It is easy to give credit to the pandemic for the radical acceleration of the digital world. While it is true that it ignited digital transformation, it has always been our destiny to transform the world digitally.
Fast moving companies didn’t need the pandemic to drive them forward quickly- they just did it. It is quite amazing when we take a step back and realize where we were five years ago and where we are now.
I sleep, eat, and breathe the tech world, and for 30 years, a unique characteristic of technology and innovation is that it comes in waves, radically accelerated by certain factors. Sometimes those factors are the tech looking for a problem and sometimes the other at around. Sometimes it’s an event like a war, S&L crisis or a pandemic.
Our future, based on Microsoft announcements at Ignite 2021, is coalescing on three key focus areas:
- AI models that become platforms for ambient intelligence.
- Trust fabrics that span organizational boundaries.
- The metaverse (no, not Facebook).
Microsoft announced many updates to its services, and I want to highlight its newest services and how they are built using AI, the trust fabrics, and the metaverse.
Laying out the key trends
Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, began the keynote by highlighting four key trends related to digital transformation. These four trends summed up revolve around transforming, connecting, and collaborating, equipping, and protecting. I can’t argue with these and do appreciate the simplicity.
Understanding these trends and the impact of technology on business is vital to understanding how Microsoft cloud wants to equip businesses, their employees and customers. Let me pose these trends differently:
- How are businesses and organizations being digitally transformed when many businesses were not built to be digital?
- How can businesses collaborate and connect to the degree to which collaboration and connection are accelerated digitally?
- How are businesses equipped with the tools and infrastructure to innovate under their diverse circumstances?
- How will all of this digitization, collaboration, connection, and infrastructure be securely protected in a growing space?
The alternative to the transformed business can be seen and experienced from the physical world. It’s not a pretty place to be – it’s long lines, disconnection from customers, supply chain surprises, losing market share, or the inability to change anything quickly.
At Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft wanted to open its customers eyes to see how these various technologies can transform everything around them.
Microsoft Loop is a new application that brings collaboration through a “canvas.” Microsoft says it has three essential parts: loop components, pages, and loop workspaces. Microsoft says loop can be as simple as lists, tables, notes, tasks or as sophisticated as a customer sales opportunity from Microsoft Dynamics 365. Microsoft says it brings components from across Microsoft 365 apps like Teams, Outlook, and OneNote.
Loop reminds me of a “canvas” experience with the capabilities of a tag system with dynamic templates. It allows teams to collaborate and connect across different platforms. It creates flexible content for teams to see and interact with data across boundary lists.
I think Microsoft needs to think long and hard about how it describes this, as it could be very confusing. I will be honest, it took me a while to wrap my head around it. Once I use it, I will “get it” better and report back.
Customer Experience Platform
One key role for AI is to structure and make useful mounds of data that companies sit on because the value and analysis of the data have not been realized. For this reason, if a business does not make the digital transformations it needs to before it’s too late, it will get left behind.
One way that Microsoft is giving business the opportunity to make use of the data it has it by its new Customer Experience Platform (CEP). Microsoft says CEP gives business the ability to directly connect with their customers and to predict customer intent with the help of AI. It takes customer data to create transactional, behavioral, and demographical data to better understand a business’s customers.
Microsoft is spending as many resources interconnecting its offerings as it is creating new capabilities on an individual basis. This incentives customers to go all-in on Microsoft.
Azure Arc is Microsoft’s hybrid and multi-cloud solution that allows the interoperability of cloud environments including on-prem cloud and even across AWS, GCP, Oracle Cloud and IBM Cloud. Azure Arc plays a major role in addressing this so-called “trust fabric” that crosses organizational boundaries.
Microsoft is updating Azure Arc to enable Cloud-Scale analytics using Azure Synapse. It is also giving it deeper support for VMware vSphere, which allows customers to manage carbon footprints. It also has new integrations with Azure Stack HCI to allow businesses to control on-prem workloads alongside VMs across hybrid and multi-cloud solutions. Microsoft also announced a plethora of Arc-enabled data service enhancements that I think show just how much Microsoft wants to be part of every customers cloud with Arc.
The reality is that no customer goes “all-in” on any cloud, so it might as well be the control plane for all of the workloads.
OpenAI and Power Platform
Microsoft also announced that it has made OpenAI available across Microsoft’s Cloud platform. Since OpenAI released its GPT-3, Microsoft has implemented it into its Power Platform and Visual Studio Code services. Microsoft announced Azure OpenAI GTP-3 that combines the capabilities of OpenAI and Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft also announced many plans and updates for Pro developers on the Power Platform, including adding logic with Power Fx and making it open-source on GitHub. The Power Platform allows users to create low code applications, and Microsoft has announced deeper integration of Teams.
All of these incremental improvements to the Power Platform and the further interoperability between it and Teams show the Microsoft Cloud’s comprehensive capabilities for customers. The Power Platform already lowers the learning curve for businesses needing specific applications and OpenAI’s implementation into Microsoft tools should make it even better.
Defender for Business
Microsoft is also increasingly addressing the growing threat from bad actors.
Microsoft reported that 33% of all cyberattacks target small businesses, with 61% being not operable after the attack. Microsoft announced Microsoft Defender for business, bringing preventative protection, post-breach detection, and an automated investigation and response.
In the end, it does not matter how well connected, collaborative, analytical, and efficient a digital presence is. If everything is unprotected, including employees and customers from the endpoint to the cloud and across security, compliance, identity, and device management, it is all futile.
Understanding that many of these factors are changing and becoming complex is key to being in the right position to protect. Microsoft stated that security is not about perimeter and revolves around zero trust principles. Microsoft says that identifying who, how and what to trust is becoming an organization’s trust fabric for all relationships, employees, partners, customers, and workloads and services.
While there are countless ways to compromise security, one aspect of the bad actor that doesn’t change, whether for an SMB or Fortune 500, is the identity of the content being protected. It is similar to the idea that those looking for a fraudulent $100 bill do not study the fakes, and instead, they study the original.
Microsoft defined the metaverse as a persistent digital world connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places, and things that enable shared experiences across physical and digital worlds. Microsoft says that the Microsoft Cloud provides the most comprehensive set of capabilities to power the metaverse. I don’t think that’s a stretch.
Microsoft announced Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, previously Dynamic connected Store, is a service that harnesses observational data using AI-powered models to provide better insights about a store. Microsoft says that it will be available for public preview starting next month.
Microsoft is also announcing Mesh for Teams. Microsoft integrating Teams into Mesh was not unexpected considering Teams is Microsoft’s center for collaboration and Mesh is a mixed reality tool for better collaboration experiences. Mesh for Teams is the start of most if not all of the Microsoft Cloud being available in mixed reality.
The metaverse is an experience. Just how AI is allowing us to see value in data and data analytics, the metaverse in some sense of the definition allows us to see and, more so, experience collaboration and connection. I think it was good for Microsoft to mention Facebook’s announcement of its metaverse and distinguish itself from it by providing a definition.
Microsoft’s metaverse is not a replacement for the physical world. From my understanding of its definition, it is coming from the standpoint that hybrid work has changed the way interaction happens in the physical world. The metaverse is a short answer (and I say short because nothing can replace the physical world) for long-distance collaboration and to enable natural interactions.
What I would like to see for any large enterprise pursuing the metaverse is for it to consider the effect that technology can have on our interactions. I say this more towards Facebook since everyone and their grandmother knows that social media, at least the way it can be sold, can harm our social skills than any good.
In the same way, in attempting to create collaboration and connection, the metaverse could harmfully affect the way we have natural interactions by creating an environment that is perceived to be a healthy social interaction but lacks the physical presence that creates natural interactions. You cannot replace social meetups with media, and you cannot replace the physical world with the digital.
Microsoft had many announcements and updates to its “Microsoft Cloud” that addressed many of the trends of digital transformation and hybrid work. The trends that Nadella talked about — transforming, collaborating, and connecting, equipping, and securing – are all being done in the cloud, and I believe Microsoft’s focus is on point. It’s hard to argue with them.
AI undoubtedly plays a key role in how these businesses transform, interoperability closes the gaps of “trust fabrics,” and collaboration and hybrid work are becoming more interactive with the metaverse (and a lot of time and work).
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.