Microsoft Envision/Ignite 2017: Supplying the Ingredients of Digital Transformation

ORLANDO — "Every piece of enterprise technology should help embellish the capabilities of human beings," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, to kick off Microsoft’s Envision and Ignite conferences at the Orange County Convention Center. "We definitely want more productivity and efficiency, but we do not want to degrade humanity; we want technology to provide new levels of inclusiveness." 

To that end, Microsoft unveiled several updates to its technology portfolio, including a tighter integration between its LinkedIn and Microsoft 365 properties, intelligent search options via Bing for business, and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities for its customer care solutions in Dynamics 365, among other updates.

"The nature of work is changing," said Nadella during his keynote. "It's no longer about routine tasks; it's about unlocking the creativity inside your organization. It is about going beyond individual productivity in dynamic teams; it is about ensuring the security of your digital estate, really changing the frontier of simplicity of managing the digital estate, and that is what's driving us to build Microsoft 365."

The updates to Microsoft 365 come just months after its July release. The solution ties together the capabilities of Office 365 and Windows 10 with enterprise mobility and security. A critical part of Microsoft 365 is the Microsoft Graph API, which enables users to interact with the data of millions of other users in the Microsoft cloud.

"One of the foundational things that [Microsoft 365] does," explained Nadella, "is that it creates perhaps the most strategic data asset for each of you. As you use Microsoft 365, you're creating this Microsoft Graph asset. It represents, or it captures, the knowledge of your people, their relationship with other people inside and outside the organization, their work artifacts, their projects, their schedules, and it's a very rich data set that you can reason about, that you can create a vision about inside your organization. That's the vision of Microsoft 365. It's not about trying to build individual tools, but it's about creating that next platform to be able to drive digital transformation."

Integrating the LinkedIn Graph with the Microsoft 365 Graph gives companies a more "modern workplace," Nadella said. Information from LinkedIn profiles will now appear directly within Office 365 applications. For example, to help someone prepare for a customer meeting, information about that person, drawn from LinkedIn, will appear in their contact card within the Outlook 365 calendar.

"This is the first of many LinkedIn integrations you will see in Microsoft 365 in the upcoming months," Li-Chen Miller, a partner program manager in Microsoft's artificial intelligence and research group, said during a demo of the technology on Monday. "We are committed to helping you extend your network and connect with people in meaningful ways."

Only when a company has built a strong foundation of information and data can it get started on putting it to use, Nadella reminded attendees at his keynote. "Using some of the latest technologies from natural language processing, to speech recognition, to machine reading and comprehension, we can start tackling some of those age-old challenges we've had of information discover and information search."

Microsoft's Bing for business applies AI capabilities to the Microsoft Graph to help surface relevant results about an organization within Bing search pages, including company data, project information, answers to common questions, information about people within a company, documents, and public web search results. The solution aims to save time and increase productivity for companies searching for basic information located in different parts of their Office suite to speed up email exchanges. Admins can also monitor how employees are using the system, including what terms they’re searching for, and how often, to make customizations. The system can also be linked with Cortana, Microsoft’s voice activated virtual assistant.

"We're going to continue investing in search across Microsoft 365 in order to make it more intelligent, more personal, and more contextualized," Miller said. "We are also going to invest to bring it to more employees."

The Microsoft 365 portfolio now also includes Microsoft 365 for students and education customers. Also new is Microsoft 365 for first-line workers, which aims to empower workers who are the first to engage customers, including sales associates and customer service reps.

According to Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office 365 marketing, the user base includes 2 billion people worldwide. "It's a user base that has been largely underserved by technology," Markezich said during a virtual news briefing last Wednesday. "So it's important for us to give them a solution that meets their unique needs and allows them to represent a company's mission and brand with their customers directly."

"We can't be captive to the old way of doing things, buying these large suites of business applications and trying to deploy them," Nadella said. "No, we need more modular, modern apps that are role specific...and can be composed for the specific needs you have. That's what we're doing with Dynamics 365."

Microsoft has also deepened the integrations between its PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, Office 365, and Dynamics 365 solutions. Business users who are familiar with InfoPath forms, Access databases, or SharePoint, can build their own apps to extend and automate business processes with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow.

Microsoft has bolstered its Dynamics 365 tool set with artificial intelligence capabilities designed to help customer care professionals. Additions include a virtual agent for customers, an intelligent assistant for support staff, and conversational AI management tools.

A video testimonial highlighted how HP is using Microsoft's technologies to improve customer satisfaction and handle requests and wait times more quickly and efficiently.

"This is just the beginning of a complete new journey of building AI first business applications," Nadella remarked. "We're really looking forward to the next year, where we take this module and scale it out in your businesses, and learn from it, and…have it go to all the other areas of your operations."

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