Tag Archives: companies

AI in e-commerce helps product sales

Over the last few years, e-commerce companies have made buying and selling items online easier by using AI. EBay, one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, uses computer vision, natural language processing, machine learning and deep learning to help users.

EBay has invested heavily in developing and deploying AI capabilities. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything unique — competitors including Wayfair and Amazon have developed similar AI in e-commerce tools — what it does appears to benefit sellers and buyers on its platform, which differs markedly from its biggest competitors in being auction-driven and oriented primarily toward sellers.

EBay provides several tools for images, including a search by image function and photo cleanup.

Image recognition

Using the mobile eBay application, buyers and sellers can take a photo of an object, which, using computer vision and deep learning, eBay matches with similar images on its platform. The feature has been available since 2017, and has since been improved as more images have been uploaded for the machine learning algorithms to train on.  

Comparable features are available on a number of other platforms, including Google and Amazon. These platforms also have object recognition, enabling users to take a photo of something and see comparable items.

By also considering product descriptions as well, the search function optimizes accuracy. Sellers are able to get automatic pricing recommendations, although that wasn’t always so.

EBay screenshot
EBay uses AI to automatically identify images and to do image cleanup

“Historically we did a really bad job with [pricing models],” said Scot Hamilton, vice president of engineering.

EBay has a lot of unique inventory, Hamilton explained, making it difficult to find true peers to benchmark against for some objects.

Looking at characterizes such as the images, price range, descriptors and titles of the listed object, and by comparing it to similar objects, among other things, eBay attempts to automatically determine a relative price for an object.

The suggested price is generally slightly lower than the market average to keep inventory moving, Hamilton said. Casual and hobby sellers adopt the suggested price point around 80% of the time, he said.

AI in e-commerce

The platform also boasts an image cleanup capability for sellers. The feature, still in beta, takes an image and tries to automatically separate the featured object from visual clutter in the background.  

“Search engines these days require, in many cases, a white, clean background on photos,” said Harry Temkin, vice president of seller experience.

Sellers, he continued, “often take pictures in very interesting places,” like on the stairs, in a kitchen or in a garage.

The beta feature crops the featured item automatically from the photo. Now, manual input is still required in many cases, with users having to swipe around the edges of an object. However, the feature is getting sharper, Temkin said.

It is software that is continuously learning.
Harry TemkinVice president of seller experience, eBay

“It is software that is continuously learning,” he said. The more photos that go through it, the better it will work.

Besides its image features, eBay provides home-grown automatic translation, enabling buyers and sellers in different countries to see listings in their own languages.

The translation happens behind the scenes, Hamilton said, with users not necessarily realizing it’s even happening.

According to Hamilton, eBay’s model is 5% or 6% more accurate than off-the-shelf products.

“Being a global platform … not everyone speaks English,” Temkin said. “Being able to use machine translation to convert an English listing into a German listing or a Spanish listing or a French listing is useful.”

Go to Original Article
Author:

8 new ways to empower Firstline Workers and transform the way they work with Microsoft 365

Companies at the forefront of digital transformation recognize how critical it is to enable all of their people with the right technology and tools. That’s why, in industries like retail, hospitality, and manufacturing, there’s a movement underway to digitally empower the Firstline Workforce—the more than 2 billion people worldwide who work in service- or task-oriented roles.

With Microsoft 365, the world’s productivity cloud, we’re in a unique position to help companies of all sizes and across all industries provide their employees the tools and expertise they need to do their best work, without sacrificing the security of their organization or customers’ data. Giving Firstline Workers the tools they need requires companies to address unique user experience, security and compliance, and IT management.

Microsoft 365 for Firstline Workers

Microsoft 365 combines intuitive best-in-class productivity apps with intelligent cloud services to empower your Firstline Workforce.

Learn more

It’s inspiring to see how industry leaders, like IKEA and Mattress Firm, are driving higher levels of employee engagement and enhancing the customer experience by putting tools like Microsoft Teams into the hands of their Firstline Workforce. IKEA is connecting everyone in the organization with familiar features like chat and video calls and digitizing firstline processes such as shift management to save time and cost.

This video was created by Microsoft, with the agreement of Ingka Group.

Mattress Firm is empowering Firstline Workers with real-time access to the information, resources, and expertise they need to delight customers and provide a better shopping experience.

Ahead of next week’s National Retail Federation (NRF) tradeshow, we are excited to introduce new capabilities for Firstline Workers coming to Microsoft 365. Here’s a look at what’s coming soon:

New tools that make it easier for Firstline Workers to communicate and manage tasks

  1. Walkie Talkie in Teams—This new push-to-talk experience enables clear, instant, and secure voice communication over the cloud, turning employee- or company-owned smartphones and tablets into a walkie-talkie. This functionality, built natively into Teams, reduces the number of devices employees must carry, and lowers costs for IT. Unlike analog devices with unsecure networks, customers no longer have to worry about crosstalk or eavesdropping from outsiders. And since Walkie Talkie functions over Wi-Fi or cellular data, this capability can be used across geographic locations. Walkie Talkie will be available in private preview in Teams in the first half of this year.

Image displaying the intuitive push-to-talk experience to connect team members in Microsoft Teams. Three phones are displayed at various stages in connecting a manager to her team of cashiers.

Intuitive push-to-talk experience to connect team members across departments and locations.

  1. Tasks targeting, publishing, and reportingWith Tasks in Teams, now customers can drive consistent execution of store operations at scale across all of an organization’s locations. Corporate and regional leadership can send task lists targeted to the relevant locations, such as specific retail stores, and track their progress through automatic real-time reports. Managers have tools to easily direct activities within their stores, and Firstline Workers have a simple prioritized list available via their personal or company-issued device showing them exactly what to do next. Tasks targeting, publishing, and reporting is coming to Teams in the first half of this year.

Image of tasks being assigned to teams in Microsoft Teams.

Corporate headquarters can target, assign, and track tasks across locations. Firstline Workers can view tasks assigned to them and across the store.

  1. Workforce management integrations—Customers using leading third-party workforce management systems—such as Kronos and JDA—for scheduling and time and attendance can now start integrating directly with Shifts via Shifts Graph APIs and SDK. Supported scenarios include management of shifts, schedules, schedule groups, swap requests, time off requests, and open shift requests. The JDA connector for Shifts is open sourced and available on GitHub. The Kronos connector for Shifts will also be available on GitHub later this quarter.

Enhanced identity and access management features that make it easier for IT pros to keep Firstline Workers productive and secure

  1. SMS sign-in—With SMS sign-in, Firstline Workers are able to sign in to their Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) account using one-time SMS codes—reducing the need to remember usernames and passwords for all their Microsoft 365 and custom applications. Once enrolled, the user is prompted to enter their phone number, which generates an SMS text with a one-time password. SMS sign-in is a single sign-on (SSO) experience, enabling Firstline Workers to seamlessly access all the apps they are authorized to use. This new sign-in method can be enabled for select groups and configured at the user level in the My Staff portal—helping to reduce the burden on IT.

Image of one-time SMS codes being used to sign in to a device. Three phones display a code received and used by a Firstline Worker.

One-time SMS codes on mobile devices to streamline the sign-in experience for Firstline Workers.

  1. Shared device sign-out—Many Firstline Workers use a single tablet or mobile device that is shared between shifts. This can pose unique security challenges to the organization when different employees who have access to different types of data use the same device over the course of a day. With shared device sign-out, Firstline Workers will be able to log out of all their Microsoft 365 and custom applications and browser sessions with one click at the end of their shift—preventing their data as well as any access to customer data from being accessible to the next user of that device.

Image of shared device sign-out used on a shared Android device used as a scanning tool.

With one click, Firstline Workers can sign out of a shared Android device and log out of all applications and browser sessions to prevent sensitive data being shared with another device user.

  1. Off-shift access controls for Teams app—IT administrators can now configure Teams to limit employee access to the app on their personal device outside of working hours. This feature helps ensure employees are not involuntarily working while not on shift and helps employers to comply with labor regulations. This feature will begin rolling out to customers this quarter.

Image of off shift being used in Microsoft Teams. Three phones display various messages from the new feature.

Display a message and/or disable access to Teams app when Firstline Workers are off shift.

  1. Delegated user management—Firstline Managers can approve password resets and enable employees to use their phone numbers for SMS sign-in, all via a single customizable portal enabled by IT for Firstline Managers. Delegated user management can give Firstline Managers access to the My Staff portal, so they can unblock staff issues—reducing the burden of identity management on IT, and keeping employees connected to the apps they need on the job.

Image of the My Stage portal accessed from a tablet.

Through the My Staff portal, delegated user management enables a Firstline Manager to manage their team’s credentials and assist with password resets.

  1. Inbound provisioning from SAP SuccessFactors to Azure AD—Azure AD’s user provisioning service now integrates with SAP SuccessFactors, making it easier than ever to onboard and manage Firstline Workers’ identities at scale, across any application using Azure AD. This feature—in public preview—builds upon the ability to provision users to Azure AD from Workday, another popular human capital management (HCM) system, already generally available. Integrating with these systems of record helps IT to scale Firstline Workers’ onboarding and productivity from day one.

Image of Azure AD's user provisioning service integrated with SAP SuccessFactors and Workday used to check status on a laptop.

With Azure AD’s user provisioning service now integrated with SAP SuccessFactors, as well as Workday, it’s easier than ever to onboard Firstline Workers user identities at scale. Shown here, you can start the provisioning cycle and use the progress bar and provisioning logs to track the provisioning process.

All of these capabilities are expected to roll out in the first half of this year except where noted.

Empowering Firstline Workers to gain a competitive advantage

New research in partnership with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services highlights the untapped potential of Firstline Workers in retail.

Learn more

Looking ahead

This is just the next step in our journey to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We aim to build tools and experiences for the modern workplace and for workers at all levels of the organization. We’ll continue to develop and bring to market purpose-built Firstline Worker capabilities and experiences in partnership with our customers and industry leaders. And we’ll continue to innovate and build features that simplify work, bring people together, and help organizations big and small achieve more. Come see us next week at NRF 2020 in booth #4501.

Go to Original Article
Author: Microsoft News Center

Differentiation key for BI startups when attracting investors

BI startups, like all companies when they’re getting started, need money to get off the ground.

BI startups need to show that they have a good idea, and are not simply repackaging analytics software platforms already on the market. They need to show that they can build a strong product, and that their founders have the expertise to build and sustain something commercially viable.

And with that, they need to attract investors to fund the company in the years it takes between the time an idea forms and a company becomes financially solvent.

Vanessa Larco is a partner at New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm with over $20 billion assets under management. NEA was an early investor in companies such as Tableau and Salesforce when they were tech startups, and, among many other types of companies, continues to invest in BI startups. Recently, NEA was part of an investment round in Sisu, a startup BI vendor founded in 2018 and based in San Francisco.

Vanessa LarcoVanessa Larco

Larco, meanwhile, has an extensive background in computer science, and before joining NEA was director of product management at Box. Prior to that, she worked in the gaming industry, leading the speech recognition experience team at Xbox Kinnect v1. She leads deals investing in tech companies, including BI startups, and participates in others led by colleagues.

Larco recently took time to answer questions about investing in BI startups.

In Part I of a two-part Q&A, she discusses what she looks for in a BI startup and what she loved about Sisu. In Part II, Larco talks about the process of investing in BI startups, including the warning signs that arise that may keep her from investing.

When you’re considering investing in BI startups, what are some of the characteristics you want to see in a vendor that tell you it might make a good investment?

Vanessa Larco: I think every partner has their own journey when trying to figure out where to invest. For me, I draw a lot on my experience having been a product manager. When I think about what the challenges were that I had or that my team had in building, launching, supporting, maintaining products and then when you see a solution — whether it’s in data or any other vertical — that makes sense and you can say, ‘Wow, if this had existed when I was doing things it would have made my life easier, my team’s life easier,’ it’s something that resonates right off the bat.

I think every partner has their own journey when trying to figure out where to invest. For me, I draw a lot on my experience having been a product manager.
Vanessa LarcoPartner, NEA

You then validate it against actual teams that are still building things and ask them if this would be helpful, and that validates the real need for it.

In the case of Sisu, what stood out about them and led NEA to decide it was a company worth betting on?

Larco: Every process, as much as we like it to be standardized, turns out to be its own unique snowflake, and in the case of Sisu, Pete Sonsini led the deal team and I joined the deal team, meaning I helped him evaluate the opportunity and spent time with the team. I am super excited about Sisu. I ran it by some of my portfolio companies, particularly the ones who [complain that] board meetings take forever because they show a bunch of data and people ask, ‘Well why did this happen, why did that happen?’ And to get those answers it takes at least week. So when I saw the Sisu value proposition I wondered if this will solve that problem.

Even back when I led a product team in the past and we would present to CEOs, we’d show numbers going up and down and they’d ask, ‘Well, why did that happen?’ We’d have to get back to them. It’s just super painful when you know they’re going to ask you why, and that is what takes forever. Sometimes you spend all that time trying to figure out why, and then nothing comes of it, so when I saw the Sisu value proposition I thought that if this actually works it could be game changing.

What happened after you saw Sisu’s value proposition?

Larco: I took it to a good friend at a portfolio company to kick the tires, and they were like, ‘Yes. Yes, this awesome. Thank you so much.’ They said their data person would be so happy they wouldn’t be bogged down answering some very simple questions and doing the manual work to answer why, so from that perspective it was super exciting.

Once NEA invests in BI startups, how much influence does it want going forward — does it seek a spot on the board of directors, leave the company alone or something in between?

Larco: Each case in venture is different. It’s not a high-volume type of industry — we’re not doing hundreds of deals a year — so each deal is very unique and each financing round is unique. But in general, the earlier in the company’s lifecycle you invest in, the founders want you on their board because they want the attention and support, the advice, the feedback, the connection. VCs, in most cases, have been on many boards and seen a lot of stories play out, and you have a lot of connections to potential customers, and so to be able to understand what a company’s needs are as they change is really valuable. Most of the time, both parties want a seat on the board.

But if it’s super, super early and someone else leads the financing round and you’re just participating, someone else takes the board seat. Or if it’s the late stages then the board is already pretty filled out and it has less unknowns than in the early formation years, in those cases you may not take a seat on the board. If an investor is acquiring a significant amount of equity and you’re between 15 and 30 percent, they will typically take a board seat. Anything less than that, it may not make a ton of sense to take a board seat — there’s a limit to how many board seats we can take.

Besides Sisu, who are some startups in the BI/analytics space NEA has recently invested in?

Larco: My colleague Julia Schottenstein led the investment in Metabase, which is in the data space in the open-source project world. I was on the deal team and attended the board meetings for a company called OmniSci. The real value proposition there is they do some really cool geospatial [analysis], and it’s lightning fast. If you need data and need to visualize it across any type of map, I haven’t seen anything like it. From my gaming and advertising days that would have been a massive help. It’s a category that historically if you were investors in Tableau and other data companies that have done really well — it’s a category NEA has performed really well in in the past. It’s a massive category for IT spends, so it’s an area we actively invest in year over year.

Go to Original Article
Author:

Google cloud network tools check links, firewalls, packet loss

Google has introduced several network monitoring tools to help companies pinpoint problems that could impact applications running on the Google Cloud Platform.

Google launched this week the first four modules of an online console called the Network Intelligence Center. The components for monitoring a Google cloud network include a network topology map, connectivity tests, a performance dashboard, and firewall metrics and insights. The first two are in beta, and the rest are in alpha, which means they are still in the early stages of development.

Here’s a brief overview of each module, based on a Google blog post:

— Google is providing Google Cloud Platform (GCP) subscribers with a graphical view of their network topology. The visualization shows how traffic is flowing between private data centers, load balancers, and applications running on computing environments within GCP. Companies can drill down on each element of the topology map to verify policies or identify and troubleshoot problems. They can also review changes in the network over the last six weeks.

— The testing module lets companies diagnose problems with network connections within GCP or from GCP to an IP address in a private data center or another cloud provider. Along with checking links, companies can test the impact of network configuration changes to reduce the chance of an outage.

–The performance dashboard provides a current view of packet loss and latency between applications running on virtual machines. Google said the tool would help IT teams determine quickly whether a packet problem is in the network or an app.

–The firewall metrics component offers a view of rules that govern the security software. The module is designed to help companies optimize the use of firewalls in a Google cloud network.

Getting access to the performance dashboard and firewall metrics requires a GCP subscriber to sign up as an alpha customer. Google will incorporate the tools into the Network Intelligence Center once they reach the beta level.

Go to Original Article
Author:

Employee activism, from composting to protests, is an HR issue

Similar to many software companies, CyberArk Software Ltd. has policies and and practices that appeal to people with skills in high demand. They include a social responsibility policy and catered lunches. The information security software firm also has something else that appeals to younger employees — an employee activism effort that brought about some real change.

Lex Register, an associate in corporate development and strategy at CyberArk, was hired in 2018. Soon after, he saw gaps in the firm’s environmental sustainability practices. The firm wasn’t, for instance, collecting food scraps for composting.

“If you’ve never composted before, the idea of leaving left out food in your office can be sort of a sticky subject,” Register said, who has a strong interest in environmental issues.

Register approached his managers at CyberArk’s U.S. headquarters in Newton, Mass., about improving its environmental sustainability. He had some specific ideas and wanted to put together an employee team to work on it. Management gave it approval and a budget.

Register helped organize a “green team,” which now makes up about 25% of its Newton office staff of 200. The firm’s global workforce is about 1,200.

CyberArk’s green team has four subgroups: transportation, energy, community and “green” habits in the office. It also has a management steering committee. Collectively, these efforts undertake a variety of actions such as volunteering on projects in the community, improving enviornmental practices in the office and working on bigger issues, such as installing electric vehicle charging stations for the office building.

When I think about the companies I want to work for, I really want to have pride in everything they do.
Lex RegisterAssociate in corporate development and strategy, CyberArk Software

“When I think about the companies I want to work for, I really want to have pride in everything they do,” Register said. 

Junior employees lead the effort

The green team subgroups are headed by junior employees, according to Register, who is 28.

“It’s a way for a lot of our junior employees who don’t necessarily have responsibility for managing people to sort of step up,” Register said. They “can run some of their own projects and show some leadership capabilities.”

Employee activism has become an increasingly public issue in the last 12 months. In May, for instance, thousands of Amazon employees signed a letter pressing the firm for action. In September, thousands walked out as part of the Global Climate Strike.

“This walkout is either a result of employees not feeling heard,” said Henry Albrecht, CEO at Limeade Inc., or employees feeling heard but fundamentally disagreeing with their leaders. Limeade makes employee experience systems. “The first problem has a simple fix: listen to employees, regularly, intentionally and with empathy,” he said. 

Some companies, such as Ford Motor Co., are using HR tools to listen to their employees and get more frequent feedback. In an interview with SearchHRSoftware, a Ford HR official said recently this kind of feedback encouraged the firm to join California in seeking emission standards that are stricter than those sought by President Trump’s administration.   

But employee activism that leads to public protest doesn’t tell the full employee activism story.

Interest in green teams rising

The Green Business Bureau provides education, assessment tools and processes that firms can use to measure their sustainability practices. In the past nine months, Bill Zujewski, CMO at the bureau, said it’s been hearing more about the formation of sustainability committees at firms. The employees leading the efforts are “almost always someone who’s a few years out of school,” he said.

HR managers, responding to “employee-driven” green initiatives, are often the ones Zujewski hears from.

Maggie Okponobi, funding coordination manager at School Specialty Inc, is one of the Green Business Bureau’s clients. Her employer is an educational services and products firm based in Greenville, Wisc. Her job is to help schools secure federal and state grants.

Okponobi is in an MBA program that has an emphasis on sustainability. As a final project, she proposed bringing a green certification to her company. The assessments evaluate a firm’s sustainability activities against best environmental practices.

Okponobi explained what she wanted to do to one of the executives. She got support and began her research, starting with an investigation of certification programs. She decided on Green Business Bureau assessments, as did CyberArk.

Company managers at School Speciality had been taking ad-hoc steps all along to improve sustainability. Efforts included installing LED lighting, and reducing paper useage by using both sides for printing and recycling, Okponobi said.

Okponobi collected data about the environmental practices for certification. The firm discovered it was eligible for gold level certification, one step below the highest level, platinum. 

The results were brought to an executive group, which included members from HR as well as marketing. Executives saw value in the ranking, and Okponobi believes it will help with recruiting efforts, especially with younger candidates. The company plans to create a green team to coordinate the sustainability efforts.

HR benefits from sustainability

Sustainability may help with retention, especially with younger workers, Okponobi said. “It gives them something exciting, positive to do in their workplace, and a goal to work toward,” she said.

Some employees are coming to workplaces with training on sustainability issues. One group that provides that kind of training is Manomet Inc., a 50-year-old science-based non-profit in Plymouth, Mass.

“We can’t make the progress that we need on climate change and other issues without the for-profit sector,” said Lora Babb, program manager of sustainable economies at Manomet.

Lora BabbLora Babb

The nonprofit takes about 20 undergrad college students each year, usually enrolled in majors that often have a sustainability component, and gives them “real world skills” to meet with businesses and conduct assessments. The training enables future employees to “make changes from the inside,” and understand practical, applied sustainability, Babb said.

This is not strictly an environmental assessment. The students also ask businesses about economic and social issues, including a workforce assessment that considers employee benefits, engagement and talent development, Babb said. 

A business with a strong environmental mission is “going to be far less effective at carrying out that mission if you are having constant workforce challenges,” Babb said.

And the results of such efforts can have an effect on culture. CyberArk’s employees have embraced composting, Register said. The company hired a firm that picks up food scraps about twice a week, processes them and makes compost — what master gardeners often refer to as black gold — available for employees to use in their home gardens. 

The results make employee composting efforts “very tangible for them,” Register said. 

Go to Original Article
Author:

Top Office 365 MFA considerations for administrators

With the rise in data breach incidents reported by companies of all sizes, it doesn’t take much effort to find a cache of leaked passwords that can be used to gain unauthorized access to email or another online service.

Administrators can make users produce complex passwords and change them frequently to ensure they set a different password for different applications or systems. It’s a helpful way to keep hackers from guessing a login, but it’s a practice that can backfire. Many users struggle with memorizing password variations, which tends to lead to one complex password used across multiple systems. Industrious hackers who find a password dump can assume some end users will use the same password — or a variation of it — across multiple workloads online to make it easier to pry their way into other systems.

IT departments in the enterprise realize that unless they implement specific password policies and enforce them, their systems may be at risk of a hack attempt. To mitigate these risks, many administrators will try multifactor authentication (MFA) products to address some of the identity concerns. MFA is the technology that adds another layer of authentication after users enter their password to confirm their identity, such as a biometric verification or a code sent via text to their phone. An organization that has moved its collaboration workloads to Microsoft’s cloud has a few Office 365 MFA options.

When considering an MFA product, IT administrators must consider several key areas, especially when some of the services they may subscribe to, such as Microsoft Azure and Office 365, include MFA functionality from Microsoft. Depending on the level of functionality needed and services covered by MFA, IT administrators might consider selecting a third-party vendor, even when that choice will require more configuration work with Active Directory and cloud services. IT workers unfamiliar with MFA technology can look over the following areas to help with the selection process.

When considering the purchase of an MFA product, IT administrators must consider several key areas, especially when some of the services they may subscribe to, such as Microsoft Azure and Office 365, include MFA functionality from Microsoft.

Choosing the right authentication options for end users

IT administrators must investigate what will work best for their end users because there are several options to choose from when it comes to MFA. Some products use phone calls for confirmation, code via text messaging, key fobs, an authenticator app and even facial recognition. Depending on what the consensus is in the organization, the IT decision-makers have to work through the evaluation process to make sure the vendor supports the option they want.

Identifying which MFA product supports cloud workloads

More organizations have adopted some cloud service, such as Office 365, Azure, AWS and other public clouds. The MFA product must adapt to the needs of the organization as it adds more cloud services. While Microsoft offers its own MFA technology that works with Office 365, other vendors such as Duo Security — owned by Cisco — and Okta support Office 365 MFA for companies that want to use a third-party product.

Potential problems that can affect Office 365 MFA users

Using Office 365 MFA helps improve security, but there is potential for trouble that blocks access for end users. This can happen when a phone used for SMS confirmation breaks or is out of the user’s possession. Users might not gain access to the system or the services they need until they recover their device or change their MFA configuration.

Another possible problem to the authentication process can happen on the other end if the MFA product goes down and blocks access for everyone who has enabled MFA. These probabilities require IT to discuss and plan before implementing Office 365 MFA for the appropriate steps to be taken if these issues arise.

Evaluate the overall costs and features related to MFA

For the most part, MFA products are subscription-based that charge a monthly fee per user. Some vendors, such as Microsoft, bundle MFA with self-service identity, access management, access reporting and self-service group management. Third-party vendors might offer different MFA features; as one example, Duo Security includes self-enrollment and management, user risk assessment with phishing simulation, and device access monitoring and identification with its MFA product.

Single sign-on, identity management and identity monitoring are all valuable features that, if included with an MFA offering, should be worth considering when it’s time to narrow the vendor list.

Go to Original Article
Author:

Microsoft and The Walt Disney Studios to develop ‘scene-to-screen’ content workflows – Stories

Companies collaborate to pilot new ways to transform content workflows in the Microsoft Azure cloud; Microsoft becomes a Disney Studios StudioLAB innovation partner

REDMOND, Wash., and BURBANK, Calif. Sept. 13, 2019 Microsoft Corp. and The Walt Disney Studios today announced a five-year innovation partnership to pilot new ways to create, produce and distribute content on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Through The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB, a technology hub designed to create and advance the future of storytelling with cutting-edge tools and methods, the companies will deliver cloud-based solutions to help accelerate innovation at The Walt Disney Studios for production and postproduction processes, or from “scene to screen.”

The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB logo“The cloud has reached a tipping point for the media industry, and it’s not surprising that The Walt Disney Studios, which has its heritage based on a passion for innovation and technology, is at the forefront of this transformation,” said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft US. “The combination of Azure’s hyperscale capacity, global distribution, and industry-leading storage and networking capabilities with Disney’s strong history of industry leadership unlocks new opportunity in the media and entertainment space and will power new ways to drive content and creativity at scale. With Azure as the platform cloud for content, we’re excited to work with the team at StudioLAB to continue to drive innovation across Disney’s broad portfolio of studios.”

“By moving many of our production and postproduction workflows to the cloud, we’re optimistic that we can create content more quickly and efficiently around the world,” said Jamie Voris, CTO, The Walt Disney Studios. “Through this innovation partnership with Microsoft, we’re able to streamline many of our processes so our talented filmmakers can focus on what they do best.”

Microsoft and Disney — working closely with leading global media technology provider Avid — are already demonstrating that the kinds of demanding, high-performance workflows the media and entertainment industry requires can be deployed and operated with the security offered by the cloud, while unlocking substantial new benefits and efficiencies and enabling production teams to rethink the way they get their work done.

Microsoft logoBuilding on Microsoft’s strategic cloud alliance with Avid, the companies have already produced several essential media workflows running in the cloud today, including collaborative editing, content archiving, active backup and production continuity. Bringing these complex workflows into production using Avid solutions such as the Avid MediaCentral® platform, MediaCentral | Cloud UX™, Avid NEXIS® | Cloud storage and Avid Media Composer® — all running natively on Azure — will provide the foundation for helping transform content creation and content management to overcome today’s operational pressures, as well as pave the way for ongoing innovation.

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, [email protected]

The Walt Disney Studios Communications, [email protected]

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.

Go to Original Article
Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft expands its automotive partner ecosystem to power the future of mobility – The Official Microsoft Blog

Technology can help automotive companies transform into smart mobility services providersDashboard of self-driving auto

Karl Benz and Henry Ford revolutionized transportation with the initial development and mass production of the automobile. Now, more than a century later, the automotive industry is poised to transform transportation again, with a push to develop connected, personalized and autonomous driving experiences, electric vehicles and new mobility business models from ride-sharing to ride-hailing and multimodal, smart transportation concepts.

This industry is expected to see significant growth, becoming a $6.6T industry by 2030, with disruptive business models accounting for 25 percent of all revenues, according to consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. From shared vehicle services to fully electric transportation, manufacturers are developing new products and services to enable large fleets offering mobility-as-a-service, which will increasingly replace individual car ownership. This involves modernizing the in-vehicle experience with productivity, entertainment, and personal assistants that are safe and secure, following users across different transport modes, adding value for businesses and consumers alike.

This transformation requires a data-driven mindset. The automotive sector generates vast amounts of data. However, companies aren’t yet fully set up to turn it into relevant insights. Future success depends on the ability to identify and capture digital signals and evolve how the business approaches innovation. Through what we call a digital feedback loop, the entirety of the enterprise can be connected with relevant data— whether it is pertaining to relationship management with customers and partners, or engagement with employees, core product creation or enterprise operations— to drive continuous improvement in products and services, mobility companies must differentiate from their competition.

We support the industry with unlocking this enormous potential by providing intelligent cloud, edge, IoT and AI services and helping automotive companies build and extend their own digital capabilities.

To that end, this year, for the first time, Microsoft is joining Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) and showcasing our approach to working with the automotive industry. We want to empower automotive organizations of all sizes to transform into smart mobility services providers.

Our automotive strategy is shaped by three key principles:

  1. We partner across the industry. We are not in the business of making vehicles or delivering end mobility as a service offerings.
  2. We believe data should be owned by our customers, as insights from data will become the new drivers of revenue for the auto industry. We do not monetize our customers’ data.
  3. We support automotive companies as they enhance and extend their unique brand experiences to expand their relationships with their customers.

We are focusing our customer engagements along with our extensive global partner network to support their success in the five following areas: connected vehicle solutions, autonomous driving development, smart mobility solutions, connected marketing, sales and service as well as intelligent manufacturing and supply chain.

Today, we are sharing updates about our approach and expansions to our partner ecosystem across these focus areas:

  1. Empower connected vehicle solutions

The core of our connected vehicle efforts is the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP). It combines advanced cloud and edge computing services with a strong partner network so automotive companies can build connected driving solutions that span from in-vehicle experiences and autonomous driving to prediction services and connectivity. In addition to our partnerships with Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, new partners are using MCVP to do more:

  • LG Electronics’ webOS Autoplatform offers an in-vehicle, container-capable OS that brings the third party application ecosystem created for premium TVs to in-vehicle experiences. webOSAuto supports the container-based runtime environment of MCVP and can be an important part of modern experiences in the vehicle.
  • Faurecia is leveraging MCVP to create disruptive, connected and personalized services inside the Cockpit of the Future to reinvent the on-board experience for all occupants.
  • Cubic Telecom is a leading connectivity management software provider to the automotive and IoT industries globally. They are one of the first partners to bring seamless connectivity as a core service offering to MCVP for a global market. The deep integration with MCVP allows for a single data lake and an integrated services monitoring path.

Meet more partners in our MCVP blog.

Our customers are also looking to provide conversational assistants tailored to their brand and customer needs, and make them available across multiple devices and apps. The Microsoft Azure Virtual Assistant Solution Accelerator simplifies the creation of these assistants.

  1. Accelerate autonomous driving function development

We empower car makers, suppliers and mobility services providers to accelerate their delivery of autonomous driving solutions that provide safe, comfortable and personalized driving experiences with a comprehensive set of cloud, edge, IoT and AI services and a partner-led open ecosystem that enables collaborative development across companies. We support companies of all sizes from large enterprises such as Audi, that are leveraging Microsoft Azure to create simulations using these large volumes of data, to small and medium sized businesses and start-ups.

Today, we are announcing Microsoft for Startups: Autonomous Driving, a program to accelerate the growth of start-ups working on autonomous driving and help them seize new business opportunities in areas such as delivery, ride-sharing and long haul transit. Learn more about our collaboration with start-ups like Linker Networks and Udelv in our start-up blog.

This year in the Microsoft booth at IAA, Bosch, FEV, Intempora and Applied Intuition are showcasing their autonomous driving solutions.

  • FEV is overcoming the central challenge to validating automated driving functions with a data management and assessment system developed in house, which uses Microsoft Azure.
  • Intempora has recently unveiled IVS, the Intempora Validation Suite, a new software toolchain for the test, training, benchmarking and the validation of ADAS (Advanced Driver and Assistance Systems) and HAD (Highly Automated Driving) algorithms.
  • Applied Intuition is equipping engineering and product development teams with software that makes it faster, safer, and easier to bring autonomy to market.
  1. Enable creation of smart mobility solutions

Intelligent mapping and navigation services are critical to building smart mobility solutions. This is why Microsoft is partnering with companies like TomTom and Moovit.

  • TomTom is integrating their navigation intelligence services such as HD Maps and Traffic as containerized services for use in MCVP so that other in-vehicle services, including autonomous driving, can take advantage of the additional location context.
  • TomTom and Moovit are also partnering with Microsoft for a comprehensive multi-modal trip planner leveraging Azure Maps.
  • The urban mobility app Moovit using Azure Maps also helps people with disabilities ride transit with confidence. This project supports Microsoft’s aim to make our latest technology accessible to everyone and foster inclusion and the use of our technology for the good so that every person on the planet can benefit from technological innovations.
  1. Empower connected marketing, sales and services solutions

With Microsoft Business Applications, our automotive partners, suppliers, and retailers can develop new customer insights and create omnichannel customer experiences. With the Microsoft Automotive Accelerator, auto companies can schedule appointments and automotive services, facilitated through proactive communications.

At IAA, we’re excited to have several partners onsite, including Annata, Adobe and Daimler:

  • Annata is leveraging our Automotive Accelerator to help automotive and equipment companies meet business challenges while taking advantages of new opportunities in the market.
  • Adobe and Microsoft’s strategic partnership and integrations allow an end-to-end customer experience management solution for experience creation, marketing, advertising, analytics, and commerce.
  • Daimler launched eXtollo, the company’s new cloud platform for big data and advanced analytics. The platform uses Azure Key Vault, a service that safeguards encryption keys and secrets, including certificates, connection strings and passwords.
  1. Provide services to build an intelligent supply chain

Driving end-to-end digital transformation requires an integrated digital supply chain–from the factory and shop floor to end customer delivery. Microsoft works with Icertis, BMW, and others to build intelligent supply chain:

  • Icertis Contract Management natively runs on Microsoft Azure and seamlessly integrates with Office 365, Teams and Dynamics 365 so customers can extend the benefits from their Microsoft technology investments.
  • BMW and Microsoft continue to develop the Open Manufacturing Platform to enable industrial manufacturers to work together to break down data silos and overcome the challenges of complex, proprietary systems that slow down production optimization.

We are looking forward to meeting you at our Microsoft booth (Hall 5, C21) or at one of our IAA sessions. On your way to Frankfurt explore our Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform microsite.

Tags:

Go to Original Article
Author: Microsoft News Center

Managed services companies remain hot M&A ticket

Managed services companies continue to prove popular targets for investment, with more merger and acquisition deals surfacing this week.

Those transactions included private equity firm Lightview Capital making a strategic investment in Buchanan Technologies; Siris, a private equity firm, agreeing to acquire TPx Communications; and IT Solutions Consulting Inc. buying SecurElement Infrastructure Solutions.

Those deals follow private equity firm BC Partners’ agreement last week to acquire Presidio, an IT solutions provider with headquarters in New York. That transaction, valued at $2.1 billion, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019.

More than 30 transactions involving managed service providers (MSPs) and IT service firms have closed thus far in 2019. This year’s deals mark a continuation of the high level of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity that characterized the MSP market in 2018. Economic uncertainty may yet dampen the enthusiasm for acquisitions, but recession concerns don’t seem to be having an immediate impact.

Seth Collins, managing director at Martinwolf, an M&A advisory firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said trade policies and recession talk have brought some skepticism to the market. That said, the MSP market hasn’t lost any steam, according to Collins.

“We haven’t seen a slowdown in activity,” he said. The LMM Group at Martinwolf represented Buchanan Technologies in the Lightview Capital transaction.

Collins said the macroeconomic environment isn’t affecting transaction multiples or valuations. “Valuations aren’t driven by uncertainty; they’re driven by the quality of the asset,” he noted.

Finding the right partner

Buchanan Technologies is based in Grapevine, Texas, and operates a Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ont. The company’s more than 500 consultants, engineers and architects provide cloud services, managed services and digital transformation, among other offerings.

Valuations aren’t driven by uncertainty; they’re driven by the quality of the asset.
Seth CollinsManaging director at Martinwolf

A spokesman for Lightview Capital said Buchanan Technologies manages on-premises environments, private clouds and public cloud offerings, such as AWS, IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure. The company focuses on the retail, manufacturing, education, and healthcare and life sciences verticals.

Collins said Buchanan Technologies founder James Buchanan built a solid MSP over the course of 30 years and had gotten to the point where he would consider a financial partner able to take the company to the next level.

“As it turned out, Lightview was that partner,” Collins added, noting the private equity firm’s experience with other MSPs, such as NexusTek.

The Siris-TPx deal, meanwhile, also involves a private equity investor and long-established services provider. TPx, a 21-year old MSP based in Los Angeles, provides managed security, managed WAN, unified communications and contact center offerings. The companies said the deal will provide the resources TPx needs to “continue the rapid growth” it is encountering in unified communications as a service, contact center as a service and managed services.

Siris has agreed to purchase TPx from its investors, which include Investcorp and Clarity.

“Investcorp and Clarity have been invested with TPx for more than 15 years, and they were ready to monetize their investment,” a spokeswoman for TPx said.

IT Solutions Consulting’s acquisition of SecurElement Infrastructure Solutions brings together two MSPs in the greater Philadelphia area.

The companies will pool their resources in areas such as security. IT Solutions offers network and data security through its ITSecure+ offering, which includes antivirus, email filtering, advanced threat protection, encryption and dark web monitoring. A spokeswoman for IT Solutions said SecurElement’s security strategy aligns with IT Solutions’ approach and also provides “expertise in a different stack of security tools.”

The combined company will also focus on private cloud, hybrid cloud and public cloud services, with a particular emphasis on Office 365, the spokeswoman said.

IT Solutions aims to continue its expansion plans in the Philadelphia area and mid-Atlantic regions through hiring, new office openings and acquisitions.

“We have an internal sales force that will continue our organic growth efforts, and our plan is to continue our acquisition strategy of one to two transactions per year,” she said.

MSP market M&A chart
Managed services companies continue to consolidate in an active M&A market.

VMware arms cloud partners with new tools

Ahead of the VMworld 2019 conference, VMware has unveiled a series of updates for its cloud provider partners.

The VMware Cloud Provider Platform now features new tools to enhance the delivery of hybrid cloud offerings and differentiated cloud services, the vendor said. Additionally, VMware said it is enabling cloud providers to target the developer community with their services.

“Customers are looking for best-of-breed cloud that addresses their specific application requirements. … In this world, where there are multiple types of clouds, customers are looking to accelerate the deployment of the applications, and, when they are looking at cloud, what they are looking for is flexibility —  flexibility so that they can choose a cloud that best fits their workload requirements. In many ways, the clouds have to adapt to the application requirements,” said Rajeev Bhardwaj, vice president of products for the cloud provider software business unit at VMware.

Highlights of the VMware updates include the following:

  • The latest version of the vendor’s services delivery platform, VMware vCloud Director 10, now provides a centralized view for hosted private and multi-tenant clouds. Partners can also tap a new “intelligent workload placement” capability for placing “workloads on the infrastructure that best meets the workload requirements,” Bhardwaj said.
  • To help partners differentiate their services, VMware introduced a disaster-recovery-as-a-service program for delivering DRaaS using vCloud Availability; an object storage extension for vCloud Director to deliver S3-compliant object storage services; and a backup certification to certify backup vendors in vCloud Director-based multi-tenant environments, VMware said. Cohesity, Commvault, Dell EMC, Rubrik and Veeam have completed the backup certification.
  • Cloud provider partners can offer containers as a service via VMware Enterprise PKS, a container orchestration product. The update enables “our cloud providers to move up the stack. So, instead of offering just IaaS … they can start targeting new workloads,” Bhardwaj said. VMware will integrate the Cloud Provider Platform with Bitnami, which develops a catalog of apps and development stacks that can be rapidly deployed, he said. The Bitnami integration can be combined with Enterprise PKS to support developer and DevOps costumers, attracting workloads such as test/dev environments onto clouds, according to VMware.

Bhardwaj noted that the VMware Cloud Provider Program has close to 4,300 partners today. Those partners span more than 120 countries and collectively support more than 10 million workloads. VMware’s Cloud Verified partners, which offer VMware software-defined data center and value-added services, have grown to more than 60 globally, VMware noted.

Managed service providers are a growing segment within the VMware Cloud Provider Program (VCCP), Bhardwaj added.

“As the market is shifting more and more toward SaaS and … subscription services, what we are seeing is more and more different types of partners” join VCCP, he said.

Partner businesses include solution providers, systems integrators and strategic outsourcers. They typically don’t build their own clouds, but “want to take cloud services from VMware as a service and become managed service providers,” he said.

Other news

  • Rancher Labs, an enterprise container management vendor, rolled out its Platinum Partner Program. Targeting partners with Kubernetes expertise, the program provides lead and opportunity sharing programs, joint marketing funds and options for co-branded content, the company said. Partners must meet a series training requirements to qualify for the program.
  • Quantum Corp., a storage and backup vendor based in San Jose, Calif., updated its Alliance Partner Program with a new deal registration application, an expanded online training initiative and a redesigned partner portal. The deal registration component, based on Vartopia’s deal registration offering, provides a dashboard to track sales activity, the deal funnel and wins, according to Quantum. The online training for sales reps and engineers is organized by vertical market, opportunities and assets. The company also offers new training options for in-person training.
  • Quisitive Technology Solutions Inc., a Microsoft solutions provider based in Toronto, launched a Smart Start Workshop for Microsoft Teams.
  • MSP software vendor Continuum cut the ribbon on a new security operations center (SOC). Located in Pittsburgh, the SOC will bolster the availability of cybersecurity talent, threat detection and response, and security monitoring for Continuum MSP partners, the vendor said.
  • Technology vendor Honeywell added Consultare America LLC and Silver Touch Technologies to its roster of Guided Work Solutions resellers. A voice-directed productivity product, Guided Work Solutions software targets small and medium-sized distribution centers.
  • Sify Technologies Ltd., an information and communications technology provider based in Chennai, India, aims to bring its services to Europe through a partnership with ZSAH Managed Technology Services. The alliance provides a “broader consulting practice” to the United Kingdom market, according to Sify.
  • US Signal, a data center services provider based in Grand Rapids, Mich., added several features to its Zerto-based disaster recovery as a service offering. Those include self-management, enterprise license mobility, multi-cloud replication and stretch layer 2 failover.
  • Dizzion, an end user cloud provider based in Denver, introduced a desktop-as-a-service offering for VMware Cloud on AWS customers.
  • LaSalle Solutions, a division of Fifth Third Bank, said it has been upgraded to Elite Partner Level status in Riverbed’s channel partner program, Riverbed Rise.
  • FTI Consulting Inc., a business advisory firm, said its technology business segment has launched new services around its RelativityOne Data Migration offering. The services include migration planning, data migration and workspace migration.
  • Mimecast Ltd., an email and data security company, has appointed Kurt Mills as vice president of channel sales. He is responsible for the company’s North American channel sales strategy. In addition, Mimecast appointed Jon Goodwin as director of public sector.
  • Managed detection and response vendor Critical Start has hired Dwayne Myers as its vice president of channels and alliances. Myers joins the company from Palo Alto Networks, where he served as channel business manager, Central U.S. and Latin America, for cybersecurity solutions.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Go to Original Article
Author:

As public cloud adoption grows, new drawbacks discovered

Public cloud adoption is proving to be more costly for some companies than they expected.

A recent survey conducted by U.K.-based tech research company Vanson Bourne asked 900 IT leaders if the public cloud has delivered on all of their organizations’ expected benefits. Only 32.2% of respondents said all their expectations were met, while 58.1% said some expected benefits came to fruition and 9.6% said only a few of their expected benefits were achieved. The remaining 0.1% said they saw no benefit to public cloud adoption at all.

The study, which was commissioned by enterprise storage and data management company Cohesity, also found that 88% of respondents said they were given mandates from their company’s leadership to use public cloud more. That number is further broken down into 38.3% who said they are using the public cloud efficiently and fully reaping benefits, 40.7% who said they are struggling to effectively benefit from public cloud adoption and 8.7% who are executing public cloud adoption just to appease leadership.

One of the conclusions of the study is that there is a disconnect between senior management and IT. The expectations of public cloud adoption included lowering costs, simplifying IT operations, increasing business agility and providing insight into the organization’s data.

“The mandates may have come from people who aren’t IT, but on the business management side of things,” said Peter Linkin, senior director of enterprise marketing at Cohesity. “There’s a command to move there without fully understanding the implications.”

George Crump, founder of storage analyst firm Storage Switzerland, has seen this story play out in his consulting experience. He said companies start off by adopting the public cloud for workloads like backup and disaster recovery (DR) and successfully saving money. The problems begin when there is a long-term vision to shrink the data center or remove it entirely. These organizations are often motivated by a belief that removing the physical footprint would lower costs, free IT staff from mundane maintenance tasks or lead to other benefits. Crump said it’s not that simple.

“The cloud at scale becomes expensive and more complicated,” Crump said.

Crump said the public cloud’s No. 1 expense is egress fees, where organizations are charged to pull data back off the cloud. I/O processing fees also make up part of the costs, along with long lists of line items that cloud service providers (CSPs) might charge. Crump said modern day CSP bills are complex and hard to decipher.

Fred Moore, president of storage consultant Horison Information Strategies in Boulder, Colo., said organizations are frequently blindsided by those costs. He said there is little awareness of things like storage fees, access fees and charges for higher response times and geographic redundancy zones.

The cloud providers don’t go out of their way to help you learn these things. They don’t like to talk about their pricing models.
Fred Moore President, Horison Information Strategies

“The cloud providers don’t go out of their way to help you learn these things,” Moore said. “They don’t like to talk about their pricing models.”

Palmaz Vineyards CEO Christian Gastón Palmaz had to pull his proprietary algorithmic fermentation control system off of the cloud due to egress charges and latency issues. He initially thought public cloud adoption was going to save him more money than storing everything on premises until he received his first bill.

“To put a petabyte on the cloud is one thing, but pulling that data off the cloud was expensive,” Palmaz said.

Palmaz Vineyards currently stores most of its data on premises, including backup data. It only uses the cloud for cold storage, with 280 TB of archived data on Amazon Glacier.

“When people come back in from the cloud, that’s a real headache,” Moore said. “It could take a month to download everything back into the data center. That’s when you just want to roll up a truck full of tapes — it’s actually faster.”

Aside from egress charges, public cloud adoption can add complexity to an organization’s IT infrastructure and lead to lower productivity. In the Vanson Bourne study, 75% of respondents said they had to spend considerable time and effort integrating data center and public cloud environments for effective data management. The survey also found that 45% of respondents believe their IT teams are spending between 30% and 70% of their time managing secondary data across public clouds.

Move to the public cloud

The biggest concern with public cloud adoption was compliance risks, with 48.9% of respondents citing that. Egress charges were actually third on the list, with 42.3% of respondents saying they were concerned about them. However, Crump and Moore said they’ve seen organizations scale back their public cloud operations as a direct result of the latter.

Crump did pointed out he’s not seeing companies leaving the public cloud in droves. Even if they aren’t completely happy with their cloud journey, some companies would rather eat the costs than go through the hassle of returning to the data center. This is why it’s important for organizations to assess and truly understand what they should and shouldn’t put on cloud in order to avoid increasing their overall costs rather than lowering them.

Crump said organizations need to be smarter about differentiating which applications and data sets should go to the cloud rather than assuming the cloud is always the right choice. He said legacy applications that weren’t designed to work in cloud environments and workloads that are performance-intensive, either in terms of storage or CPU-usage, usually should likely stay on premises. Backup and DR are ideal workloads for cloud because it is data that isn’t accessed frequently.

Go to Original Article
Author: