakes Inc. is looking at how to use analytics and cutting-edge technology to further reduce the risk farmers take on every growing season.

In an interview filmed at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Michael Macrie, senior vice president and CIO at Land O’Lakes, provided a glimpse into how AI and machine learning are transforming one of the oldest industries in the world and why the economics of digital farming are a critical part of the way forward.

Editor’s note: The following was edited for clarity and brevity.

Is it hard to sell AI and machine learning to the business?

Michael Macrie: Yes. At their fundamental levels, these concepts are tools. They’re tools that could be used for a number of different reasons or solutions. So we like to talk about that business value — what’s the value they’re going bring to our business, what’s the value they’re going bring to that specific individual and the company, what’s the value they’re going bring to the customer or consumer. And if we can do that, we have a richer discussion than talking about the tool sets.

Yes, we may use big data, we may use AI behind the scenes, but the reality is that most businesspeople are looking for the result. They’re looking for the solution. And if we use magic behind the scenes, I’m not sure they care. And some of this is pretty close to magic these days. I think there’s a big opportunity for CIOs to talk differently to their stakeholders about the end result and what [companies] care about — not about the technology.

I talked to your predecessor in 2013 about digital farming. Where do things stand today?

Macrie: Back in 2013, we were just launching our first tool called the R7 tool. And now, with five years under our belt, we’ve become one of the market leaders and the largest distributor of ag-technology (agriculture technology) to America’s farmers. We have four proprietary tools that do very well. The tools help our farmers do more and grow more in the most sustainable way possible. And it’s been a great run for us in deploying these ag-technology resources. We bought a satellite company, which analyzes all of the [customer] imagery in real time. We project all those alerts down to the fields and down to people’s handhelds. We direct farmers on where to go every day.

It’s really changing American agriculture as we know it. It’s helping them grow more and spend less and do it in a way that’s more sustainably and environmentally friendly.

What kind of data do the tools rely on?

Macrie: For each and every field in the United States, we analyzed 40 years of history, and we can tell the farmer what the best seed is to plant in each piece of his field — different populations, different nutrient recommendations, all in a custom prescription. We beam that to the tractor. The tractor drives itself and plants these seeds. During the year, we monitor it with those same satellites, and we can detect anomalies before the naked eye can detect them and direct farmers and scouts out to those areas to do some diagnosis on what’s going on in the field: Does it need nutrients? Is there a weed? Is there a pest problem? We can then take action and preserve their yield during the course of the year.

Do you use AI and machine learning to detect anomalies?

Macrie: We use statistics and machine learning to detect the anomalies in the field. We run statistics across not only the field itself, but the field’s history and the other fields around it that were planted on similar dates to detect those anomalies.

Now that you’ve developed the tools and architecture for digital farming, what new problem are you looking to solve?

Macrie: What we’re working on right now is the economics and the economic variables for that farmer. We think we’ve cracked the code on how to grow more with less, and we’re bringing those solutions to market today and next year. After that though, we have to get the economics right.

A farmer is probably one of the largest gamblers in all of society. They take so much risk — on weather, on the crop yields and on the economic outcomes with the commodity pricing. We have to help them reduce that risk. We have to help them make it more manageable. And so that’s where we’re investing a lot of time and technology today to reduce the risk farmers take every year and provide them a more sustainable path to income.

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Saxo Bank and Microsoft partner to shape the future of cloud services in the financial industry

Saxo Bank aims to run its entire banking platform on Microsoft Cloud, thus providing an agile and highly secure environment for the bank to accelerate its digital journey and democratize financial services

REDMOND, Wash., and COPENHAGEN, Denmark — April 24, 2018 — On Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. and Saxo Bank announced a strategic partnership with the aim of running Saxo Bank’s entire technology stack on the Microsoft Cloud.

Financial services are at a transformational tipping point. It is key for financial organizations to harness data and cloud services as a strategic asset, shifting from hindsight to foresight closely hinged on security, privacy and regulatory compliance. With the partnership, Saxo Bank aims to lead at the forefront of technology developments in the financial industry.

Saxo Bank is a leading fintech specialist focused on multiasset trading and investment, servicing clients in more than 170 countries with access to investments in global capital markets and headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. Saxo Bank delivers “banking-as-a-service,” allowing other banks and brokers to leverage Saxo Bank’s technology and global capital markets access. Expecting the number and scale of partnerships to grow significantly, Saxo Bank has decided to leverage the Microsoft Cloud to ensure scalability, flexibility and security in the digital infrastructure.

“The future of financial services is cloud based, and by partnering with Microsoft we take part in shaping this future. Saxo Bank was a fintech long before the term was created, and it is a natural step for us to also pioneer cloud-based solutions in financial services,” said Kim Fournais, founder and CEO, Saxo Bank. “By leveraging the Microsoft Cloud, we can spend more time on developing technology and less time on running it, allowing us to continue to stay at the forefront of client-focused digitization and support our ambitious growth plans.”

A trusted platform is the foundation for running financial services in the cloud, and organizations — like Saxo Bank — that continuously develop to stay at the forefront of technology will become the digital leaders of the future and maintain their competitive edge.

“We are excited to help Saxo Bank shape the future of trading and investment on our cloud platform,” said Judson Althoff, executive vice president, Worldwide Commercial Business, Microsoft. “Saxo Bank is at the forefront of fintech, and our partnership will enable financial service organizations to securely harness data to better serve their clients.”

“We are proud to break new ground together with Microsoft and look forward to be working with key stakeholders such as regulators to ensure that cloud solutions continue to evolve and support the high regulatory standards that define the financial industry,” Fournais said. “At an early stage, we saw opportunities in using [the internet and] digital solutions to differentiate ourselves. Since we launched one of the first online investment platforms in 1998, we have been a Microsoft house, as such the Microsoft cloud is a natural fit for Saxo Bank.”

Today, Saxo Bank supports more than 120 White Label partnerships globally. Through its unique trading and investment technology, Saxo Bank facilitates access to more than 35,000 financial instruments across multiple asset classes.

About Saxo Bank

Saxo Bank Group (Saxo) is a leading fintech specialist focused on multi-asset trading and investment and delivering ‘Banking-as-a-Service’ to wholesale clients. For 25 years, Saxo’s mission has been to democratize investment and trading, enabling clients by facilitating their seamless access to global capital markets through technology and expertise.

As a fully licensed and regulated bank, Saxo enables its direct clients to trade multiple asset classes across global financial markets from one single margin account and across multiple devices. Additionally, Saxo provides wholesale institutional clients such as banks and brokers with multi-asset execution, prime brokerage services and trading technology, supporting the full value chain delivering Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS). Saxo’s award winning trading platforms are available in more than 20 languages and form the technology backbone of more than 100 financial institutions worldwide.

Founded in 1992 and launching its first online trading platform in 1998, Saxo Bank was a fintech even before the term was created. Headquartered in Copenhagen, Saxo Bank today employs more than 1500 people in financial centers around the world including London, Paris, Zurich, Dubai, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

Microsoft Denmark, Helle Rosendahl, Senior Communications Advisor, +45 22409540,


Saxo Bank, Steffen Wegner Mortensen, Head of PR and Public Affairs, +45 3977 6343, press@saxobank.com


Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

The post Saxo Bank and Microsoft partner to shape the future of cloud services in the financial industry appeared first on Stories.

AT&T 5G headed for 12 U.S. markets this year

AT&T plans to introduce fifth-generation, or 5G, mobile services in a dozen markets by the end of the year, as it aims to become the first U.S. carrier to offer the high-speed wireless network.

The rollout of the AT&T 5G services was sped up by the recent completion of new standards, the company said. In December, international wireless standards body 3GPP finished the new radio specifications that define radio access to the network.

The completed standards provide the specs device and chipset manufacturers need to build 5G products capable of handling data speeds of up to 10 Gbps — 10 to 20 times faster than the current 4G networks. In a statement, AT&T said it’s “confident this latest standards milestone will allow us to bring 5G to market faster.”

Verizon plan differs from AT&T 5G strategy

AT&T rivals Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint also plan to offer 5G mobile services. However, the companies, including AT&T, haven’t described in detail the services they would provide.

While AT&T focuses on mobile, Verizon has aimed its initial 5G work at residential broadband services, which the company plans to launch in five markets this year. The higher-frequency range of 5G makes it possible for service providers to deliver high-speed internet to homes wirelessly.

Fifth-generation is expected to support tens of millions of new broadband connections at 50 Mbps or more. The higher speeds on fixed and mobile 5G services can power virtual reality applications, driverless cars and 4K streaming video.

While preparing AT&T 5G services for consumers, the company plans to test the technology with businesses across industries. AT&T said the lower latency of 5G would make it useful in edge computing, an architecture designed for the internet of things.

Despite the ongoing 5G rollouts, carriers are not expected to deliver wide-scale services until at least 2020. Manufacturers will need time to build support in devices, and most service providers are content to wait until they reap the full return on 4G investments.

Advanced Protection Program locks down Google accounts

The latest Google multifactor authentication solution aims to protect high-risk users from targeted attacks, but will add complexity to logins.

Google’s Advanced Protection Program has been designed to not only help keep users safe from phishing attacks such as spear phishing as well preventing unauthorized access to Gmail accounts by having users take advantage of physical security keys — like a Yubikey — for authentication.

“Journalists, human rights defenders, environment campaigners and civil society activists working on any number of sensitive issues can quickly find themselves targeted by well-resourced and highly capable adversaries,” Andrew Ford Lyons, a technologist at Internews, said in Google’s announcement post. “For those whose work may cause their profile to become more visible, setting this up could be seen as an essential preventative step.”

Google’s Advanced Protection Program could help to prevent some types of cyberattacks seen over the past couple years, including the phishing schemes that compromised the Gmail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, or the Google Docs phishing attack.

According to Google, the Advanced Protection Program focuses on three areas of defense: using a security key for multifactor authentication, limiting third-party app access to Gmail and Google Drive, and mitigating fraudulent account access by adding steps to the account recovery process.

Google warns that third-party mobile apps like Apple Mail, Calendar and Contacts “do not currently support security keys and will not be able to access your Google data,” so Advanced Protection Program users would need to use Google’s first-party apps for now.

How the Google Advanced Protection Program works

Google has supported security keys for multifactor authentication in the past and has an option to use mobile devices as a multifactor device, but the Advanced Protection Program is far more strict because there will be no backup options with SMS or stored authentication codes.

Users will only be able to login to Google accounts with their password and registered security keys. If a security key is lost, the account recovery will be more onerous than answering simple security questions, but Google has yet to provide details on what such a recovery process will entail.

For those whose work may cause their profile to become more visible, setting this up could be seen as an essential preventative step.
Andrew Ford Lyonstechnologist at Internews

Although anyone can enroll in the Advanced Protection Program, Google admitted in its blog post that it would be best for those who “are willing to trade off a bit of convenience for more protection of their personal Google Accounts.”

At the start, the Advanced Protection Program requires the use of the Chrome browser and two security keys that support the FIDO U2F standard — one to connect to a traditional computer via USB port and one for mobile devices using Bluetooth.

The former isn’t as troublesome, but users need to be careful about the security key used for mobile. Google’s support page suggests purchasing the Feitan Multipass Bluetooth security key, which appears to be in limited supply on Amazon, as of this post, but, a Bluetooth security key is only necessary for those using iOS devices or an Android device that doesn’t support Near Field Communication.(NFC) for wireless access. An NFC-enabled security key would work for those with NFC-capable Android devices.