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Microsoft expands commitment to support computer science education in Seattle for students of color

Today Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the company is investing $500,000 in two partnerships that will expand computer science and STEM learning opportunities for students of color in our backyard.

We are partnering with Black Girls Code to help them establish a Seattle based chapter. Kimberly Bryant founded the nonprofit seven years ago to introduce programming and technology to young and pre-teen girls of color through clubs led by women engineers of color. It has grown 13 cities across the United States and we are proud Seattle will be its 14th. We are also deepening our longtime partnership with Technology Access Foundation (TAF) with an investment in STEMbyTAF. The foundation was founded in 1997 by former Microsoft leader, Trish Millines Dziko, initially as an out-of-school program offering technology skills training, internships and college prep to students of color in Seattle. Since then, TAF has opened its own school and become a sought-after expert on how to create learning environments that eliminate race-based disparity in academic achievement. STEMbyTAF is designed to help replicate their successful strategies at other area schools. 

The partnerships build on Microsoft’s long-term commitment and responsibility to help ensure every young person has access to computer science education, from all gender, racial, ethnic, geographic and income backgrounds. While we are proud of our long-term investments in our Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program and in Code.org, along with many other vital partners, we know there is still more we have to do to bridge the gaps in equity in the field of technology. Despite the increase in access of computer science education in schools across America, significant gender and racial gaps remain between which students participate in high school computer science courses. Last year, only five percent of AP Computer Science test takers were African-American and only one-quarter were young women. At the same time, we face a STEM pipeline crisis where our workforce needs are growing at an accelerating pace.

Kimberly and Trish are extraordinary role models for young women of color and have made it their life’s work to ensure all students of color – especially black and brown girls – have the access, encouragement and support they need to pursue careers in technology. To do so, both believe these students need more culturally relevant learning opportunities that include mentoring and relationship building with teachers and adult engineers that look like them and have shared experiences as women of color. 

We applaud trailblazers like Kimberly and Trish and are proud to support their important work. But most of all, we hope these investments will help a lot more students find a passion for technology, the opportunity to pursue a STEM education and most importantly believe it is possible for them. As Satya has said in the past, Microsoft can only be successful if we have people of all backgrounds building our technology and we cannot build product and services for everyone unless everyone is represented in our engineering ranks. We look forward to working with partners in the region to bring even more resources to ensure that girls of color in the Puget Sound region have opportunities to learn computer science.

Evaluating CMS platforms, LA County stays on Documentum

TORONTO — It turns out that when you have an organization so big it would be a Fortune 500 company if it were in the private sector, comparables are hard to find when evaluating CMS platforms and a possible rip and replace.

That’s a challenge the tech team including Murtaza Masood, the assistant director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Human Resources, faced when deciding whether to stay with Documentum and its myriad content service tentacles that reached throughout the county’s systems, which serve 110,000 employees. The evaluation came last year after OpenText acquired Documentum from EMC.

In this Pipeline podcast, Masood describes how it took three years to get an HR digital transformation started so they could then move forward and streamline processes.

We embarked on a strategic roadmap to transform all things HR into digital platforms.
Murtaza MasoodLos Angeles County

“We embarked on a strategic roadmap to transform all things HR into digital platforms — self-service HR [or] on-demand HR, if you will,” Masood says in the podcast, which was recorded in July at the OpenText Enterprise World user conference.

Masood added that he then was tapped to rethink the department’s workflows to slash the time it takes to complete common processes such as responding to HR complaints, civil service exams, workforce employee development and executive services.”

In the middle of that, the county’s long-used document management platform was acquired by a competitor, which precipitated the process of evaluating CMS vendors — and considering possible replacements — on top of the other updates to the documentation processes that were going on.

In the end, the massive enterprise decided to stay on Documentum and migrate slowly into the cloud instead of going the big-bang route. Why?

“Based on our size and the scale of the process, the business continuity aspect of it,” Masood said.

The Ability Hacks: The story of two hackathon teams embracing the transformative power of technology – Microsoft on the Issues

This week is the Microsoft One Week Hackathon, where employees from around the company work tirelessly to “hack” solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. The opportunity to empower people through technology, particularly those with disabilities, has never been more important. Back in 2014, we had 10 ability hack projects, last year we had 150 projects and 850 people, and this year – well, it’s going to be exciting to see. This is a wonderful testament to our employees and their passion for innovation and conviction in the importance of empowering every person and organization to achieve more.

An inspiration for many was two Ability Hack projects that won the company hackathon in 2014 and 2015, and this year we will be giving away copies to hackers of a new book covering the journeys of those hackathon teams. “The Ability Hacks” shares the behind-the-scenes stories of the hackers who pioneered two innovative hacks-turned-solutions used today by people with disabilities around the world – the Ability EyeGaze Hack team and Learning Tools Hack team.

The Ability Hacks book cover

We hope this book, and the journeys these teams have been on, can help spark a conversation about the transformative power of technology, and encourage engineers and developers to build the next wave of inclusive technology. I encourage you to read, and as a teaser, here are a few highlights:

EyeGaze: Reinstating independence by revolutionizing mobility

“Until there is a cure for ALS, technology can be that cure.” – Steve Gleason, former NFL player

In 2014, former NFL player Steve Gleason, who has a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sent an email to Microsoft challenging employees to develop a technology that could allow him to drive a wheelchair with his eyes. A group of software engineers, program managers, marketers and advocates formed the Ability Eye Gaze hack team and accepted this challenge ahead of the 2014 Microsoft hackathon.

Through hard work, determination and despite a few twists and turns, the team collaborated to build a solution complete with duct tape that allowed Steve to control his wheelchair with his eyes. This invention had impact, ultimately inspiring the formation of the Microsoft Research NExT Enable team, who have continued working on technology for people with ALS and other disabilities. This has already resulted in a new feature named Eye Control, which was developed in collaboration with the Windows team, and was included in Windows 10 last year.

Learning Tools: Transforming education and learning in the classroom

“If you design things for the greatest accessibility – Learning Tools is like that – it makes everything accessible to all, and why wouldn’t we want that?” – A fourth-grade teacher

While Learning Tools involved a different set of players in a different part of Microsoft, its story shares the same lessons, opportunities, passion and impact experienced by the Eye Gaze team. Winner of the 2015 Hackathon, Learning Tools helps students with dyslexia learn how to read and is now transforming education for teachers, students, administrators and parents.

What’s amazing about this story was the diversity of the team, which included developers, a reading team and a speech pathologist, working extensively with students and educators to create the product. While originally created for folks with dyslexia, the Learning Tools team is seeing benefits to folks with dysgraphia, ADHD, English language learners and emerging readers. Today, Learning Tools is incorporated into apps, Office, and Edge, reaching 13 million active users in more than 40 languages. Like the Eye Gaze team before it, the Learning Tools team evolved from a passionate hackathon into a strategic business. You can even read “The Ability Hacks” using Learning Tools, just download the PDF and open in Microsoft Edge.

‘It’s not about the technology. It’s about the people.

As Peter Lee, corporate vice president, Microsoft Healthcare, shares in the book’s foreword, “A focus on inclusion helps a team become more empathetic with its users, which in turn affects deeply the design and development process of products.”

Personally, I go to work every day feeling humbled that I represent a company with an incredible mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. I’m grateful for the chance to share just a few of their stories in “The Ability Hacks.” Trust me, it’s two stories of many that have taken place over the last four years and there will be a lot more in our future.

While we’ve come a long way in incorporating accessibility and inclusivity in everything we do, the truth is that accessibility is a journey. There is more in front of us than behind us. Please read the book and join the conversation about inclusive technology design on Twitter via #abilityhacks. And if you want to create products for people with disabilities, do check out our AI for Accessibility program, which provides access to advanced Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources to individuals and organizations working on empowering people with disability across the world at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai-for-accessibility.

“The Ability Hacks” is also available in PDF and EPUB.

Gotta go. Back to the hackathon tents. Can’t wait to see what folks create this year!

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Lilly strives to speed innovation with help from Microsoft 365 Enterprise – Microsoft 365 Blog

Profile picture of Ron Markezich.The nearly 40,000 employees of Eli Lilly and Company are on a mission to make medicines that help people live longer, healthier, and more active lives. But they know that developing new treatments for cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating diseases requires collaboration with the best minds working together to foster innovation.

That’s why Lilly takes a collaborative approach to discovering and developing new medicines—between lab researchers and the rest of the company—as well as with a global network of physicians, medical researchers, and healthcare organizations. Working together—creatively and efficiently—can help generate new ideas that fuel innovation. To bring together scientists across hundreds of locations and organizations and truly empower the workforce, Lilly selected Microsoft 365 Enterprise.

While Lilly is in the early stage of deployment, these cloud-based collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams, are making an impact. Mike Meadows, vice president and chief technology officer at Lilly, says that the technology will allow for enhanced productivity and teamwork, while helping to protect IP:

“Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams enhance our ability for researchers and other employees to work together in faster and more creative ways, advancing our promise to make life better through innovative medicines. Microsoft 365 helps us bring the best minds together while keeping data secure and addressing regulatory compliance requirements.”

Like enterprise customers across the globe, Lilly sees Microsoft 365 as a robust, intelligent productivity and collaboration solution that empowers employees to be creative and work together. And when deployment of Windows 10 is complete, employees across the company will advance a new culture of work where creative collaboration that sparks critical thinking and innovation happens anywhere, anytime.

At Microsoft, we’re humbled to play a role in helping Lilly make life better for people around the world.

—Ron Markezich

Evergreen Services Group: New deal to up MSP revenue to $40M

Evergreen Services Group, a holding company focused on purchasing managed service providers, is on the cusp of its fifth acquisition, a move that will bring the investor’s MSP revenue to more than $40 million.

The company, based in San Francisco, launched in 2017 as a spinoff of Alpine Investors, a private equity firm. Evergreen has received a $100 million equity commitment from Alpine to launch its acquisition campaign, which got underway seven months ago, according to Ramsey Sahyoun, head of M&A at Evergreen.

Evergreen’s investments include Executech, an MSP in the Salt Lake City area; Wolf Consulting and Jenlor, MSPs in greater Pittsburgh; and Interlaced LLC, an MSP in San Diego specializing in Apple environments.

Next up is an acquisition of an Austin, Texas, MSP that Evergreen Services Group expects to announce next week.

M&A in the MSP market

Evergreen’s acquisitions are in line with the general consolidation trend ongoing in the MSP market. A number of investment groups, including Fusion Agiletech, Converge Technology Partners and Great Hill Partners in conjunction with Reliam Inc., for example, are in the process of building IT services company platforms.

Sahyoun said Evergreen offers a different opportunity for MSPs in the M&A landscape. He said Evergreen purchases 100% of a company and generally pays in cash upfront, noting that other investors strike deals based on earn-outs or seller notes.

In addition, Evergreen takes a long-term view as it acquires companies, Sahyoun said.

“We are not going to smash a few MSPs together and sell in three or four years,” he said. “We are fortunate … to have a long-term financial backer behind this vision of ‘Let’s do this over many years and not just try to make a quick buck.'”

The long-range view enables Evergreen to invest in its acquired companies. Sahyoun said investments in sales and marketing, as well as in service delivery, sets up the acquired companies to have sustainable growth.

The companies Evergreen has acquired thus far will operate as stand-alone, independent platforms, he explained. Evergreen’s approach is to treat companies above the $1 million EBITDA threshold as platforms and those below that mark as add-on acquisitions that would be tucked into one of Evergreen’s platforms.

While Evergreen Services Group doesn’t plan to integrate the platform companies, there will be coordination among its holdings. Sahyoun said Evergreen recently started to bring executives from the companies together in a peer-group format in which they can share best practices and discuss business challenges. In addition, Evergreen provides a subject-matter expert directory and playbook on its website to help companies through such tasks as selecting an IaaS provider or collecting accounts receivable.

Chart showing recent transactions in the IT services industry
Evergreen Services Group is among the investment organizations looking to do deals in the MSP market.

Looking for SMB focus, MRR

Evergreen’s acquisition approach is to look for MSPs serving the small and medium-sized business market that have more than half of their business coming from monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

We look for companies that have a good, predictable stream of revenue.
Ramsey Sahyounhead of M&A, Evergreen Services Group

“That is what we value and what gets us excited about this industry,” Sahyoun said of MRR. “We look for companies that have a good, predictable stream of revenue.”

Customer satisfaction and high retention rates are also important factors in assessing acquisition candidates. To determine customer satisfaction, Evergreen Services Group goes through a process of talking to a subset of an acquisition candidate’s customers as part of its post-letter-of-intent due diligence.

Sahyoun said the company uses a third-party vendor to conduct the customer surveys, which yield such information as net promoter scores.

In general, Sahyoun suggested the recent uptick in acquisition activity in the MSP market signals a greater confidence in the companies following the MSP business model.

“The business has gotten fundamentally better over time,” he said, noting the shift from break-fix to MMR revenue. “That is a big part of what is driving investor interest.”

Other news

  • Microsoft made several announcements ahead of its annual partner conference, Microsoft Inspire. Among the disclosures is a free version of Microsoft Teams; a Whiteboard app for Windows 10 that is also slated for iOS; an expanded Azure Data Box offering; and new programs and resources that aim to help partners take advantage of Microsoft’s global customer and partner ecosystems. Microsoft also unveiled an Azure Expert MSP program, two Cloud Practice Playbooks and four Digital Transformation eBooks. Microsoft Inspire will run July 15 to 19 in Las Vegas.
  • Accenture has acquired Kogentix, a Schaumburg, Ill., company that focuses on big data and AI services. Kogentix employs about 220 big data engineers, data scientists, machine learning engineers and software developers, according to Accenture.
  • IT management software company SolarWinds has acquired Trusted Metrics, a threat monitoring and management vendor. SolarWinds said it will launch SolarWinds Threat Monitor, a tool for MSPs and managed security services providers, as a result of the buyout. In related news, private equity investment firm and SolarWinds backer Thoma Bravo revealed plans to purchase a majority interest in identity and access management player Centrify.
  • More than half of North American channel partners expect to see an increase in IT spending in 2018 compared with last year, according to a mid-year survey of 363 partner companies undertaken by OneAffiniti, a channel marketing solutions provider.
  • Dataguise, a data privacy protection and compliance vendor, unwrapped the DgSecure Partner Program for selling the company’s data governance enablement software. The program provides training and certification; incentives; demo software; sales leads and sales enablement tools; and market development funds (MDF). Partners can also access deal registration and marketing materials through the Dataguise partner portal, the vendor said.
  • Networking vendor Ruckus Networks unveiled a program for enabling partners to sell Ruckus Cloud Wi-Fi. The Cloud-Ready Specialization Program offers tools, training, technical support and incentives and is open to Select- and Elite-level Ruckus Ready partners, the vendor said. Ruckus also provides Smart Cities, Large Public Venue and Education specializations.
  • Yamaha Unified Communications, an audio and video conferencing vendor, introduced a global partner program. The program features three tiers — Basic, Emerging and Prime — with incremental benefits and incentives. At the Basic level, partners can access deal registration, a demo program, special discounts, product training and post-sales technical support. Emerging and Prime partners can tap volume incentive rebates and marketing support such as MDF, according to Yamaha UC.
  • WhiteHat Security, an application security provider, and RiskIQ, a digital threat management firm, are integrating their platforms. The integration gives joint customers “a detailed inventory of web-facing properties, which we can onboard into WhiteHat Sentinel for continuous scanning,” according to John Atkinson, vice president of strategic alliances at WhiteHat Security. As a result, channel partners can provide a “comprehensive solution for dynamic application security testing.”
  • Cybersecurity vendor Bitdefender expanded its security offerings for MSPs. New products include Patch Management, Advanced Threat Security, and Endpoint Detection and Response, available within the Bitdefender Cloud Security for MSP endpoint security suite. The three new offerings can be purchased via monthly usage-based licensing, Bitdefender said.
  • LogiGear, a software-testing vendor, said Royal Cyber, a solution provider based in Naperville, Ill., has joined its roster of value-added resellers. Royal Cyber will provide automation testing using LogiGear’s TestArchitect technology, LogiGear said.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Medicine Man: How AI is bringing humanity back into healthcare – Microsoft News Centre Europe

Oschner Health is one example of a company using AI to revolutionise healthcare. Its system is able to accurately track patients who are at risk of cardiac arrest, and can determine when there is a decline in their condition. This allows them to be admitted into intensive care hours earlier than they otherwise would have been. They are provided with potentially life-saving care, before their condition deteriorated to the point where medical care would have been less effective.

Project InnerEye, in use at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, is another solution which uses machine learning and computer vision for the analysis of radiological images. Designed to identify tumours, it improves the delivery of treatments such as radiotherapy, by precisely distinguishing between cancerous and healthy tissues. It can also better monitor disease progression during chemotherapy, so that treatment can be adjusted in line with how patients respond.

These AI solutions allow medical professionals to improve patient care and admittance time, thanks to their improved precision. This, in turn, reduces financial and manpower strain, improving the healthcare experience in the areas where this technology is being used.

This is supported by data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which shows that between 30 and 50 percent of cancer deaths could be avoided with prevention, early detection and treatment. With cancer costing the global economy an excess of an estimated $1.16 trillion a year, the impact of technology such as AI, is game-changing.

In the UK alone, for example, there are only 4.7 radiologists per 100,000 population, and this number will need to almost double by 2022 to meet demand. Because of this shortage, the NHS spent nearly £88 million in 2016 paying for backlogs of radiology scans to be reported – the same amount could have paid for over 1,000 full-time consultants.

“We are drowning in data in hospitals,” Kos states. “We don’t have enough human brainpower to deal with it all in a timely manner – which in healthcare, is vital.”

Using technology such as AI can therefore substantially decrease strain on healthcare systems, while simultaneously improving patient care and reducing costs, allowing doctors to spend their time on more complex medical diagnoses. Or, indeed, spending more time connecting with patients.

The human factor
Introducing AI to healthcare isn’t removing the humanity from medicine. On the contrary, it’s increasing it.

A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that doctors spend nearly twice as much time doing administrative work (49 percent) as they do with their patients (27 percent). In other words, doctors are spending more time crunching through data, sifting through and updating records, and analysing scans, than they are speaking to their patients.

In a profession where people are dealing with often traumatic, life-changing developments, this personal, human touch, is vital for the emotional well-being of patients and their loved ones. By using tools such as AI to free up more of their time, healthcare professionals can focus more on patient interaction, offering reassurance, providing guidance, and answering more questions.

Culture, and the challenges of change
Motivated by the lack of technology during his critical care period, Kos spent eight years crusading to introduce electronic medical record systems into hospitals. But nothing improved.

“We digitized, but we digitized all of the mistakes too. Then it dawned on me – digitization is important, but it’s not transformation.”

Without the supportive technology of cloud storage, or the data analysis powers of AI and machine learning, the full potential of these digitized records weren’t even close to being reached. Only years after, when cloud technology was accepted on a wider scale, and when collaborative tools such as Skype or real-time document editing in the cloud were established – could this initial digitization move on to the next level.

Research has shown that an organisation with the most advanced technology still won’t be as effective if it lacks the right company culture. Employees must be willing to embrace their new tools, while leaders must encourage a culture of learning. Only then, can the new tools be as effective as possible.

In the world of medicine, however, adopting the right culture for technological change can prove to be a challenge.

“Healthcare professionals are rather inward-looking,” says Kos. “Doctors listen to doctors. It’s a very top-down, hierarchical environment. You could have the best technology in the world, but if the culture isn’t ready to embrace it with a willingness to learn, it’s just not going to work.”

Google’s partner ecosystem remains a work in progress

To gauge the success of a cloud vendor, look no further than the company it keeps.

Public cloud providers have a symbiotic relationship with their partner ecosystems — a marriage of marketing and technological convenience that links these massive platforms to thousands of ancillary products. These arrangements helped propel AWS deeper into the enterprise market and helped Microsoft parlay its precloud partnerships into more revenue from its cloud.

For Google, however, these relationships remain a work in progress.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) lags behind AWS and Azure in a number of areas, and its partner ecosystem’s relative lack of depth and breadth is no exception. This is a particularly acute shortcoming for a company known more for its technology than its rapport with traditional corporate IT, but there are signs that Google has addressed the problem.

The turning point for GCP, according to industry observers, was the late-2015 hiring of VMware co-founder Diane Greene, who has emphasized success in the enterprise market. Partners and other vendors said it was difficult to coordinate any collaborative efforts with GCP in the past, but that process has slowly improved since Greene took over.

CenturyLink has worked with Google for more than two years to provide networking and application migration services that link to GCP. In the early stages of that relationship, discussions centered on how many petabytes of data GCP could ingest or the size of a Hadoop cluster.

“That would resonate maybe with data scientists working on big data analytics or cutting-edge app developers, but it didn’t resonate with the broader IT department,” said Chris McReynolds, vice president of core network services at CenturyLink.

Google has made great strides in this area, but it must continue to translate its broad set of technologies into products and services that meet customers’ specific needs, he added.

“I don’t think Google can do that alone,” McReynolds said.

Google’s scored some victories in this space in the past 18 months, such as prominent deals with Cisco, SAP and Salesforce. It also streamlined its partner application process, added incentives for partners and provided categories for customers to find particular types of partners. But some notable gaps remain in its partner ecosystem, including Oracle and VMware. And its 13,000 partners are far short of those for AWS, which added more than 10,000 partners in 2017 alone.

Google also has increased its financial commitment to this effort. The company’s channel and partner team is as much as 10 times the size it was 18 months ago, said Nan Boden, head of global alliances for Google Cloud. That’s a significant leap, but it’s hard to gauge the exact impact, because Google wouldn’t provide details about the actual size of the organization.

Part of that extended outlay is proactive outreach to partners to speed up adoption. Rather than wait for third parties to come to them, Google has invested to train channel providers, so they can get certified and well-versed in the platform. That avoids a scenario where independent software vendors and enterprises wait for the other to jump first.

Clouds and their partners: Can’t have one without the other

We watched the early interest in Google, and there wasn’t enough momentum for us to spend time and effort … but there’s been a lot of fast-growing momentum lately.
Joe KinsellaCTO and founder, CloudHealth Technologies

By some estimates, a public cloud partner ecosystem will generate as much revenue as the clouds themselves in the coming years, mainly driven by technology or consulting companies. The vibrancy of a given cloud’s marketplace is particularly important to enterprise clients. Corporations want assurances that their third-party software licenses are supported on the platform, or they require assistance to architect and manage their cloud assets. If a cloud lacks the appropriate scaffolding to support either scenario, IT shops may look elsewhere.

IT vendors tend to follow their customers’ lead with public clouds and extend to other platforms only when it becomes worth the investment in software and staff. Most third parties started with AWS and later expanded their support to Microsoft Azure. That shift to Azure several years ago was an early indicator that Azure was firmly established as the No. 2 public cloud on the market.

By contrast, Google’s mantra, “if you build it, they will come,” in the early years of GCP emphasized the company’s technical prowess and spoke directly to developers and data scientists with the message that they could operate just like Google. That grassroots momentum ultimately stalled, and Google remained an afterthought for most large enterprises.

“We watched the early interest in Google, and there wasn’t enough momentum for us to spend time and effort developing a value proposition there,” said Joe Kinsella, CTO and founder at CloudHealth Technologies. “But there’s been a lot of fast-growing momentum lately. We’re kind of being pulled into Google [by our customers].”

CloudHealth, based in Boston, provides cloud management and optimization and has worked with Google for two years. It already has support for AWS and Azure and plans to roll out a GCP service in the coming months. In conversations with corporate executives this past year, Kinsella noticed a curious trend in how the three hyperscale platforms crossed paths within an enterprise.

A given company likely deploys AWS and Azure, but the usage is often disconnected, as different teams work independently. However, a company typically operates with Google’s cloud in concert with AWS, which could give GCP an edge going forward, Kinsella said.

“What most enterprises are realizing is there is a lot more compatibility across stacks, from the migration services that Google offers to compute, database, storage and even their developer tools,” he said. “They’re more apples-to-apples compatible.”

AWS clearly has a broader, more mature set of tools available to its users, but Google has checked off equivalents for the top 10 or so features, which account for 95% of the revenue for these vendors anyway, Kinsella said. He said he sees GCP in the same position AWS was in 2015, when it started to turn the corner with partners and enterprise clients.

Unitrends revamps enterprise backup solutions program in wake of merger

Enterprise backup solutions company Unitrends has revamped its partner program following its merger with Kaseya, a provider of management software for managed service providers.

The Kaseya-Unitrends merger, revealed in May, yielded a portfolio spanning remote monitoring and management, endpoint management, network monitoring and management, professional services automation, security, and enterprise backup solutions. According to Unitrends, which runs as an independent company inside Kaseya, the redesigned channel program aims to enhance partner benefits and support for legacy Unitrends partners, while tapping into the Kaseya MSP community.

The redesigned program also reflects the shift away from Unitrends’ previous volume-based channel strategy in which the vendor sought to “recruit a large number of partners, large and small, across various geographies,” said Dante Gordon, senior director of channel marketing at Unitrends, based in Burlington, Mass.

“It is not a volume play anymore. We are not looking at adding partners for the sake of adding numbers,” he added. “A key tenet of the program is ensuring that we are delivering one of the most profitable programs in our industry for partners, and one of the ways we do that is ensuring we are not saturating the market … and eroding margins.”

The Unitrends channel program now features a four-tiered membership structure of Authorized, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels, offering incremental discounts and incentives, among other benefits.

“What we have done with the new program is we have established partner segmentation and … tiers based on partners’ investment and commitment to building a practice around Unitrends,” Gordon said.

Program benefits include a proposal-based market development funds (MDF) program.

“Unlike a lot of vendors, we don’t allocate MDF based on a percent of bookings or revenue. … Any partner in our Gold and Platinum tiers has the ability to submit a proposal for MDF dollars that they want to apply to a particular marketing campaign.”

Unitrends’ partners can also tap a new cloud-based partner portal containing a library of marketing materials, such as packaged campaigns that partners can white label. Additionally, Unitrends said it will soon roll out a marketing automation service for email campaigns.

As for Kaseya MSP partners, Unitrends said it will extend Gold-level program benefits to Kaseya MSP partners for a limited time. Those benefits include access to MDF, dedicated channel managers and lead referrals.

Gordon said Kaseya MSP partners, which tend to target the small and medium-sized business space, are complementary to Unitrends’ midmarket focus. He noted that he also sees the merger as an opportunity for Unitrends’ traditional resellers to use Kaseya’s offerings to incorporate managed services into their businesses.

Other news

  • Winxnet Inc., an IT consulting and outsourcing firm based in Portland, Maine, has merged with K&R Network Solutions, a San Diego-based managed IT services provider. The companies said the combination will create a coast-to-coast MSP company. The deal follows a strategic alliance between the companies that was announced in January 2018. The Winxnet-K&R merger continues a trend of mergers and acquisitions in the IT services industry. Other recent transactions, such as the Green House Data merger with Infront Consulting Group Ltd., were also motivated by geographic reach.
  • In other financial news, Primepulse SE, an investment holding group based in Munich, has invested in Unify Square, a cloud managed services provider for Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business. The funding round is roughly $10 million, according to Unify Square, which is based in Bellevue, Wash.
  • Tech Mahindra, a consulting and digital transformation services provider, is partnering with LIFARS LLC, a cybersecurity digital forensics and incident response The companies plan to combine Tech Mahindra’s security operations center offering with LIFARS incident response service for their customers.
  • SolarWinds MSP, an IT service management solution provider targeting service providers, unveiled MSP Institute, a training and tips playbook for MSPs. The playbook will include business, sales, marketing and technical tracks.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Intuit’s CDO talks complex AI project to improve finances

Intuit Inc. may be a 35-year-old company, but it’s still looking to disrupt how personal and small-business finances are managed. One vision? A digital financial assistant powered by cutting-edge AI tech that would transform how the company operates and how its customers save, spend and invest.

“In the United States today, we’re living in a world where, I’ve heard, between 40% and 50% of Americans don’t have $400 dollars to deal with a small emergency,” said Ashok Srivastava, senior vice president and chief data officer at Intuit, based in Mountain View, Calif. “So, if they have a flat tire, if the transmission goes out in their car or something else happens, it can be a very significant event in their financial life and potentially in their overall life.”

Srivastava, who is Intuit’s first chief data officer, said he’s in charge of developing a vision and a strategy for the company’s “entire data pipeline,” from the way data is captured to the way data is ingested by the algorithms that power the company’s data products.

Here, Srivastava talks about the company’s vision for a digital financial assistant — an AI project that he described as being both expansive and innovative.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What’s the most exciting AI project at Intuit right now?

Ashok Srivastava, senior vice president and chief data officer, IntuitAshok Srivastava

Ashok Srivastava: We’re excited about this idea of creating a digital financial assistant — we call it a digital persona. This would be a service that enables consumers and small businesses to get better information that empowers them to make better financial decisions.

How would customers interact with this digital persona?

Srivastava: It would allow for different types of applications to be tied to it. The most obvious is a chat bot, but it could also provide augmented intelligence for our customer care representative; it could provide augmented intelligence for our accountants who are working on Intuit’s behalf or private accountants who are using Intuit software. It could be deployed in internal processes where product teams learn how people interact with our software through a set of focus groups. So, it’s one technology that could be instantiated across many different platforms and touchpoints.

That’s one of the exciting aspects from a technology perspective. If you think about how a human works, there are so many things that are amazing about humans, but one is that they have the ability to rapidly change contexts and rapidly deal with a changing environment. The touchpoint doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking on video, on the phone or in person. Generally speaking, people can deal with these channels of communication very easily.

But it’s hard for technology to do that. Technology tends to be built for a specific channel and optimized for that channel. And what we’re trying to do is build a single technology that would then interact with people through multiple channels.

Talk about the underlying technology in this AI project. I assume natural language processing will be a major component. But what else?

Srivastava: It’s going to draw from multiple technology sources. So, certainly, natural language processing and natural language understanding are fundamental. Closely related to that is what in the AI field is called ‘reasoning under uncertainty,’ so making decisions in situations where there isn’t complete and perfect information. This is quite a difficult task. Closely related to that is information fusion. So, the idea that you have multiple data sources — some of them might be owned by Intuit, some of them might be third-party information sources — and bringing them together through a technology base that allows for information fusion. That’s another important capability that needs to be built.

There are the conversational aspects. So, if the channel is a conversational channel, that has an entire technology stack associated to it — whether it’s speech-to-text or text-to-speech capabilities, those types of things become quite important.

What’s the status of the AI project?

Srivastava: We have parts of this fielded already. When I say fielded, I’m talking about examples of the capabilities we’re trying to build. We’re working on platform development and scaling the technologies that would allow us to meet the ultimate goal that I described. But we have capabilities already fielded in customer care, as well as in QuickBooks, which is a chat bot Intuit customers can interact with today to get insights about how their small business is operating and other aspects like that. But it’s in its infancy with respect to the overall vision that I’m describing.

Jefferson College of Population Health gets $2M endowment from vendor

In a move that is the first of its kind in the country, a for-profit, private health IT company is funding a new, $2 million professorship of population health at a university.

Navvis Healthcare in St. Louis announced the endowment today for the chair at Jefferson College of Population Health, part of Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University.

“This is the first private-sector-sponsored endowed chair anywhere” for a population health school, said David Nash, M.D., founding dean of Jefferson College of Population Health. “Navvis is a national leader just by virtue of putting money where its mouth is.” A person will likely be named to the endowed chair in early 2019.

Navvis sells a population health platform. The school faces zero pressure from Navvis about what academic research the new professorship will conduct, Nash said.

Nash expected Jefferson College of Population Health to further examine how poverty influences population health trends. “Unfortunately in our country, the biggest driver of lack of health is poverty,” he said, adding that poorer people are more vulnerable to disease and illness because they may not be able to afford care at critical times.

“ZIP code is more important than your genetic code in predicting your life span,” a dilemma that no other Western nation faces as much as the U.S., Nash said.

More population health info desired, company says

From Navvis’ point of view, the endowment stems partly from the desire to be a good corporate citizen and also because the company sees a commercial need in the area of more in-depth population health studies, said Chuck Eberl, Navvis’ chief marketing officer.

David Nash, M.D., dean of the Jefferson College of Population HealthDavid Nash, M.D.

“There’s this proliferation of [population health] tools and technologies … and there are a lot of bright spots all over the industry,” Eberl said. However, as medical costs continue to rise, payers and providers are not clear whether population health management might be able to lower some of the costs, he added.

“We’re moving from a world of volume to value,” Nash said. “It’s going to be a bumpy road. … If the country can’t get healthcare onto a value-based platform, then it risks the entire economy.” Nash said healthcare makes up 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product, a measure of the amount of goods and services sold in the country.

Business relationship spawned endowment

The endowment for Jefferson College of Population Health came about after Nash had met Navvis CEO Mike Farris when both served on a separate, external advisory board.

ZIP code is more important than your genetic code in predicting your life span.
David Nash, M.D.dean, Jefferson College of Population Health

Farris later contacted Nash for advice on whether he knew who to talk to about establishing a population health endowment somewhere in the U.S., and Nash responded, “Well yeah, talk to me.” A dozen conversations later, the endowment agreement was in place for the college, Nash said.

“Will one professorship change the world? Probably not, but it sends a clear signal,” Nash said. “Other CEOs will call Mike Farris and say, ‘How the hell did you do that?'”

Under the brand name Coreo, Navvis’ products use analytics and data visualization to run a population health platform that connects patients, caregivers, insurance payers and data analysts to the same information across subsets of patients.

Eberl declined to provide the revenue of Navvis, which will employee about 200 people by the end of the year.