Tag Archives: Conference

Why Would Prosthetic Arms Need to See or Connect to Cloud AI?

Based on “Connected Arms”, a keynote talk at the O’Reilly AI Conference delivered by Joseph Sirosh, CTO for AI at Microsoft. Content reposted from this O’Reilly Media website.

There are over 1 million new amputees every year, i.e. one every 30 seconds – a truly shocking statistic.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 30 to 100 million people around the world are living with limb loss today. Unfortunately, only 5-15% of this population has access to prosthetic devices.

Although prostheses have been around since ancient times, their successful use has been severely limited for millennia by several factors, with cost being the major one. Although it is possible to get sophisticated bionic arms today, the cost of such devices runs into tens of thousands of dollars. These devices are just not widely available today. What’s more, having these devices interface satisfactorily with the human body has been a massive issue, partly due to the challenges of working with the human nervous system. Such devices generally need to be tailored to work with each individual’s nervous system, a process that often requires expensive surgery.

Is it possible for a new generation of human beings to finally help us break through these long-standing barriers?

Can prosthetic devices learn to adapt to us, as opposed to the other way around?

A Personalized Prosthetic Arm for $100?

In his talk, Joseph informs us about how, using the combination of:

  • Low-cost off-the-shelf electronics,
  • 3D-printing, and
  • Cloud AI, for intelligent, learned, personalized behavior,

it is now becoming possible to deliver prosthetic arms at a price point of around $100.

Joseph takes the smartARM as an example of such a breakthrough device. A prototype built by two undergraduate students from Canada who recently won the first prize in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, the smartARM is 3D-printed, has a camera in the palm of its hand and is connected to the cloud. The magic is in the cloud, where a computer vision service recognizes the objects seen by the camera. Deep learning algorithms then generate the precise finger movements needed to grasp the object near the arm. Essentially, the cloud vision service classifies the object and generates the right grip or action, such as a pincer action to pick up a bunch of keys on a ring, or a palmar action to pick up a wineglass. The grip itself is a learned behavior which can be trained and customized.

The user of the prosthetic arm triggers the grip (or its release) by flexing any muscle of their choice on their body, for instance, their upper arm muscle. A myoelectric sensor located in a band that is strapped over that muscle detects the signal and triggers the grip or its release.

Simple, Adaptable Architecture

The architecture of this grip classification solution is shown below. The input to the raspberry pi on the smartARM comes from camera and the muscle sensor. These inputs are sent to the Azure Custom Vision Service, an API in the cloud which has been trained on grip classifications and is able to output the appropriate grip. This grip is sent back to an Arduino board in the smartARM which can then trigger the servo motors that realize that grip in the physical world, i.e. as soon as the smartARM gets the signal to do so from the muscle sensor.

This is an adaptable architecture. It can be customized to the kinds of movements you want this arm to generate. For instance, the specific individual using this prosthetic can customize the grips for the objects in their daily life which are the ones they care the most about. The muscle sensor -based trigger could be replaced with a speech trigger, if so desired.


AI is empowering a new generation of developers to explore all sorts of novel ideas and mashups. Through his talk on “Connected Arms”, Joseph shows us how the future of prosthetic devices can be transformed by the power of the cloud and AI. Imagine a world in which all future assistive devices are empowered with AI in this fashion. Devices would adapt to individuals, rather than the other way around. Assistive devices will become more affordable, intelligent, cloud-powered and personalized.

Cloud AI is letting us build unexpected things that we would scarcely have imagined.

Such as like an arm that can see.

The AI / ML Blog Team

Deep Learning Indaba 2018: Strengthening African machine learning – Microsoft Research

deep leaning indaba, participants at conference

Images ©2018 Deep Learning Indaba.

At the 30th conference on Neural Information Processing in 2016, one of the world’s foremost gatherings on machine learning, there was not a single accepted paper from a researcher at an African institution. In fact, for the last decade, the entire African continent has been absent from the contemporary machine learning landscape. The following year, a group of researchers set out to change this, founding a world-class machine learning conference that would strengthen African machine learning – the Deep Learning Indaba.

The first Deep Learning Indaba took place at Wits University in South Africa. The indaba (a Zulu word for a gathering or meeting) was a runaway success, with almost 300 participants representing 22 African countries and 33 African research institutes. It was a week-long event of teaching, sharing and debate around the state of the art in machine learning and artificial intelligence that aimed to be a catalyst for strengthening machine learning in Africa.

indaba group picture

Attendees at Deep Learning Indaba 2017, held at Wits University, South Africa.

Now in its second year, Microsoft is proud to sponsor Deep Learning Indaba 2018, to be held September 9-14 at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The conference offers an exciting line-up of talks, hands-on workshops, poster sessions and networking/mentoring events. Once again it has attracted a star-studded guest speaker list – Google Brain lead and Tensorflow co-creator Jeff Dean; DeepMind lead Nando de Freitas; and AlphaGo lead, David Silver. Microsoft is flying in top researchers as well; Katja Hofmann will speak about reinforcement learning and Project Malmo (check out her recent podcast episode). Konstantina Palla will present on generative models and healthcare. And Timnit Gebru will talk about fairness and ethics in AI.

The missing continent

The motivation behind this conference really resonated with me. When I heard about it, I knew I wanted to contribute to the 2018 Indaba, and I was excited that Microsoft was already signed-up as a headline sponsor, and had our own Danielle Belgrave on the advisory board.

African Map - Indaba 2017 attendance

African countries represented at the 2017 Deep Learning Indaba.

Dr Tempest van Schaik, Software Engineer, AI & Data Science

Dr. Tempest van Schaik, Software Engineer, AI & Data Science

I graduated from University of the Witwatersrand (“Wits”) in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a degree in biomedical engineering, and a degree in electrical engineering, not unlike some of the conference organizers. In 2010, I came to the United Kingdom to pursue my PhD at Imperial College London and stayed on to work in the UK, joining Microsoft in 2017 as a software engineer in machine learning.

In my eight years working in the UK in the tech community, I have seldom come across African scientists, engineers and researchers sharing their work on the international stage. During my PhD studies, I was acutely aware of the Randlord monuments flanking my department’s building, despite the absence of any South Africans inside the department. At scientific conferences in Asia, Europe and the USA, I scanned the schedule for African institutions but seldom found them. Fellow Africans that I do find are usually working abroad. I have come to learn that Africa, a continent bigger than the USA, China, India, and Europe put together, has little visible global participation in science and technology. The reasons are numerous, with affordability being just one factor. I have felt the disappointment of trying to get a Tanzanian panelist to a tech conference in the USA. We realized that even if we could raise sufficient funds for his participation, the money would have achieved so much more in his home country that he couldn’t justify spending it on a conference.

Of all tech areas, perhaps it is artificial intelligence in particular that needs African participation. Countries such as China and the UK are gearing-up for the next industrial revolution, creating plans for re-retraining and increasing digital skills. Those who are left behind could face disruption due to AI and automation and might not be able to benefit from the fruits of AI. Another reason to increase African participation in AI is to reduce algorithmic bias that can arise when a narrow section of society develops technology.

A quote from the Indaba 2017 report perhaps says it best: “The solutions of contemporary AI and machine learning have been developed for the most part in the developed-world. As Africans, we continue to be receivers of the current advances in machine learning. To address the challenges facing our societies and countries, Africans must be owners, shapers and contributors of the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence. “

Attendees at Deep Learning Indaba 2017

Attendees at Deep Learning Indaba 2017


One of the goals of the conference is to increase diversity in the field. To quote the organizers, “It is critical for Africans, and women and black people in particular, to be appropriately represented in the advances that are to be made.” The make-up of the Indaba in its first two years is already impressive and leads by example to show how to organize a diverse and inclusive conference. From the Code of Conduct to the organizing committee, the advisory board, the speakers and attendees, you see a group of brilliant and diverse people in every sense.

Women in Machine Learning session

The 2018 Women in Machine Learning lineup.

The 2018 Women in Machine Learning lineup.

The Indaba’s quest for diversity aligns with another passion of mine, that of increasing women’s participation in STEM. Since my days of being the lonely woman in electrical engineering lectures, things have been improving. There seems to be more awareness today about attracting and retaining women in STEM, by improving workplace culture. However, there’s still a long way to go, and in the UK where I work, only 11% of the engineering workforce is female according to a 2017 survey. I have found great support and encouragement from women-in-tech communities and events such as PyLadies/RLadies London and AI Club For Gender Minorities, and saw the Indaba as an opportunity to pay it forward and link up with like-minded women globally. So, I’m very pleased to say that on the evening of September 10 at the Indaba, Microsoft is hosting a Women in Machine Learning event.

Indaba – a gathering.

Indaba – a gathering.

The aim of our evening is to encourage, support and unite women in machine learning. Our panelists each will describe her personal career journey and her experiences as a woman in machine learning. As there will be a high number of students in attendance, our panel also highlights diverse career paths, from academia to industrial research, to applied machine learning, to start-ups. Our panel consists of Sarah Brown (Brown University, USA), Konstantina Palla (Microsoft Research, UK), Muthoni Wanyoike (InstaDeep, Kenya), Kathleen Siminyu (Africa’s Talking, Kenya) and myself from Microsoft Commercial Software Engineering (UK). We look forward to seeing you there!

CloudHealth’s Kinsella weighs in on VMware, cloud management

VMware surprised many customers and industry watchers at its annual user conference, VMworld 2018, held this week, with its acquisition of CloudHealth Technologies, a multi-cloud management tool vendor. This went down only days before CloudHealth cut the ribbon on its new Boston headquarters. Joe Kinsella, CTO and founder at CloudHealth, spoke with us about events leading up to the acquisition, as well as his thoughts on the evolution of the cloud market.

Why sell now? And why VMware?

Joe KinsellaJoe Kinsella

Joe Kinsella: A year ago, we raised a [Series] D round of funding of $46 million. The reason we did that is because we had no intention of doing anything other than build a large public company — until recently. A few months ago, VMware approached us with a partnership conversation. We talked about what we could do together. It became clear that the two of us together would accelerate the vision that I set out to do six years ago. We could do what we set out to do faster, on the platform of VMware.

How will VMware and CloudHealth rationalize the products that overlap within the two companies?

Kinsella: The CloudHealth brand will be a unifying brand across their own portfolio of SaaS and cloud products. That said, in the process of doing that, there will be overlap, but also some opportunities, and we will have to rationalize that over time. There is no need to do it in the short term. [VMware] vRealize and CloudHealth are successful products. We will integrate with VMware, but we will continue to offer a choice.

What was happening in the market to drive your decision?

[Enterprises] have settled on a nuanced approach to leverage a broad portfolio of cloud options, which means many public clouds, many private clouds and a diverse set of SaaS products. Managing [such] a diverse portfolio is incredibly complex.
Joe KinsellaCTO and founder, CloudHealth Technologies

Kinsella: Cloud management has evolved rapidly. What drives it [is something] I call the ‘three phases of cloud adoption.’ In phase one, enterprises said they would not go to the public cloud, despite the fact that their lines of business used the public cloud. Phase two was this irrational exuberance that everything went to the public cloud. [Enterprises in phase three] have settled on a nuanced approach to leverage a broad portfolio of cloud options, which means many public clouds, many private clouds and a diverse set of SaaS products. Managing a single cloud is complex; managing [such] a diverse portfolio is incredibly complex.

What’s your view today of cloud market adoption and how the landscape is evolving?

Kinsella: Today, the majority of workloads still run on premises. But public cloud growth has been dramatic, as we all know. Amazon remains the market leader by a good amount. [Microsoft’s] Azure business has grown quickly, but a lot of that growth includes the Office 365 product as well. Google has not been a big player until recently. It’s only been in the past 12 months that we felt the Google strategy that Diane Green started to execute in the market. Alibaba has made some big moves and is a cloud to watch. Though Amazon is still far ahead, it’s finally getting competitive.

But customers don’t really just focus on one source anymore, correct?

Kinsella: I’ve talked about the concept of the heterogenous cloud, which is building applications and business services that take advantage of services from multiple service providers. We think of them as competitors today, but instead of buying services from Amazon, Google or Azure, you might build a business service that takes advantage of services from all three. I think that’s the future. I believe these multiple cloud providers will continue to exist and be differentiated based on the services they provide.

Microsoft’s Top 100 Security Researchers – Black Hat 2018 Edition

This morning we are excited to unveil the security researcher leaderboard at the Black Hat Security Conference.  This list recognizes the top security researchers who have contributed research to the Microsoft products and services.  If you are curious on how we build the list, check out our blog from last week on The Making of the Top 100 Researcher List

We appreciate all the work and partnerships with the security community over the years.  This is a good annual reflection point on the past year’s contributions.  Keep up the great work and we look forward to hearing from you this year too.

Microsoft’s Top 100 Security Researcher List

Ranking Researcher Name
1 Ashar Javed
2 Junghoon Lee
3 Yuki Chen
4 Cameron Vincent
5 Richard Shupak
6 Suresh Chelladurai
7 MaoFeng Ran
8 Mateusz Jurczyk
9 Ivan Fratric
10 Gal De Leon
11 Jaanus Kääp
12 James Forshaw
13 Kai Song
13 Hui Gao
15 Andreas Sandblad
16 Ajay Kulal
17 Yeivin Nadav
18 Fan Xiaocao
19 Liu Long
20 Zhang Yunhai
21 Dmitri Kaslov
22 Marcin Towalski
23 Qixun Zhao
24 Wayne Low
25 Huang Anwen
26 Dhanesh Kizhakkinan
27 Peter Hlavaty
28 Simon Zuckerbraun
29 Xiao Wei
30 Yassine Nafiai
31 Alex Ionescu
32 WenQunWang
32 Debasish Mandal
34 Ismail Talib
35 Cem Karagun
36 Adrian Ivascu
36 Ahmed Jerbi
38 Kdot
39 Zhong Zhaochen
40 Hung Huynh
40 Rancho Han
42 Jens Muller
43 Linan Hao
43 Lucas Leong
43 Ying Xinlei
43 J00Sean
47 Hamza Bettache
48 Aradnok
48 Zhou Yu
50 Mohamed Hamed
51 Vikash Chaudhary
52 Alec Blance
53 Zhenhuan Li
54 Xiong Wenbin
54 Richard Zhu
56 Minh Tran
57 Frans Rosen
57 Steven Seeley
59 Mario Gomes
60 Matt Nelson
61 Zhang Sen
62 Scott Bell
62 Honggang Ren
62 Ke Liu
63 Nethaniel Gelernter
63 Vladislav Stolyarov
67 Ivan Vagunin
67 Mustafa Hasan
69 SaifAllah Massaoud
70 Adesh Nandkishor Kolte
70 Roman Blachman
70 Omair
73 Tao Yan
73 Giwan Go
73 Nick Freeman
76 Amal Mohandas
77 Lucas Moreira Giungi
78 Marcin Wiazowski
79 Adam Bauer
79 Oleksandr Mirosh
79 Yangkang
79 Wanglu
79 Yong Chuan Koh
79 Jin Chen
79 Rgod
79 Ding Maoyin
79 Song Shenlei
88 Jovon Itwaru
88 Hungtt28
90 Abdulrahman Alqabandi
90 Christian Holler
92 Arik Isik
92 Manish Kumar Gupta
92 Kévin Chalet
92 Linang Yin
96 Ahmed Radi
97 Guangmingliu
97 Amir Shaahin
97 Omair Ahmed
97 nyaacate

Phillip Misner,

Principal Security Group Manager

Microsoft Security Response Center

Black Hat 2018 survey: Cybersecurity staffing, budgets still lacking

Attendees for next week’s 2018 Black Hat USA conference said they are still facing significant challenges when it comes to cybersecurity staffing and budgets.

According to the 2018 Black Hat USA Attendee Survey, which was conducted in May with 315 infosec professionals, a majority of respondents said they don’t have “the staffing or budget to defend adequately against current and emerging threats.” Sixty-five percent of infosec professionals said they do not have enough qualified staff members to deal with potential threats; this is the fourth consecutive year, according to the study, that approximately two-thirds of respondents believed they had inadequate staff.

In addition, 66% of respondents said they do not possess enough skills and training to perform all of the job functions required of them by their organizations. The cybersecurity skills shortage was also the most frequently cited answer from respondents (34%) when asked for the primary reason for why enterprise security strategies fail.

“While the shortcomings of current security technology and potential vulnerabilities in emerging cloud services are new aspects of security’s current landscape, it is an old nemesis — staffing shortages — that continues to plague the data centers and minds of Black Hat Attendee Survey respondents,” the report states.

Another cybersecurity staffing issue reared its head in the survey: Nearly half the respondents (47%) said the lack of women and minority infosec professionals was a concern to them. The gender gap in the infosec industry has been cited as a major issue in recent research from other organizations such as ISACA.

While cybersecurity staffing continues to be a major obstacle, budgets are also a consistent pain point, according to the survey. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they do not have enough of a cybersecurity budget to defend their organizations against current threats. However, that number is an improvement from both 2016 and 2017, when 63% and 58% of respondents said they had inadequate budgets.

This year’s Black Hat conference has several Community track sessions that deal with cybersecurity staffing and related workforce issues, including a session on hiring and retaining female engineers. Other sessions will focus on negative influences on the cybersecurity workforce such as sexual harassment, addiction, depression, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Black Hat USA will take place Aug. 4-9 in Las Vegas.

Google’s Edge TPU breaks model inferencing out of the cloud

Google is bringing tensor processing units to the edge. At the Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco, the company introduced Edge TPU, an application-specific integrated circuit designed to run TensorFlow Lite machine learning models on mobile and embedded devices.  

The announcement is indicative of both the red-hot AI hardware market, as well as the growing influence machine learning is having on the internet of things and wireless devices. But the Edge TPU also gives Google a more comprehensive edge-to-cloud AI stack to compete against the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and IBM as it looks to attract a new generation of application developers.

Analysts called the move a good one. “This fills in a big gap that Google had,” said Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri.

Spotlight on model inferencing

Google’s cloud environment is a fertile ground for training AI models, a nontrivial process that requires enormous amounts of data and processing power. Once a model has been trained, it’s put into production where it performs what’s known as inferencing, or where it uses its training to make predictions.

Forrester, AI, Machine learning, edge TPUMike Gualtieri

A growing trend is to push inferencing out to edge devices such as wireless thermostats or smart parking meters that don’t need a lot of power or even connectivity to the cloud, according to David Schatsky, managing director at Deloitte LLP. “These applications will avoid the latency that can be present when shuttling data back and forth to the cloud because they’ll be able to perform inferencing locally and on the device,” he said.

But Google customers who wanted to embed their models into edge devices had to turn to another provider — Nvidia or Intel — for that kind of functionality. Until now. The Edge TPU will give Google customers a more seamless environment to train machine learning models in its cloud and then deploy them into production at the edge.

Deloitte, AI, machine learning, GoogleDavid Schatsky

It also appears to be a nod to the burgeoning relationship between AI and IoT. According to Schatsky, venture capital funding in AI-focused IoT startups outpaced funding to IoT startups overall last year. “AI is so useful in deriving insight from IoT data that it may soon become rare to find an IoT application that doesn’t use AI,” he said.

A competitive stack

They’re not just saying this is a TPU and you can run it on the edge. No, they’re saying this is a fundamentally new chip designed specifically for inferencing.
Mike Gualtierianalyst, Forrester

The Edge TPU is in the same vein as an announcement Microsoft made last year with Project Brainwave, a deep learning platform that converts trained models to run more efficiently on Intel’s Field-Programmable Gate Arrays than on GPUs, according to Gualtieri. “There is a fundamental difference in training a model versus inferencing a model,” he said. “Google recognizes this. They’re not just saying this is a TPU and you can run it on the edge. No, they’re saying this is a fundamentally new chip designed specifically for inferencing.”

Indeed, Gualtieri said, the Edge TPU makes Google more competitive with Microsoft, Amazon and even IBM, all of which made moves to differentiate between model training and model inferencing sooner. “This is an effort, I believe, for Google to make its cloud more attractive, oddly by saying, well, yes, we have the cloud, but we also have the edge — the non-cloud,” he said.

James Kobielus, lead analyst at SiliconAngle Wikibon, also sees the Edge TPU as a strategic move. He called the Edge TPU an example of how the internet giant is creating a complete AI stack of hardware, software and tools for its customers while adding a force multiplier to compete against other vendors in the space.

Wikibon, AI, machine learning, GoogleJames Kobielus

“Google is making a strong play to build a comprehensive application development and services environment in the cloud to reach out to partners, developers and so forth to give them the tools they need to build the new generation of apps,” he said.

Kobielus highlighted the introduction of the Edge TPU software development kit as another example of how Google is planning to compete. The dev kit, which is still in beta and available to only those who apply for access, shows a “great effort” to convince developers to build their apps on the Google cloud and to catch up to Amazon and Microsoft, both of which have a strong developer orientation, he said. “They needed to do this — to reach out to the developer market now while the iron is hot,” he said.

What is the Google AI stack missing? It’s too soon to tell, both Kobielus and Gualtieri said. But with innovation in AI happening at breakneck speed, companies should see this as a part of an evolution and not an end point.

“Different applications are going to require even different chips,” Gualtieri said. “Google is not behind on this. It’s just what’s going to happen because there may be very data-heavy applications or power requirements on smaller devices. So I would expect a whole bunch of different chips to come out. Is that a gap? I would say no because of maturity in this industry.”

CIO position: Evolve conference shows many ways to manage IT

The annual Evolve Technology Conference, which ran last month in Las Vegas, put the spotlight on the CIO position and drove home one point in particular on the top-level technology management job: There’s more than one way to do it.

Trace3, an IT solutions provider based in Irvine, Calif., hosts the Evolve leadership and technology event, which attracts numerous CIOs and IT managers who discuss emerging technology and business trends. The conference program, which this year included keynotes from retired NFL quarterback and five-time league MVP Peyton Manning and entrepreneur and author Peter Hinssen, culminates with the Outlier Award. The award recognizes a technology manager who “consistently delivers dynamic innovation and outstanding leadership,” according to Trace3.

I had the opportunity to speak with the eight finalists for the Outlier Award at the Evolve conference. I was one of seven judges pulled together from the ranks of CIOs and tech writers to evaluate the candidates and cast our votes. The two-day process revealed a variety of takes on IT management philosophy among those holding a CIO position or similar tech role.

Harnessing emerging technologies

Some of the finalists take a deep dive in technology. Darren Haas, senior vice president of software engineering at GE Digital and the Outlier Award winner, is the technologist’s technologist. Haas co-founded Siri and is one of the personal assistant application’s original developers, harnessing in recent years such technologies as Apache Mesos, an open source cluster manager. After Apple’s Siri acquisition in 2010, Haas helped devise Apple’s proprietary cloud services platform. Haas now is pursuing a similar task at GE Digital, where he supports a number of initiatives, including an edge-to-cloud IoT deployment.

Outlier finalist Ravi Nekkalapu also deals with cutting-edge technology in his role as CIO and head of IT at Drive Shack, a company that’s building virtual reality golfing complexes. He didn’t have much of a choice: The virtual reality- and augmented reality-driven golfing systems Drive Shack envisioned didn’t exist when he took the job in 2016. Nekkalapu had to evaluate technology and vendors and essentially build everything from scratch to equip Drive Shack’s 60,000 square-foot facility in Orlando, Fla. The prospect of fielding new technology attracted Nekkalapu to the Drive Shack assignment, but perhaps not the sport of golf. He acknowledged he had little interest in golf prior to joining Drive Shack from a previous IT management role at Wyndham Worldwide.

Building the foundation for innovation

Innovation is well and good, but the technology foundation must be rock solid. Philip Irby, Outlier finalist and CIO at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas said he takes an architecture-first view of IT, in which stability is the core objective and security is “part of our DNA.” In his IT management philosophy, innovative systems can be built on a reliable and secure platform. To wit, the hotel resort and casino has launched a new online component to its rewards program that delivers offers directly to customers’ mobile devices.

Stability as the foundation of innovation is also a key theme for Michael McGibbney, senior vice president of delivery and operations at SAP SuccessFactors and an Outlier finalist. For a SaaS company such as SAP SuccessFactors, which provides cloud-based human capital management software, the ability to handle peak usage periods is critical for customer satisfaction and retention. McGibbney’s IT team created a “Service Delivery & Operations” organization to focus on peak-season performance.

For Paul Chapman, who holds the CIO position at Box and an Outlier finalist, his role might be seen as creating the cultural conditions in which innovation can occur. He emphasizes people, rather than technology, as the key to maintaining the accelerating pace of transformation. At Box, which has a heavily millennial workforce, Chapman’s to-do list includes working to create a new-look workplace that’s collaborative and employs such features as voice-enabled conference rooms.

Aligning with the business mission

Some CIOs may see their roles as driving new technology adoption or taking a more pragmatic line on innovation. Others, meanwhile, put a premium on the CIO position as business partner.

The Outlier finalists demonstrate there’s no common path to a CIO position or an IT management role.

For Michelle McKenna-Doyle, her role as senior vice president and CIO at the National Football League ranges from working with team owners to upgrade stadium infrastructure and the fan’s digital experience to expanding the league’s business partnerships. As for the latter, the Outlier finalist sparked an initiative to land multimillion-dollar corporate partnerships with technology giants such as Microsoft; the NFL had previously cultivated ties with established consumer brands. The CIO also created a career path for technical personnel within the NFL. Today positions such as chief architect carry the same weight as senior vice president.

At Western Digital Corp., Terry Dembitz, vice president of IT and Outlier finalist, helped build out the Office of the CIO to include an IT Business Partner Program, which serves as the business advocate within the IT organization. IT staffers within the IT Business Partner Program work with the business side on technology roadmaps and individual projects. One especially large project was getting Western Digital and two acquired companies — Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and SanDisk — on one ERP system. Instead of selecting one of three companies’ ERP systems to standardize on, Western Digital opted for a fourth approach: Adopt a cloud-based ERP system. Dembitz’s thinking was to “turn integration into transformation” and position the company for the future.

The “businessperson-first” philosophy informs Bryan Kissinger’s outlook as vice president and CISO at Banner Health. A few months after joining Banner Health in 2017, the Outlier finalist gained support from the health system’s clinical leadership to deploy a single sign-on system that aims to save each clinician several hours a week in multiple, manual logins. Banner Health uses Imprivata’s single sign-on technology, which integrates with its Cerner electronic health records system. In another IT initiative, Kissinger said Banner Health is looking to invest in technology startups that can advance the health system’s patient care mission.

The CIO position: Horses for courses

The differences in technology management approaches stem to some degree from the workplace milieu. A greenfield operation, for instance, is going to call for a tech-heavy approach, at least during the early going. A manager’s educational and professional experiences also play an important role in shaping a CIO’s IT management philosophy. CIO and technology managers participating in the Trace3 event come from a range of backgrounds, including finance, business administration, IT and military.

Indeed, the Outlier finalists demonstrate there’s no common path to a CIO position or an IT management role.

Join Microsoft Education at ISTE 2018 |

Please join us at the 2018 ISTE Conference & Expo taking place June 24th-27th in Chicago, Illinois.

Register for ISTE 2018 here. If you won’t be at ISTE this year, don’t worry! You can tune into What’s New in EDU: Live from ISTE each day the week of ISTE. You can also tune in on Facebook Live for HacktheClassroom.

10 Happenings from Microsoft Education at ISTE (and online for those #NOTAtISTE):

1. See ALL things Microsoft Education on our ISTE page.

2. Visit the Booth: Microsoft Education in the Expo Hall at #1102. We have dozens of sessions and training opportunities planned to help teachers save time by showing them ways to keep classrooms organized, create lessons, give students personalized feedback and track grades.


Explore. Drop by booth #1102 to attend our sessions and your get hands on our latest education devices. Plus, you can enter to win a Surface!*


Build. Visit booth #1102 to try out some of the best #hackingstem projects. You can build a project & learn about lesson plans to try in your own classroom. You can also learn about the new BBC Oceans Films.

3. Join Edtech Influencers and change-makers, Steven Andersen and Shaelynn Farnsworth, at 1:00 PM CT on Tuesday in the Microsoft Booth for, “Differentiation: Meeting the Diverse Needs of Learners with Technology,” a Microsoft-exclusive session. You can find info on all the Microsoft sessions here.

4. Register for the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Academies:

Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Teacher Academy

Bring your own device to this one-day training designed for K-12 classroom educators who want to learn more about Microsoft’s tools and resources. Saturday, June 23rd at 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Register now.

Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Trainer Academy

This two-day, in-depth training is exclusively for K-12 education teacher trainers responsible for delivering professional development training in their school districts. Saturday, June 23rd and Sunday, June 24th, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Register now.

5. Minecraft: Education Edition Training: Bring your Windows 10 device to this one-day training to learn how to use Minecraft in your classroom to promote creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. Sunday, June 24th, 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Register now.

6. Hands on Learning Lab | NEW! Play. Explore the latest technology through an immersive experience in Convention Center Room 185A. Enter a drawing sweepstakes for a chance to win a Surface Studio, attend a hands-on learning Make Code workshop, explore Collaboration Tools and much more!

7. Hack the Classroom | LIVE! Get Inspired. Hack the Classroom is an exciting, online, live event designed to show you what’s possible and ignite new ideas. This year, we will be live from ISTE bringing you the latest tools designed to empower your students to create the world of tomorrow! Learn more here.

8. Free Certifications | Grow. In our mission to support educators, we are offering FREE Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) and Microsoft Technical Certified – Touch Develop (MTC) exam testing. Drop by the Marriott Room Shedd AB. To prepare and learn more please continue to visit aka.ms/ISTE18 for additional information and resources on Certification Testing.

9. IT Bootcamp | Get hands on. Looking to experience an IT Bootcamp through the eyes of a student? Join the IT Bootcamp Classroom in our Expo Floor Meeting Space area.

10. MIE Teacher Sessions | Listen & Learn. Join Microsoft Educators at the Hyatt Clark room to learn what’s new in Inclusive and Accessibility Tools; explore Collaboration tools between teachers, students and staff; and see how to inspire creativity with digital inking, mixed reality and 3D + STEM topics like Minecraft, Make code, Hacking Stem, Girls in Stem and Computer Science.

11. Get 1:1 support and connect with a Microsoft Training Partner at ISTE. You can even find your local Microsoft Learning Consultant at ISTE. Microsoft Learning Consultants attending ISTE include:

More happenings you won’t want to miss:

Spotlight on Solutions

Share & Learn. Join our panel sessions in room 183B. Panel members will be a mix of school leaders, school teachers along with both community and Microsoft team members to foster an open dialog with several points of view.

Microsoft Partners

Explore and learn. Visit the Microsoft Booth #1102 to learn more about inspiring Education Apps available in the Microsoft Store for Education. There will be a blend of demos from teachers sharing their practices throughout the booth experience.

ISTE + Microsoft Collaboration

Collaboration. Join Microsoft Educators in the official ISTE + Microsoft Collaboration Room. We will cover various educational technology topics to keep you at the forefront of how students are learning in today’s modern classrooms. Join us in the Convention Center #184D.

Computer Science Firehose

Dig Deep. Please join Microsoft Educators at the CS Firehose Track. They will share all the latest on Minecraft: Education Edition with code builder, Makecode.com, #HackingStem, Youthspark’s Make What’s Next Initiative and an overview of Microsoft Imagine Academy’s CS curriculum offerings.

You can view all the 2018 sessions here.

*Enter for your chance to win a Surface device at Booth #1102. Simply pick up an activity card at the Booth’s welcome desk, complete the activities listed, then return it to that same welcome desk. We’ll be drawing three winners each day!

Practical info on tap at SAP Sapphire Now 2018

Next-generation technologies such as AI are likely to dominate the stage at SAP Sapphire Now 2018. The annual conference of SAP users, partners and vendors takes place June 5-7 in Orlando, Fla.

Like past conferences, it’s expected that SAP will showcase its latest technology and product advancements, but attendees also expect to see practical applications of how the technologies solve real problems.

Gavin Quinn, founder and CEO of Mindset, a Minneapolis-based SAP partner that specializes in SAP Fiori development and implementations, believes that machine learning and AI will be the biggest overall focus, but he wants to see how SAP is using this in realistic ways.

“Last year was more about ‘here’s Leonardo and look at these exciting things we’re doing,’ but now we want to know how much the rubber hits the road,” Quinn said.

There’s evidence that this will happen, in that SAP has been putting AI and machine learning features into live applications, but the proof may lie in the keynotes. Quinn explained that he would like to see major customers provide testimonials about how AI features have changed their businesses, which may put SAP ahead of the other major vendors that are integrating AI into ERP platforms.

“There’s been a lot of talk running up, but those kinds of success stories would lock it in for me,” Quinn said. “I think SAP CoPilot could get a lot of play, which is their bot play in a lot of ways, so I think that will get a lot of gravity during Sapphire.”

More clarity on ERP applications, please

SAP Sapphire Now 2018 attendees should hear a lot about Leonardo and connectivity, but SAP needs to strike the right balance between high-level conceptual discourse and practical applications of their technology, according to Cindy Jutras, president of Mint Jutras, an ERP consulting firm.

All too often they talk at such a high level of abstraction that it becomes somewhat meaningless, either that or they get into the weeds of the technical details.
Cindy Jutraspresident, Mint Jutras

“All too often they talk at such a high level of abstraction that it becomes somewhat meaningless, either that or they get into the weeds of the technical details,” Jutras said. “I would also like to hear if they are bringing SAP Leonardo down into the midmarket and if so, how.”

Midmarket companies don’t want to focus on technical possibilities, Jutras said. They want technology to solve problems and don’t have the time, money or expertise to develop their own applications.

Jutras is most interested in seeing what SAP is doing on the ERP applications front, including S/4HANA, SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign, but she noted that Sapphire is not usually known for that focus.

“On the SME side I am hoping to get an update on the process of turning Business One into a platform and I’d like to get some clarity on Business ByDesign,” she said. “It seems like Business ByDesign and S4/HANA are starting to encroach on each other’s market segments, and I’d also like some additional clarity on S4/HANA Cloud specifically.”

SAP targets Salesforce in CRM market

SAP appears to be clearly targeting Salesforce, which is expected to be a main theme at SAP Sapphire Now 2018, according to Kelsey Mason, senior analyst at Technology Business Research.

“It will be interesting to see how they take all of their various [CRM] front-office assets — Hybris, Callidus, Gigya — and create one comprehensive suite and how they tie Leonardo, specifically the AI and IoT aspects, to that portfolio,” Mason said. “I expect that CRM rebrand to share center stage with S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo, and the theme once again will be the intelligent enterprise.”

Mason would also like to see how SAP’s concept of “customer empathy” comes into play, particularly in light of the indirect access issue of the past year.

“This will likely be touted on the main stage, first as a way to show customers that SAP has heard their complaints and has addressed them, and second a proof point to show that SAP is the only vendor to have clear pricing strategies for digital access in IoT scenarios,” she said.

Mason expects a lot of hype around S/4HANA, the new CRM portfolio, and SAP Leonardo, but would like to see how SAP ties its “orbiting applications,” including SuccessFactors, SAP Ariba and Concur, into its intelligent enterprise vision, rather than treating them as an afterthought.

“I would also like to get a sense for traction within the S/4HANA portfolio,” she said. “Most of the customers to date have chosen the on-premises version, but it would be great to hear the breakdown of customers using public cloud, HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) hosted, and on-premises S/4HANA. It would also be nice to understand how many customers have chosen just one aspect of S/4HANA such as Simple Finance versus how many have chosen the full S/4HANA suite.”

Mason would also like to see SAP Services have a presence alongside major SAP service providers, including Accenture, Deloitte and EY.

SAP Services is a big part of the S/4HANA and SAP Leonardo stories, but one that doesn’t seem to be highlighted as much,” she said. “It does complicate SAP’s relationships with some of its major partners, but that’s why I think putting them together on stage to talk about how they can work together to help customers form and execute digital transformations and become the intelligent enterprise would be good to hear for both customers and partners. I’m not holding my breath that this will happen, but certainly something that would be nice to see.”

Polycom cloud service simplifies device management

Polycom has released a cloud service for provisioning, managing and monitoring its desk and conference room phones. The hardware vendor’s latest attempt to penetrate the cloud market comes a few months before its proposed acquisition by headset-maker Plantronics is set to close.

Polycom Device Management Services for Enterprises (PDMS-E) is a web-based application for controlling Polycom phones from a single user interface. It will let IT administrators manage the settings of individual phones — or every phone all at once. It also will provide analytics on call quality and connectivity issues. The product is now available in North America.

Next quarter, Polycom plans to expand the capabilities of PDMS-E to include Polycom video endpoints and, eventually, the video endpoints of Cisco, Avaya and Lifesize. The vendor will fold Polycom RealConnect — its platform for managing interoperability between its devices and Microsoft Skype for Business — into its new cloud offering.

Also in the third quarter, Polycom plans to release a version of PDMS for service providers, aiming to help those partners improve uptime and enhance their customer portals. The service provider offering will make use of technology and partnerships Polycom inherited from Obihai Technology, which it acquired in January.

“Polycom makes great phones,” said Ira Weinstein, managing partner of Recon Research Inc., based in Coral Springs, Fla. “But the important thing here is for Polycom to have greater value and a stronger footprint in the enterprise, they need to add more value.”

The Polycom cloud service will provide provisioning, management and analytics tools that many businesses aren’t getting from their service providers, Weinstein said. And Polycom can provide more insight than anyone into its own devices.

But Polycom will need to battle against its own public image. “I don’t think the typical person in our industry sees Polycom as a cloud service provider,” Weinstein said.

In announcing PDMS, company executives said they would not comment on the company’s impending acquisition by Plantronics — a $2 billion deal that is set to close in the third quarter of 2018. Polycom has continued to operate as an independent company as the acquisition closes, said Amy Barzdukas, the vendor’s chief marketing officer.

Polycom cloud service extends hardware-based strategy

Polycom decided years ago to make its phones and cameras compatible with the software of a wide range of service providers, rather than build its own calling or web conferencing service.

In a conference call with reporters and analysts this week, CEO Mary McDowell said the company’s longtime strategy had proven to be successful, saying revenue had grown last year for the first time in six years. The formerly public company struggled financially in the years preceding its 2016 acquisition by private equity firm Siris Capital Group LLC.

With the release of PDMS, Polycom is looking to gain a foothold in the cloud market without directly competing with the software vendors that power its hardware, such as Microsoft and Zoom, said Rob Arnold, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

“It’s pretty much a follow-through on what they said they were going to do last year: focus on device and not infrastructure,” Arnold said. “This way, they are not competing with their partners, and they are staying focused on the hardware and the devices, as they had mentioned.”

As phones become more advanced, with built-in video conferencing capabilities and touchscreen apps, businesses need better monitoring and management tools for those endpoints, Arnold said.

Polycom plans to expand its cloud offerings to include meeting room features, such as automatic attendance rosters, facial recognition and natural language controls.