Tag Archives: tools

Microsoft Power Platform adds chatbots; Flow now Power Automate

More bots and automation tools went live on the Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft announced today. In their formal introductions, Microsoft said the tools will make data sources flow within applications like SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics 365, and create more efficiencies with custom apps.

The more than 400 capabilities added to the Microsoft Power Platform focus on expanding its robotic process automation potential for users, as well as new integrations between the platform and Microsoft Teams, according to a blog post by James Phillips, corporate vice president of business applications at Microsoft.

Some of those include robotic process automation (RPA) tools for Microsoft Power Automate, formerly known as Flow, which makes AI tools easier to add into PowerApps. Also newly available are tools for creating user interfaces in Power Automate.

AI Builder adds a point-and-click means to fold common processes such as forms processing, object detection and text classification into apps — processes commonly used for SharePoint and OneDrive content curation.

Microsoft is adding these tools, as well as new security features to analytics platform Power BI, in part to coax customers who remain on premises into the Azure cloud, said G2 analyst Michael Fauscette.

PowerApps reduce the development needed to create necessary connections between systems in the cloud, such as content in OneDrive and SharePoint with work being done in Dynamics 365 CRM, Teams and ERP applications.

Microsoft Power Automate, formerly Flow
Microsoft Power Automate, a low-code app-design tool,is the new version ofFlow.

Chatbots go live

Also announced as generally available at Microsoft Ignite are Power Virtual Agents, do-it-yourself chatbots on the Microsoft Power Platform.

They’ll likely first be used by customer service teams on Dynamics 365, said Constellation Research analyst R “Ray” Wang, but they could spread to other business areas such as human resources, which could use the bots to answer common questions during employee recruiting or onboarding.

If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.
R ‘Ray’ WangAnalyst, Constellation Research

While some companies may choose outside consultants and developers to build custom chatbots instead of making their own on the Microsoft Power Platform, Wang said some companies may try it to build them internally. Large call centers employing many human agents and running on Microsoft applications would be logical candidates for piloting new bots.

“I think they’ll start coming here to build their virtual agents,” Wang said. “[Bot] training will be an issue, but it’s a matter of scale. If an agent is costing you $15 an hour and the chatbot 15 cents an hour … it’s all about call deflection.”

Microsoft Power Platform evolves

PowerApps, which launched in late 2015, originally found utility with users of Microsoft Dynamics CRM who needed to automate and standardize processes across data sets inside the Microsoft environment and connect to outside platforms such as Salesforce, said Gartner analyst Ed Anderson.

Use quickly spread to SharePoint, OneDrive and Dynamics ERP users, as they found that Flow — a low-code app-design tool — enabled the creation of connectors and apps without developer overhead. Third-party consultants and developers also used PowerApps to speed up deliverables to clients. Power BI, Power Automate and PowerApps together became known as the Microsoft Power Platform a year ago.

“PowerApps are really interesting for OneDrive and SharePoint because it lets you quickly identify data sources and quickly do something meaningful with them — connect them together, add some logic around them or customized interfaces,” Anderson said.

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Microsoft acquires Mover.io to ease OneDrive migrations

Microsoft plans to add cloud migration tools to aid SharePoint on-premises migrations to the OneDrive cloud with its Monday acquisition of Mover.io, an eight-year-old Canadian startup specializing in the self-service mass migration of enterprise files.

Mover.io, acquired for an undisclosed sum, also provides cross-cloud migrations from a dozen OneDrive file-sharing cloud competitors, including Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Google Drive. Microsoft continues to support SharePoint on-premises, but the company has not said how long it will continue to do so, leaving room for speculation among users and experts.

Mover.io, acquired a month after Microsoft bought data-migration vendor Movere, will join several file-migration tools and services already on the Microsoft cloud platform, including FastTrack and the SharePoint Migration Tool. Users also have a choice of several other third-party tools to do the job, including ShareGate and Metalogix, which support file migrations to OneDrive.

Microsoft could, theoretically, poach customers from competing cloud file-management systems such as Box with the Mover.io migration tools. But the real OneDrive migration target customer for the Mover.io tools is Microsoft’s SharePoint on-premises base, said Deep Analysis founder Alan Pelz-Sharpe.

Enterprise-scale file migrations from on-premises servers to the cloud pose challenges of maintaining file directory structure as well as access and security policies, Pelz-Sharpe said. SharePoint enterprise migrations in particular can be even thornier because it was designed for front-line office workers to set up ad-hoc file-sharing sites with little IT assistance.

The fact that SharePoint’s been around for nearly two decades, pre-dating widespread cloud adoption, compounds the issue. Pelz-Sharpe described one of his clients, a utility company, whose SharePoint on-premises footprint has grown over the years to 12,000 SharePoint sites.

“They have no idea what is in them, and no idea what to do with them,” Pelz-Sharpe said. “These things can be complex. It’s a recognized problem, so the more experience, skills and tools Microsoft can bring to help, the better.”

Specifics about Mover.io features integrating with the Microsoft 365 platform will come next month, said Jeff Teper, Microsoft corporate VP for Office, SharePoint and OneDrive, in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

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AIOps tools mature as cloud infrastructure grows

Enterprise IT interest in AIOps tools has grown in 2019, as reflected in the latest features in DevOps monitoring tools, but advanced IT automation still hasn’t caught on beyond the bleeding edge.

Two AIOps vendors have reported sales strong enough to propel them to IPOs this month: first, Dynatrace re-entered the New York Stock Exchange Sept. 10 after five years of ownership by a private equity firm. DevOps monitoring competitor Datadog is expected to launch an IPO this week. A third cloud-native monitoring company, New Relic, already publicly traded, reported faltering sales numbers earlier this year and underwent C-suite upheaval as a result, but plowed ahead with fresh features for the New Relic One suite at its user conference this week.

IT industry analysts speculate that the New Relic One development process, which first began in late 2017 and integrated IP from multiple acquisitions, may have caused the business setback for the company. It remains to be seen whether those effort will pay off in an expanded customer base for New Relic.

New Relic One refreshes perspectives on IT monitoring data

For existing New Relic users, New Relic One contains important improvements that will address their needs in the future. Most importantly, New Relic One unified dashboard views that had previously been fragmented, and added the ability to search across multiple domains, whether user accounts or public clouds.

“New Relic One gave us a nice common interface, where we used to only be able to search data within user sub-accounts,” said Joshua Biggley, senior enterprise monitoring engineer at Cardinal Health, a healthcare services and products company based in Dublin, Ohio. Cardinal Health has used New Relic since 2016, and rolled out New Relic One in production when it became generally available.

This week, New Relic added several feature updates, including support for third-party data sources, agentless as well as agent-based monitoring deployments, log monitoring, tools to build programmable monitoring apps on the platform and new AIOps capabilities.

For Cardinal Health, log monitoring data and information from third-party sources such as time-series databases and open source distributed tracing tools will add more dimensions of context to the centralized DevOps monitoring interface, Biggley said. He and his colleagues plan to use the programmability features to build new monitoring databases and assess a broader range of relationships between pieces of monitoring data.

“You can say, ‘these servers have eight CPUs each, and your workload average is 10, but you don’t know what that means if you don’t know how many CPUs are actually configured,” Biggley said.

AIOps will mature alongside DevOps

New Relic has offered data analytics that it called Applied Intelligence in its products before, but this week’s New Relic One updates adds AIOps features such as expanded alert reduction and automated creation of notifications and workflows in third-party tools such as PagerDuty, ServiceNow and Slack.

This type of AI-driven IT automation has been a hot topic in IT ops circles since 2017, but it has taken until this year for AIOps products to fully mature, and will still take more time before IT shops are ready to put them to widespread use.

“Event correlation and alert reduction are the unicorn everyone’s chasing,” Biggley said. “But people tend to be afraid of automation, and it all depends on data — garbage in, garbage out.”

Biggley said he wants clarify the specific goals he wants to achieve with AIOps automation before he dives in.

“You can apply machine learning to anything, but should you?” he said.

You can apply machine learning to anything, but should you?
Joshua BiggleySenior enterprise monitoring engineer, Cardinal Health

Industry-wide, enterprises are adopting tools with AI built in: a Q2 2019 Forrester Research survey found that 51% of global infrastructure decision makers have already adopted, or are in the process of implementing, AI- and machine learning-enabled systems, with another 21% stating that they plan to adopt those technologies in the next year.

However, the percentage of companies that have achieved AIOps automation in production using such tools is unclear at this point. AIOps early adopters have gained advantages from alert reduction through such tools, but not without having to work through data quality issues, and some remain skeptical of their ability to deliver incident auto-remediation.

The DevOps monitoring maturation process among enterprises actually tends to make things worse before they get better, said Nancy Gohring, analyst at 451 Research.  

“As companies reorganize into DevOps teams that both develop and operate microservices, performance actually gets worse for a while, because there are too many tools and unclear responsibilities,” Gohring said. “Eventually, organizations form a more centralized observability team, reduce the number of tools they use, and application performance improves.”

Only once organizations get past the initial chaotic stage of DevOps adoption can they proceed to AIOps automation that reduces the manual intervention DevOps monitoring tools require, Gohring said. Such tools also provide the most value for complex cloud-native architectures, such as container-based microservices, and most enterprises haven’t yet widely adopted such infrastructures in production.

Dynatrace predicts future of NoOps

Not everyone shares Gohring’s outlook on the pace of AIOps adoption. Dynatrace, for example, resumed its status as a publicly traded company with a focus on advanced IT automation, and the prediction that many of its customers will soon get to NoOps, where systems resolve IT incidents with no human intervention.

“When customers see what we’ve achieved with Dynatrace and NoOps, they see that it’s possible,” said Dynatrace co-founder and CTO Bernd Greifeneder. “We’ve heard a lot about NoOps being a dumb idea that will never work, but I can invite you to our own labs to see it.”

Forrester’s Gohring is skeptical that NoOps will ever become mainstream in enterprises.

“Some future phase will look a lot closer to NoOps,” she said. “But that’s far down the road, hazy and ill-defined. We’re taking steps toward it, but it’s unclear if it’s achievable.”

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Gen Z in the workforce both want and fear AI and automation

For Gen Z in the workforce, AI and automation are useful and time-saving tools, but also possible threats to job security.

Typically characterized as the demographic born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, Generation Z  is the first generation to truly grow up exclusively with modern technologies such as smart phones, social media and digital assistants.

Many Gen Z-ers first experienced Apple’s Siri, released in 2011, and then Amazon’s Alexa, introduced in 2014 alongside Amazon Echo, at a young age.

The demographic as a whole tends to have a strong understanding of the usefulness of AI and automation, said Terry Simpson, technical evangelist at Nintex, a process management and automation vendor

Gen Z in the workforce

Most Gen Z employees have confidence in AI and automation, Nintex found in a September 2019 report about a survey of 500 current and 500 future Gen Z employees. Some 88% of the survey takers said AI and automation can make their jobs easier.

This generation understands AI technology, Simpson said, and its members want more of it in the workplace.

“For most organizations, almost 68 percent of processes are not automated,” Simpson said. Automation typically replaces menial, repetitive tasks, so lack of automation leaves those tasks to be handled by employees.

Gen Z, Gen Z in the workforce, AI and automation
Gen Z wants more automation in the workplace, even as they fear it could affect job security.

For Gen Z in the workforce, a lack of automation can be frustrating, Simpson said, especially when Gen Z-ers are so used to the ease of digital assistants and automated programs in their personal lives. Businesses generally haven’t caught up to the AI products Gen Z-ers are using at home, he said.

Yet, even as Gen Z-ers have faith that AI and automation will help them in the workplace, they fear it, too.

Job fears

According to the Nintex report, 57% of those surveyed expressed concern that AI and automation could affect their job security.

“A lot of times you may be a Gen Z employee that automation could replace what you’re doing as a job function, and that becomes a risk,” Simpson said.

Everybody says I don’t want to lose my job to a robot, and then Outlook tells you to go to a meeting and you go.
Anthony ScriffignanoChief data scientist, Dun & Bradstreet

Still, he added, automation can help an organization as a whole, and can ease the employees’ workloads.

“Everybody says I don’t want to lose my job to a robot, and then Outlook tells you to go to a meeting and you go,” said Anthony Scriffignano, chief data scientist at Dun & Bradstreet.

Jobs that can be easily automated may eventually be given to an automated system, but AI will also create jobs, Scriffignano said.

As a young generation, Gen Z-ers may have less to fear than other generations, however.

Younger generations are coachable and more open to change than the older generations, Scriffignano said. They will be able to adapt better to new technologies, while also helping their employers adapt, too.

“Gen Z have time in their career to reinvent themselves and refocus” their skills and career goals to better adapt for AI and automation, Scriffignano said.

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F5 Networks updates NGINX Application Platform, other tools

F5 Networks has added and tweaked a handful of tools in an effort to help DevOps, NetOps and SecOps teams work together to deliver applications.

F5 Networks has been working on the updates since acquiring NGINX and its NGINX Application Platform in May. The suite includes NGINX Plus for load balancing and application delivery, NGINX Web Application Firewall for security, NGINX Unit to run application code and NGINX Controller to monitor and manage the platform.

The F5 Networks updates include the following changes to NGINX Application Platform and other tools:

Open source projects: F5 Networks hopes to accelerate the development of NGINX open source technologies, including upcoming HTTP/3 capabilities in NGINX Open Source. It has also worked on improving proxying and network capabilities in the NGINX Unit application server.

NGINX Application Platform: There are four new versions of products that build on NGINX Open Source, which were designed to consolidate 13 tools into one software platform, according to F5 Networks. The new versions of products include improved security and observability features in NGINX Plus, a new developer portal and API importing in the NGINX Controller API Management Module, improved analytics and configuration management in the NGINX Controller Load Balancing Module and the addition of custom resource definitions in NGINX Kubernetes Ingress Controller.

Arm and NS1: Arm and NGINX created Arm Neoverse-based tools for a range application and runs on Amazon EC2 A1 instances in the AWS Cloud. NGINX also introduced a new certified module that integrates NS1 global server load balancing with NGINX Plus.

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Security, management updates made to LogMeIn Bold360

The LogMeIn Bold360 suite has been updated to include new security controls and management tools and an updated workload organization feature. According to LogMeIn, the updates are meant to enable customer service teams to work faster and improve overall performance.

The full list of updates includes the following:

  • Knowledge management tools: The latest version of Bold360’s search optimizer has search and filter features on customer intents, the capability to create articles for unresolved intents within the search optimizer, and can add phrasings to an article from an unresolved intent. It also has a task-driven interface so users can manage unanswered, answered, channeled and muted intents.
  • Monitor view: Administrators can now see the content of live chats, chatbot engagements, emails, SMS texts and messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger.
  • Workload organization: There is a new chat flagging feature that will let agents mark an engagement in case they need to refer back to it for any reason. Supervisors can also filter the monitor view by agent flags to keep track of open engagements.
  • Security updates: Bold360 received ISO 27001 certification, meaning it met requirements for managing sensitive company information so that it remains secure. Additionally, LogMeIn added IP Whitelisting for Agent Logins, which enables admins to restrict which networks agents can log into the Bold360 web workspace from.

This is the latest in a series of updates to LogMeIn Bold360, including improvements to the chatbot in April and the addition of AI features for bots and agents in June. LogMeIn also has a portfolio of unified communication products, including GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Grasshopper, Grasshopper Connect and Jive.

LogMeIn Bold360 competes in a crowded costumer experience market, going head-to-head with tech giants such as Salesforce, which will release CRM platform Salesforce Customer 360 in November.

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Microsoft PowerApps pricing proposal puts users on edge

BOSTON — Microsoft’s proposed licensing changes for PowerApps, the cloud-based development tools for Office 365 and Dynamics 365, have confused users and made them fearful the software will become prohibitively expensive.

Last week, at Microsoft’s SPTechCon user conference, some organizations said the pricing changes, scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, were convoluted. Others said the new pricing — if it remains as previewed by Microsoft earlier this summer — would force them to limit the use of the mobile app development tools.

“We were at the point where we were going to be expanding our usage, instead of using it for small things, using it for larger things,” Katherine Prouty, a developer at the nonprofit Greater Lynn Senior Services, based in Lynn, Mass., said. “This is what our IT folks are always petrified of; [the proposed pricing change] is confirmation of their worst nightmares.”

This is what our IT folks are always petrified of; this is confirmation of their worst nightmares.
Katherine ProutyDeveloper, Greater Lynn Senior Services

Planned apps the nonprofit group might have to scrap if the pricing changes take effect include those for managing health and safety risks for its employees and clients in a regulatory-compliant way, and protecting the privacy of employees as they post to social media on behalf of the organization, Prouty said.

Developers weigh in

The latest pricing proposal primarily affects organizations building PowerApps that tap data sources outside of Office 365 and Dynamics 365. People connecting to Salesforce, for example, would pay $10 per user, per month, unless they opt to pay $40 per user, per month for unlimited use of data connectors to third-party apps.

The new pricing would take effect even if customers were only connecting Office 365 to Dynamics 365 or vice versa. That additional cost for using apps they’re already paying for does not sit well with some customers, while others find the pricing scheme perplexing. 

“It’s all very convoluted right now,” said David Drever, senior manager at IT consultancy Protiviti, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Manufacturing and service companies that create apps using multiple data sources are among the businesses likely to pay a lot more in PowerApps licensing fees, said IT consultant Daniel Christian of PowerApps911, based in Maineville, Ohio.

Annual PowerApps pricing changes

However, pricing isn’t the only problem, Christian said. Microsoft’s yearly overhaul of PowerApps fees also contributes to customer handwringing over costs.

“Select [a pricing model] and stick with it,” he said. “I’m OK with change; we’ll manage it and figure it out. It’s the repetitive changes that bug me.”

Microsoft began restricting PowerApps access to outside data sources earlier this year, putting into effect changes announced last fall. The new policy required users to purchase a special PowerApps plan to connect to popular business applications such as Salesforce Chatter, GotoMeeting and Oracle Database. The coming changes as presented earlier this summer would take that one step further by introducing per-app fees and closing loopholes that were available on a plan that previously cost $7 per user per month.

Matt Wade, VP of client services at H3 Solutions Inc., based in Manassas, Va., said customers should watch Microsoft’s official PowerApps blog for future information that might clarify costs and influence possible tweaks to the final pricing model. H3 Solutions is the maker of AtBot, a platform for developing bots for Microsoft’s cloud-based applications.

“People who are in charge of administering Office 365 and the Power Platform need to be hyper-aware of what’s going on,” Wade said. “Follow the blog, comment, provide feedback — and do it respectfully.”

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Cisco adds UC headset management to IT console

Cisco has added headset management and analytics tools to the IT dashboard of its flagship on-premises telephony product. The move is part of a campaign to penetrate a corner of the unified communications market Cisco had previously ceded to hardware partners.

Cisco for years relied exclusively on vendors such as Poly (formerly Plantronics) and Jabra to provide customers with headsets for its desk phones and UC apps. In March 2018, Cisco released its headsets in an attempt to capture a slice of a market that Frost & Sullivan expects to exceed $2 billion by 2024.

The new UC headset management tools are a crucial part of Cisco’s sales pitch. Unlike competitors that specialize only in endpoints, Cisco also makes the telecommunications products that its headsets are used with, allowing Cisco to include a more comprehensive set of analytics and management tools in a single dashboard.

A recent update to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), an on-premises and hosted IP-based telephony system, added headset management capabilities to the same dashboard that IT administrators already use to troubleshoot call quality issues and other Cisco phones.

IT administrators can use the console to update the firmware of Cisco headsets or alter settings for volume, audio bandwidth and wireless range. Admins can perform the tasks for individuals or groups of employees all at once. The dashboard also provides an inventory of headsets that includes non-Cisco devices.

The tools are not revolutionary. Most major hardware vendors have developed software for managing endpoints that provide a similar level of control. Businesses are coming to expect these types of consoles as they buy headsets in increasing numbers.

The latest tools are available now in CUCM version 12.5(1)SU1. Later this year, businesses still using version 11.5(1)SU7 will be able to access them without updating to the latest edition of CUCM.

Cisco’s new headset management technology is only for CUCM. The company has yet to bring the same features to the IT dashboard of Webex, a cloud-based calling, messaging and meetings app.

Cisco offers four lines of headsets for office and contact center workers, a mix of wired and DECT wireless devices. The vendor is planning to release Bluetooth-enabled headsets in the coming months.

Cisco is not the only new entrant in the headset market. Longtime UC rival Avaya released a line of headsets in early 2019 as part of a broader campaign to boost hardware sales. Around the same time, Avaya launched its first open-SIP phones, which work with the communications platform of any vendor.

Professional headset revenues were projected to increase at an average annual rate of 8% between 2017 and 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan. The increased demand stems in part from the growing popularity of cloud UC and softphones, which let users place and receive calls through their computer.

“Cisco’s newly introduced headset management tools follow the moves of the leading professional headset vendors in the space,” said Alaa Sayeed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “It is surely a positive step forward from a company that is visibly investing in the pro headset arena as part of its broad enterprise endpoints portfolio.”

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Data ethics issues create minefields for analytics teams

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — AI technologies and other advanced analytics tools make it easier for data analysts to uncover potentially valuable information on customers, patients and other people. But, too often, consultant Donald Farmer said, organizations don’t ask themselves a basic ethical question before launching an analytics project: Should we?

In the age of GDPR and like-minded privacy laws, though, ignoring data ethics isn’t a good business practice for companies, Farmer warned in a roundtable discussion he led at the 2019 Pacific Northwest BI & Analytics Summit. IT and analytics teams need to be guided by a framework of ethics rules and motivated by management to put those rules into practice, he said.

Otherwise, a company runs the risk of crossing the line in mining and using personal data — and, typically, not as the result of a nefarious plan to do so, according to Farmer, principal of analytics consultancy TreeHive Strategy in Woodinville, Wash. “It’s not that most people are devious — they’re just led blindly into things,” he said, adding that analytics applications often have “unforeseen consequences.”

For example, he noted that smart TVs connected to home networks can monitor whether people watch the ads in shows they’ve recorded and then go to an advertiser’s website. But acting on that information for marketing purposes might strike some prospective customers as creepy, he said.

Shawn Rogers, senior director of analytic strategy and communications-related functions at vendor Tibco Software Inc., pointed to a trial program that retailer Nordstrom launched in 2012 to track the movements of shoppers in its stores via the Wi-Fi signals from their cell phones. Customers complained about the practice after Nordstrom disclosed what it was doing, and the company stopped the tracking in 2013.

“I think transparency, permission and context are important in this area,” Rogers said during the session on data ethics at the summit, an annual event that brings together a small group of consultants and vendor executives to discuss BI, analytics and data management trends.

AI algorithms add new ethical questions

Being transparent about the use of analytics data is further complicated now by the growing adoption of AI tools and machine learning algorithms, Farmer and other participants said. Increasingly, companies are augmenting — or replacing — human involvement in the analytics process with “algorithmic engagement,” as Farmer put it. But automated algorithms are often a black box to users.

Mike Ferguson, managing director of U.K.-based consulting firm Intelligent Business Strategies Ltd., said the legal department at a financial services company he works with killed a project aimed at automating the loan approval process because the data scientists who developed the deep learning models to do the analytics couldn’t fully explain how the models worked.

We’ve gone from a bottom-up approach of everybody grabbing data and doing something with it to more of a top-down approach.
Mike FergusonManaging director, Intelligent Business Strategies Ltd.

And that isn’t an isolated incident in Ferguson’s experience. “There’s a loggerheads battle going on now in organizations between the legal and data science teams,” he said, adding that the specter of hefty fines for GDPR violations is spurring corporate lawyers to vet analytics applications more closely. As a result, data scientists are focusing more on explainable AI to try to justify the use of algorithms, he said.

The increased vetting is driven more by legal concerns than data ethics issues per se, Ferguson said in an interview after the session. But he thinks that the two are intertwined and that the ability of analytics teams to get unfettered access to data sets is increasingly in question for both legal and ethical reasons.

“It’s pretty clear that legal is throwing their weight around on data governance,” he said. “We’ve gone from a bottom-up approach of everybody grabbing data and doing something with it to more of a top-down approach.”

Jill Dyché, an independent consultant who’s based in Los Angeles, said she expects explainable AI to become “less of an option and more of a mandate” in organizations over the next 12 months.

Code of ethics not enough on data analytics

Staying on the right side of the data ethics line takes more than publishing a corporate code of ethics for employees to follow, Farmer said. He cited Enron’s 64-page ethics code, which didn’t stop the energy company from engaging in the infamous accounting fraud scheme that led to bankruptcy and the sale of its assets. Similarly, he sees such codes having little effect in preventing ethical missteps on analytics.

“Just having a code of ethics does absolutely nothing,” Farmer said. “It might even get in the way of good ethical practices, because people just point to it [and say], ‘We’ve got that covered.'”

Instead, he recommended that IT and analytics managers take a rules-based approach to data ethics that can be applied to all three phases of analytics projects: the upfront research process, design and development of analytics applications, and deployment and use of the applications.

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Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI going hard after Salesforce

Microsoft and Salesforce are attacking each other again. Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI tools are coming that will beef up sales, marketing and — most of all — service and support, unveiled the day after Salesforce announced Quip Slides, a PowerPoint competitor.

Salesforce appears to be annexing Microsoft’s business-productivity territory, while Microsoft is rolling its forces deeper into Salesforce’s CRM domain by more tightly connecting Teams collaboration with its CRM suite, freshened up with new AI capabilities.

“You’ve got Salesforce announcing Quip Slides, and you’ve got Microsoft doing a whole bunch of integration between Teams and Dynamics … who’s going after whose market?” said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research.

In a media briefing ahead of its Ignite user conference, the tech giant took some direct shots at rival Salesforce in introducing Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI tools that buttress CRM processes. Of particular note was Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service, which adds out-of-the-box virtual agents.

Assistive AI for contact centers

Who’s going after whose market?
Alan Lepofskyanalyst, Constellation Research

Virtual agents can take several forms, two of which include chatbots that do the talking on behalf of humans, or assistive bots that prompt humans with suggested answers for engaging live with customers either on voice or text channels.

New Microsoft bots, built on Azure Cognitive Services, won’t require the code-intensive development or consultant services that other vendors’ CRM tools do, claimed Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate vice president of business applications and global industry. She singled out Salesforce as a CRM competitor in her comments.

“Many vendors offer [virtual agents] in a way that is very cumbersome for organizations to adopt,” Taylor said. “It requires a large services engagement; Salesforce partners with IBM Watson to be able to deliver this.”

Either way, the bots will require training. Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI-powered bots can be trained by call center managers, asserted Navrina Singh, Microsoft AI principal product lead, during a demo.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s taking on Salesforce with new CRM AI tools

The bots can tap into phone log transcriptions, email and other contact center data stores to shape answers to customer problems and take some of the workload off of overburdened contact center agents, Singh said.

The virtual agent introductions were significant enough that Microsoft brought out CEO Satya Nadella for a cameo with Singh during the briefing.

“The thing that’s most exciting to me,” Nadella said, “… is that [Microsoft] can make every company out there an AI-first company. They already have customers, they already have data. If you can democratize the use of AI tools, every company can harness the power of AI.”

Other Dynamics 365 AI tools for CRM

Sales and marketing staffs get their own Dynamics 365 AI infusion, too.

Microsoft brings Dynamics 365 AI for Sales in line with Salesforce Einstein tools that use AI to prioritize lead pipelines and sales-team performance management.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights plumbs marketing, social media and other customer engagement data to improve customer relations and “engage in relevant conversations and respond faster to trends,” Taylor wrote in a blog post announcing the new system.

While the Microsoft moves appear effective, industry observers questioned whether they can Microsoft make an impression in Salesforce’s massive market footprint, even if they are easier to use, more economical and more intuitive than Salesforce’s.

Lepofsky said he isn’t sure, because of the sheer numbers. The 150,000-strong Dreamforce user conference is at the same time as Ignite, and the latter will likely draw only about a sixth of the Dreamforce crowd. And Salesforce likely won’t be resting on its AI credentials either.

“I think you can speculate that Salesforce will also be talking about AI improvements at Dreamforce, so perhaps it’s not that differentiating for Dynamics,” Lepofsky said.

While Microsoft announced no release date for its AI tools, a preview site will go online this fall, Singh said.