Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella used his opening keynote at the firm’s Ignite conference in Orlando to set the tone for other presentations, peppering his comments with real world use cases as well as high-minded mission statements and principles, although there was inevitably a good deal of the latter:
As we talk about technology, the other things that we in particular as technologists and decision-makers will have to keep in mind are the timeless values that drive what we do. How are we going to use technology to empower people? Every piece of technology should help embellish the capability of human beings. We definitely want more productivity and efficiency, but we do not want to degrade humanity. We want technology to provide new levels of inclusiveness…How can we bring more people into as full participants in our society, in our economy, using technology? How can we make sure that there's no bias built into technology?
But it was the use case references that were intended to make things real for the audience. Nadella cited the changing nature of work as a case in point:
When you think about the nature of work, it's changing. It's no longer about routine tasks, it is about unlocking the creativity inside of your organization. It is about going beyond individual productivity to teams, dynamic teams. It is about ensuring the security of your digital estate and really changing the frontier of simplicity around management of the digital estate.
Car manufacturer Ford’s operations in Detroit are an example of this in practice, he added, noting that he’d observed at first hand how the various departments - manufacturing, design, engineering, sales - have to collaborate to bring a new model of car to the market:
It was something that I had not understood, but most of the design in the past was done using clay models. You know, they weighed something like 5,000 pounds. And so if you wanted a feedback loop on it, you actually needed to move the clay model so that people in manufacturing could comment on it, or people in sales could comment on it. Just now think of what we can do, though, with something like mixed reality, with HoloLens and with these Oasis headsets all being used as part of Microsoft 365. How we can bring something like Teams and mixed reality together to change, in fact, the frontier of collaboration.
Later, Scott Guthrie, EVP of Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, picked up some of these themes, drilling down more deeply onto the Azure cloud stack, including the regulatory and compliance challenges customers face:
The combination of Azure and Azure Stack also now allows you to meet literally every regulatory need. Azure today has more compliance certifications than any other cloud provider. It runs in more countries and regions than any other cloud provider, as well. Yet, we know there's still going to be scenarios where the data and applications need to reside in a specific country that doesn't yet have a public cloud provider with a data center. This is where Azure Stack now allows you to complete that story
A good exemplar is EY, he added:
EY is one of the largest professional services firms in the world and they're using Azure to run many of their applications. And being a trusted and secure cloud provider was the key reason why they chose Azure. The documents and data that they store on it are amongst the most sensitive pieces of data in the world.
The challenge they've had is being able to use a single cloud application for all their clients. Some countries in the world, for example, Russia, require that company documents can't leave their soil and no public cloud provider currently operates in that country. And the beauty of Azure Stack is that it gives EY now the ability to write their application once and deploy it both in Azure and run it in their own facilities in those countries with Azure Stack. This gives them the ability to meet literally every regulatory requirement in every country in the world with a single code base.
As for AI, Judson Althoff, EVP Worldwide Commercial Business, cited another customer example in the shape of container firm Maersk:
Every container that Maersk builds today now has an array, a sensor fabric that harnesses data coming off the ship. We then take that data and rationalize it. We've created this massive data lake over which we can reason with algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence so that we can actually help them make better decisions about route optimizations, fuel consumption.
So these things may seem quite obvious to you, but what may not be is what has come next. And that is that we've actually taken Maersk's software assets, their intellectual property, and we've put them on Azure. And we've created a digital partnership that actually allows them to extend that IP to the greater ecosystem.
Now, instead of having a business that's all about moving a container from point A to point B, which is a very competitive business with low margins, they are, in fact, a technology company that's creating an ecosystem where digital port builders can take their APIs and actually have some sensibility about when containers come to port so that the cranes are ready, the crews are ready to take materials off the ship and hand them off to last-mile delivery. It's creating end-to-end supply chain management as a service. Maersk isn't just about big ships and containers now, they are, in fact, a technology company. And their market opportunity now is an order of magnitude more than what it has been historically.
Another use case cited was Nalco Water, a company best known for selling cooling systems for industrial-sized energy plants. Althoff explained:
They basically sell water valves that enable them to provide water in manufacturing scenarios across many, many different industries. So you might imagine that the gross margin and profitability on delivering advanced plumbing is not very high. The complexity around providing service professionals to go do break/fix work, also very costly, and not delivering great bottom-line results.
We set out on a digital journey with them. Again, multi-device, multi-sense IoT capabilities across every product that they now build. We then harnessed that data. We've created a data estate for Ecolab. It's not about a siloed relational database here or a Hadoop cluster in the cloud, it's about having this common frame, this data estate because, in fact, the system can only be as intelligent as the data over which it reasons. Once we built that, we then could fuel their field customer service applications, their CRM applications, enable a different discussion with the customer so that the business application pursuit actually creates a new form of customer engagement.
Their field service people arrive long before there's ever an issue. Their sales people speak in terms of EROI, what is the ecological return on investment that a customer might be making? And the result is that they're saving companies like Ford billions of gallons of water on a per-annum basis. In fact, Ford already has saved enough water for 3 million human beings to drink on a per-annum basis.
Althoff also pointed to the work down with financial services provider UBS to harness their data assets:
One of the questions that has to be asked and answered in digital transformation is, how can I take the data about my product and create a service that enables the data to be more valuable than the product itself? So that's exactly what we did with UBS. We took their risk management systems, we helped them form their IP to production-class software as a service, placed it on the Azure platform.
The results are we improved their performance by over 100 percent, and we've lowered their cost by 40 percent. If you do the quick math, three times return on productivity for all of their financial analysts. And it really translates to fantastic outcomes. Their people engage with three times as many customers as they otherwise would. They provide them with better information and how to respond to real-time financial considerations like never before.
Finally, he pointed to beer manufacturer Karlsberg. As a company that’s been around more than a century, it has decades of experience around how to make beer, but struggled to take its data around that and “mash that up” to empower employees to make the right decisons about bringing new products to market. Microsoft’s work with the firm began with rationalising the data estate and assets:
Our first experiment yielded an outcome that said you want to take your Russian pilsner and rebrand it and launch it in Sao Paolo, because the taste preferences in Brazil line up with the beer you're producing in Russia. The marketing department about lost their wigs. They said, ‘How could we possibly do this? This makes no sense’. But they took a leap of faith and they did and they sold 30% more of that beer than they had ever sold before.
Harnessing the data, providing the outcomes, rationalizing the intelligence, and then using products like Microsoft Teams so that their marketing department can collaborate well with their engineers. Fantastic outcomes. Now, they're actually even reproducing a keg management system that's driven by IoT so that a bar owner can understand how to take those taste preferences and run sales promotions in their given local markets. So they're engaging with their customers like never before.
While there was the inevitable product pitching - it’s a tech vendor conference, after all - it was refreshing to have real-world use cases used to back up the high level messaging. As we always argue at diginomica, there’s no better proof point than your customers - although letting them talk for themselves is preferable.