Tag Archives: Experience

How gamers with disabilities helped design the new Xbox Adaptive Controller’s elegantly accessible packaging

Romney said the experience has made him think about packaging differently.

“We have customers in our store every single day who buy product. I look at our laptop boxes and how they have to be opened. How many steps, how much packaging and how much of a barrier do each of those pieces become to someone with a mobility limitation?”

Romney thinks the Xbox Adaptive Controller packaging has the potential to set a new standard.

“I think it’s going to change how we look at things in the industry, in terms of how we make boxes. And I think it has to,” he said. “I think as a case study of inclusive design, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is going to make a brilliant example of how you do it, and how you include your audience and design with a population, rather than for a population.”

For Marshall and Weiser, the packaging project was challenging, time-consuming — and ultimately rewarding.

“It was a really powerful experience,” Marshall said. “I don’t think you realize, until you’re required to think differently, what you take for granted. As a designer, when you see things through a completely different lens, it’s paradigm-shifting.”

Said Weiser: “We put in a lot of extra time on it, but it was a pleasure to be able to work on this type of project. It’s great that we’re focused on this as a company.”

Discussions are underway about how Microsoft might use the learnings from the Xbox Adaptive Controller packaging. Marshall hopes the deceptively simple-looking box can serve as a springboard for future efforts.

“It’s certainly changing how we’re looking at packaging. We’re excited about moving forward from this point with a new lens and looking at what we can do,” he said.

“We’re really excited to take this journey on.”

New to Microsoft 365 in June—streamlining teamwork and security – Microsoft 365 Blog

This month, we introduced several new capabilities that improve user experience, streamline the management of common tasks, and enhance identity-driven security measures. We also want to hear your feedback, so that we can make sure these updates are relevant and useful to you.

Streamlining the way you work

Updates to the Office 365 user experience—We announced updates for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook that are designed to embrace the breadth and depth of Office 365 features, while simplifying the user interface and improving accessibility. These updates include a simplified ribbon to encourage focus and collaboration, modern colors and icons to improve rendering and accessibility, and AI-powered search to quickly surface relevant information. These changes will start to roll out to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscribers over the next few months.

Connect Office 365 Groups to SharePoint sites—Office 365 Groups can now connect to existing SharePoint sites, allowing newly created Office 365 groups to integrate with your existing SharePoint infrastructure. Connecting a group to a site provides a single starting point to find content, team news, and communications with modern pages, libraries, and lists—without losing any previous content or permissions.

A screenshot displays a SharePoint page. A dropdown from Settings in the upper right shows the user is about to connect a new Office 365 group.

Reduce distractions with Outlook for Android—We introduced “Do Not Disturb” in Outlook for Android to help you reduce distractions and get more done. Now, subscribers can set timed or scheduled periods when email and calendar notifications will be paused. For those with multiple Outlook accounts, Do Not Disturb settings can be customized for each email address—enabling granular control over how you spend your focus-hours.

An animated screenshot highlights the steps a user needs to take to set their Outlook to

Manage progress in Microsoft To-Do—This month, we introduced “Steps in Microsoft To-Do—a new feature that allows you to break down tasks into smaller, incremental steps—making large projects more manageable. Now, when a you create a To-Do item, you can add a range of detailed steps that are tracked through to completion. We also introduced the ability to share your To-Do lists, enabling you to work together on tasks and complete projects with colleagues and friends.

An animated screenshot highlights a user sending a 1:1 invitation link to a teammate.

Dictation in OneNote—Office 365 subscribers with Windows 10 can now take advantage of hands-free dictation using nine languages in OneNote. Dictation provides a simple, yet transformational, way to express ideas and capture notes using only your voice. You can also make edits using your keyboard without having to pause the recording. Simply click or tap the Dictate icon and start speaking.

Adobe PDF integration in Office 365—Last September, we expanded our strategic partnership with Adobe to focus on integrations between Adobe Sign and Office 365 products, like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Outlook. This month, the Adobe Document Cloud team announced new capabilities for OneDrive and SharePoint that provide improved fidelity when working with PDF documents. Once integrated by your administrator, PDF services provide rich previews of PDF documents in OneDrive and your SharePoint sites, and allow you to combine several files into a single PDF in your document library.

A screenshot displays documents in SharePoint. A Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have been selected and are ready to combine.

Securing the modern workplace

We introduced several new important capabilities that strengthen your organization’s identity-driven security, and ensure important data is kept safe.

Secure your organization with baseline security policy in Azure Active Directory—We introduced the preview of a baseline security policy in Azure AD that enforces multi-factor authentication for privileged accounts. This new policy will apply to all organizations that have Azure Active Directory and help secure the most important accounts in your tenant. Customers can opt in to the baseline protection policy in preview, and at general availability will be opted in by default with the ability to opt out at any time.

Block legacy authentication using Azure Active Directory conditional access—This month, we introduced the preview of conditional access support for blocking legacy authentication, which enables organizations to stop users from authenticating to legacy apps. Identity attacks such as password spray almost exclusively target these older client apps. This feature improves the overall security of your IT environment by getting users to move to more modern clients that support modern authentication mechanisms.

Enhance data classification across your organization—The new Label Activity Explorer in Office 365 provides a quick overview of how the data in your organization has been labeled—allowing you to investigate risky or abnormal activity. To help you manage labeling across the lifecycle of your organization’s content, we enhanced the Data Governance dashboard with new features like the Data Governance toolbox, added links and tools for common data governance tasks, and provided a single resource for guidance.

A screenshot of the Security & Compliance Center in Office 365. The user is exploring the Label Activity Explorer in the Data governance dashboard.

Other updates

  • Microsoft Teams has reached FedRAMP Moderate Compliance and will start rolling out to U.S. Government Community Cloud (GCC) customers on July 17, 2018.
  • Visio Online is now available in Microsoft Teams. Coworkers can now collaborate on Visio Online diagrams from within their team or channel without toggling between apps.
  • SharePoint Swoop—our new enterprise reality show—features a team of MVP experts with just three days to help a Microsoft 365 customer modernize their intranet.
  • At Computex 2018, we outlined our vision for how partners can build intelligent edge devices and solutions.

Believe it or not, CIOs need a digital customer experience strategy

Whether or not a company is born digital, delivering a quality digital customer experience has emerged as a key performance indicator for technology leaders.

So say the CTO at Kayak, the CIO at DBS Bank, and the CIO at Adobe Systems Inc., who expounded on this idea during a panel discussion at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Simply put: Customer satisfaction equates to company success, and technology such as artificial intelligence is the link between the two.

The three technology leaders are aggressively helping build a digital customer experience strategy that benefits both customers and the company. Doing this requires collecting data on how customers interact with the company and then finding ways to make those interactions more efficient — and more intelligent. Here is what each had to say about using advanced technology to monitor, enhance and capitalize on customer experience.

The error budget

One of the most practical pieces of advice on creating an effective digital customer experience strategy came from David Gledhill, group CIO and head of group technology and operations at DBS Bank in Singapore. He encouraged the audience to follow his lead and steal Google’s concept of an “error budget,” which can help companies strike a balance between moving fast and keeping customer service top of mind.

DBS Bank, AI, MIT CIO SymposiumDavid Gledhill

The error budget, a concept that’s evolving at DBS Bank, is a joint key performance indicator between technology and operations “to gauge and monitor customer experience” on digital platforms, according to Gledhill. “Every time a customer gets a performance degradation or [experiences] a struggle, it counts against the platform,” he said. Whatever those strikes are — be they performance issues or incomplete transactions — the company should determine a threshold and “round everything up to a single number,” Gledhill said.

Once the strikes against the digital platform hit the error threshold, developers have to stop and “refocus their efforts on solving those customer pain point interactions,” Gledhill said. He pointed audience members to Google’s book Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems for more information.

Mapping the ‘customer journey’

Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at Adobe, said AI and machine learning have always been a part of the software company’s products. “We refer to it as the Adobe magic,” she said.

But what the company is attempting to do now is to use those tools to improve the customer’s experience with Adobe products — especially with its Creative Cloud. “What we want to be able to do with it is really unleash the power and let our customer have access to it so that we can remove the mundane and let people focus on the creativity,” Stoddard said.

Our view of the world with AI, from a product perspective, is more of a Harry Potter view of the world. We want to do good things and help people do their tasks quicker.
Cynthia StoddardSVP and CIO, Adobe

Part of Adobe’s digital customer experience strategy is to map a customer’s “journey” across its product set, which can help illuminate both customer friction points as well as repetitive activity that might be ripe for automation. “Our view of the world with AI, from a product perspective, is more of a Harry Potter view of the world,” she said. “We want to do good things and help people do their tasks quicker.”

Stoddard said she uses an “outside-in” approach to understand the customer’s perspective by “looking at their journey points and ensuring that we remove all friction points,” she said. But she also said it’s important to look at the world from an inside-out perspective, which focuses on designing for enterprise scale and efficiency.

When the two perspectives conflict, “the customer comes first,” she said.

A hybrid approach

Giorgos Zacharia, CTO and chief scientist at Kayak, demystified AI and machine learning as computational statistics with more computational power. “To me, there is nothing magic about it,” he said.

At Kayak, the digital customer experience strategy is the strategy for the company, according to Zacharia. “The dominant metric is completion of transaction — has the user found what they’re looking for?” he said.

Kayak, data science, AI, MIT CIO SymposiumGiorgos Zacharia

But as Kayak’s developers experiment with how to better serve their users, their ideas can sometimes produce an undesirable result. “If you change the user experience way too much, the users might be taken aback,” Zacharia said. “And it takes time to retrain them.”

This happened recently when Kayak developers implemented a machine learning algorithm for sorting flights. Rather than sorting by price, the algorithm sorted by likelihood that a customer would complete a transaction. “For some users, the snackers, we call them, those who run a search to see what the current prices are, they were taken aback that they didn’t see the cheapest price on top,” he said.

Zacharia and his team addressed the issue with a hybrid approach — the cheapest fare is on top and the rest of the results are sorted by likelihood of conversion. “It works for the user — for now,” he said.

Microsoft Office gets a makeover | Stories

New user experience updates rolling out to customers globally over the next few months

REDMOND, Wash. — June 13, 2018 — Starting Wednesday, the most-used productivity product in the world is getting a makeover.

Whether you’re writing a letter in Word, managing a budget in Excel or sending an email in Outlook, Microsoft Office is the go-to place to get stuff done for people around the world.

Beginning today, millions of people who use Office at home and work will begin to see some welcome changes designed to deliver a balance of power and simplicity. These updates are exclusive to Office.com and Office 365 — the always up-to-date versions of our apps and services:

  • Simplified ribbon. A new, updated version of the ribbon is designed to help users focus on their work and collaborate naturally with others. People who prefer to dedicate more screen space to the commands will still be able to expand the ribbon to the classic three-line view.
  • New icons and color. Across the apps you’ll start to see new icons and colors built as scalable graphics — so they render with crisp, clean lines on screens of any size. These changes are designed to both modernize Office design and make it more inclusive and accessible.
  • Search. Search will become a much more important element of the user experience, providing access to commands, content and people. With “zero query search” simply placing your cursor in the search box will bring up recommendations powered by AI and the Microsoft Graph.

These design changes are focused on the following:

  • Customers. We’re using a customer-driven innovation process to co-create the design of the Office apps. That process consists of three phases: initial customer research and analysis; concepting and co-creation; and validation and refinement.  
  • Context. Customers love the power of Office, but they don’t need every feature at the same time. We want our new designs to understand the context that you are working in so that you can focus on your content. That means both surfacing the most relevant commands based on the work you are doing and making it easy to connect and collaborate with others.
  • Control. We recognize that established skills and routines are powerful — and that the way someone uses the apps often depends on specific parts of the user interface. So we want to give end users control, allowing them to toggle significant changes to the user experience on and off.

Over the last year, Microsoft completed extensive customer research and spent many months working side-by-side with customers to guide design changes. As a result, customers will benefit from a more simplified experience while maintaining the full power of Office and a design ethos that is more inclusive — empowering everyone to create, communicate and collaborate. The team also increased its focus not just on what people think of the product, but how they feel using it.

“Through gathering feedback from thousands of people, we’ve found that people react most positively to feeling in control, productive and secure,” said Trish Miner, principal design researcher, Microsoft.

And to ensure that we continue to listen, learn and respond quickly to customer feedback, the company is including an in-product survey to ascertain how features make people feel. “The good news is that as we better understand these correlations between the design of features and how people feel while using them, we can develop technologies that are more empathetic,” Miner said.

The design refresh will start rolling out to business and consumer customers beginning in June. More information on the new Office design can be found at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/blog/2018/06/13/power-and-simplicity-updates-to-the-office-365-user-experience/.

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

For more information, press only:

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

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

 

SAP C/4HANA hopes to tie together front and back office

ORLANDO, Fla. — SAP is setting its sights on Salesforce with a new suite of customer experience products called SAP C/4HANA.

Unveiled at the opening keynote here at SAP Sapphire Now, SAP C/4HANA brings together SAP’s marketing, commerce, sales and service cloud products, sitting them all atop its Customer Data Cloud and embedding machine learning with SAP Leonardo.

“SAP was the last to accept the status quo, and SAP will be the first to change it,” said Bill McDermott, CEO for SAP. “We’re moving from a 360-degree view of sales automation to a 360-degree view of the customer. The entire supply chain is connected to customer experience.”

SAP is hoping that by connecting back-office capabilities with SAP ERP products to the front office, the company can provide an end-to-end experience for its users — something that few vendors can offer. SAP executives called the release of SAP C/4HANA a reflection point for SAP and the CRM industry.

“The roadmap for Hana and S/4Hana gave us what we needed to connect the back office to the front office,” McDermott said.

In addition to connecting back-office functionality, SAP’s new CX suite was also spurred by the separate acquisitions of Hybris, Gigya and CallidusCloud, which added the capabilities necessary to bring together these products.

“The goal is a single view of the customer,” said Alex Atzberger, president of customer experience for SAP. “With the acquisition of Gigya, we manage 1.3 billion profiles, and this is what’s happening in CRM. It’s about effectiveness and efficiency and how can you effectively target and engage a particular customer.”

Atzberger added that this customer engagement needs to keep the customer in mind first and foremost, meaning it can’t be creepy when it comes to courting a customer, but rather provide users with the tools to move a customer along the entire marketing, sales and service pipeline.

We’re moving from a 360-degree view of sales automation to a 360-degree view of the customer.
Bill McDermottCEO, SAP

It has been a long-standing goal of SAP’s to combine its industry-leading ERP tools with its CRM tools — being the first major vendor to combine front- and back-office capabilities — and while time will tell whether SAP can achieve this with C/4HANA, it appears the company is on the right track.

“They’ve been saying this for years, so what changed? I really think they’re finally executing on what they want to do and the architecture caught up and the acquisitions helped tie it together,” said Sheryl Kingstone, research vice president at 451 Research. “This ties to their cloud platform, and it was critical for that vision they have to connect the dots. These are things that Salesforce is trying to figure out in regards to the 360-degree customer view.”

While SAP admitted it was slow to adapt to this modern view of the customer, it’s hoping that by stringing together this suite of applications, it can provide the customer experience businesses are vying for.

“It’s not only about connecting that end-to-end chain, but also to give the best user experience in the industry,” McDermott said. “SAP is capable of doing this, and now we’re ready.”

The importance of SAP’s various acquisitions over the past couple of years can’t be understated when it comes to creating SAP C/4HANA. The 2017 purchase of Gigya for $350 million became the data management platform for SAP, helping customers maintain and protect customer data. The SAP acquisition of CallidusCloud earlier this year for $2.4 billion gave the company a modern, cloud-based sales, quote-to-cash and customer experience product that helps round out those front-office offerings that can complement SAP’s existing ERP products.

“The Gigya acquisition is really essential for that vision of [customer identification]. And managing that identity in a secure environment — especially with GDPR — is critical,” Kingstone said. “That plus bringing in their data management capabilities and machine learning with SAP Leonardo — if they can pull this off, that’s the next generation in a modern architecture.”

Pricing information regarding SAP C/4HANA wasn’t released at the unveiling.

Discover The Giant Megalodon Shark In Sea of Thieves – The Hungering Deep, Available Now – Xbox Wire

Last month, we shared our plans for how we intend to build on the core Sea of Thieves experience by regularly adding new content. We’re delighted to announce that the first of our three summer updates – The Hungering Deep – is now live and available to all Sea of Thieves players at no additional cost.

While we’ve released patches for Sea of Thieves every week from launch to address the top community feedback points, this update is a little different. Not only does it feature a range of permanent new content including a fearsome new AI threat, new items and cosmetics, it also marks the first time we’ve run a time-limited campaign.

Running for two weeks, The Hungering Deep campaign offers players an unforgettable new adventure, where players will unravel the mystery of the monstrous Megalodon, a new AI threat that players will be working together to defeat. We’ve provided new tools to help you accomplish this feat –  the speaking trumpet and a flag system –  each offering a new way to communicate with other players on the high seas, alongside a new instrument in the Drum, which will form a key part of uncovering the secrets of the Megalodon. We are also introducing Scars and Tattoos with this update for players to further customize their pirate look. There are a series of time-limited cosmetic rewards included with the campaign, so get out there on the seas and keep an eye on what’s beneath the water. We don’t want to spoil the entire adventure, so we’ll let you discover the rest for yourselves.

The Hungering Deep update is available without charge to all Sea of Thieves players who have bought the game across the Xbox One family of devices or on Windows 10 PC, or who have access to it as part of Xbox Game Pass. Just download and install the latest Sea of Thieves update to get access. And don’t worry, if you’re unable to take part in the time-limited campaign, all of the features introduced with this campaign (including, of course, the Megalodon) will remain in the Sea of Thieves world for everyone to see and experience.

For more information, visit The Hungering Deep campaign page on the Sea of Thieves website, watch our Design Director and I talk about our approach to content updates and campaigns, or dig into the Developer Update video and release notes that accompany today’s update.

We’re also excited to announce that this is just the start, as Sea of Thieves players can expect to see a lot of new things over the coming months. We have two more planned updates this summer – Cursed Sails and Forsaken Shores. We will constantly be listening to community feedback, and will continue making ongoing changes to the game to ensure players are receive the best experience possible. The team can’t wait to share what’s next.

Exciting times! See you out on the seas.

New to Sea of Thieves? Check out our launch trailer, or head to Seaofthieves.com for additional information.

BlackBerry and Microsoft partner to empower the mobile workforce

Companies deliver seamless Mobile App experience and policy compliance; BlackBerry Secure platform now available on Azure

WATERLOO, ONTARIO and REDMOND, Wash. – March 19, 2018 BlackBerry Limited (NYSE: BB; TSX: BB) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) today announced a strategic partnership to offer enterprises a solution that integrates BlackBerry’s expertise in mobility and security with Microsoft’s unmatched cloud and productivity products.

BlackBerry logoThrough this partnership, the companies have collaborated on a first-of-its-kind solution: BlackBerry Enterprise BRIDGE. This technology provides a highly-secure way for their joint customers – the world’s largest banks, healthcare providers, law firms, and central governments – to seamlessly use native Microsoft mobile apps from within BlackBerry Dynamics.

By making Microsoft’s mobile apps seamlessly available from within BlackBerry Dynamics, enterprise users will now have a consistent experience when opening, editing, and saving a Microsoft Office 365 file such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word on any iOS® or Android™ device. This enables users to work anytime, anyplace, with rich file fidelity. At the same time, corporate IT departments benefit from a greater return on their existing investments, and added assurance that their company’s data and privacy is secured to the highest standards and in compliance with corporate and regulatory policies.

“BlackBerry has always led the market with new and innovative ways to protect corporate data on mobile devices,” said Carl Wiese, president of Global Sales at BlackBerry. “We saw a need for a hyper-secure way for our joint customers to use native Office 365 mobile apps. BlackBerry Enterprise BRIDGE addresses this need and is a great example of how BlackBerry and Microsoft continue to securely enable workforces to be highly productive in today’s connected world.”

Microsoft logo“In an era when digital technology is driving rapid transformation, customers are looking for a trusted partner,” said Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft. “Our customers choose Microsoft 365 for productivity and collaboration tools that deliver continuous innovation, and do so securely. Together with BlackBerry, we will take this to the next level and provide enterprises with a new standard for secure productivity.”

“Along with a number of our peers in the Financial Services industry, we see strategic partnerships like this one as key to enhancing and bringing new products to market,” said George Sherman, Managing Director, CIO Global Technology Infrastructure, JPMorgan Chase. “This partnership will help create a more seamless mobile experience for end-users, which is a top priority for us at JPMorgan Chase.”

Lastly, the companies shared that the BlackBerry Secure platform for connecting people, devices, processes and systems, has been integrated with the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Specifically, BlackBerry UEM Cloud, BlackBerry Workspaces, BlackBerry Dynamics, and BlackBerry AtHoc are now available on Azure.

To learn more, please visit  BlackBerry.com.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About BlackBerry

BlackBerry is a cybersecurity software and services company dedicated to securing the Enterprise of Things. Based in Waterloo, Ontario, the company was founded in 1984 and operates in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa. The Company trades under the ticker symbol “BB” on the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange. For more information, visit www.BlackBerry.com.

BlackBerry and related trademarks, names and logos are the property of BlackBerry Limited and are registered and/or used in the U.S. and countries around the world. All other marks are the property of their respective owners. BlackBerry is not responsible for any third-party products or services.

###

Media Contacts:

BlackBerry

(519) 597-7273

mediarelations@BlackBerry.com

Microsoft Media Relations

WE Communications for Microsoft

(425) 638-7777

rrt@we-worldwide.com

Investor Contact:

BlackBerry Investor Relations

(519) 888-7465

investor_relations@BlackBerry.com

 

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Introducing the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Xbox One X Edition for Forza Motorsport 7

Forza Motorsport 7 fans, get ready to experience a new level of power and performance with the launch of the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Xbox One X Edition which is a free gift for all players. The specially designed F-150 joins the lineup of more than 700 cars in the game which showcases 60 frames per second racing on all Xbox One platforms and native 4K support on Xbox One X. With a custom livery based on Xbox One X’s codename “Project Scorpio” and numerous performance-minded upgrades, this Raptor is ready to intimidate all opponents in Forza Motorsport 7.

Longtime Forza fans know that Xbox and Ford have enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership over the years. It’s hard not to miss Ford vehicles on the cover of recent Forza games, including the Ford GT on the cover of Forza Motorsport 6 and the Ford F-150 Raptor race truck leaping into action on the cover of Forza Horizon 3. That Ford partnership is more than just skin deep, too. Did you know that Ford features more cars in Forza Motorsport 7 than any other manufacturer in the game?

As for the F-150 Xbox One X Edition, that story began with Ford Performance’s announcement of the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. Later in the year, Ford Performance saw success in the Raptor race truck at the Baja 1000, finishing third. This success led to the debut of the truck at the 2017 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association) show in Las Vegas, where over-the-top custom vehicles are king and the Xbox One X Edition Ford F-150 fit right in.

While the truck is significantly taller than stock – over 93 inches tall (2.3 meters) on 38 inch BF Goodrich Krawler T/A tires – the team behind the Xbox One X Raptor still wanted it to retain the race truck’s Baja-tested performance characteristics. The Raptor’s livery was designed by illustrator Hydro74 and features a stylized “Project Scorpio” scorpion motif. Look closely and you can see that the scorpion’s body includes many details from Xbox One X, including the thumb sticks, d-pad, and ABXY buttons.

Starting today, Forza Motorsport 7 can download the free Xbox One X Raptor from their Forza Motorsport 7 Message Center, as well as download a Ford F-150 Raptor Xbox One X Edition Windows 10 Theme set in the Microsoft Store. In addition, we’ve got a new Rivals event available today in the Featured Event channel, starring the Raptor. Look for the “Delivering the Sting” event and set your best time on the leaderboard. Can you tame the power of the Xbox One X Raptor?

February Forza Events

Looking forward to the next four weeks, Forza Motorsport 7 players can expect for a great month of fun in February. First up, the next content update and car pack will launch in Forza Motorsport 7 on February 19th; look for more details as we get closer to launch. February will also see new events arriving in the game. In addition to a new Bounty Hunter event starring Turn 10 Studio Manager Alan Hartman, we’ll be launching a new event featuring a twist on the traditional Rivals format. All that, plus the arrival of new Driver Gear celebrating the Winter Olympics, the Lunar New Year, and more.

Finally, Forza fans can look forward to the official announcement of our Forza Racing Championship plans this month. Look for details on schedule, format, and more in the coming weeks.

Curb stress from Exchange Server updates with these pointers

systems. In my experience as a consultant, I find that few organizations have a reliable method to execute Exchange Server updates.

This tip outlines the proper procedures for patching Exchange that can prevent some of the upheaval associated with a disruption on the messaging platform.

How often should I patch Exchange?

In a perfect world, administrators would apply patches as soon as Microsoft releases them. This doesn’t happen for a number of reasons.

Microsoft has released patches and updates for both Exchange and Windows Server that cause trouble on those systems. Many IT departments have long memories, and they will let the bad feelings keep them from staying current with Exchange Server updates. This is detrimental to the health of Exchange and should be avoided. With proper planning, updates can and should be run on Exchange Server on a regular schedule.

Another wrinkle in the update process is Microsoft releases Cumulative Updates (CUs) for Exchange Server on a quarterly schedule. CUs are updates that feature functionality enhancements for the application.

With proper planning, updates can and should be run on Exchange Server on a regular schedule.

Microsoft plans to release one CU for Exchange 2013 and 2016 each quarter, but they do not provide a set release date. The CUs may be released on the first day of one quarter, and then on the last day of the next.

Rollup Updates (RUs) for Exchange 2010 are also released quarterly. An RU is a package that contains multiple security fixes, while a CU is a complete server build.

For Exchange 2013 and 2016, Microsoft supports the current and previous CU. When admins call Microsoft for a support case, the company will ask them to update Exchange Server to at least the N-1 CU — where N is the latest CU, N-1 refers to the previous CU — before they begin work on the issue. An organization that prefers to stay on older CUs limits its support options.

Because CUs are the full build of Exchange 2013/2016, administrators can deploy a new Exchange Server from the most recent CU. For existing Exchange Servers, using a new CU for that version to update it should work without issue.

Microsoft only tests a new CU deployment with the last two CUs, but I have never had an issue with an upgrade with multiple missed CUs. The only problems I have seen when a large number of CUs were skipped had to do with the prerequisites for Exchange, not Exchange itself.

Microsoft releases Windows Server patches on the second Tuesday of every month. As many administrators know, some of these updates can affect how Exchange operates. There is no set schedule for other updates, such as .NET. I recommend a quarterly update schedule for Exchange.

How can I curb issues from Exchange Server updates?

As every IT department is different, so is every Exchange deployment. There is no single update process that works for every organization, but these guidelines can reduce problems with Exchange Server patching. Even if the company has an established patching process, if it’s missing some of the advice outlined below, then it might be a good idea to review that method.

  • Back up Exchange servers before applying patches. This might be common sense for most administrators, but I have found it is often overlooked. If a patch causes a critical failure, a recent backup is the key to the recovery effort. Some might argue that there are Exchange configurations — such as Exchange Preferred Architecture — that do not require this, but a backup provides some reassurance if a patch breaks the system.
  • Measure the performance baseline before an update. How would you know if the CPU cycles on the Exchange Server are too high after an update if this metric hasn’t been tracked? The Managed Availability feature records performance data by default on Exchange 2013 and 2016 servers, but Exchange administrators should review server performance regularly to establish an understanding of normal server behavior.
  • Test patches in a lab that resembles production. When a new Exchange CU arrives, it has been through extensive testing. Microsoft deploys updates to Office 365 long before they are publicly available. After that, Microsoft gives the CUs to its MVP community and select organizations in its testing programs. This vetting process helps catch the vast majority of bugs before CUs go to the public, but some will slip through. To be safe, test patches in a lab that closely mirrors the production environment, with the same servers, firmware and network configuration.
  • Put Exchange Server into maintenance mode before patching: If the Exchange deployment consists of redundant servers, then put them in maintenance mode before the update process. Maintenance mode is a feature of Managed Availability that turns off monitoring on those servers during the patching window. There are a number of PowerShell scripts in the TechNet Gallery that help put servers into maintenance mode, which helps administrators streamline the application of Exchange Server updates.

Microsoft at the NRF Big Show: There’s nothing artificial about the real intelligence transforming retail – Transform

Here’s a small truth we can all recognize: The better experience a retailer gives us, the more we want such experiences everywhere we shop. If we don’t get that great treatment again, we’re a bit disappointed, maybe even peevish. We’ve been spoiled — and we want more spoiling.

The single most important factor in delighting the shopper is data – and more specifically, what retailers do with the volumes of data they have at their fingertips.

For example, we’ve come to expect that an online retailer will tell a shopper what people who looked at the same last three items finally ended up buying — a helpful and persuasive bit of information. But today’s intelligent retailers are using data not just for those anticipated recommendations, but also in new and surprising ways in physical environments.

An astute salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store might take note of a what a shopper has left in his online cart and, when that shopper visits the store, have those items – as well as others that are recommended based on his past purchase history – ready for trying on in a dressing room.

This week at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual show in New York City, Microsoft’s emphasis is on data: what data retailers need, and how best to collect and analyze it. Happily, thanks in part to Microsoft Azure, as well as AI and Internet of Things (IoT) cloud services, wrangling data is becoming increasingly easy and inexpensive for retailers of all sizes.

Armed with the right data, brick-and-mortar stores can more easily offer world-class service that seamlessly spans online and in-person, too. Data-driven control over the supply chain can help maintain just the right levels of inventory. Data can help a store quickly stock items that will sell well because of weather or local events. Knowing a customer’s buying and browsing histories enables helpful purchase suggestions and increases opportunities for upselling.

Here are some examples of retailers innovating with Microsoft technology to make creative use of data, thus winning customers’ hearts, minds and dollars. All are on display in Microsoft’s booth at NRF.

Providing new and personalized experiences

Grocery chain Kroger is collaborating with Microsoft and others to create EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), a grocery-store shelf with a tall vertical front surface that’s a video screen displaying prices, nutritional and allergy information, videos, or other images or data that might boost sales. EDGE relies on Azure to store and process volumes of data.

Connected to both store management and customers by Zigbee, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, EDGE monitors quantities to ensure stock doesn’t run low. Prices can be set systemically and changed quickly for flash promotions. EDGE can even be programmed to offer sale prices to customers as they pass by, if they’ve indicated they’re interested in a given product and have downloaded an associated app. Now being tested in about 20 Kroger stores, EDGE is set for wider roll-out in 2018.

Ensuring an agile supply chain and empowering employees with omnichannel insight

What’s warm, fuzzy and backed by hidden Microsoft technology? A custom-made stuffed deer, bear, monkey or rabbit from Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Until recently, the global company was using siloed systems that required IT efforts to provide company-wide views of key metrics. Now Dynamics 365 is helping the company build a sturdy, unified IT foundation that will allow for future innovation.

For example, moving forward – and with the customer relationship management capabilities of Dynamics 365 as the foundation – Build-A-Bear is looking to empower its store employees with Microsoft 365, which will provide them with easier access to training, sales metrics and information to assist in offering the best customer experience possible. All of this will help them focus on doing what Build-A-Bear does best: making kids (and their parents) happy.

Home-improvement chain Lowe’s worked with Silicon Valley-based Fellow Robots to deploy LoweBots, five-foot-tall autonomous robots powered by Microsoft Azure that scan shelf inventory and assist store personnel with inventory data, metrics and shelf intelligence.

Microsoft’s Azure cloud services come into play when processing the massive amount of data that a LoweBot generates while it scans inventory on the shelves. The bot takes high-resolution images and identifies which items are out of stock, misplaced or mislabeled. By keeping constant tabs on inventory, the robot frees store employees to aid customers, and empowers corporate employees to make better and faster decisions when it comes to inventory.

Currently LoweBots are deployed in Lowe’s and BevMo Bay Area stores, but in wider use, its inventorying skills could cut into the $70 billion that U.S. businesses spend each year on inventory management tasks.

Empowering employees with technology

Retail giant Macy’s relies on its Macy’s Technology team to provide in-store systems, e-commerce sites, mobile apps and internal tools that foster innovation and employee engagement to attract top talent and boost productivity. Macy’s uses insights from Microsoft Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics to help build a culture that focuses on how employees choose to spend their time.

This improved understanding of workplace behaviors allows managers and employees to  free up time for creativity and innovation with practices like blocking out focus time and optimizing time in meetings.

Innovating to re-imagine the shopping experience

In a major innovation, software developer Xenia Retail has teamed with electronics giant Philips on a showroom/warehouse-model shopping experience designed to eliminate shopping carts and speed check-out, while allowing retailers to re-imagine what their physical footprint looks like for customers.

Rather than removing an item from the shelf and putting it into the cart, the shopper signals intent to buy by holding his phone up to a product to unveil digital value – such as crowd-sourced reviews and complimentary products – and select the quantity, color or size desired. Check-out is virtually instantaneous and can be completed in the app or via self-checkout on a secure payment terminal.

As carts are built and transacted in the digital realm, orders are picked and packed in real-time by team members in the back warehouse, and fulfilled according to the shopper’s preference. In doing so, retailers can optimize and reduce front-of-house operations to better focus on warehousing and online fulfillments as ecommerce continues to grow.

Xenia is based on Windows and runs on Azure. The company is integrating Power BI, Dynamics 365 and Outlook into its offerings.

To see and interact with these innovations, visit the Microsoft booth (#2803) at the NRF Big Show, and plan to attend our session to hear first-hand from these and other customers who are transforming their customer experiences, operations, employee engagement and products with intelligent technologies.