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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.

PagerDuty incident response tools loop in business stakeholders


The scope of PagerDuty incident response tools widened this week, with the addition of two products that give business…

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stakeholders visibility into incident response.

PagerDuty Visibility offers corporate managers a view into ongoing incidents as IT mobilizes to address them. This access helps business units react effectively to external customer concerns about the incidents, and it frees up IT first responders to address the incident, rather than update business stakeholders on the situation.

“As part of the triage team, we want to take care of the business side. But we don’t want them coming into our conference bridge asking for an update when we could be spending that time on triage,” said Ben Hwang, cloud automation leader at GE Digital, General Electric’s software engineering division, which uses PagerDuty and helped test PagerDuty Visibility in its alpha and beta stages. “PagerDuty Visibility is better than the internal tools we’ve been using, and our IT organization has been waiting for it to launch.”

Another product released this week, PagerDuty Analytics, is a counterpart to Visibility that offers business managers a long-term view of incident response trends in cost and average time to resolution. Hwang said this product also appeals to him, but would require wider adoption of PagerDuty across more GE Digital teams to be truly effective. Many of these teams are in flux while GE plans to spin them off.

These products are part of a trend in IT incident response that fits into broader shifts in corporate thinking around IT service management. Atlassian adjusted its incident response tools this month with the acquisition of OpsGenie and the launch of Jira Ops, which also offers visibility into ongoing incidents for business stakeholders. Splunk also expanded its incident response offerings with the acquisition of VictorOps in June 2018.

IT shops want PagerDuty incident response flexibility

PagerDuty users are intrigued by the company’s additional incident response tools, but they said the core triage product also needs work to keep pace with complex organizational structures that arise from microservices architectures.

At SPS Commerce, for example, PagerDuty should notify database teams when an incident affects certain apps with database dependencies, but the company also wants to track those incidents according to the service they’re part of, said Andy Domeier, director of technology operations at the communications network for supply chain and logistics businesses in Minneapolis.

[PagerDuty Visibility] has a lot of great potential … but we pulled out of the beta because of the issues with service alignment.
Andy Domeierdirector of technology operations, SPS Commerce

However, today, PagerDuty incident response notifies all members of a particular application or service team even if it only must route the notification to the database staff.

“Right now, we rely on our team in India to route notifications to the database team,” Domeier said. “We’d like to be able to override escalation policies for certain integrations so that they’re still associated with a certain application, but only go to the database team.”

PagerDuty Visibility and Analytics look interesting, but until that more basic notification-routing issue is solved, SPS will struggle to adopt those capabilities, Domeier said.

“We provided early feedback for PagerDuty Visibility, and it has a lot of great potential,” he said. “But we pulled out of the beta because of the issues with service alignment.”

GE Digital’s Hwang said he’s had a similar problem with escalation policies and alignment with distributed teams. But he added that PagerDuty Visibility offers more flexibility with escalation policies he hopes will also find its way into other PagerDuty products.

That is the plan. PagerDuty Visibility introduces business services and a service dependence hierarchy, which will eventually be added to the core platform for alerting and escalation, a PagerDuty spokesperson said in an email.

PagerDuty has also reconfigured its products into new packages that were previously offered as one platform, but are now split into three major product tiers:

  • PagerDuty Platform Team is for single teams within larger organizations.
  • PagerDuty Business is for multiple teams, and it also includes more advanced scalability, high availability and security features.
  • PagerDuty Enterprise bundles in products that are now add-ons for the lower tiers, including Modern Incident Response, Event Intelligence and PagerDuty Visibility.

PagerDuty Analytics is a separate add-on for all levels.

Modern Incident Response, which provides visibility into ongoing incidents, overlaps somewhat with PagerDuty Visibility. And Event Intelligence, which uses analytics to offer triage recommendations, overlaps with PagerDuty Analytics.

The chief differences between these tools are their target audiences, PagerDuty officials said. Modern Incident Response and Event Intelligence are aimed at incident response teams that handle triage, while Visibility and Analytics are meant for business stakeholders within the wider organization.

Unleashing ESL students’ potential with Microsoft Translator  |

I am a reading specialist, and my main goal is to provide students with tools to overcome barriers to literacy to promote strong readers, writers and critical thinkers. As an educator, I am always looking for ways to innovate my teaching practices. My lessons with English language learners (ELL) overseas challenge me to not only use best techniques in literacy instruction, but to also stay up-to-date on the most current technologies that will help meet their needs from thousands of miles away.

This past year, I started teaching high school students from China who hope to study in the United States. Due to the vast distance between me and my students, we use Skype to meet for class. This enabled us to meet from anywhere at any time. As a former ELL student myself, I can relate with my students’ need to visualize content as it is essential for comprehension. Therefore, I have always typed out important information, such as key vocabulary or phrases, that I want to emphasize during lessons. The Share Screen feature has made it possible for students to follow the lesson by looking at a PowerPoint or OneNote notebook with charts and notes. Often, however, the language barrier can be impeding, regardless of how many ways I may try to explain the meaning of a word or concept.

Recently, I began to work with James, an ELL student with a strong background in English grammar, vocabulary and reading accuracy. Yet, he struggled with verbal communication and comprehension. During our Skype lessons, it quickly became clear that James was not fully engaged in our lessons. It took him a while to respond to my questions or prompts throughout the lessons. Even with visuals and written instructions, James really struggled to understand concepts and was becoming frustrated. This led me to modify my lessons. Instead of working on higher level thinking in our discussions, we had to work on basic comprehension. I needed to find a way for him to follow what I was saying throughout the lessons.

During this time, I was attending a technology conference (International Society for Technology in Education—ISTE) in Chicago, and I learned about Microsoft Translator. As I tried out the translator demo, I realized that this was not like other translation applications. Microsoft Translator (available on PowerPoint, as an app for mobile devices, as well as on the web) documents your dialogue as you speak into your microphone and provides live captions on the screen of anyone that is part of the conversation. In addition, anyone who joins the conversation (from one person to a large group of people) can choose which language they wish the information to be translated into. The most exciting feature for me was the one that allowed you to read information in English and in another language, simultaneously. I became so excited by the possibilities that this would provide for my students that I decided to try it the next day during my morning lesson with James.

While working with James using the Microsoft Translator, I learned more about him in that hour than I had in the prior month of lessons. I learned that James is a visual learner, and that he learns best when he can follow what is being said. I also learned that James is a strong thinker who can look at concepts abstractly, but he struggles finding the right words to express his ideas. For the first time, I saw James smile during our lessons. His high-level of engagement was evident as he quickly responded to my questions and eagerly waited for my responses. I noticed his eyes carefully following the captions on the screen to make sure he was not missing anything. By the end of this transformative lesson, James told me that he could not wait to share the Microsoft Translator app with his parents, who do not speak English, and his friends. He said, “Ms. Mata, the translator helped me feel so much more comfortable during my lesson, and I even learned new vocabulary!”

During our next lesson, we started a young adult novel. As we read together, he could see the captions in English and Chinese. Throughout the chapter, we stopped and discussed important ideas and even symbols in the story. Because he was able to understand what was being discussed, he was also able to respond — in English — and point out different important symbols in the story. At certain points in the lesson, I asked him to share symbols from his own culture and to explain them in Chinese. More recently, I asked James to challenge himself by trying to use only the English captions without the Chinese ones. Though this has been more difficult, he has been able to follow our conversations and effectively communicate while using this tool to help him stay engaged throughout the lesson.

I wonder how often students are not seen for who they really are and are instead perceived as disengaged and unmotivated. Literacy barriers that stem from learning disabilities or lack of fluency lead to frustration and, sometimes, negative behaviors in the classroom. As educators, it is our job to find ways to highlight students’ strengths, regardless of these barriers. Tools such as Microsoft Translator make it that much easier for students to understand ideas and express their own, thus alleviating frustrations in the classroom.

By using Skype and Microsoft Translator together, a whole new layer of James was revealed, and though his journey to English fluency continues, his progress has been remarkable. With this new tool, James is more capable to take on the English language than ever before. As we head into a new school year, I encourage other educators to take risks and try innovative techniques, tools and approaches. Microsoft Translator is just one of many incredible learning tools available to educators and students. Time and again, I have witnessed that while integrating new technologies may be an adjustment at first, their effect on student learning will positively impact students’ confidence and ensure their success in the classroom and beyond.

For more information on Microsoft Education tools for the classroom, visit the Microsoft Educator Community at https://education.microsoft.com.

SmartBear-Zephyr deal spotlights software quality tools shake-up

Consolidation continues to reshape the software quality tools landscape as vendors seek to wean app dev teams off legacy tools for digital transformation initiatives.

The latest shake-up is SmartBear’s acquisition this week of Zephyr, a San Jose, Calif., maker of real-time test management tools, primarily for Atlassian’s Jira issue tracking tool, and for continuous testing and DevOps. This follows the Somerville, Mass., company’s deal in May to acquire Hiptest, in Besancon, France, to enhance continuous testing for Agile and DevOps teams.

Highlight on support for Atlassian’s Jira

Atlassian, Slack and GitHub provide three of the top ecosystems that developers use for ancillary development tools, said Ryan Lloyd, SmartBear’s vice president of products. Atlassian Marketplace’s overall revenue this past year is $200M, according to Atlassian financial reports. Zephyr for Jira is the top-grossing app on the Atlassian Marketplace, with more than $5 million in revenue since 2012.

Ryan Lloyd, SmartBearRyan Lloyd

Zephyr strengthens SmartBear’s portfolio with native test management inside Jira, and the Zephyr Enterprise product represents a modern replacement for Quality Center, HPE’s former software now owned by Micro Focus, Lloyd said.

Meanwhile, Hiptest supports behavior-driven development, and overlaps a bit with Zephyr, said Thomas Murphy, a Gartner analyst in Spokane, Wash.

SmartBear’s portfolio of software quality tools also includes SoapUI, TestComplete, SwaggerHub, CrossBrowserTesting, Collaborator and AlertSite.

Girding for the competition

SmartBear’s moves echo those of other vendors in the software quality tools space as they fill out their portfolios to attract customers from legacy test suites, such as Micro Focus’ Quality Center and Mercury Interactive, to their platforms, Murphy said. They also want to tap into Jira’s wide adoption and teams that seek to shift to more agile practices in testing.

Other examples in the past year are Austrian firm Tricentis’ acquisition of QASymphony, and Idera, in Houston, which acquired the TestRail and Ranorex Studio test management and automation tools from German firm Gurock Software and Austria’s Ranorex GmbH, respectively.

[Software test vendors] have different tool stacks for different types of users … [but] the more you can drive consistent look and feel that is best, especially as you push from teams up to the enterprise.
Thomas Murphyanalyst, Gartner

However, vendors that assemble tools from acquisitions often end up with overlaps in features and functions, as well as very different user experience environments, Murphy said.

“They have a little feeling that they have different tool stacks for different types of users,” he said. “But I believe the more you can drive consistent look and feel that is best, especially as you push from teams up to the enterprise.”

Test management is a key part of a company’s ability to develop, test and deploy quality software at scale. Modern software quality tools must help organizations transition into a digital transformation, yet continue to adapt to the requirements of cloud scale companies.

“Organizations must get better at automation, they must have tools that support them with figuring out testable requirements on through to code quality testing, unit testing, exploratory testing, functional, automation and performance testing,” Murphy said. “This story has to be built around a continuous quality approach.”

Free Kubernetes security tools broaden enterprise choices

Kubernetes security tools have proliferated in 2018, and their growing numbers reflect increased maturity around container security among enterprise IT shops.

The latest additions to this tool category include a feature in Google Kubernetes Engine called Binary Authorization, which can create whitelists of container images and code that are authorized to run on GKE clusters. All other attempts to launch unauthorized apps will fail, and the GKE feature will document them.

Binary Authorization is in public beta. Google will also make the feature available for on-premises deployments through updates to Kritis, an open source project focused on deployment-time policy enforcement.

Aqua Security also added to the arsenal of Kubernetes security tools at IT pros’ disposal with an open source utility, called kube-hunter, which can be used for penetration testing of Kubernetes clusters. The tool performs passive scans of Kubernetes clusters to look for common vulnerabilities, such as dashboard and management server ports that were left open. These seemingly obvious errors have taken down high-profile companies, such as Tesla, Aviva and Gemalto.

Users can also perform active penetration tests with kube-hunter. In this scenario, the tool attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities it finds as if an attacker has gained access to Kubernetes cluster servers, which may highlight additional vulnerabilities in the environment.

Fernando Montenegro, analyst, 451 ResearchFernando Montenegro

These tools join several other Kubernetes security offerings introduced in 2018 — from Docker Enterprise Edition‘s encryption and secure container registry features for the container orchestration platform to Kubernetes support in tools from Qualys and Alert Logic. The growth of Kubernetes security tools indicates the container security conversation has shifted away from ways to secure individual container images and hosts to security at the level of the application and Kubernetes cluster.

“Containers are not foolproof, but container security is good enough for most users at this point,” said Fernando Montenegro, analyst with 451 Research. “The interest in the industry shifts now to how to do security at the orchestration layer and secure broader container deployments.”

GKE throws down the gauntlet for third-party container orchestration tools

The question for users, as cloud providers add these features, is, why go for a third-party tool when the cloud provider does this kind of thing themselves?
Fernando Montenegroanalyst, 451 Research

Google’s Binary Authorization feature isn’t unique; other on-premises and hybrid cloud Kubernetes tools, such as Docker Enterprise Edition, Mesosphere DC/OS and Red Hat OpenShift, offer similar capabilities to prevent unauthorized container launches on Kubernetes clusters.

However, third-party vendors once again find themselves challenged by a free and open source alternative from Google. Just as Kubernetes supplanted other container orchestration utilities, these additional Kubernetes management features further reduce third-party tools’ competitiveness.

GKE Binary Authorization is one of the first instances of a major cloud provider adding such a feature natively in its Kubernetes service, Montenegro said.

“[A gatekeeper for Kubernetes] is not something nobody’s thought of before, but I haven’t seen much done by other cloud providers on this front yet,” Montenegro said. AWS and Microsoft Azure will almost certainly follow suit.

“The question for users, as cloud providers add these features, is, why go for a third-party tool when the cloud provider does this kind of thing themselves?” Montenegro said.

Aqua Security’s penetration testing tool is unlikely to unseat full-fledged penetration testing tools enterprises use, such as Nmap and Burp Suite, but its focus on Kubernetes vulnerabilities specifically with a free offering will attract some users, Montenegro said.

Aqua Security and its main competitor, Twistlock, also must stay ahead of Kubernetes security features as they’re incorporated into broader enterprise platforms from Google, Cisco and others, Montenegro said.

BP Logix BPM tool packs AI features in latest release

Low-code BPM development tools today already help developers simplify and speed up business process application development. The next step is to make those apps smarter.

To that end, BP Logix, a business process management (BPM) company in Vista, Calif., recently introduced version 5.0 of its Process Director that adds AI features to enable predictive analysis, enhanced UIs and journals for configurable collaboration.

Rather than present complex AI features, Process Director 5.0 offers a set of basic machine learning tools that the average app developer can use, such as a point-and-click graphical interfaces that guide configuration processes and display results of analytics, with no coding required.

Embedding intelligence into business applications requires specialized knowledge and teams of data scientists, said Charles Araujo, principal analyst for Intellyx, a consulting firm in Glens Falls, N.Y. Process Director 5.0’s blend of AI and low-code features brings predictive application processes to nontechnical users.

“The value Process Director 5.0 delivers is less about features, per se, and more about accessibility,” Araujo said.

AI inside

The AI tools inside Process Director 5.0 enable machine learning, sentiment analysis, capture and expression of dissimilar events and conditions in a single state and configurable collaboration. The company also added UI features for iterative list search, calendar views, and inline HTML and text editing.

“AI and machine learning create prediction models that have been missing from BPM,” said Neil Ward-Dutton, research director for MWD Advisors, a U.K.-based IT consulting firm. With AI, the application learns from past history, identifies trends and makes recommendations for decisions.

As an example, Ward-Dutton pointed to how AI capabilities can help with a loan request by identifying factors that make the applicant and the loan’s purpose a low or high risk. Combined data mining and machine learning tools aggregate information about previous loan applications and current market conditions to help the loan officer make a decision.

AI and machine learning create prediction models that have been missing from BPM platforms.
Neil Ward-Duttonresearch director, MWD Advisors

Araujo said he sees businesses with reliable data on actions and outcomes adopt AI-enabled, predictive-type applications quickly and with good results. Developers can use that legacy data to build models that predict behavior of application users who meet certain criteria and perform specific actions. With these functions, the tool recommends a best action and prioritizes options that are presented to the user, so the application feels more intuitive or takes actions automatically.

Applying AI for nontechnical users, even with accessible tools, requires a change in traditional BPM project approaches. Araujo said project teams will have to think like a data scientist.

“Applying intelligence to applications requires imagination,” he said. “Developers need to think about application usage patterns and imagine ways to use predictive capabilities to meet users’ needs.”

“That’s not the way we’ve historically approached applications, particularly business-process-based ones,” Araujo added.

Process Director 5.0 is generally available, with versions for both cloud and on premises. In addition to AI and low-code/no-code development tools, the platform includes traditional BPM capabilities for compliance automation, process modeling, multifactor authentication and other standard BPM features.

Facebook targets WhatsApp business messaging at large enterprises

Facebook’s WhatsApp is giving large enterprises tools for communicating with its more than 1 billion users. It’s the latest social messaging channel to enter the contact center, but analysts say most businesses don’t need to rush to adopt such platforms just yet.

Large businesses can use the WhatsApp Business API to integrate a WhatsApp messaging channel with contact center and customer relationship management software. Companies will then be able to create WhatsApp profiles and add WhatsApp click-to-chat buttons to websites or mobile apps.

WhatsApp plans to charge businesses for sending notifications to customers through the app, such as order receipts, shipping updates and boarding passes. The vendor will also make companies pay if they fail to respond to a customer inquiry within 24 hours.

The beta release of the API this month is the Facebook-owned platform’s latest initiative to connect customers and businesses. Earlier this year, the company launched WhatsApp Business, a separate app within which small businesses can create profiles and message with customers. 

WhatsApp is also deepening ties to the social platform of its parent company, Facebook. Businesses using the new API will be able to create Facebook ads that invite customers to message them through WhatsApp.

Facebook would be wise to consider integrating WhatsApp business messaging with its enterprise intranet and collaboration platform, Workplace by Facebook, said Phil Edholm, president of PKE Consulting LLC. That would make the offering more unique, he said.

“From just a pure channel perspective, having WhatsApp as a channel from [consumer] to [business] is interesting, but it’s just another channel,” Edholm said.

WhatsApp business messaging vs. Apple Business Chat

WhatsApp business messaging will rival Apple Business Chat, which lets customers and business interact through iMessages. WhatsApp is particularly popular among Android users.

However, WhatsApp’s offering doesn’t seem to have as many capabilities as Apple’s, nor does WhatsApp seem to have as clear a vision as Apple, said Michael Finneran, president of the advisory firm DBrn Associates Inc. in Hewlett Neck, N.Y.

Unlike WhatsApp, which must be downloaded from an app store, Apple Business Chat is available natively to all iOS users and lets customers remain anonymous when contacting a business. The iMessaging interface also has more productive and more interactive features than WhatsApp business messaging, such as the ability to place orders.

Still, businesses have some time before they need to adopt either platform, Finneran said. Use of Apple Business Chat has so far been limited to a handful of well-known banks, retailers, hotels and internet businesses.

“Unless digital engagement is a key attribute of your business, you can probably wait on Apple Business Chat,” Finneran said. “Everyone can wait on WhatsApp.”

When businesses do decide to adopt additional social messaging channels, they should seek help from communications platform as a service (CPaaS) vendors such as Twilio, Nexmo and Smooch, said Tsahi Levent-Levi, an independent analyst.  

Businesses shouldn’t attempt to juggle too many communications channels on their own, mainly because the APIs for many of these platforms are new and could change, Levent-Levi said.

“You can’t rely on a single channel because the APIs might change, and the way you interact with customers might change,” Levent-Levi said. That necessitates an omnichannel approach, he said. “And you can’t do it on your own, even if you’re big.”

InsightSquared unveils marketing analytics tools

BOSTON — InsightSquared unveiled new marketing analytics tools aimed at providing better insights to how marketing is getting leads into play and how they translate to sales.

“There’s natural tension between sales and marketing,” said Matisha Ladiwala, general manager of marketing analytics at InsightSquared, based in Boston. Ladiwala spoke to an audience of about 500 — mostly customers — at the data visualization and reporting vendor’s second annual Ramp 2018 conference at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel.

InsightSquared executives at the conference on Aug. 7 said bringing together marketing, sales and service departments — collectively known as revenue ops — is its main business goal, and the new marketing analytics tools would help unlock those hidden insights.

Measuring marketing revenue

The marketing analytics tools are intended to relieve some of the tension often found between those departments by providing interactive, current dashboards that display how marketing campaigns are doing and when and how many leads entered the sales funnel. The new tools also include more planning and reporting capabilities.

InsightSquared executive Matisha Ladiwals speaking at Ramp, the vendor's annual user conference
Matisha Ladiwala, GM for marketing analytics at InsightSquared, demos new marketing analytics tools.

“It’s a great way to build trust and credibility with other departments and optimize which marketing campaigns are giving you results,” Ladiwala said. “The dashboards are there to give you the confidence that you’re investing in the right things.”

Most InsightSquared customers at the conference hadn’t yet seen the marketing analytics software in action to gauge how it could affect revenue operations or how well it brings different departments together. But a few customers used the marketing analytics tools in beta, and while speaking onstage at the conference, they said the software helped find key insights that were often somewhat hard to unearth.

The marketing analytics tools are commercially available now, according to InsightSquared.

Automation key to efficiency

There’s natural tension between sales and marketing.
Matisha Ladiwalageneral manager of marketing analytics at InsightSquared

“Aggregating that information from those areas was very manual and time-consuming,” said Guido Bartolacci, manager of acquisition and strategy for New Breed, a marketing and sales agency based in Winooski, Vt. “We were taking all this time pulling together information, rather than analyzing it.”

Bartolacci said New Breed was having difficulty bringing together its own information from its disparate sources, including Google Analytics and Salesforce.

By using the marketing analytics tools, New Breed was able to measure the value of marketing processes and help its sales department focus on the right leads, he said.

“What we’ve been able to do with a marketing-generated revenue [report], we can tell how much revenue marketing is creating for the bottom line,” Bartolacci said. “It’s been great for sales and marketing and helps unify our teams to work more efficiently. Marketing exists to drive revenue, but these reports help us understand how and why that happens.”

Dashboards help sales enablement

Another customer, ThriveHive, a digital marketing company based in Quincy, Mass., is using InsightSquared’s marketing analytics software to help connect its disparate marketing and sales tools.

“We have a complicated marketing and sales stack,” said Adam Blake, ThriveHive’s chief marketing officer. “Every week, I’d make my team go through a day of hell by compiling data from all these different platforms and put them in Excel.”

By doing those reports manually, Blake said ThriveHive employees often wouldn’t know if something went wrong with a prospect until it was too late. By switching to live reporting and dashboards with the InsightSquared marketing analytics tools, ThriveHive was able to find more insights in its prospect funnel.

 “We now have dashboards showing how quickly sales reps follow up with leads,” Blake said.

Data integration tools: SnapLogic update rewards solution selling

SnapLogic, a provider of application and data integration tools, has revamped its channel partner program, with an emphasis on solution selling.

The Partner Connect Program now features free sales and technical training, new deal referrals and reseller discounts, and a partner portal. SnapLogic said it will also offer incentives for creating and delivering offerings that combine SnapLogic with its technology partners. SnapLogic technology partners include Workday, Snowflake, Salesforce and Reltio.

“One of the big, overarching goals of [the SnapLogic partner program] refresh is … to focus much more on a solutions approach where we have our go-to-market partners building repeatable solutions based on SnapLogic and our technology partners,” said Rich Link, vice president of global channel sales and strategic alliances at SnapLogic, based in San Mateo, Calif.

SnapLogic described the application and data integration market as a $12 billion opportunity. Link added it is “a much different market than it has ever been before.”

“The interesting thing about our space is that, inherently, we are involved in multivendor projects,” Link said.

He also noted that integration, because of its role in digital transformation, is now receiving more attention. Partners can tap SnapLogic’s app and data integration tools to target customer projects involving data warehousing, data lakes, master data management, human capital management and customer relationship management.

SnapLogic currently works with about 40 channel partners, with about 10 to 15 that are “very active,” Link said. The company has been expanding the Partner Connect Program across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and it recently added about 11 partners in that market.

SnapLogic partners can expect to see a more formalized market development funds (MDF) program this year. “Today, we are doing [MDF] a little more ad hoc, and we want to formalize that by the end of the year,” Link said.

AllCloud enters North American market

AllCloud, a cloud solutions provider that launched in Israel in 2014, has entered the North American market with the acquisition of Figur8 Cloud Solutions.

Figur8 is a Salesforce partner, with operations in San Francisco, Toronto, New York City and Vancouver, B.C. AllCloud delivers its cloud solutions in the Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and NetSuite environments.

Eran Gil, CEO at AllCloud, said consolidation has “created a big void in the market for global boutique cloud solutions providers.”

Gil has firsthand consolidation experience. He co-founded Cloud Sherpas, a cloud consulting services provider that was acquired by Accenture in 2015. Gil pointed to IBM’s purchase of Bluewolf and Wipro’s acquisition of Appirio as other examples of cloud solutions and SaaS consulting shakeout.

“Having seen that [consolidation] and also having seen the significant growth rate coming from the public cloud space, from the vendors we are very close to, we believe there is an even bigger opportunity than in the past,” Gil said.

Gil’s latest cloud consulting venture differs in some ways from the Cloud Sherpas experience. While that company focused on the SaaS layer, AllCloud focuses on IaaS and PaaS, in addition to SaaS, he noted.

“The big opportunity … is providing clients a more holistic solutions approach,” Gil said.

Other news

  • HYCU bolstered its partner program for selling its Data Protection for Nutanix The program now features a simplified deal registration program, co-branded marketing tools and campaign support, and a new partner portal, the vendor said.
  • FileCloud, an enterprise file sync-and-share (EFSS) vendor, unveiled a channel program for managed services providers and resellers. The program provides support, such as special partner pricing, for offering the vendor’s EFSS product, FileCloud Online.
  • Oblong Industries, a collaboration technology vendor, inked a distribution deal with ScanSource. Under the agreement, ScanSource will distribute Oblong’s immersive collaboration platform, Mezzanine, bundled with LG Electronics’ commercial displays and Cisco Webex Room Kit Series.
  • JetStream Software said its cloud migration tool, JetStream Migrate, is now generally available. Jetstream Migrate is designed for cloud and managed services providers that target large enterprises, the company said.
  • OneLogin, an identity and access management vendor, named Matt Hurley as its vice president of global channels, strategic alliances and professional services. Hurley joins OneLogin from Juniper Networks, where he held numerous channel-related roles.

Facial recognition technology: The need for public regulation and corporate responsibility – Microsoft on the Issues

All tools can be used for good or ill. Even a broom can be used to sweep the floor or hit someone over the head. The more powerful the tool, the greater the benefit or damage it can cause. The last few months have brought this into stark relief when it comes to computer-assisted facial recognition – the ability of a computer to recognize people’s faces from a photo or through a camera. This technology can catalog your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike.

Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression. These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products. In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses. In a democratic republic, there is no substitute for decision making by our elected representatives regarding the issues that require the balancing of public safety with the essence of our democratic freedoms. Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act.

We’ve set out below steps that we are taking, and recommendations we have for government regulation.

First, some context

Facial recognition technology has been advancing rapidly over the past decade. If you’ve ever seen a suggestion on Facebook or another social media platform to tag a face with a suggested name, you’ve seen facial recognition at work. A wide variety of tech companies, Microsoft included, have utilized this technology the past several years to turn time-consuming work to catalog photos into something both instantaneous and useful.

So, what is changing now? In part it’s the ability of computer vision to get better and faster in recognizing people’s faces. In part this improvement reflects better cameras, sensors and machine learning capabilities. It also reflects the advent of larger and larger datasets as more images of people are stored online. This improvement also reflects the ability to use the cloud to connect all this data and facial recognition technology with live cameras that capture images of people’s faces and seek to identify them – in more places and in real time.

Advanced technology no longer stands apart from society; it is becoming deeply infused in our personal and professional lives. This means the potential uses of facial recognition are myriad. At an elementary level, you might use it to catalog and search your photos, but that’s just the beginning. Some uses are already improving security for computer users, like recognizing your face instead of requiring a password to access many Windows laptops or iPhones, and in the future a device like an automated teller machine.

Some emerging uses are both positive and potentially even profound. Imagine finding a young missing child by recognizing her as she is being walked down the street. Imagine helping the police to identify a terrorist bent on destruction as he walks into the arena where you’re attending a sporting event. Imagine a smartphone camera and app that tells a person who is blind the name of the individual who has just walked into a room to join a meeting.

But other potential applications are more sobering. Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge. Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech. Imagine the stores of a shopping mall using facial recognition to share information with each other about each shelf that you browse and product you buy, without asking you first. This has long been the stuff of science fiction and popular movies – like “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State” and even “1984” – but now it’s on the verge of becoming possible.

Perhaps as much as any advance, facial recognition raises a critical question: what role do we want this type of technology to play in everyday society?

The issues become even more complicated when we add the fact that facial recognition is advancing quickly but remains far from perfect. As reported widely in recent months, biases have been found in the performance of several fielded face recognition technologies. The technologies worked more accurately for white men than for white women and were more accurate in identifying persons with lighter complexions than people of color. Researchers across the tech sector are working overtime to address these challenges and significant progress is being made. But as important research has demonstrated, deficiencies remain. The relative immaturity of the technology is making the broader public questions even more pressing.

Even if biases are addressed and facial recognition systems operate in a manner deemed fair for all people, we will still face challenges with potential failures. Facial recognition, like many AI technologies, typically have some rate of error even when they operate in an unbiased way. And the issues relating to facial recognition go well beyond questions of bias themselves, raising critical questions about our fundamental freedoms.

Politics meets Silicon Valley

In recent weeks, the politics of the United States have become more intertwined with these technology developments on the West Coast. One week in the middle of June put the issues raised by facial recognition technology in bold relief for me and other company leaders at Microsoft. As the country was transfixed by the controversy surrounding the separation of immigrant children from their families at the southern border, a tweet about a marketing blog Microsoft published in January quickly blew up on social media and sparked vigorous debate. The blog had discussed a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and said that Microsoft had passed a high security threshold; it included a sentence about the potential for ICE to use facial recognition.

We’ve since confirmed that the contract in question isn’t being used for facial recognition at all. Nor has Microsoft worked with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border, a practice to which we’ve strongly objected. The work under the contract instead is supporting legacy email, calendar, messaging and document management workloads. This type of IT work goes on in every government agency in the United States, and for that matter virtually every government, business and nonprofit institution in the world. Some nonetheless suggested that Microsoft cancel the contract and cease all work with ICE.

The ensuing discussion has illuminated broader questions that are rippling across the tech sector. These questions are not unique to Microsoft. They surfaced earlier this year at Google and other tech companies. In recent weeks, a group of Amazon employees has objected to its contract with ICE, while reiterating concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. And Salesforce employees have raised the same issues related to immigration authorities and these agencies’ use of their products. Demands increasingly are surfacing for tech companies to limit the way government agencies use facial recognition and other technology.

These issues are not going to go away. They reflect the rapidly expanding capabilities of new technologies that increasingly will define the decade ahead. Facial recognition is the technology of the moment, but it’s apparent that other new technologies will raise similar issues in the future. This makes it even more important that we use this moment to get the direction right.

The need for government regulation

The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so. This in fact is what we believe is needed today – a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology, informed first by a bipartisan and expert commission.

While we appreciate that some people today are calling for tech companies to make these decisions – and we recognize a clear need for our own exercise of responsibility, as discussed further below – we believe this is an inadequate substitute for decision making by the public and its representatives in a democratic republic. We live in a nation of laws, and the government needs to play an important role in regulating facial recognition technology. As a general principle, it seems more sensible to ask an elected government to regulate companies than to ask unelected companies to regulate such a government.

Such an approach is also likely to be far more effective in meeting public goals. After all, even if one or several tech companies alter their practices, problems will remain if others do not. The competitive dynamics between American tech companies – let alone between companies from different countries – will likely enable governments to keep purchasing and using new technology in ways the public may find unacceptable in the absence of a common regulatory framework.

It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products, but there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike. The auto industry spent decades in the 20th century resisting calls for regulation, but today there is broad appreciation of the essential role that regulations have played in ensuring ubiquitous seat belts and air bags and greater fuel efficiency. The same is true for air safety, foods and pharmaceutical products. There will always be debates about the details, and the details matter greatly. But a world with vigorous regulation of products that are useful but potentially troubling is better than a world devoid of legal standards.

That’s why Microsoft called for national privacy legislation for the United States in 2005 and why we’ve supported the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union. Consumers will have more confidence in the way companies use their sensitive personal information if there are clear rules of the road for everyone to follow. While the new issues relating to facial recognition go beyond privacy, we believe the analogy is apt.

It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse. Without a thoughtful approach, public authorities may rely on flawed or biased technological approaches to decide who to track, investigate or even arrest for a crime. Governments may monitor the exercise of political and other public activities in ways that conflict with longstanding expectations in democratic societies, chilling citizens’ willingness to turn out for political events and undermining our core freedoms of assembly and expression. Similarly, companies may use facial recognition to make decisions without human intervention that affect our eligibility for credit, jobs or purchases. All these scenarios raise important questions of privacy, free speech, freedom of association and even life and liberty.

So what issues should be addressed through government regulation? That’s one of the most important initial questions to address. As a starting point, we believe governments should consider the following issues, among others:

  • Should law enforcement use of facial recognition be subject to human oversight and controls, including restrictions on the use of unaided facial recognition technology as evidence of an individual’s guilt or innocence of a crime?
  • Similarly, should we ensure there is civilian oversight and accountability for the use of facial recognition as part of governmental national security technology practices?
  • What types of legal measures can prevent use of facial recognition for racial profiling and other violations of rights while still permitting the beneficial uses of the technology?
  • Should use of facial recognition by public authorities or others be subject to minimum performance levels on accuracy?
  • Should the law require that retailers post visible notice of their use of facial recognition technology in public spaces?
  • Should the law require that companies obtain prior consent before collecting individuals’ images for facial recognition? If so, in what situations and places should this apply? And what is the appropriate way to ask for and obtain such consent?
  • Should we ensure that individuals have the right to know what photos have been collected and stored that have been identified with their names and faces?
  • Should we create processes that afford legal rights to individuals who believe they have been misidentified by a facial recognition system?

This list, which is by no means exhaustive, illustrates the breadth and importance of the issues involved.

Another important initial question is how governments should go about addressing these questions. In the United States, this is a national issue that requires national leadership by our elected representatives. This means leadership by Congress. While some question whether members of Congress have sufficient expertise on technology issues, at Microsoft we believe Congress can address these issues effectively. The key is for lawmakers to use the right mechanisms to gather expert advice to inform their decision making.

On numerous occasions, Congress has appointed bipartisan expert commissions to assess complicated issues and submit recommendations for potential legislative action. As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted last year, these commissions are “formal groups established to provide independent advice; make recommendations for changes in public policy; study or investigate a particular problem, issue, or event; or perform a duty.” Congress’ use of the bipartisan “9/11 Commission” played a critical role in assessing that national tragedy. Congress has created 28 such commissions over the past decade, assessing issues ranging from protecting children in disasters to the future of the army.

We believe Congress should create a bipartisan expert commission to assess the best way to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in the United States. This should build on recent work by academics and in the public and private sectors to assess these issues and to develop clearer ethical principles for this technology. The purpose of such a commission should include advice to Congress on what types of new laws and regulations are needed, as well as stronger practices to ensure proper congressional oversight of this technology across the executive branch.

Issues relating to facial recognition go well beyond the borders of the United States. The questions listed above – and no doubt others – will become important public policy issues around the world, requiring active engagement by governments, academics, tech companies and civil society internationally. Given the global nature of the technology itself, there likely will also be a growing need for interaction and even coordination between national regulators across borders.

Tech sector responsibilities

The need for government leadership does not absolve technology companies of our own ethical responsibilities. Given the importance and breadth of facial recognition issues, we at Microsoft and throughout the tech sector have a responsibility to ensure that this technology is human-centered and developed in a manner consistent with broadly held societal values. We need to recognize that many of these issues are new and no one has all the answers. We still have work to do to identify all the questions. In short, we all have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, some initial conclusions are clear.

First, it’s incumbent upon those of us in the tech sector to continue the important work needed to reduce the risk of bias in facial recognition technology. No one benefits from the deployment of immature facial recognition technology that has greater error rates for women and people of color. That’s why our researchers and developers are working to accelerate progress in this area, and why this is one of the priorities for Microsoft’s Aether Committee, which provides advice on several AI ethics issues inside the company.

As we pursue this work, we recognize the importance of collaborating with the academic community and other companies, including in groups such as the Partnership for AI. And we appreciate the importance not only of creating data sets that reflect the diversity of the world, but also of ensuring that we have a diverse and well-trained workforce with the capabilities needed to be effective in reducing the risk of bias. This requires ongoing and urgent work by Microsoft and other tech companies to promote greater diversity and inclusion in our workforce and to invest in a broader and more diverse pipeline of talent for the future. We’re focused on making progress in these areas, but we recognize that we have much more work to do.

Second, and more broadly, we recognize the need to take a principled and transparent approach in the development and application of facial recognition technology. We are undertaking work to assess and develop additional principles to govern our facial recognition work. We’ve used a similar approach in other instances, including trust principles we adopted in 2015 for our cloud services, supported in part by transparency centers and other facilities around the world to enable the inspection of our source code and other data. Similarly, earlier this year we published an overall set of ethical principles we are using in the development of all our AI capabilities.

As we move forward, we’re committed to establishing a transparent set of principles for facial recognition technology that we will share with the public. In part this will build on our broader commitment to design our products and operate our services consistent with the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These were adopted in 2011 and have emerged as the global standard for ensuring corporate respect for human rights. We periodically conduct Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs) of our products and services, and we’re currently pursuing this work with respect to our AI technologies.

We’ll pursue this work in part based on the expertise and input of our employees, but we also recognize the importance of active external listening and engagement. We’ll therefore also sit down with and listen to a variety of external stakeholders, including customers, academics and human rights and privacy groups that are focusing on the specific issues involved in facial recognition. This work will take  up to a few months, but we’re committed to completing it expeditiously .

We recognize that one of the difficult issues we’ll need to address is the distinction between the development of our facial recognition services and the use of our broader IT infrastructure by third parties that build and deploy their own facial recognition technology. The use of infrastructure and off-the-shelf capabilities by third parties are more difficult for a company to regulate, compared to the use of a complete service or the work of a firm’s own consultants, which readily can be managed more tightly. While nuanced, these distinctions will need consideration.

Third, in the meantime we recognize the importance of going more slowly when it comes to the deployment of the full range of facial recognition technology. Many information technologies, unlike something like pharmaceutical products, are distributed quickly and broadly to accelerate the pace of innovation and usage. “Move fast and break things” became something of a mantra in Silicon Valley earlier this decade. But if we move too fast with facial recognition, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken.

For this reason, based in part on input from the Aether Committee, we’re moving more deliberately with our facial recognition consulting and contracting work. This has led us to turn down some customer requests for deployments of this service where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights risks. As we’re developing more permanent principles, we will continue to monitor the potential uses of our facial recognition technologies with a view to assessing and avoiding human rights abuses.

In a similar vein, we’re committed to sharing more information with customers who are contemplating the potential deployment of facial recognition technology. We will continue work to provide customers and others with information that will help them understand more deeply both the current capabilities and limitations of facial recognition technology, how these features can and should be used, and the risks of improper uses.

Fourth, we’re committed to participating in a full and responsible manner in public policy deliberations relating to facial recognition. Government officials, civil liberties organizations and the broader public can only appreciate the full implications of new technical trends if those of us who create this technology do a good job of sharing information with them. Especially given our urging of governments to act, it’s incumbent on us to step forward to share this information. As we do so, we’re committed to serving as a voice for the ethical use of facial recognition and other new technologies, both in the United States and around the world.

We recognize that there may be additional responsibilities that companies in the tech sector ought to assume. We provide the foregoing list not with the sense that it is necessarily complete, but in the hope that it can provide a good start in helping to move forward.

Some concluding thoughts

Finally, as we think about the evolving range of technology uses, we think it’s important to acknowledge that the future is not simple. A government agency that is doing something objectionable today may do something that is laudable tomorrow. We therefore need a principled approach for facial recognition technology, embodied in law, that outlasts a single administration or the important political issues of a moment.

Even at a time of increasingly polarized politics, we have faith in our fundamental democratic institutions and values. We have elected representatives in Congress that have the tools needed to assess this new technology, with all its ramifications. We benefit from the checks and balances of a Constitution that has seen us from the age of candles to an era of artificial intelligence. As in so many times in the past, we need to ensure that new inventions serve our democratic freedoms pursuant to the rule of law. Given the global sweep of this technology, we’ll need to address these issues internationally, in no small part by working with and relying upon many other respected voices. We will all need to work together, and we look forward to doing our part.

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