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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.

Atlassian Summit 2017 Livestream

I’ve concluded that, for a lot of tech company user conferences, the livestream is the best choice. You get the announcements and keynotes, some of the better sessions, but none of the expense and hassle. If you are a hardcore software developer or IT professional, then the conference is likely worthwhile since it provides an opportunity to connect to others in your field. For bloggers, marketing pros, analysts, and the rest of the ecosystem, the livestream does just fine. Livestreams were also a way to “attend” events that your company or schedule would not permit. Such is the case with Atlassian Summit 2017. The company I worked for (but no longer work for) would never have approved an expenditure like that.

Atlassian Summit 2017 was both familiar and unique. It followed the basic formula of most tech customer conferences. There were keynotes and breakout sessions and the livestream had both. The keynotes, the centerpiece of any livestream or conference, started with a lot of hoopla – dancers, loud EDM, that sort of thing. After the merriment, a co-founder or CEO (or both) come out to extol the virtues of the company culture and charitable giving. Has everyone noticed that every tech company now has a charitable foundation ala Salesforce? Clearly, it’s in vogue and tech companies love to parade out their good works out at conferences. Then we finish up with a speaker, most likely an author, “thinker”, or celebrity who struggles to connect what they do to the company’s products. Kevin Spacey did that masterfully a few years ago. I saw Scott Adams speak an IBM conference where he was funny but struggled to connect with the theme of the conference.

What was different about the Atlassian keynotes was how sloppy they seemed. The co-founders and co-CEOs, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar dressed like they were homeless people. Seriously, baseball caps and tousled hair as if they just woke up and said “Oh damn! I have to give a talk in 5 minutes! Better throw on some clothes. No time for a shower.” Just sloppy. Some of the presenters also seemed nervous or unrehearsed as if they were unprepared for the big stage. It may be that this was what Atlassian was going for, trying to project an image of informality and genuineness. Perhaps but to an enterprise IT professional I doubt this would inspire confidence in Atlassian’s products.

And that’s very unfortunate because the best part of Atlassian’s announcements would certainly appeal to the biggest enterprise customers. Data Center, for example, has expanded to include more Atlassian products and added more enterprise grade features. Cache replication and Rebalancing tools especially will allow for more stability in large installations. The new Identity Manager makes Atlassian products more palatable in security-minded organizations. The addition of Project level administration will also appeal to large enterprises where it is untenable for even a group of administrators to manage each project individually. Even something as simple as the new dependency report will be a help to project managers and release managers trying to manage big and complex projects of the type found in large enterprises.

In other words, the image that Atlassian has of itself and projects outward doesn’t sync with growing ability to service the largest of companies. That’s what made the Atlassian Summit 2017 so unique. These customer confabs are usually carefully scripted to project a brand that is especially palatable to the biggest customers. Atlassian obviously prefers to go its own way and be genuine. While I would love to see them drop the aging gamer look – really guys, it looks silly – for Atlassian, being themselves is more important than looking “enterprise ready.” While I think this will change over time but at this moment in time it’s who they are.

On a final note. A number of people saw my posts on Twitter as being negative toward Atlassian. This is ironic given that the theme of Keynote speaker Kim Scott was Radical Candor. When you consider the scope of Radical Candor, saying that the CEO should lose the baseball cap or show up on time for the Keynote is not particularly harsh. So, lighten up people. And lose the baseball cap on stage.