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Tag Archives: enterprise

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe take on Salesforce with their new Open Data Initiative for customer data

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe today announced a new partnership: the Open Data Initiative . This alliance, which is a clear attack against Salesforce, aims to create a single data model for consumer data that is then portable between platforms. That, the companies argue, will provide more transparency and privacy controls for consumers, but the core idea here is to make it easier for enterprises to move their customers’ data around. That data could be standard CRM data, but also information about purchase behavior and other information about customers. Right now, moving that data between platforms is often hard, given that there’s no standard way for structuring it. That’s holding back what these companies can do with their data, of course, and in this age of machine learning, data is everything. “We want this to be an open framework”, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during his keynote at the company’s annual Ignite conference. “We are very excited about the potential here about what truly putting customers in control of their own data for our entire industry,” he added. The exact details of how this is meant to work are a bit vague right now, though. Unsurprisingly, Adobe plans to use this model for its Customer Experience Platform, while Microsoft will build it into its Dynamics 365 CRM service and SAP will support it on its Hana database platform and CRM platforms, too. Underneath all of this is a single data model and then, of course, Microsoft Azure — at least on the Microsoft side. “Adobe, Microsoft and SAP are partnering to reimagine the customer experience management category,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Together we will give enterprises the ability to harness and action massive volumes of customer data to deliver personalized, real-time customer experiences at scale.” Together, these three companies have the footprint to challenge Salesforce’s hold on the CRM market and create a new standard. SAP, especially, has put a lot of emphasis on the CRM market lately and while that’s growing fast, it’s still far behind Salesforce.

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Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed. This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences. The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature. Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks. For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

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Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts

If you’ve ever attended a video meeting and wished that the speakers used really expensive cameras and lenses that allowed for that soft classy background blur of a portrait photo, then Microsoft wants to make that wish come true. The company announced a number of updates to Microsoft Teams today, and one of those is a feature that automatically detects faces and blurs the background behind a speaker. While background blur is nice (or at least we have to assume it will be because we haven’t been able to try it yet), the more useful new feature in Teams is intelligent recordings. Teams can now automatically generate captions and provide time-coded transcripts for the replays. This feature is coming to Office 365 commercial customers now. Microsoft first demoed these new transcription capabilities at its Build developer conference earlier this year. In that demo, the transcription service was able to distinguish between speakers and create a real-time transcript of the meeting. If you want to create live streams and on-demand video for a wider audience inside your company, Teams is also getting that capability next month, together with Microsoft Stream and Yammer (which seems to be lingering in the shadow of Teams these days).

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Microsoft’s SQL Server gets built-in support for Spark and Hadoop

It’s time for the next version of SQL Server, Microsoft’s flagship database product. The company today announced the first public preview of SQL Server 2019 and while yet another update to a proprietary database may not seem all that exciting at first glance, Microsoft is trying to do a few rather interesting things with this update. What’s at the core of all of the most interesting updates is an acknowledgement that there are very few companies that only use a single database product. So what Microsoft is doing with SQL Server is adding new connectors that allow business to use SQL Server to query other databases, including those of Oracle, Teradata and MongoDB. This turns SQL Server into something of a virtual integration layer — yet the data never needs to be replicated or moved to SQL Server. But there is more! SQL Server 2019 will come with built-in support for Spark and the Hadoop File System. That’s an acknowledgement of the popularity of these open-source tools, as well as the importance of big data workloads that SQL Server, if it wants to say relevant, has to be able to support, too, and it has to do so in a way that many companies are already familiar with. There’s another open source aspect here, too: SQL Server will support these big data clusters with the help of the Google-incubated Kubernetes container orchestration system. Every cluster will include SQL Server, the Hadoop file system and Spark. As for the name, it’s worth noting that many pundits expected a “SQL Server 2018,” but Microsoft opted to skip a year after SQL Server 2016 and 2017. So SQL Server 2019 it is.

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Microsoft’s machine learning tools for developers get smarter

It’s a big day for Microsoft today, which announced a slew of updates across virtually all of its product lines at its Ignite conference today. Unsurprisingly, one theme this year is artificial intelligence and machine learning . Microsoft is launching new tools to bring its Cortana assistant to the enterprise, but there is also a number of other developer-centric updates and products that are launching today. One of those is an update to the Azure Machine Learning services , the company’s platform for letting anyone build and train machine learning models with a focus on prediction. With today’s update, this platform is getting a new tool that automates much of the time-consuming selection, testing and tweaking necessary to build a solid model. Like many of Microsoft’s AI initiatives, the idea here is to allow any developer to build and use these models without having to delve into the depths of TensorFlow, PyTorch or other AI frameworks. In addition to this automation service, Microsoft is also making more hardware-accelerated models for FPGAs available on Azure Machine Learning, as well as a Python SDK that will make the service more accessible from a number of popular IDEs and notebooks. Azure Cognitive Services , which plays home to most of Microsoft’s pre-built and customizable machine learning APIs, is also getting a few updates. The Cognitive Services speech service for speech recognition and translation is now generally available, for example, and Microsoft argues that the voices its deep learning-based speech synthesis system generates are now nearly indistinguishable from recordings of real people. The same, of course, is true of Google’s and AWS’s speech synthesis engines, so we’ll have to hear them ourselves to see how true to life these voices are. Microsoft’s Bot Framework SDK is also getting an update that promises to make human and computer interactions more natural. Version 4 of this framework is now generally available, and Microsoft specifically highlights that building a first bot is now easier. Since the hype around bots has died down significantly, though, we’ll have to see if developers still care now that most consumers tend to shy away from interacting with these systems

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Adobe gets its company, snaring Marketo for $4.75 billion

A week ago rumors were flying that Adobe would be buying Marketo , and lo and behold it announced today that it was acquiring the marketing automation company for $4.75 billion. It was a pretty nice return for Vista Equity partners, which purchased Marketo in May 2016 for $1.8 billion in cash. They held onto it for two years and hauled in a hefty $2.95 billion in profit. We published a story last week, speculating that such a deal would make sense for Adobe , which just bought Magento in May for $1.6 billion . The deal gives Adobe a strong position in enterprise marketing as it competes with Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Put together with Magento, it gives them marketing and ecommerce, and all it cost was over $6 billion to get there. “The acquisition of Marketo widens Adobe’s lead in customer experience across B2C and B2B and puts Adobe Experience Cloud at the heart of all marketing,” Brad Rencher, executive vice president and general manager, Digital Experience at Adobe said in a statement. Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Constellation Research sees it as a way for Adobe to compete harder with Salesforce in this space. “If Adobe takes a stand on Marketo, it means they are serious about B2B and furthering the Microsoft-Adobe vs Salesforce-Google battle ahead,” he told TechCrunch. He’s referring to the deepening relationships between these companies. Brent Leary, senior analyst and founder at CRM Essentials agrees, seeing Microsoft as also getting positive results from this deal. “This is not only a big deal for Adobe, but another potential winner with this one is Microsoft due to the two companies growing partnership,” he said. Adobe reported its earnings last Thursday announcing $2.29 billion for the third quarter, which represented a 24 percent year over year increase and a new record for the company. While Adobe is well on its way to being a $10 billion company , the majority of its income continues to come from Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, among other Adobe software stalwarts. But for a long time, the company has wanted to be much more than a creative software company

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Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange Zaif says it was hacked and ~$60M worth of cryptocurrency, including 6,000 bitcoin, were stolen from exchange’s…

Wolfie Zhao / CoinDesk : Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange Zaif says it was hacked and ~$60M worth of cryptocurrency, including 6,000 bitcoin, were stolen from exchange's hot wallets   —  Yet another Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange has been hacked with a loss of total 6.7 billion yen, or $60 million worth of cryptocurrency, including 6,000 bitcoin.

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Researcher shares flaw, reported to Western Digital in April 2017, that bypasses admin password for WD’s My Cloud NAS drives; WD says fix coming in a…

Zack Whittaker / TechCrunch : Researcher shares flaw, reported to Western Digital in April 2017, that bypasses admin password for WD's My Cloud NAS drives; WD says fix coming in a few weeks   —  A security researcher has published details of a vulnerability in a popular cloud storage drive after the company failed to issue security patches for over a year.

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GitLab raises $100M

GitLab , the developer service that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform , today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series D funding round at a valuation of $1.1 billion. The round was led by Iconiq . As GitLab CEO  Sid Sijbrandij told me, this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $145.5 million , will help it enable its goal of reaching an IPO by November 2020. According to Sijbrandij, GitLab’s original plan was to raise a new funding round at a valuation over $1 billion early next year. But since Iconiq came along with an offer that pretty much matched what the company set out to achieve in a few months anyway, the team decided to go ahead and raise the round now. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub earlier this year helped to accelerate those plans, too. “We weren’t planning on fundraising actually. I did block off some time in my calendar next year, starting from February 25th to do the next fundraise,” Sijbrandij said. “Our plan is to IPO in November of 2020 and we anticipated one more fundraise. I think in the current climate, where the macroeconomics are really good and GitHub got acquired, people are seeing that there’s one independent company, one startup left basically in this space.

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IBM launches cloud tool to detect AI bias and explain automated decisions

IBM has launched a software service that scans AI systems as they work in order to detect bias and provide explanations for the automated decisions being made — a degree of transparency that may be necessary for compliance purposes not just a company’s own due diligence. The new trust and transparency system runs on the IBM cloud and works with models built from what IBM bills as a wide variety of popular machine learning frameworks and AI-build environments — including its own Watson tech, as well as Tensorflow, SparkML, AWS SageMaker, and AzureML. It says the service can be customized to specific organizational needs via programming to take account of the “unique decision factors of any business workflow”. The fully automated SaaS explains decision-making and detects bias in AI models at runtime — so as decisions are being made — which means it’s capturing “potentially unfair outcomes as they occur”, as IBM puts it. It will also automatically recommend data to add to the model to help mitigate any bias that has been detected. Explanations of AI decisions include showing which factors weighted the decision in one direction vs another; the confidence in the recommendation; and the factors behind that confidence. IBM also says the software keeps records of the AI model’s accuracy, performance and fairness, along with the lineage of the AI systems — meaning they can be “easily traced and recalled for customer service, regulatory or compliance reasons”. For one example on the compliance front, the EU’s GDPR privacy framework references automated decision making, and includes a right for people to be given detailed explanations of how algorithms work in certain scenarios — meaning businesses may need to be able to audit their AIs. The IBM AI scanner tool provides a breakdown of automated decisions via visual dashboards — an approach it bills as reducing dependency on “specialized AI skills”. However it is also intending its own professional services staff to work with businesses to use the new software service. So it will be both selling AI, ‘a fix’ for AI’s imperfections, and experts to help smooth any wrinkles when enterprises are trying to fix their AIs… Which suggests that while AI will indeed remove some jobs, automation will be busy creating other types of work. Nor is IBM the first professional services firm to spot a business opportunity around AI bias. A few months ago Accenture outed a fairness tool for identifying and fixing unfair AIs. So with a major push towards automation across multiple industries there also looks to be a pretty sizeable scramble to set up and sell services to patch any problems that arise as a result of increasing use of AI. And, indeed, to encourage more businesses to feel confident about jumping in and automating more.

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Microsoft launches new AI applications for customer service and sales

Like virtually every other major tech company, Microsoft is currently on a mission to bring machine learning to all of its applications. It’s no surprise then that it’s also bringing ‘AI’ to its highly profitable Dynamics 365 CRM products. A year ago, the company introduced its first Dynamics 365 AI solutions and today it’s expanding this portfolio with the launch of three new products: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Customer Service and Market Insights. “Many people, when they talk about CRM, or ERP of old, they referred to them as systems of oppression, they captured data,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate VP for business applications and industry. “But they didn’t provide any value back to the end user — and what that end user really needs is a system of empowerment, not oppression.” It’s no secret that few people love their CRM systems (except for maybe a handful of Dreamforce attendees), but ‘system of oppression’ is far from the ideal choice of words here. Yet Taylor is right that early systems often kept data siloed. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft argues that Dynamics 365 does not do that, allowing it to now use all of this data to build machine learning-driven experiences for specific tasks. Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, unsurprisingly, is meant to help sales teams get deeper insights into their prospects using sentiment analysis. That’s obviously among the most basic of machine learning applications these days, but AI for Sales also helps these salespeople understand what actions they should take next and which prospects to prioritize. It’ll also help managers coach their individual sellers on the actions they should take. Similarly, the Customer Service app focuses on using natural language understanding to understand and predict customer service problems and leverage virtual agents to lower costs. Taylor used this part of the announcement to throw some shade at Microsoft’s competitor Salesforce. “Many, many vendors offer this, but they offer it in a way that is very cumbersome for organizations to adopt,” she said.

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Microsoft is putting HoloLens to work with new Dynamics 365 applications

Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality glasses have always been interesting technology, but it’s never been clear how the company would move from novelty device to actual viable business use cases. Today, it made a move toward the latter, announcing a couple of applications designed to put the HoloLens to work in Dynamics 365, giving it a real business purpose. Dynamics 365 is Microsoft’s one-stop shop for CRM and ERP , where a company can work on some of its key business software functions including field service in an integrated fashion. The company has been looking at for HoloLens to bring computing power to a group of field workers like repair technicians for whom even a tablet would be awkward because they have to work with both hands free. For these people, having a fully functioning Windows 10 computer you can wear on your face could be a big advantage and that’s what Microsoft is hoping to provide with HoloLens. The problem was finding use cases where this would make sense. One idea is providing remote assistance for people out in the field to get help from subject experts back at the office, and today the company announced Dynamics 365 Remote Assist. In this scenario, the worker is wearing a HoloLens either to understand the repair scenario before they go to the site or to get remote help from a subject expert while they are at the site. The expert  can virtually see what the technician is seeing through the HoloLens, and walk them through the repair without leaving the office, even circling parts and providing other annotations in real time. Microsoft Remote Assist in action with expert walking the technician through the task. Photo: Microsoft Microsoft is not the first company to create such a solution. ScopeAR announced RemoteAR 4 months ago, a similar product, but Microsoft has the advantage of building it natively into Windows 10 and all that entails including data integration to update the various repositories with information after the repair is complete. The other business scenario the company is announcing today is called Dynamics 365 Layout. A designer can create a 3D representation of something like a store or factory layout in CAD software, view the design in 3D in HoloLens, and adjust it in real time before the design goes live. As Microsoft’s Lorraine Bardeen, who has the cool title of General Manager for Microsoft Mixed Reality says, instead of creating cardboard mockups and adjusting your 3D CAD drawing on your computer as you find issues in your design, you can put on your HoloLens and make adjustments in a virtual representation of the layout and it adjusts the CAD drawing for you as you make changes.

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UiPath lands $225M Series C on $3 billion valuation as robotic process automation soars

UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $225 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation. The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $153 million Series B  we reported on last March . At that time, it had a valuation of over $1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months. There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to the company. It currently has 1800 enterprise customers and claims to be adding 6 new ones a day, an astonishing rate of customer acquisition. The company is part of the growing field of robotic process automation or RPA . While the robotics part of the name could be considered a bit of a misnomer, the software helps automate a series of mundane tasks that were typically handled by humans. It allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems. Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at HfS, a firm that watches the RPA market, says RPA isn’t actually that intelligent

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