Tag Archives: vision

GumGum uses machine learning annotation service Figure Eight

GumGum developed computer vision and NLP technology to help clients better advertise to their users.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based vendor, founded in 2008, automatically scans video, audio, images and text on webpages, identifying and extracting key elements. It then uses that data to help advertisers place relevant ads on the webpages.

To power its machine learning and computer vision technology, GumGum needs a lot of training data. To meet its data needs, about two years ago the company turned to Figure Eight, a crowdsourcing machine learning annotation vendor.

Acquired by Appen, another crowdsourcing machine learning annotation company, in April 2019, Figure Eight provides training data to a variety of similar vendors. Figure Eight relies on a network of contributors to annotate huge amounts of data.

The contributors are trained, although they are mostly not data scientists, and are screened for security purposes. Their large contributor network enables Figure Eight to train data at scale, as well as continue to review annotated data while a job is running.

Getting training data

Before using Figure Eight, GumGum employed full-time staff for machine learning annotation, said Erica Nishimura, data curator  at GumGum. That worked, but it was costly and, at times, slow. With large amounts of data, it could take months to get useable training data. Besides, the staff could only work in English, but GumGum has clients internationally.

Figure Eight, machine learning annotation
Figure Eight uses a contributor network to provide training data for companies like GumGum

Figure Eight, meanwhile, works in a number of languages. At the time, Nishimura said, it was one of the only companies that worked in Japanese. As GumGum has a thriving Japanese division, the language support was one of the main reasons it chose Figure Eight.

Scalability, said Lane Schechter, product manager at GumGum, was the other reason GumGum chose Figure Eight.

Working with Figure Eight has increased GumGum’s data capacity tenfold, Schechter said. Also, instead of taking months to get completed machine learning annotation, it now happens in about a week.

Problems

Still, that’s not to say that working with Figure Eight has been without its share of problems.

One of the biggest challenges has been communicating directly with Figure Eight’s crowdsource contributors, Nishimura said.

At times, the contributors have had trouble understanding exactly what GumGum wants, but, because there is no way to directly interact with the contributors, Nishimura said it is hard to know if the contributors are having problems, or what they might be.

The best GumGum can do is put in a message, Nishimura said, but there is no way to alert each contributor to the message. Besides, a single message isn’t the same as having a conversation, she added.

While she was unsure if other similar crowdsourcing machine learning annotation companies have a better way to communicate with contributors, Nishimura said some other companies have their own checkers, who do spot-checks on completed annotations.

“It’s one more step to ensure quality,” Nishimura said. But, she added, the prices of those services are generally higher than those of Figure Eight’s.

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AIOps exec bets on incident response market shakeup

AIOps and IT automation have been hot topics in IT for about three years, but the ultimate vision of hands-off incident response has yet to be realized in most IT shops, says Vijay Kurkal, who was appointed CEO of Resolve Systems on Jan. 16. Kurkal had served as chief operating officer for the company since 2018.

Kurkal’s key priority in the first quarter of 2020 is the release of Resolve Insights, a platform that folds AIOps IP from the company’s August 2019 acquisition of FixStream into its IT automation software. While enterprise IT pros have been slow to trust such systems — which rely on AI and machine learning data analytics to automate common tasks such as server restarts — they have begun to find their way into production use at mainstream companies.

Vijay KurkalVijay Kurkal

Resolve faces a crowded field of competition that includes vendors with backgrounds in IT monitoring, incident response and data analytics. SearchITOperations.com had a conversation with Kurkal this week about how the company plans to hold its own in this volatile market.

Your product pitch sounds familiar to me. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you there are many vendors out there pursuing a vision of proactive IT automation assisted by AI. How will Resolve and FixStream be different?

Vijay Kurkal: There are two ecosystems we’re playing with. There are application monitoring tools like AppDynamics, Dynatrace, New Relic, etc. The users that they are going after are the application operations team. FixStream is complimentary to them. But they have limited visibility into hypervisors and deep into the network infrastructure. FixStream builds out a visual topology of every single infrastructure device that a particular application is touching, and all the events are overlaid on that. It’s [built] for the IT operation teams that are supporting critical applications.

Some of the other AIOps vendors using AI technologies, they have tons of algorithms, but any algorithm is only as good as the source data. It’s a garbage in, garbage out. Our starting point is always around relationship dependency mapping and getting data in context, and prioritizing what to act on. A second differentiator is that AI/ML algorithms are all based on a probabilistic model. [They] say what they believe are the potential root causes [of an issue], but they can’t say that with certainty. Where we’re taking it is, as soon as those events trigger an alert from FixStream, Resolve automates diagnostics. Typically, that requires a network engineer. We’re already trying this out with some pilot customers and by end of Q1 are going to have a product there. Most AIOps companies identify events; they don’t resolve them.

Most AIOps companies identify events; they don’t resolve them.
Vijay KurkalCEO, Resolve Systems

Is there a plan for IT automation beyond diagnostics?

Kurkal: The next step, and I don’t think most customers are there yet, is, ‘I’ve done this 10 times, and I feel very comfortable, just run this [process] automatically.’ You’ll have categories of events — there’ll be 30% that are not super critical. As the organization gets comfortable, these can be completely [automated]. Then there are 50% that are critical, and we can give them diagnostics, and point them in the right direction to solve them pretty quickly. Then 10% will be outliers where no automation can help, and that’s where IT ops experts will always be very, very relevant to run the business.

Another important aspect of observability is informing the development of the product at the other end of the DevOps pipeline. How does your product work within that process?

Kurkal: The people who build the applications know exactly what stresses their application is putting on various elements [of the infrastructure]. We want to equip the DevOps team with a drag-and-drop system to write automation — to tell the IT operations team, here’s the configuration of the infrastructure I’ll need, and here’s a set of diagnostic scripts, and remediation automation that’s pre-approved. And then it’ll be a closed feedback loop where the operations teams can give feedback [to the developer]. We’re not saying we’ll solve every need of the application, but we are trying to bring together these two teams to drive automation and intelligence.

There are some tools that specifically tie outages or incidents to changes in code — could Resolve make another acquisition in that space or further build out its products to address that too?

Kurkal: For us, it’s a strong possibility in late 2020 or in 2021. It might be an organic development of our products, or potentially, an inorganic acquisition around that. But we do see that’s where the market is moving, because no one wants to be reactive, and they want to have it all together.

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Meet the 2020 Imagine Cup EMEA Regional Finalists

For young developers with a vision for improving our world with technology, the Imagine Cup is the place to be. Students are challenged to form teams of one to three people and leverage innovative tech, like AI, to develop a project proposal and business idea to make a difference. We are consistently inspired by solutions students create to tackle social good issues, and the collaborative and innovative core of the competition is continuing with the selection of our 2020 Europe, Middle East, and Africa Regional Finalists.

These 10 teams will be traveling to Amsterdam, the Netherlands in March to compete for over USD20,000 total in prizing, Azure credits, plus the top two will win spots to advance to the 2020 Imagine Cup World Championship! During their Regional Final journey, teams will also have the chance to participate in an Entrepreneurship Day from the U.S. Department of Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) to refine their business pitches, receive mentorship from Microsoft experts, and experience cutting-edge technical innovation at Microsoft Ignite the Tour.

Introducing our EMEA finalist teams heading to Amsterdam!

Allez, Ukraine

Allez: Allez support personal development through sports experience. The team’s aim isn’t just to maximize the performance of an athlete, but to help coaches to growth individuals who are mentally ready to fight obstacles.

ALOIS, Sweden

ALOIS: ALOIS aims to revolutionize the treatment of depression worldwide and to free more people from their negative thought patterns. ALOIS is a social bot, which determines the user’s emotional state and finds the actual causes of the depression.

Casie, Switzerland

Casie: The team’s project is aimed at using facial keypoints as a parameter to track the sequence of emotions displayed by user and using an LSTM RNN in order to infer problems with learning.

The Knights, Kenya

WEEDING BOT: Weeding bot is an automated robot that maneuvers between crop rows as it weeds interrow and intra row weeds using artificial intelligence and a camera as a sensor, equipped with a robotic arm coupled with a gripper and plough-like weeding tool.

meCare, Russia 

meCare: The team are developing a solution for primary screening of malignant skin lesions at home.

Monica, Poland

Monica: Monica is a visual assistant for blind people that is integrated into smart glasses and responds to users requests via voice commands.

RedWalls, Tunisia

I-Remember: I-Remember is a two part mobile application designed for the well being of the both the Alzheimer’s patient and their caregivers.

Vhysio, United Kingdom

Vhysio: Vhysio is a machine learning web app utilising tensorflow.js, a cutting edge browser based Machine Learning library, to enable accessible physiotherapy for the Visually Impaired – talking through exercises by responding to users’ postures in real-time.

Team Wild Eye, Kenya

WildEye_KE: Wild Eye_KE seeks to bring technology to the wild to monitor & track animal activities & notify authorities in case animals stray away from the wildlife protected areas (WPAs), reducing poaching & human interaction with wild animals away from WPAs.

Team to be announced, Pakistan

The results of the 2020 Pakistan National Final have not yet been announced.

Congratulations to all finalists! Check out our recently announced Asia Regional Finalists to learn about more innovative projects in this year’s competition and get inspired. Stay tuned for the announcement of our last group of finalist teams from the Americas next month and follow the competition journey on Instagram and Twitter as students head to their in-person regional events to compete!

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Amazon tech VP lays out ambitious AWS storage vision

LAS VEGAS –There appears to be no end in sight to the ambitious vision of AWS storage, especially when it comes to file systems.

During an interview with TechTarget, Amazon VP of technology Bill Vass said AWS aims to “enable every customer to be able to move to the cloud.” For example, Amazon could offer any of the approximately 35 file systems that its enterprise customers use, under the FSx product name, based on customer demand, Vass said. FSx stands for File System x, where the “x” can be any file system. AWS launched the first two FSx options, for Lustre and Windows file systems, at its November 2018 Re:Invent conference.

(Editor’s note: Vass said during the original interview that AWS will offer all 35 file systems over time. After the article published, Vass contacted us via email to clarify his statement. He wrote: “FSx is built to offer any type of file system from any vendor. I don’t want it to seem that we have committed to all 35, just that we can if customers want it.”)

AWS cannot support nearly three dozen file systems overnight, but Vass highlighted a new storage feature coming in 2020: a central storage management console similar to the AWS Backup option that unifies backups.

Vass has decision-making oversight over all AWS storage products (except Elastic Block Storage), as well as quantum computing, IoT, robotics, CloudFormation, CloudWatch monitoring, system management, and software-defined infrastructure. Vass has held CEO, COO, CIO, CISO and CTO positions for startups and Fortune 100 companies, as well as the federal government. Before joining Amazon more than five years ago, Vass was president and CEO of Liquid Robotics, which designs and builds autonomous robots for the energy, shipping, defense, communications, scientific, intelligence and environmental industries.

How has the vision for AWS storage changed since the object-based Simple Storage Service (S3) launched in 2006?

Amazon storage
Amazon VP of technology Bill Vass with AWS Snowball appliance.

Bill Vass: Originally, it was very much focused on startups, developers and what we call webscale or web-facing storage. That’s what S3 was all about. Then as we grew in the governments and enterprises, we added things like [write once read many] WORM, [recovery point objective] RPO for cross-region replication, lifecycle management, intelligent tiering, deep archive. We were the first to have high-performance, multi-[availability zone] AZ file systems. Block storage has continued to be a mainstay for databases and things like that. We launched the first high-performance file system that will rival anything on prem with FSx for [high-performance computing] HPC. So, we ran Lustre in there. And Lustre gives you microsecond latency, 100 gigabits per thread, connected directly to your CPU.

The other thing we did at Re:Invent [2018] was the FSx for SMB NTFS Windows. At Re:Invent this year, we launched the ability to replicate that to one, two or three AZs. They added a bunch of extra features to it. But, you can expect us with FSx to offer other file systems as well. There’s about 35 different file systems that enterprises use. We can support many – really anything with FSx. But we will roll them out in order of priority by customer demand.

What about Amazon Elastic File System?

Vass: Elastic File System, which is our NFS 4 file system, has got single-digit millisecond response. That is actually replicating across three separate buildings with three different segments, striping it multiple times. EFS is an elastic multi-tenant file system. FSx is a single-tenant file system. To get microsecond latency, you have to be right there next to the CPU. You can’t have microsecond latency if you’re striping across three different buildings and then acknowledging that.

Do you plan to unify file storage? Or, do you plan to offer a myriad of choices?

Vass: Certainly, they’re all unified and can interoperate with each other. FSx, S3, intelligent tiering, all that kind of stuff, and EFS all work together. That’s already there. However, we don’t think file systems are one size fits all. There’s 35 different file systems, and the point of FSx is to let people have many choices, just like we have with databases or with CPUs or anything like this. You can’t move a load that’s running on GPFS into AWS without making changes for it. So you’d want to offer that as a file system. You can’t move an HPC load without something like FSx Lustre. You can’t move your Windows Home directories into AWS without FSx for Windows. And I would just expect more and more features around EFS, more and more features on S3, more and more features around FSx with more and more options for file systems.

So, you don’t envision unifying file storage.

Vass: There will be a central storage management system coming out where you’ll see it just like we have a central backup system now. So, they’ll be unified at that level. There’ll be a time when you’ll be able to access things with SMB, NFS and object in the same management console and on the same storage in the future. But that’s not really unified, right? Because you still want to have the single-tenant operating environment for your Windows. Microsoft does proprietary extensions on top of SMB, so you’ll need to run Windows underneath that. You can run something like [NetApp] OnTap, which also runs on AWS, by the way. And it does a great job of emulating NFS 4, 3, and SMB. But it’s never going to be 100% Windows compatible. So for that, you’re still going to want to run the Windows-native environment underneath.

I’d love to have one solution that did it all, but when you do that, what you usually end up with is something that does everything, but none of it well. So, you’re still going to want to have your high-performance object storage, block storage, elastic file systems and your single-tenant file systems for the foreseeable future. They’ll all interoperate with each other. They all get 11 nines durability by snapshotting or direct storing. You’re still going to have your archive storage. You don’t really want an archive system that operates the same as the file system or an object system.

How will the management console work to manage all the systems?

Vass: Since we unified backups with AWS Backup, you can take a look at that one place where we’re backing everything up in AWS. Now, we haven’t turned every service on. There’s actually 29 stateful stores in AWS. So, what we’re doing with backup is adding them one after another until they’re all there. You go to one place to back everything up.

We’ll add a storage management console. Today, you would go to an S3 console, an FSx console, an EFS console and a relational database console, then an Aurora console, then an EBS console. There’ll be one system management console that will let you see everything in one place and one place where you’ll be able to manage all of it as well. That’s scheduled for some time next year.

I’ve been hearing from enterprise customers that it can get confusing and overwhelming to keep track of the breadth of AWS storage offerings.

Vass: Let me counter that. We listen to our customers, and I guarantee you at Re:Invent this year, each customer I met with, one of those services that we added was really important to them, because remember, we’re moving everything from on prem to the cloud. … There are customers that want NFS 3 still. There’s customers that want NFS 4. There’s customers that want SMB and NTFS. There’s customers that want object storage. There’s customers that want block storage. There’s customers that want backups. If we did just one, and we told everyone rewrite your apps, it would take forever for people to move.

The best things people can do is get our roadmaps. We disclose our roadmaps under NDA to any customer that asks, and we’ll show them what’s coming and when it’s going to come so that they can have some idea if they’re planning and when we’re going to solve all of their problems. We’ve got 2.2 million customers, and all of them need something. And they have quite a variability of needs that we work to meet. So, it’s necessary to have that kind of innovation. And of course, we see things our customers do all the time.

So, AWS storage is basically going for the ocean and aiming to get every customer away from a traditional storage vendor.

Vass: I wouldn’t say it that way. I’d say we want to enable every customer to be able to use the cloud and Outpost and Snowball and Storage Gateway and all of our products so they can save money, be elastically scaling, have higher durability and better security than they usually do on prem.

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Enterprise IT weighs pros and cons of multi-cloud management

Multi-cloud management among enterprise IT shops is real, but the vision of routine container portability between clouds has yet to be realized for most.

Multi-cloud management is more common as enterprises embrace public clouds and deploy standardized infrastructure automation platforms, such as Kubernetes, within them. Most commonly, IT teams look to multi-cloud deployments for workload resiliency and disaster recovery, or as the most reasonable approach to combining companies with loyalty to different public cloud vendors through acquisition.

“Customers absolutely want and need multi-cloud, but it’s not the old naïve idea about porting stuff to arbitrage a few pennies in spot instance pricing,” said Charles Betz, analyst at Forrester Research. “It’s typically driven more by governance and regulatory compliance concerns, and pragmatic considerations around mergers and acquisitions.”

IT vendors have responded to this trend with a barrage of marketing around tools that can be used to deploy and manage workloads across multiple clouds. Most notably, IBM’s $34 billion bet on Red Hat revolves around multi-cloud management as a core business strategy for the combined companies, and Red Hat’s OpenShift Container Platform version 4.2 updated its Kubernetes cluster installer to support more clouds, including Azure and Google Cloud Platform. VMware and Rancher also use Kubernetes to anchor multi-cloud management strategies, and even cloud providers such as Google offer products such as Anthos with the goal of managing workloads across multiple clouds.

For some IT shops, easier multi-cloud management is a key factor in Kubernetes platform purchasing decisions.

“Every cloud provider has hosted Kubernetes, but we went with Rancher because we want to stay cloud-agnostic,” said David Sanftenberg, DevOps engineer at Cardano Risk Management Ltd, an investment consultancy firm in the U.K. “Cloud outages are rare, but it’s nice to know that on a whim we can spin up a cluster in another cloud.”

Multi-cloud management requires a deliberate approach

With Kubernetes and VMware virtual machines as common infrastructure templates, some companies use multiple cloud providers to meet specific business requirements.

Unified communications-as-a-service provider 8×8, in San Jose, Calif., maintains IT environments spread across 15 self-managed data centers, plus AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Tencent and Alibaba clouds. Since the company’s business is based on connecting clients through voice and video chat globally, placing workloads as close to customers’ locations as possible is imperative, and this makes managing multiple cloud service providers worthwhile. The company’s IT ops team keeps an eye on all its workloads with VMware’s Wavefront cloud  monitoring tool.

Dejan Deklich, chief product officer, 8x8Dejan Deklich

 “It’s all the same [infrastructure] templates, and all the monitoring and dashboards stay exactly the same, and it doesn’t really matter where [resources] are deployed,” said Dejan Deklich, chief product officer at 8×8. “Engineers don’t have to care where workloads are.”

Multiple times a year, Deklich estimated, the company uses container portability to move workloads between clouds when it gets a good deal on infrastructure costs, although it doesn’t move them in real time or spread apps among multiple clouds. Multi-cloud migration also only applies to a select number of 8×8’s workloads, Deklich said.

We made a conscious decision that we want to be able to move from cloud to cloud. It depends on how deep you go into integration with a given cloud provider.
Dejan DeklichChief product officer, 8×8

“If you’re in [AWS] and using RDS, you’re not going to be able to move to Oracle Cloud, or you’re going to suffer connectivity issues; you can make it work, but why would you?” he said. “There are workloads that can elegantly be moved, such as real-time voice or video distribution around the world, or analytics, as long as you have data associated with your processing, but moving large databases around is not a good idea.”

Maintaining multi-cloud portability also requires a deliberate approach to integration with each cloud provider.

“We made a conscious decision that we want to be able to move from cloud to cloud,” Deklich said. “It depends on how deep you go into integration with a given cloud provider — moving a container from one to the other is no problem if the application inside is not dependent on a cloud-specific infrastructure.”

The ‘lowest common denominator’ downside of multi-cloud

Not every organization buys in to the idea that multi-cloud management’s promise of freedom from cloud lock-in is worthwhile, and the use of container portability to move apps from cloud to cloud remains rare, according to analysts.

“Generally speaking, companies care about portability from on-premises environments to public cloud, not wanting to get locked into their data center choices,” said Lauren Nelson, analyst at Forrester Research. “They are far less cautious when it comes to getting locked into public cloud services, especially if that lock in comes with great value.”

Generally speaking, companies care about portability from on-premises environments to public cloud, not wanting to get locked into their data center choices. They are far less cautious when it comes to getting locked into public cloud services …
Lauren NelsonAnalyst, Forrester Research

In fact, some IT pros argue that lock-in is preferable to missing out on the value of cloud-specific secondary services, such as AWS Lambda.

“I am staunchly single cloud,” said Robert Alcorn, chief architect of platform and product operations at Education Advisory Board (EAB), a higher education research firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. “If you look at how AWS has accelerated its development over the last year or so, it makes multi-cloud almost a nonsensical question.”

For Alcorn, the value of integrating EAB’s GitLab pipelines with AWS Lambda outweighs the risk of lock-in to the AWS cloud. Connecting AWS Lambda and API Gateway to Amazon’s SageMaker for machine learning  has also represented almost a thousandfold drop in costs compared to the company’s previous container-based hosting platform, he said.

Even without the company’s interest in Lambda integration, the work required to keep applications fully cloud-neutral isn’t worth it for his company, Alcorn said.

“There’s a ceiling to what you can do in a truly agnostic way,” he said. “Hosted cloud services like ECS and EKS are also an order of magnitude simpler to manage. I don’t want to pay the overhead tax to be cloud-neutral.”

Some IT analysts also sound a note of caution about the value of multi-cloud management for disaster recovery or price negotiations with cloud vendors, depending on the organization. For example, some financial regulators require multi-cloud deployments for risk mitigation, but the worst case scenario of a complete cloud failure or the closure of a cloud provider’s entire business is highly unlikely, Forrester’s Nelson wrote in a March 2019 research report, “Assess the Pain-Gain Tradeoff of Multicloud Strategies.”

Splitting cloud deployments between multiple providers also may not give enterprises as much of a leg up in price negotiations as they expect, unless the customer is a very large organization, Nelson wrote in the report.

The risks of multi-cloud management are also manifold, according to Nelson’s report, from high costs for data ingress and egress between clouds to network latency and bandwidth issues, broader skills requirements for IT teams, and potentially double the resource costs to keep a second cloud deployment on standby for disaster recovery.

Of course, value is in the eye of the beholder, and each organization’s multi-cloud mileage may vary.

“I’d rather spend more for the company to be up and running, and not lose my job,” Cardano’s Sanftenberg said.

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ZF expands Partnership with Microsoft to Develop Digital Services

Whether in the passenger car sector or for commercial vehicles, ZF is well on the road toward Vision Zero. Autonomous vehicles, innovative safety systems and intelligent mobility solutions contribute to a future of road traffic with zero accidents and zero emissions. This will be accompanied by digitalizing the entire value chain. The technological backbone for these applications is the ZF Cloud based on Microsoft Azure. The closer collaboration with Microsoft allows ZF the development of even more customer focused and tailor-made solutions.

“The strategic partnership with Microsoft will allow us to work even more intensely on intelligent and networked mobility solutions of the future,” explains Mamatha Chamarthi, chief digital officer at ZF Friedrichshafen AG. “This puts us in the position of developing new digital services, on the one hand, and to adapt them perfectly to specific customer needs, on the other.”

Sanjay Ravi, General Manager, Automotive Industry, at Microsoft, adds: “We are excited to expand our collaboration with ZF. Microsoft Azure’s cloud, AI and IoT capabilities enable ZF to deliver highly secure mobility services at a global scale with a faster time to market and respond to the unique needs of their customers and partners worldwide.”

At the CES trade show, ZF will present their initial application options for the expanded platform. These options were developed with various partners and will encompass diverse areas of use:

Comprehensive fleet management

VDL, one of the leading manufacturer groups in the bus sector, uses the ZF IoT platform not only for its fleet management solution being sold to its customers, but also for its own fleet. The platform provides VDL a complete overview of the efficiency of its electric and diesel vehicles. By the end of 2018, more than 300 VDL electric buses had been equipped with the solution. In the process, VDL uses the entire bandwidth of Microsoft Azure services – from the Edge device to the cloud-based platform.

Smart transmissions through predictive maintenance

With the new Predictive Maintenance function, ZF is preparing its successful modular TraXon transmission for the digital future in the commercial vehicle industry. Starting in 2019, vehicle manufacturers and fleet operators can proactively plan vehicle maintenance using the cloud solution.

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Author: Caitlin Karpinski

Announcing new AI and mixed reality business applications for Microsoft Dynamics – The Official Microsoft Blog

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to press and analysts in San Francisco about our vision for business applications at Microsoft. In addition, I had the privilege to make two very important announcements: the upcoming availability of new Dynamics 365 AI applications, and our very first mixed reality business applications: Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

Our vision for business applications at Microsoft

We live in a connected world where companies are challenged every day to innovate so they can stay ahead of emerging trends and repivot business models to take advantage of new opportunities to meet growing customer demands.

To innovate, organizations need to reimagine their processes. They need solutions that are modern, enabling new experiences for how they can engage their customers while making their people more productive. They need unified systems that break data silos, so they have a holistic view of their business, customers and employees. They need pervasive intelligence threaded throughout the platform, giving them the ability to reason over data, to predict trends and drive proactive intelligent action. And with adaptable applications, they can be nimble, allowing them to take advantage of the next opportunity that comes their way.

Two years ago, when we introduced Dynamics 365 we started a journey to tear down the traditional silos of customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). We set out to reimagine business applications as modern, unified, intelligent and adaptable solutions that are integrated with Office 365 and natively built on Microsoft Azure.

With the release of our new AI and mixed reality applications we are taking another step forward on our journey to help empower every organization on the planet to achieve more through the accelerant of business applications. Specifically, today we are making the following announcements:

Dynamics 365 + AI

First, I am happy to announce the coming availability of a new Dynamics 365 AI offering — a new class of AI applications that will deliver out-of-the-box insights by unifying data and infusing it with advanced intelligence to guide decisions and empower organizations to take informed actions. And because these insights are easily extensible through the power of Microsoft Power BI, Azure and the Common Data Service, organizations will be able to address even the most complex scenarios specific to their business.

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales: AI can help salespeople prioritize their time to focus on deals that matter most, provide answers to the most common questions regarding the performance of sales teams, offer a detailed analysis of the sales pipeline, and surface insights that enable smarter coaching of sales teams.

Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service: With Microsoft’s AI and natural language understanding, customer service data can surface automated insights that help guide employees to take action and can even leverage virtual agents to help lower support costs and enable delightful customer experiences, all without needing in-house AI experts and without writing any code.

Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights: Helps empower your marketing, social media and market research teams to make better decisions with market insights. Marketers can improve customer relationships with actionable web and social insights to engage in relevant conversations and respond faster to trends.

To help bring this to life, today we released a video with our CEO, Satya Nadella, and Navrina Singh, a member of our Dynamics 365 engineering team, showing examples of ways we’re bringing the power of AI to customer service organizations.

Dynamics 365 + Mixed Reality

Our second announcement of the day centers on the work we are doing to bring mixed reality and business applications together.

Since the release of Microsoft HoloLens over two years ago, the team has learned a lot from customers and partners. The momentum that HoloLens has received within the commercial space has been overwhelmingly positive. This has been supported by increased demand and deployment from some of the world’s most innovative companies.

We recognize that many employees need information in context to apply their knowledge and craft. Not only on a 2-D screen — but information and data in context, at the right place, and at the right time, so employees can produce even greater impact for their organizations. Mixed reality is a technology uniquely suited to do exactly that.

This is a whole new kind of business application. And that’s precisely what we’re introducing today, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

Today, we also showcased for the first time how Chevron is deploying HoloLens to take advantage of Dynamics 365 mixed reality business applications.

Chevron is already achieving real, measurable results with its global HoloLens deployment. Previously it was required to fly in an inspector from Houston to a facility in Singapore once a month to inspect equipment. Now it has in-time inspection using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and can identify issues or provide approvals immediately.

In addition, remote collaboration and assistance have helped the company operate more safely in a better work environment, serving as a connection point between firstline workers and remote experts, as well as cutting down on travel and eliminating risks associated with employee travel.

Here is a peek into the work Chevron is doing with mixed reality:

Unlock what’s next with the Dynamics 365 October 2018 release

Next week at Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Envision we’ll be in Orlando talking with thousands of customers, partners, developers, and IT and business leaders about our October 2018 release for Dynamics 365 and the Power platform that will be generally available Oct. 1. The wave of innovation this represents across the entire product family is significant, with hundreds of new capabilities and features.

We will have a lot more to talk about in the weeks and months ahead. We look forward to sharing more!

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2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in photos: A SearchCIO snapshot

It’s time to turn your digital vision into reality — and fast. That was the message at the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. The annual event attracted more than 900 senior-level IT decision-makers from around the country and the globe for what organizers billed as a day of learning, networking and spirited discussion.

Sessions at the event featured leading IT practitioners and academics, all doling out practical advice for planning and executing a digital transformation strategy. Of course, that meant discussing the building blocks of digital transformation: AI, internet of things, cloud computing, Agile, DevOps, organizational leadership, digital culture and more.

The SearchCIO team was there to cover — and capture — it.

Scroll through our Instagram roundup of the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium and relive a few of the many illuminating and interesting moments from this year’s event.

8:35 a.m.: Before the opening panel session, Kresge Auditorium

Let the Symposium begin.

Prior to the opening panel session, attendees perused the vendor showcase in Kresge and reviewed the day’s schedule, with complimentary totes in hand.

8:45 a.m.: “Creating a Digital Culture,” Kresge Auditorium

MIT’s George Westerman moderated the opening panel on how to best create a digital culture. As Westerman and the panel emphasized, digital transformation is, above all, a leadership challenge. “Technology changes quickly; organizations change much more slowly,” Westerman said at the start of the panel.

One of many interesting tidbits: Panelists said organizations need to change their outlook on talent. “The right people often look wrong,” said Melissa Swift, global leader for digital solutions at Korn Ferry Hay Group. The traits that might seem jarring to corporate executives may well be the ones the company needs to build a digital culture. Iconoclasts, not clones, should get a second look.

12:00 p.m.: “Insights from the Leadership Award Finalists,” Sala De Puerto Rico

As attendees munched on their salads, MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award finalists doled out sage advice on how they’ve transformed their organizations. Some sound bites from the session:

“Our job as CIOs is really more of psychologists or priests,” said Atefeh Riazi, assistant secretary-general and chief information technology officer at the United Nations. She emphasized it’s not technology that’s the biggest challenge; it’s change management.

“Innovation is about doing the same thing differently,” said Harmeen Mehta, global CIO and head of digital at Bharti Airtel Ltd.

“Understand the context many senior executives are under,” said Mike Macrie, senior vice president and CIO at Land O’Lakes Inc. Older executives aren’t as familiar with technology, so CIOs need to have patience.

1:15 p.m.: “Implementing AI,” Kresge Little Theater

What two words best describe your AI implementation efforts at this time? The blue screen shows how audience members sitting in the “Implementation AI” session responded. Hype and slow were two of the top words, followed by ethically challenged and limited. Panelists, pictured here, are moderator Michael Schrage, Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard, Kayak CTO Giorgos Zacharia and DBS Bank CIO David Gledhill.

1:45 p.m.: Lights, camera, action! Outside Kresge Auditorium

SearchCIO’s Mekhala Roy interviewed Harmeen Mehta, global CIO at Indian telecom giant Airtel and this year’s Leadership Award winner, outside Kresge — one of our many video interviews. During the interview, Mehta said everything she does in her organization has to create new value for the company, create a new business model, solve an existing problem or drastically reduce costs.

2:45 p.m.: “Building the Intelligent Enterprise using AI, ML, Mobility and Cloud Services,” Kresge Auditorium

During this session, panelists shared the hard-won lessons they learned from transforming their organizations into so-called intelligent enterprises. One lesson from Alston Ghafourifar, CEO and co-founder of Entefy Inc.: “An intelligent enterprise is too big of a transformation to actually do alone and to do entirely internal … you have to partner.” They also discussed best practices for managing large data sets, which include taking advantage of edge computing and Lambda architecture.

4:00 p.m.: “Articulating your Digital Vision,” Kresge Auditorium

During her presentation, Jeanne Ross, director and principal research scientist at MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research, said IT needs to shift from enabling business strategy to inspiring it. Enabling is no longer enough anymore; IT needs to inspire new sources of revenue and new value propositions. The sources of that inspiration include ubiquitous data, unlimited connectivity and massive processing power.

For more photos from the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium and other conference coverage, visit our Instagram page and give us a follow.

New to Microsoft 365 in May—empowering and securing users – Microsoft 365 Blog

Each month on the Microsoft 365 Blog, we highlight key updates to Microsoft 365 that build on our vision for the modern workplace. This month, we introduced a number of new capabilities to help individuals produce accessible content, work together in real-time, and create a secure and compliant workplace.

Here’s a look at what we brought to Microsoft 365 in May.

Empowering creative teamwork

Create accessible content in Office 365—We enhanced the Accessibility Checker to streamline the process of creating quality content that is accessible to people with disabilities. Now, the Accessibility Checker identifies an expanded range of issues within a document, including low-contrast text that is difficult to read because the font color is too similar to the background color. The checker also includes a recommended action menu and utilizes AI to make intelligent suggestions for improvements—like suggesting a description for an image—making it easier to fix flagged issues from within your workflow.

GIF showing the Accessibility Checker being run from the Review tab in a Word document with black text on a grey background and an image of a forest. Accessibility Checker inspection results show that the image is missing alternative text and the user clicks the recommended action: Add a description to fix this. This opens the Alt Text pane and the user types the image description in it. The user then clicks the Low contrast text warning in the Accessibility Checker inspection results and clicks the recommended action and changes the page color to white. The inspection results now show no more accessibility issues.

Accessibility Checker alerts you in real-time of issues that make your content difficult for people with disabilities to access.

Work in mixed reality with SharePoint—This month, we unveiled SharePoint spaces—immersive, mixed reality experiences built on SharePoint—which enable you to interact with and explore content in new ways. Now, Microsoft 365 subscribers can work with 3D models, 360-degree videos, panoramic images, organizational charts, visualizations, and any information on your intranet to create immersive mixed reality experiences. SharePoint spaces make it easy to create virtual environments with point-and-click simplicity to help viewers digest information that might be too numerous or too complex to experience in the real world or in a two-dimensional environment.

Create immersive virtual environments in seconds with SharePoint spaces.

Find relevant content faster in SharePoint—The new Find tab in the SharePoint mobile app makes it easier to access the information you need when looking for expertise, content, apps, or resources on the go. The Find tab uses AI to automatically surface sites, files, news, and people relevant to you without having to search—including documents and sites that you were recently working on from across your devices. The Find tab also refines search results as you type, and leverages AI to provide instant answers to questions you ask based on information from across your intranet.

A screenshot of the SharePoint Find tab.

By learning from your existing content and organizational knowledge, AI provides instant answers, transforming search into action.

Run efficient meetings with Microsoft Teams—This month at Build, we demonstrated a range of future capabilities in Microsoft Teams that utilize AI to make meetings smarter and more intuitive over time—including real-time transcription, Cortana voice interactions for Teams-enabled devices, and automatic notetaking. Today, we’re announcing new capabilities for mobile users that make it easier to participate in meetings on the go. Now, you can quickly share your screen with others in the meeting directly from your mobile device, or upload images and video from your library. These improvements make everyone a first-class meeting participant—regardless of location or device.

Source video.

Extend meeting capabilities with Surface Hub 2—Earlier this month, we introduced Surface Hub 2, a device built from the ground up to be used by teams in any organization. Surface Hub 2 integrates Teams, Microsoft Whiteboard, Office 365, Windows 10, and the intelligent cloud into a seamless collaboration experience, which extends the capabilities of any meeting space and allows users to create—whether in the same room or separated by thousands of miles.

Creating a secure and compliant workplace

Achieve GDPR compliance with the Microsoft Cloud—This month marked a major milestone for individual privacy rights with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that took effect on May 25, 2018. Over the last few months, we introduced new capabilities across the Microsoft Cloud to help you effectively demonstrate that your organization has taken appropriate steps to protect the privacy rights of individuals. To learn more about these capabilities, read our summary of Microsoft’s investment to support GDPR and the privacy rights of individuals.

Microsoft 365 customer INAIL leverages Azure Information Protection to classify, label, and protect their most sensitive data.

Work securely with external partners in Microsoft 365—We introduced several new capabilities in Azure Active Directory Business-to-Business (B2B) collaboration that make it easier to work safely and securely with people outside of your Microsoft 365 tenant. B2B collaboration allows administrators to share access to internal resources and applications with external partners while maintaining complete control over their own corporate data. Starting this month, first-time external users are welcomed to your tenant with a modernized experience and improved consent flow, making it easier for users to accept the terms of use agreements set by your organization.

We also improved Business-to-Consumer (B2C) collaboration, making it easier to invite external partners who use consumer email accounts like Outlook and Gmail while protecting your organization’s data and improving the process of setting access policies.

A screenshot from Azure Active Directory's Review permissions tab.

Track terms of use agreements in Azure Active Directory B2B by tracking when users consent.

Other updates

As companies seek to empower people to do their best work, a cultural transformation isn’t just inevitable—it’s essential. This month, we released a white paper outlining how Microsoft is partnering with customers to foster a modern workplace that is productive, responsive, creative, and secure. To learn more, read the New Culture of Work white paper.

Check out these other updates from across Microsoft 365: