There is a fundamental change occurring across industries and organisations,” says Arun Ulagaratchagan, corporate vice president of business intelligence (BI) at Microsoft. “Data now comes from everywhere and everything – not just transactional systems of record, but also systems of observation measuring human interactions, product telemetry and more. Making sense of all these signals and arming customers with access to insights to make decisions is crucial to their competitive advantage. This is what we mean by helping our customers drive a data culture.”
The need for intelligence has been exacerbated in 2020.
“Businesses have had to adopt instantly, inventing new business processes to engage their customers and empower their employees,” explains Ulagaratchagan. “Driving clarity across the organisation has never been more important.
“In addition, individuals have had to adapt to working digitally and independently. Teamwork and collaboration are done entirely through screens and entire organisations have become remote workforces. How we share and consume data must transform as well.”
In 2017, Gartner first introduced the concept of ‘augmented intelligence’, the use of machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to enhance data sharing, analytics and BI. Since then, this methodology has been cited frequently as a key driver for innovation within both commercial and civic settings. Microsoft is committed to delivering technology that will democratise access to the tools that will enable organisations across the globe to adopt this approach and make better decisions, faster.
“In today’s environment, there is simply too much that is coming at us at a velocity and variety that makes it incredibly hard to digest the information and extract the insights,” says Ulagaratchagan. “In order to be able to make sense of this information, we need to use artificial intelligence and ML.”
Microsoft employs over 5,000 researchers and engineers to work on advancing the state of the art in AI, as Ulagaratchagan puts it. “These researchers have made foundational improvements in vision, voice and cognition,” he says. “In the Power BI team, we leverage this innovation and focus it on understanding business outcomes and helping business users and analysts extract insights from both structured and unstructured data.”
Power BI offers a comprehensive set of AI capabilities which help customers analyse text and images, build automated machine learning models, interact with data by asking questions, and automatically detect patterns in data, all through interactive visual experiences. Over 80,000 customers currently use these tools to understand the trends in their business.
Medical device manufacturer Medtronic uses Power BI to understand what drives products to be on back order. When products are out of stock with the supplier, customers are often unhappy and sales are deferred or lost. By using Power BI, Medtronic can understand the key drivers behind this and make systematic improvements to prevent the same situation from occurring in the future.
Veolia is another Microsoft customer leveraging the capabilities of Power BI to make business improvements. The water, energy and waste management company has been using the solution’s NLP features to simplify how employees and customers make queries. As a result, Power BI is used from the board level to the front office.
Recent advances in hyperautomation have driven organisations to re-evaluate how they look at and process the data they create. By developing the right blend of robotic process automation, intelligent business process management, ML and AI, business leaders can gain insights, identify mission critical actions that are required to incite change and then automate processes to enable greater competitive advantage. For Microsoft, the most telling changes are seen in how these hyperautomation tools are being used to focus on business outcomes and creating visual experiences.
“In today’s world, customers have had to adapt at a pace like never before,” says Ulagaratchagan. “It is not just critical to their competitive advantage but, more often than not, it is critical to their survival. Covid-19 has made this transformation even more urgent. Organisations that were sceptical of the cloud are now fully invested, and customers who were already on a path to the cloud have accelerated it significantly.
“This is where Microsoft’s Power Platform comes in. The Power Platform provides a single, unified, low-code platform that enables citizen developers and pro developers to build end-to-end solutions in days and weeks, instead of months.”
The Power Platform is a suite of solutions, including Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agent. Power Apps enables an author to build an app and make it available on browsers, iOS and Android, while Power Automate provides a no-code experience that enables customers to build automated business processes. Power Virtual Agent is the newest member of the suite and provides a no-code experience to build chatbots.
The city of Kobe in Japan leveraged the power and flexibility of the Power Platform to support its citizens as they dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As part of its crisis response, the Japanese government announced a Special Cash Payment Program that allowed every citizen to apply for a subsidy,” explains Ulagaratchagan. “The citizens could apply for the cash subsidy by mailing a paper application form or using the government website.
“However, there was no system to track the application status once the citizen had submitted an application. As a result, city officials were facing a high volume of incoming phone calls – over 40,000 each day.”
With a limited number of officers available, only a few thousand calls could be taken each day, causing further issues with repeat calls that continued to inundate officers. They urgently needed a system to monitor, manage and respond to applications and keep citizens informed of progress.
In just four weeks, city officials were able to build and roll out an end-to-end system using the Power Platform. They used Power Virtual Agents to create a chatbot to respond to frequently asked questions. They used Power Apps Portals to build a website, where citizens can check the status of their application, and they developed a Covid-19 information dashboard using Power BI. Officers now had more time to focus on analysing data and working on other tasks.
But Microsoft is not working alone in helping its customers. Its worldwide ecosystem of partners is playing an essential role in terms of ongoing product improvement and delivery of the Microsoft vision for the BI space.
“From day one, partners have been critical to the success of Power BI,” says Ulagaratchagan. “In the Power BI team, we believe that by helping our partners be successful, we can in turn delight our customers. More than any other BI product in the industry, Power BI has focused on empowering our partner ecosystem.”
Microsoft showcases its partners’ solutions on PowerBI.com. “We have over 300 solutions from partners showcased on our product website,” he says. “Not only can customers discover partner solutions from dozens of countries, by industry, and organised by function, they can also trial these solutions directly in the browser. No other product in the industry provides such a rich, expansive, platform for partners to show off their capabilities.
“The Power BI engineering team also meets weekly with our partners to share our product roadmap, get feedback on planned features, and provide insights and best practices on how to leverage Power BI. This engagement provides a direct connection between the product team and our partner ecosystem.
“As a result of the deep engagement between Power BI and partners, over 19,000 partners sold Power BI to customers in 2019, of which 6,900 were selling Power BI for the first time.”
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how they are using machine learning, cloud computing and artificial intelligence tools to empower organisations and help them make better decisions, faster. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 41 of the digital edition of the Winter 2020 issue of The Record.
Kamil Karbowiak, managing director at Data Courage, says: “Thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies, our clients are now able to stay proactive as our predictive and behavioural modelling solutions give them insight into upcoming events with great precision.”
Iryna Moiseyeva, CEO of Cloud Services, says: “We actively explore automated assessments and the five Rs approach to rationalisation – rehost, refactor, rearchitect, rebuild, replace – to help customers adopt technologies faster and in the best way.”
Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, says: “Our aim is to help customers make sense of the wide array of data they generate and use it to increase productivity and efficiency, and reduce operational costs.”
Cathy Redford, vice president of sales at Synergy Technical, says: “Using [Windows Virtual Desktop and Microsoft Teams], financial institutions are now able to continue to meet their complex security requirements and provide highly personalised experiences for consumers.”
Taras Young, marketing manager at CompanyNet, says: “We use Microsoft’s artificial intelligence tools to help our customers speed up and simplify their operations.”
Ravi Gopinath, chief cloud and product officer at AVEVA, says: “Adoption of analytics is one of the greatest drivers of digital transformation, as businesses seek greater data-driven insights and data is helping teams to focus on the critical factors that determine business resilience.”
Michel Delvaux, senior marketing consultant at MECOMS, says: “We see that technologies like machine learning (ML) and AI can help our clients to improve their customer service.”
Chris Parker, senior product manager for visual solutions at Sharp Europe, says: “Sharp’s new software subscription service, Synappx WorkSpaces, will help businesses improve productivity and make better decisions faster on their meeting room environment.”
Rob Doucette, vice president of product management at Martello Technologies, says: “By the end of the project, Martello’s monitoring solution allowed for a successful migration, which included a reduction of service ticket volume and a proactive handling prior to end user impact.”
Sammy Wahab, founder and CEO of Aztute, says: “Aztute is using Microsoft Cloud’s big data and artificial intellience platform to help public health agencies establish the connection between policy implementation and epidemiological data.”
Anders Løkke, senior director of strategic alliances at Pexip, says: “Ensuring business continuity and improving the ability to make well-informed decisions has never been more relevant than it is today.”
John Colgan, CEO of Solgari, says: “Before you can derive better and faster decisions, it’s essential to have more accurate data.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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