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Microsoft Infuses Products with Machine Learning and the Social Graph

Micsoroft plus LinkedIn Social Graph

This article was recently published on Amalgam Insights.

 

This past week (September 25 – 27, 2017) Microsoft held it’s Ignite and Envision Conferences. The co-conferences encompass both technology (Ignite) and the business of technology (Envision). Microsoft’s announcements reflected that duality with esoteric technology subjects such as mixed reality and quantum computing on equal footing with digital transformation, a mainstay of modern business transformation projects. There were two announcements that, in my opinion, will have the most impact in the short-term because they were more foundational.

The first announcement was that machine learning was being integrated into every Microsoft productivity and business product. Most large software companies are adding machine learning to their platforms but no company has Microsoft’s reach into modern businesses. Like IBM, SAP and Oracle, Microsoft can embed machine learning in business applications such as CRM. Microsoft can also integrate machine learning into productivity applications as can Google. IBM can do both but IBM’s office applications aren’t close to having the market penetration of Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft has the opportunity to embed machine learning everywhere in a business, a capability that none of their competitors have.

For the average knowledge or office worker, having machine learning embedded in the applications that they use every day means help doing their normal daily tasks. Machine learning in of itself is useful for analysis or automation. The real power of machine learning will be most evident when it is available to help with everyday tasks such as scheduling, analyzing data in spreadsheets, managing customers, developing financial projections, enhanced search capabilities, and creating impactful presentations. For corporate workers, this is the type of AI technology that helps them to do their jobs better, making them more valuable rather than obsolete.

The second was the integration of Microsoft 365, Microsoft’s social graph platform, with LinkedIn and Dynamics social graphs. Since Microsoft purchased LinkedIn, the big question has been “how will they leverage it?” The answer is finally here. By combining the Microsoft 365 (contacts internal to the company) and Dynamics (contacts external to the company) social graphs with the personal connections of employees, Microsoft products will help to surface and leverage useful relationships no matter what they are. There are some obvious advantages. First, it means being able to connect the right group of people together to accomplish something no matter how they are linked. By breaking down the walls between the personal, internal, and external relationships, Microsoft will allow knowledge workers to find and foster essential connections that are at the heart of business. The most obvious beneficiaries will be sales and marketing by surfacing paths to and intelligence about people that they need to do business with. Social graphs also represent rich data that can be mined for a variety of other purposes. Since the Microsoft 365 is extensible, other information about people, relationships, and location can be added to the extended social graph. This will create a rich pool of information that can be mined for a variety of purposes. Applications include finding and managing vendors and partners, recruiting new personnel from internal and external pools, identifying better ways to communicate, and seeking out M&A targets.

Microsoft’s announcements are, aside from the quantum computing announcement, more incremental but in a good way. They are taking highly hyped but useful technology and making it relevant to the masses. Both machine learning and social graphs will no longer be primarily the realm of specialized applications. Instead, through inclusion in Microsoft’s most ubiquitous apps especially Office 365, they have the potential to become part of the fabric of everyday work life.

One (Messaging) App To Rule Them All

 

There are so many messaging apps on the market right now that just keeping track of them is close to impossible. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Path, and Line live alongside Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger and a plethora of instant messaging stalwarts like Yahoo! And AOL. And these are just the consumer apps. For business communications you have BBM from BlackBerry, Microsoft Lync, instant messaging that’s part of Salesforce1 and Chatter plus messaging built into unified communications platforms such as Jabber from Cisco. Add to that a boatload of SMS applications and the sheer number of ways to send someone a simple message is overwhelming.

There is one big problem with all messaging platforms, mobile or otherwise – the applications don’t talk to each other. Most of these messaging applications are closed networks and can’t communicate through a common protocol. This is not a big problem for consumers who connect to a limited number of friends and family over a few networks. For business users, however, with many contacts spread across company approved networks, it makes it hard to have a single platform to communicate internally and externally. At present, SMS and Email still have the advantage for the business user since they use protocols common to all applications of those types.

Instant messaging is a great way to have a less intrusive, real-time conversation. Applications in business include arranging and convening meetings, making quick decisions, or answering a question immediately. It’s like a phone call without having to stop what you are doing. And it makes no sense to dismiss consumer messaging applications in a business context. Many SMB organizations use consumer products and it’s hard to imagine that the consumer app developers don’t want to find a way to leverage their technology in businesses. Business-oriented or consumer applications alike are hampered by the inability to send messages across platforms. In other words, the utility of messaging platforms is limited by lack of interoperability between applications.

For messaging platforms to realize their potential in business, there will need to be a way to send messages to any potential platform without having to provide specific hooks into a very large number of applications. Instead, a common message transport is necessary for business users to really draw value from messaging. This is why email has been so successful. An email sent form any email client or email server can communicate with any other email system. The same is true for SMS. Multi-protocol clients are not the answer since they can’t keep up with all the platforms, new and old.

Instant messaging platforms have been around for over 20 years. Isn’t it about time that we finally had just one, standard protocol for all users?