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Making it easier to stay caught up with Cortana in Microsoft 365

With recent events leading to the world’s largest work-from-home shift, we could all use some assistance to stay caught up with work while juggling personal responsibilities. We’re featuring updates available starting today with Cortana, your personal productivity assistant in Microsoft 365, to make it easier to get time back on your busy schedule and focus on what matters.

Stay on track with Cortana in Windows 10—To help you save time finding what you need and stay focused, we’re releasing a new chat-based Cortana experience in Windows 10 focused on enhancing your productivity. With this, you can ask Cortana using natural language to quickly check your schedule, connect with people, set reminders, or add tasks in Microsoft To Do. You can also find local information, get definitions, and keep track of the latest news, weather, and finance updates with Bing as a Cortana optional connected service. Simply type or click on the microphone button and speak commands such as “Am I free at 9?”, “Find time with Nestor to talk about the budget,” “Join my meeting,” “Remind me to review expenses every Friday at 3 PM,” and more. This productivity focused experience is now generally available in English for customers in the United States with the Windows 10 May 2020 update. In the coming months, with regular app updates through the Microsoft Store, we’ll enhance this experience to support wake word invocation and enable listening when you say “Cortana,” offer more productivity capabilities such as surfacing relevant emails and documents to help you prepare for meetings, and expand supported capabilities for international users.

Stay organized and connected with Play My Emails—To help you manage your time and tasks while listening to new emails and changes to your day, we’re rolling out updates to the Play My Emails experience in Outlook for iOS. You will now be able to ask Cortana to schedule a meeting in response to an email and add an email to your tasks list, making it easier to get things done while you are away from your computer. We have also introduced voice commands and touch targets for sending responses to meeting invitations as well as an option to quickly join an active online meeting or send an “I’m running late” message to the participants. These new task and time management updates are now generally available for customers in the United States with Play My Emails in Outlook for iOS. And, we are excited to confirm that Play My Emails will start to roll out in Outlook for Android in the coming weeks.

Start your day on track with the Briefing email—To help you be well prepared for upcoming meetings and stay on top of commitments, we’re introducing the new Briefing email from Cortana. This personalized brief will appear automatically in your Outlook inbox near the start of your workday, providing intelligent, actionable recommendations of documents for you to review ahead of the day’s meetings and drawing your attention to pending requests or commitments from prior emails that you may want to follow up on. This email will also make it easy for you to reserve “focus time” during your workday for uninterrupted focused work with Microsoft Teams notifications silenced. Briefing is currently rolling out in First Release for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users with Exchange Online mailboxes in English.

Animated image of Cortana Daily Briefings in Outlook Mobile. The user opens a daily briefing, marks a quality report complete, a task complete, and books focus time before checking their calendar.

As a personal productivity assistant that is a natural part of Microsoft 365, Cortana processes data safely and securely to fulfill your requests. Protecting your data and privacy is our highest priority, and we give you control over your data. These new Cortana experiences are delivered using services that fully comply with Office 365’s enterprise-level privacy, security and compliance promises as laid out in the Online Services Terms, and are enabled by default. For a closer look at the user experience and information on admin configurations, watch this Microsoft Mechanics demo. Try these experiences for yourself today and stay tuned for more innovations coming with Cortana in Microsoft 365 to help you make the most of your time.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Using automated machine learning for AI in insurance

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, one of the largest insurance firms in Japan, began the process of digital transformation several years ago. The company launched multiple projects, and continues to start new projects, to send it further into the digital age.

One of MSI’s more ambitious undertakings is the MS1 Brain platform, an AI in insurance project to create a more personalized experience for customers.

AI in insurance

Released earlier this year, the MS1 Brain platform uses machine learning and predictive analytics, along with customer data, including contract details, accident information and lifestyle changes, to recommend products and services to customers based on their predicted needs.

The platform also generates personalized communications for customers.

“Our business model is B to B to C [business to business to consumer]. We provide our products through agencies,” said Teruki Yokoyama, deputy manager of digital strategy in the department of digital business at MSI. “Until now, we have provided products to customers, both individuals and corporations mostly by leveraging experienced agents’ intimate knowledge of client needs.”

“By providing the needs analysis outcomes of each customer to the agency by MS1Brain, now even an inexperienced agency can make optimal proposals to customers with higher demands,” he continued.

To build the platform, MSI chose dotData, a startup automated machine learning vendor based in San Mateo, Calif.

Machine learning
Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance used automated machine learning to build out a machine learning platform

Automated machine learning

MSI first connected with dotData in 2017, when MSI‘s CIO visited Silicon Valley for a technical survey, Yokoyama said.

At that time, dotData was just getting started, and it hadn’t released a product. Still, MSI was intrigued by its automated machine learning platform, which claims to provide full-cycle machine learning automation. DotData competitors include DataRobot, H2O.ai and Auger.ai.

Automation of the data science process is the only way a company can truly deliver value from AI/ML investments and provide competitive differentiation by investing in predictive analytics.
Teruki YokoyamaDeputy manager of digital strategy, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance

“When it comes to data analysis, model accuracy often gets the most attention; dotData, on the other hand, focuses on how quickly you can move from raw data to working models — the AI-based feature engineering is what stood out,” Yokoyama said.

MSI had to build a lot of intelligent models, said Ryohei Fujimaki, CEO and founder of dotData. But, the firm didn’t have the data science team to build them.

DotData’s platform was scalable and enabled MSI to automate the entire AI building process, from feature generation to model implementation, Yokoyama said.

“Everyone should embrace this approach,” said Yokoyama of the automated machine learning approach.

“Automation of the data science process is the only way a company can truly deliver value from AI/ML investments and provide competitive differentiation by investing in predictive analytics,” he said.

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Major storage vendors map out 2020 plans

The largest enterprise storage vendors face a common set of challenges and opportunities heading into 2020. As global IT spending slows and storage gets faster and frequently handles data outside the core data center, primary storage vendors must turn to cloud, data management and newer flash technologies.

Each of the major storage vendors has its own plans for dealing with these developments. Here is a look at what the major primary storage vendors did in 2019 and what you can expect from them in 2020.

Dell EMC: Removing shadows from the clouds

2019 in review: Enterprise storage market leader Dell EMC spent most of 2019 bolstering its cloud capabilities, in many cases trying to play catch-up. New cloud products include VMware-orchestrated Dell EMC Cloud Platform arrays that integrate Unity and PowerMax storage, coupled with VxBlock converged and VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure.

The new Dell EMC Cloud gear allows customers to build and deploy on-premises private clouds with the agility and scale of the public cloud — a growing need as organizations dive deeper into AI and DevOps.

What’s on tap for 2020: Dell EMC officials have hinted at a new Power-branded midrange storage system for several years, and a formal unveiling of that product is expected in 2020. Then again, Dell initially said the next-generation system would arrive in 2019. Customers with existing Dell EMC midrange storage likely won’t be forced to upgrade, at least not for a while. The new storage platform will likely converge features from Dell EMC Unity and SC Series midrange arrays with an emphasis on containers and microservices.

Dell will enhance its tool set for containers to help companies deploy microservices, said Sudhir Srinivasan, the CTO of Dell EMC storage. He said containers are a prominent design featured in the new midrange storage. 

“Software stacks that were built decades ago are giant monolithic pieces of code, and they’re not going to survive that next decade, which we call the data decade,” Srinivasan said. 

Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s eventful year

2019 in review: In terms of product launches and partnerships, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) had a busy year in 2019. HPE Primera all-flash storage arrived in late 2019,  and HPE expects customers will slowly transition from its flagship 3PAR platform. Primera supports NVMe flash, embedding custom chips in the chassis to support massively parallel data transport on PCI Express lanes. The first Primera customer, BlueShore Financial, received its new array in October.

HPE bought supercomputing giant Cray to expand its presence in high-performance computing, and made several moves to broaden its hyper-converged infrastructure options. HPE ported InfoSight analytics to HPE SimpliVity HCI, as part of the move to bring the cloud-based predictive tools picked up from Nimble Storage across all HPE hardware. HPE launched a Nimble dHCI disaggregated HCI product and partnered with Nutanix to add Nutanix HCI technology to HPE GreenLake services while allowing Nutanix to sell its software stack on HPE servers.

It capped off the year with HPE Container Platform, a bare-metal system to make it easier to spin up Kubernetes-orchestrated containers on bare metal. The Container Platform uses technology from recent HPE acquisitions MapR and BlueData.

What’s on tap for 2020: HPE vice president of storage Sandeep Singh said more analytics are coming in response to customer calls for simpler storage. “An AI-driven experience to predict and prevent issues is a big game-changer for optimizing their infrastructure. Customers are placing a much higher priority on it in the buying motion,” helping to influence HPE’s roadmap, Singh said.

It will be worth tracking the progress of GreenLake as HPE moves towards its goal of making all of its technology available as a service by 2022.

Hitachi Vantara: Renewed focus on traditional enterprise storage

2019 in review: Hitachi Vantara renewed its focus on traditional data center storage, a segment it had largely conceded to other array vendors in recent years. Hitachi underwent a major refresh of the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) flash array in 2019. The VSP 5000 SAN arrays scale to 69 PB of raw storage, and capacity extends higher with hardware-based deduplication in its Flash Storage Modules. By virtualizing third-party storage behind a VSP 5000, customers can scale capacity to 278 PB.

What’s on tap for 2020: The VSP5000 integrates Hitachi Accelerated Fabric networking technology that enables storage to scale out and scale up. Hitachi this year plans to phase in the networking to other high-performance storage products, said Colin Gallagher, a Hitachi vice president of infrastructure products.

“We had been lagging in innovation, but with the VSP5000, we got our mojo back,” Gallagher said.

Hitachi arrays support containers, and Gallagher said the vendor is considering whether it needs to evolve its support beyond a Kubernetes plugin, as other vendors have done. Hitachi plans to expand data management features in Hitachi Pentaho analytics software to address AI and DevOps deployments. Gallagher said Hitachi’s data protection and storage as a service is another area of focus for the vendor in 2020.

IBM: hybrid cloud, with cyber-resilient storage

2019 in review: IBM brought out the IBM Elastic Storage Server 3000, an NVMe-based array packaged with IBM Spectrum Scale parallel file storage. Elastic Storage Server 3000 combines NVMe flash and containerized software modules to provide faster time to deployment for AI, said Eric Herzog, IBM’s vice president of world storage channels.

In addition, IBM added PCIe-enabled NVMe flash to Versastack converged infrastructure and midrange Storwize SAN arrays.

What to expect in 2020: Like other storage vendors, IBM is trying to navigate the unpredictable waters of cloud and services. Its product development revolves around storage that can run in any cloud. IBM Cloud Services enables end users to lease infrastructure, platforms and storage hardware as a service. The program has been around for two years, and will add IBM software-defined storage to the mix this year. Customers thus can opt to purchase hardware capacity or the IBM Spectrum suite in an OpEx model. Non-IBM customers can run Spectrum storage software on qualified third-party storage.

“We are going to start by making Spectrum Protect data protection available, and we expect to add other pieces of the Spectrum software family throughout 2020 and into 2021,” Herzog said.

Another IBM development to watch in 2020 is how its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat affects either vendor’s storage products and services.

NetApp: Looking for a rebound

2019 in review: Although spending slowed for most storage vendors in 2019, NetApp saw the biggest decline. At the start of 2019, NetApp forecast annual sales at $6 billion, but poor sales forced NetApp to slash its guidance by around 10% by the end of the year.

NetApp CEO George Kurian blamed the revenue setbacks partly on poor sales execution, a failing he hopes will improve as NetApp institutes better training and sales incentives. The vendor also said goodbye to several top executives who retired, raising questions about how it will deliver on its roadmap going forward.

What to expect in 2020: In the face of the turbulence, Kurian kept NetApp focused on the cloud. NetApp plowed ahead with its Data Fabric strategy to enable OnTap file services to be consumed, via containers, in the three big public clouds.  NetApp Cloud Data Service, available first on NetApp HCI, allows customers to consume OnTap storage locally or in the cloud, and the vendor capped off the year with NetApp Keystone, a pay-as-you-go purchasing option similar to the offerings of other storage vendors.

Although NetApp plans hardware investments, storage software will account for more revenue as companies shift data to the cloud, said Octavian Tanase, senior vice president of the NetApp OnTap software and systems group.

“More data is being created outside the traditional data center, and Kubernetes has changed the way those applications are orchestrated. Customers want to be able to rapidly build a data pipeline, with data governance and mobility, and we want to try and monetize that,” Tanase said.

Pure Storage: Flash for backup, running natively in the cloud

2019 in review: The all-flash array specialist broadened its lineup with FlashArray//C SAN arrays and denser FlashBlade NAS models. FlashArray//C extends the Pure Storage flagship with a model that supports Intel Optane DC SSD-based MemoryFlash modules and quad-level cell NAND SSDs in the same system.

Pure also took a major step on its journey to convert FlashArray into a unified storage system by acquiring Swedish file storage software company Compuverde. It marked the second acquisition in as many years for Pure, which acquired deduplication software startup StorReduce in 2018.

What to expect in 2020: The gap between disk and flash prices has narrowed enough that it’s time for customers to consider flash for backup and secondary workloads, said Matt Kixmoeller, Pure Storage vice president of strategy.

“One of the biggest challenges — and biggest opportunities — is evangelizing to customers that, ‘Hey, it’s time to look at flash for tier two applications,'” Kixmoeller said.

Flexible cloud storage options and more storage in software are other items on Pure’s roadmap items. Cloud Block Store, which Pure introduced last year, is just getting started, Kixmoeller said, and is expected to generate lots of attention from customers. Most vendors support Amazon Elastic Block Storage by sticking their arrays in a colocation center and running their operating software on EBS, but Pure took a different approach. Pure reengineered the backend software layer to run natively on Amazon S3.

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ZF Becomes a Provider of Soft

“In the future, software will have one of the largest impacts on automotive system development and will be one of the key differentiating factors when it comes to realizing higher levels of automated driving functions. We want to help drive this trend forward. The collaboration with Microsoft will enable us to accelerate software integration and delivery significantly. This is important for our customers who appreciate agile collaboration and need short delivery cadences for software updates. Moreover, software will need to be developed when hardware is not yet available,” explained Dr Dirk Walliser, responsible for corporate research and development at ZF. ZF will then combine its enormous know-how as a system developer for the automotive industry with the added advantage of significantly higher speeds for software development.

“Digital capabilities will be key for automotive companies to grow and differentiate from their competition. DevOps empowers development and operations teams to optimize cross-team collaboration across automation, testing, monitoring and continuous delivery using agile methods. Microsoft is providing DevOps capabilities and sharing our experiences with ZF to help them become a software-driven mobility services provider”, said Sanjay Ravi, General Manager, Automotive Industry at Microsoft.

“cubiX”: Chassis of the Future from Code

At CES 2020, ZF will showcase its vision of software development with “cubiX”: It is a software component that gathers sensor information from the entire vehicle and prepares it for an optimized control of active systems in the chassis, steering, brakes and propulsion. Following a vendor-agnostic approach, “cubiX” will support components from ZF as well as third-party components. “cubiX creates networked chassis functions thanks to software: By connecting multiple vehicle systems such as electric power steering, active rear axle steering, the sMOTION active damping system, driveline control and integrated brake control, ‘cubiX’ can optimize the behavior of the car from one central source. This enables a new level of vehicle control and thus can increase safety – for example in unfavorable road conditions or in emergency situations,” said Dr Dirk Walliser. ZF plans to start projects with first customers in 2020 and will offer “cubiX” from 2023 either as part of an overall system or as an individual software component.

ZF at CES 2020

In addition, ZF will present its comprehensive systems for automated and autonomous driving at CES. They comprise sensors, computing power, software and actuators.

For passenger cars, Level 2+ systems pave the way for a safer and more comfortable means of private transportation. New mobility solutions like robo-taxis are designed to safely operate with ZF’s Level 4/5 systems. Additionally, ZF’s innovative integrated safety systems will be on display, like the Safe Human Interaction Cockpit. Innovative software utilizing artificial intelligence to provide new features and further-developed mobility offerings will also be highlighted.

Join ZF in Las Vegas

Press Conference: Monday, January 6, 2020, 8 AM (PST): Mandalay Bay, Lagoon E & F. Alternatively, you can watch the livestream at www.zf.com/CESlive

ZF Booth: LVCC, North Hall, booth 3931

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Google-Ascension deal reveals murky side of sharing health data

One of the largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S. created headlines when it was revealed that it was sharing patient data with Google — under codename Project Nightingale.

Ascension, a Catholic health system based in St. Louis, partnered with Google to transition the health system’s infrastructure to the Google Cloud Platform, to use the Google G Suite productivity and collaboration tools, and to explore the tech giant’s artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. By doing so, it is giving Google access to patient data, which the search giant can use to inform its own products.

The partnership appears to be technically and legally sound, according to experts. After news broke, Ascension released a statement saying the partnership is HIPAA-compliant and a business associate agreement, a contract required by the federal government that spells out each party’s responsibility for protected health information, is in place. Yet reports from The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian about the possible improper transfer of 50 million patients’ data has resulted in an Office for Civil Rights inquiry into the Google-Ascension partnership.

Legality aside, the resounding reaction to the partnership speaks to a lack of transparency in healthcare. Organizations should see the response as both an example of what not to do, as well as a call to make patients more aware of how they’re using health data, especially as consumer companies known for collecting and using data for profit become their partners.

Partnership breeds legal, ethical concerns

Forrester Research senior analyst Jeff Becker said Google entered into a similar strategic partnership with Mayo Clinic in September, and the coverage was largely positive.

Forrester Research senior analyst Jeff Becker Jeff Becker

According to a Mayo Clinic news release, the nonprofit academic medical center based in Rochester, Minn., selected Google Cloud to be “the cornerstone of its digital transformation,” and the clinic would use “advanced cloud computing, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence” to improve healthcare delivery.

But Ascension wasn’t as forthcoming with its Google partnership. It was Google that announced its work with Ascension during a quarterly earnings call in July, and Ascension didn’t issue a news release about the partnership until after the news broke.

“There should have been a public-facing announcement of the partnership,” Becker said. “This was a PR failure. Secrecy creates distrust.”

Matthew Fisher, partner at Mirick O’Connell Attorneys at Law and chairman of its health law group, said the outcry over the Google-Ascension partnership was surprising. For years, tech companies have been trying to get access to patient data to help healthcare organizations and, at the same time, develop or refine their existing products, he said.

“I get the sense that just because it was Google that was announced to have been a partner, that’s what drove a lot of the attention,” he said. “Everyone knows Google mostly for purposes outside of healthcare, which leads to the concern of does Google understand the regulatory obligations and restrictions that come to bear by entering the healthcare space?”

Ascension’s statement in response to the situation said the partnership with Google is covered by a business associate agreement — a distinction Fisher said is “absolutely required” before any protected health information can be shared with Google. Parties in a business associate agreement are obligated by federal regulation to comply with the applicable portions of HIPAA, such as its security and privacy rules.

A business associate relationship allows identifiable patient information to be shared and used by Google only under specified circumstances. It is the legal basis for keeping patient data segregated and restricting Google from freely using that data. According to Ascension, the health system’s clinical data is housed within an Ascension-owned virtual private space in Google Cloud, and Google isn’t allowed to use the data for marketing or research.

“Our data will always be separate from Google’s consumer data, and it will never be used by Google for purposes such as targeting consumers for advertising,” the statement said.

Health IT and information security expert Kate Borten Kate Borten

But health IT and information security expert Kate Borten believes business associate agreements and the HIPAA privacy rule they adhere to don’t go far enough to ensure patient privacy rights, especially when companies like Google get involved. The HIPAA privacy rule doesn’t require healthcare organizations to disclose to patients who they’re sharing patient data with.

“The privacy rule says as long as you have this business associate contract — and business associates are defined by HIPAA very broadly — then the healthcare provider organization or insurer doesn’t have to tell the plan members or the patients about all these business associates who now have access to your data,” she said.

Chilmark Research senior analyst Jody Ranck said much of the alarm over the Google-Ascension partnership may be misplaced, but it speaks to a growing concern about companies like Google entering healthcare.

Since the Office for Civil Rights is looking into the partnership, Ranck said there is still a question of whether the partnership fully complies with the law. But the bigger question has to do with privacy and security concerns around collecting and using patient data, as well as companies like Google using patient data to train AI algorithms and the potential biases it could create.

All of this starts to feel like a bit of an algorithmic iron cage.
Jody RanckSenior analyst, Chilmark Research

Ranck believes consumer trust in tech companies is declining, especially as data privacy concerns get more play.

“Now that they know everything you purchase and they can listen in to that Alexa sitting beside your bed at night, and now they’re going to get access to health data … what’s a consumer to do? Where’s their power to control their destiny when algorithms are being used to assign you as a high-, medium-, or low-risk individual, as creditworthy?” Ranck said. “All of this starts to feel like a bit of an algorithmic iron cage.”

A call for more transparency

Healthcare organizations and big tech partnerships with the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are growing. Like other industries, healthcare organizations are looking to modernize their infrastructure and take advantage of state of the art storage, security, data analytics tools and emerging tech like artificial intelligence.

But for healthcare organizations, partnerships like these have an added complexity — truly sensitive data. Forrester’s Becker said the mistake in the Google-Ascension partnership was the lack of transparency. There was no press release early on announcing the partnership, laying out what information is being shared, how the information will be used, and what outcome improvements the healthcare organization hopes to achieve.

“There should also be assurance that the partnership falls within HIPAA and that data will not be used for advertising or other commercial activities unrelated to the healthcare ambitions stated,” he said.

Fisher believes the Google-Ascension partnership raises questions about what the legal, moral and ethical aspects of these relationships are. While Ascension and Google may have been legally in the right, Fisher believes it’s important to recognize that privacy expectations are shifting, which calls for better consumer education, as well as more transparency around where and how data is being used.

Although he believes it would be “unduly burdensome” to require a healthcare organization to name every organization it shares data with, Fisher said better education on how HIPAA operates and what it allows when it comes to data sharing, as well as explaining how patient data will be protected when shared with a company like Google, could go a long way in helping patients understand what’s happening with their data.

“If you’re going to be contracting with one of these big-name companies that everyone has generalized concerns about with how they utilize data, you need to be ahead of the game,” Fisher said. “Even if you’re doing everything right from a legal standpoint, there’s still going to be a PR side to it. That’s really the practical reality of doing business. You want to be taking as many measures as you can to avoid the public backlash and having to be on the defensive by having the relationship found out and reported upon or discussed without trying to drive that discussion.”

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Trump HR plan may politicize federal workforce

The federal government’s HR operation may be one of the world’s largest, with responsibility for a federal workforce of 2.1 million. The Office of Personnel Management gives federal agencies policy expertise and HR technology advice. It is now embroiled in a debate about its future.

President Trump’s administration wants to merge OPM with the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA manages federal real estate, but is also a center for technology expertise and creates vehicles for agencies to acquire technology and hire private sector professional services, including HR.

By merging OPM with GSA, the Trump administration said it will combine expertise, save about $23 million annually in administrative efficiencies and accelerate the modernizing of HR tech. But the proposal is generating a pushback from critics, who caution the move could fracture policy development and politicize employment decisions.

Splitting policy development between a handful of people in OMB and a group at GSA may make policies more likely to be driven by political concerns.
Jeffrey NealFormer chief human capital officer, Department of Homeland Security

The merger calls for giving federal workforce policy control to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The White House argued this change will help establish an enterprise-wide HR strategy for the federal government. The concern is this change will open the federal hiring to patronage where jobs could be awarded as election spoils.

“Splitting policy development between a handful of people in OMB and a group at GSA may make policies more likely to be driven by political concerns,” said Jeffrey Neal, former chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior vice president at consulting and technology services provider ICF International Inc., in Fairfax, Va.

Moreover, Neal believes the plan could impede HR operations. “The merger would not give departments and agencies any authorities they do not already have and might impede the ability of the government to develop policies that could make the government more competitive in the labor market,” he said.

Federal workforce needs predictive analytics

Linda Springer, a former director of OPM, told lawmakers at a recent hearing about the proposal. She said OPM does need to improve some of its capabilities, such as “predictive analytics to anticipate the personnel management demands of the future and move to a proactive, rather than a reactive, posture.”

But Springer warned against the White House plan. It risks “tearing apart” an independent agency and putting it at risk of bad political practices, she said. 

“Is it reasonable for a White House office to issue policy guidance and review requests to appoint political appointees to competitive positions?” Springer said to lawmakers. “The proposal places federal personnel policy setting right back in a place where the spoils and patronage system had taken hold.”

House Democrats oppose the merger and recently voted to block the formation of OPM-GSA. A merger prohibition was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, a budget bill. The Senate has not acted on it.

OPM offers federal agencies acquisition assistance, which includes HR-related contract services. GSA awards contract vehicles for many of these services, “so an OPM-GSA merger would have little impact” on the contractors, said Ray Bjorklund, president of BirchGrove Consulting LLC, a federal contracting advisory firm.

OPM “must demonstrate certain aspects of its value to customer agencies,” Bjorklund said, otherwise agencies can do their own contracting. “I don’t think there will be much disruption in how the agencies contract for HR services,” he said, should the merger take place.

The “core value” of OPM is its policy expertise, and if the merger isn’t planned well, “some of the expertise now concentrated in OPM will get diluted,” Bjorklund said.

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OVHcloud expands US footprint with channel partner program

Europe’s largest cloud provider has stepped up its channel presence in the U.S. with a new partner program.

OVHcloud, which has its global headquarters in Roubaix, France, broke into the U.S. market only recently, following its acquisition of VMware’s vCloud Air business. With its U.S.-based partner program, launched this week, OVHcloud hopes to expand the reach of its IaaS portfolio, spanning VMware-based hosted private cloud, bare-metal server and public cloud options.

David WigglesworthDavid Wigglesworth

“I think we are the best-kept technical secret nobody has heard of,” said David Wigglesworth, chief revenue officer at OVHcloud, which has its U.S. corporate headquarters in Reston, Va.

The OVHcloud channel program features four partner tiers with incremental benefits and requirements. Partners will have access to training; marketing support, such as market development funds; and sales activity planning, the company said.

OVHcloud has already signed a handful of U.S.-based partners, including solution provider FusionStorm. Wigglesworth noted that OVHcloud’s offerings will also be sold by VMware sales reps.

HPE updates Partner Ready program

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) this week unveiled enhancements to the Partner Ready program, which now features increased rewards for resellers.

According to HPE, resellers can now earn increased rebates and other incentives for selling products in “high-growth markets,” specifically storage, composable infrastructure, hyper-converged technology, software and consumption services. The Partner Ready program enhancements will take effect on Nov. 1, HPE said.

“Because of the changes that we have made, resellers and other partner business types ought to look at this as an opportunity to redouble their focus and efforts around HPE because it will prove to be very rewarding,” said Terry Richardson, vice president of North American channels and alliances at HPE.

HPE’s products that align with the market opportunities it is targeting include HPE Nimble Storage and 3PAR for storage, SimpliVity and Synergy for composable and hyper-converged technology, and GreenLake and Datacenter Care for service-led offerings.

HPE said it will also enhance the Partner Ready program with the following features:

  • Further simplifications. For example, partners will now receive rewards from the first sale without gates, caps or targets, HPE said.
  • A push to increase HPE’s consumption-based offerings. HPE said it will roll out a new competency for the HPE GreenLake suite of pay-per-use on-premises offerings, in addition to a rebate for partners enabled in consumption-based models.
  • Expanded technical enablement, especially around HPE’s high-growth market opportunities.

RapidFire Tools expands MSP offerings

RapidFire Tools Inc., based in Atlanta, is expanding its managed services provider (MSP) offerings with InDoc, a tool that provides web-based access to clients’ network data.

InDoc, an Amazon cloud-based portal, is built into RapidFire Tools’ Network Detective Reporter product for scheduling automated network scans and reports. MSP technicians can use InDoc to obtain network data via desktop or mobile devices and can also store information on the portal, such as client-specific notes, remediation procedures, checklists and passwords. Information is stored in an encrypted data store. InDoc employs additional layers of encryption for confidential data and passwords. The tool includes a usage log that provides an audit trail of technicians who have accessed data and when they did so, according to RapidFire Tools.

Michael Mittel, CEO at RapidFire Tools, said more than 95% of the company’s business is to MSPs, noting service providers “are still a growing part of our business.”

He said RapidFire Tools now has more than 6,000 MSPs using its tools worldwide. He added the company is expanding its offerings to include products that MSPs can resell to their customers.

InDoc will be offered to existing Network Detective Reporter customers as a free upgrade. New subscribers to Network Detective Reporter will receive InDoc as a value-added feature at no extra charge. An unlimited amount of data can be stored via InDoc for each MSP location subscribing to Network Detective Reporter. The company said MSPs with multiple locations should purchase separate Network Detective Reporter subscriptions for each office.

Kaseya reports 30% growth, MSP signings

Kaseya cited MSP growth as it reported year-over-year growth in excess of 30% and projected annual bookings of more than $250 million.

The IT infrastructure management solutions provider said uptake of the latest version of its remote monitoring and management product, VSA, has exceeded the company’s expectations. In the first several months since its release, more than 300 organizations have adopted the technology, according to Kaseya. In addition, the company said about 400 MSPs have signed up for Unitrends MSP thus far in 2018. Kaseya acquired Unitrends, a business continuity and disaster recovery (DR) technology vendor, in May.

Other news

  • Sungard Availability Services, a DR and cloud service provider in Wayne, Pa., has expanded its Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard certification, offering compliant production and DR services on AWS and its managed private cloud.
  • AWS introduced a new program for channel partners in the public sector to grow their cloud businesses within a 110-day time frame. The AWS Public Sector Partner Transformation Program offers a cloud-readiness assessment, training and enablement resources.
  • HCL Technologies, a global technology company that provides infrastructure services, is partnering with ScienceLogic’s IT operations management technology. The partnership addresses the need for automated IT operations among HCL’s enterprise clients embarking on digital transformation projects, according to ScienceLogic. The arrangement also lets HCL’s DRYiCE division use ScienceLogic’s SL1 Automation Engine.
  • Cloud communications provider Avoxi unwrapped a global partner program. Through the program, partners can provide Avoxi’s virtual numbers in more than 120 countries for packaged minutes. Avoxi said it will soon roll out a new partner portal featuring partner sales and management tools and materials.
  • Calligo, a cloud infrastructure services provider based in St. Helier, Jersey, is offering Microsoft Azure Stack services from its Toronto branch. The company said the Toronto installation is its fifth Azure Stack deployment.
  • PSIGEN Software Inc., a document capture, business process automation and document management solutions developer, has inked a distribution pact with Access Control Devices Inc. (ACDI). PSIGEN Software, based in Madison, Ala., said ACDI will serve as its exclusive distributor in North America and Latin America. ACDI, a PaperCut Authorized Solution Center, targets the office equipment reseller channel.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

Inside Xbox is Live from gamescom on Tuesday, August 21 – Xbox Wire

Inside Xbox kicks off one of the world’s largest video game shows with a live broadcast direct from Cologne, Germany on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 a.m. PDT/10:30 a.m. EDT on MixerTwitchYouTubeFacebook, and Twitter.

Our gamescom content will include the latest on Forza Horizon 4Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2, plus breaking news, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen content for many other games.

Stay tuned @Xbox on Twitter and here on Xbox Wire for the latest Inside Xbox: Live @ gamescom news, and mark August 21 on your calendar so you don’t miss out!

Inside Xbox is Live from gamescom on Tuesday, August 21 – Xbox Wire

Inside Xbox kicks off one of the world’s largest video game shows with a live broadcast direct from Cologne, Germany on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 a.m. PDT/10:30 a.m. EDT on MixerTwitchYouTubeFacebook, and Twitter.

Our gamescom content will include the latest on Forza Horizon 4Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2, plus breaking news, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen content for many other games.

Stay tuned @Xbox on Twitter and here on Xbox Wire for the latest Inside Xbox: Live @ gamescom news, and mark August 21 on your calendar so you don’t miss out!