This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
Using the combined power of Microsoft Azure’s hyperscale capacity, global distribution, and storage and networking capabilities, The Walt Disney Studios is unlocking new opportunities in the media and entertainment space. Working in partnership with Microsoft, the major US film studio is finding new ways to create, produce and distribute content on a scale never seen before. It’s all part of the company’s plans to accelerate innovation around production and post-production processes and rethink the way their production teams work.
“By moving many of our production workflows to the cloud, we’re optimistic that we can create content more quickly and efficiently around the world,” said Jamie Voris, chief technology officer of The Walt Disney Studios, in a Microsoft press release. “Through this innovation partnership with Microsoft, we’re able to streamline many of our processes so our talented filmmakers can focus on what they do best.”
According to Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organisation, this is just one illustration of many that show how Microsoft is partnering with industry leaders to drive digital transformation and support enterprise businesses to achieve and do more.
“Our five-year innovation partnership with The Walt Disney Studios is a great example of how exciting partner solutions are transforming enterprise operations,” Schuster said. “The partnership builds on our strategic cloud alliance with leading global media technology provider and partner Avid. It includes The Walt Disney Studios moving many production and post-production workflows to the cloud to drive content and creativity at scale. Working closely with Avid, we are helping Disney unlock new benefits and efficiencies for the media and entertainment industry by demonstrating that demanding, high-performance workflows can be deployed and operated securely in the cloud.”
Research by IDC sheds light on the digital transformation opportunity for Microsoft and its network of partners. According to a recent report, more than half of the enterprise business it surveyed committed to implementing a digital strategy by 2020. The same report, The Digital Transformation Opportunity: Aligning business strategy to the digital transformation market opportunity, found that by the end of 2019, companies will have spent an estimated US$1.7 trillion worldwide creating new business models, products, operational efficiencies and customer experiences.
“The opportunities shared by Microsoft and its partners have never been stronger than they are today,” Schuster said. “Together, we are an engine for digital transformation on behalf of customers in every industry and in every corner of the world. We’re not just making our technologies and the cloud available to customers. Through Microsoft partners, we are helping customers transform their businesses and deliver new, innovative solutions to the market every day.”
As the technology building blocks Microsoft delivers become more powerful and affordable, Schuster expects the pace of innovation to accelerate exponentially.
“Just like the way power door locks used to be a feature only available on luxury cars, they eventually become the standard,” she said. “As a result, we must continuously innovate and create more ‘building blocks’ for existing and emerging technologies so that our partners can stay ahead of the curve.”
One of Microsoft’s key goals today is to democratise artificial intelligence (AI) by building the best infrastructure, tools, frameworks and services in Azure to allow anyone to implement AI for their needs. It’s why the company introduced the AI Accelerate programme to help partners build and deploy AI offerings to customers quickly.
“By engaging with product engineers to identify emerging AI technologies, partners and customers can rapidly prototype the technologies in real-world scenarios, giving product and marketing teams feedback on product capabilities and go-to-market roadmaps,” Schuster said.
Across the spectrum of digital transformation, Microsoft’s core focus is around bringing vast streams of data together and putting it to good use. “We must process data in a way that helps businesses unlock the innovation of AI for their customers and audiences,” Schuster added. “We recently launched Azure Synapse Analytics, a limitless analytics service that brings together traditional data warehousing and big data analytics. This gives enterprises the freedom to query data on their terms, using either serverless on-demand or provisioned resources, at scale.”
Schuster also highlighted Dynamics 365 as a great tool for businesses to make use of in their quest to master data.
“We recently expanded the Dynamics 365 portfolio with new AI-driven features that empower organisations to take informed actions and improve customer experiences,” she said. “With the expansion of the portfolio, we can provide a 360-degree view of your business. One that goes beyond data capture and backward-looking insights, to unification of all data, providing forward looking intelligence. Powered by Azure AI, these tightly integrated capabilities can make AI real for businesses today and enable employees to proactively drive decisions and action.”
Microsoft is making great strides in the creation of autonomous systems – machines that teach and train themselves to perform human-like tasks – too.
“The application of autonomous systems spans many industries and allows organisations to extend their abilities using AI,” Schuster said. “A few of the industries include sustainable energy technologies, drones, construction labour and airline operations.”
Of course, Microsoft partners have a critical role to play in taking these systems and technologies and applying them to industry-specific scenarios, using them to add value and build the next generation of innovative solutions.
“I’m always amazed by the innovation of Microsoft partners,” Schuster said. “They take the technologies we build and turn them into must-have solutions and services for customers. And the feedback loop is really important. We are continuously soliciting and incorporating ideas from our partners to improve our products and platforms based on what they see the customers need.”
“I’m very excited about that opportunity for all partner organisations, even partners that have traditionally focused on Microsoft 365. They have a mountain of data they need to work through. Using Office Graph, they’re able to step back into building greater data lakes, and then help to apply a set of analytics over that,” Schuster explained. “And with Azure Synapse, partners can give customers unmatched time-to-data-insights in a much easier fashion than they have had before.”
For many partners, this is a natural and obvious route to go down as data and analytics applies to almost everything their customers are doing today. “If you’re a Dynamics partner, then delivering on all of the analytics is a natural step,” Schuster explained. “But we found many of our Azure partners that have invested in data practices now do a lot of Power Platform/Power BI delivery. Synapse on the back end really helps them accelerate and fly over that data in easier ways. I’m very excited about that opportunity. “I’m very excited about that opportunity for all partner organisations, even partners that have traditionally focused on Microsoft 365. They have a tonne of data they need to work through. Using Office Graph, they’re able to step back into building greater data lakes and applying Azure Synapse across that for customers as well.”
In the year ahead, Microsoft will continue to put the spotlight on its Skype accessor, Microsoft Teams, as it encourages businesses to embrace it as the go-to solution for collaboration services and the core communications client for Office 365.
“Teams is the fastest growing application Microsoft has ever released,” Schuster said. “It brings together chat, voice, meetings and Office collaboration into a single user experience – all with the highest security and compliance. Teams keeps all of your work conversations and meetings in context and eliminates the need to bounce back and forth between different apps.”
The difference between Teams and other collaboration services, according to Schuster, is that it allows customers to bring all their back-office processes and operations forward into a fully integrated experience for employees.
As enterprises make good on their commitment to embrace digital transformation, many are on the lookout for technology partners they can trust to help guide them and navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“What I love about Microsoft partners is that they make it their business to know their customers’ processes, ambitions and challenges,” Schuster said. “They are trained to recommend business solutions based on real business needs.”
For those embarking on a digital transformation initiative and assessing which technology provider they want to work with, Schuster offers some advice.
“When choosing a Microsoft partner to work with, partners with gold competencies are a great place to start,” she said. “But enterprise organisations should also pay close attention to partners in the Azure Expert MSP programme and those with advanced specialisations – an extensive validation of a partner’s capability to deliver high quality services in a specific solution area. Azure Expert MSP validates that the partner has the right mix of people, processes and technologies to offer customers high fidelity managed services on Azure. Advanced specialisations differentiate a partner based on their demonstrated expertise and the higher value and stronger connections they build with customers.”
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