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Microsoft's AI strategy takes shape throughout its technology stack

ATLANTA -- Microsoft has gone all in on an AI strategy, bringing deep learning capabilities to virtually every area of its stack. The goal is to enable customers to be more efficient in operations and to achieve desired outcomes.

Over the past 12 to 18 months, Microsoft has been hard at work to keep pace with other companies like Salesforce and Oracle, which are building artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning capabilities into their platforms. For all providers, the goal is to infuse internal system data on customers and inventory with third-party data to enhance a picture of customers and prospects.

During the keynote address at the Microsoft Ignite conference, CEO Satya Nadella focused on four key areas where AI strategy has come to pervade the Microsoft stack: agents, applications, services and infrastructure. Agents encompass new technologies such as Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant. Applications encompass Office 365 services, including SharePoint, Delve and Skype for Business. Services encompass new AI capabilities paired with technologies like the virtual reality device HoloLens, and infrastructure encompasses Microsoft's public cloud and platform as a service offering, Azure, which enables real-time, scalable computing for the volume and kind of data generated by AI applications.

"I really liked the [ability] to take information from a sticky and move it over to Cortana," said CRM Essentials partner and SearchCRM contributor Brent Leary. "But I'd really like to see a salesperson asking, 'Where are we in this sales process?' I really hope they get to that soon. From a business perspective, that's where things get exciting."

As an example of its AI strategy, Microsoft showed how Lowe's, the home improvement store, is using AI to inform its kitchen remodeling process. Customers can use the virtual reality HoloLens to look at a mocked-up kitchen with various tiles, counter surfaces and appliances chosen; they also have the ability to manipulate those choices by color, size or other attributes on command.

"They used the analytics stack to detect certain things around the kitchen, then create a mashup where HoloLens displays the kitchen based on what Lowe's has for inventory," said SearchCRM and SearchContentManagement contributor Reda Chouffani. "They are not only improving customer service … but also … [collecting] all that information and [turning] around [to] mine it for insights on what products do consumers really like to focus on; which products should we ignore? That was a powerful use of the APIs within the Cortana intelligence suite."

Microsoft also introduced a new computing model, FPGA, or field programmable gate array, that eliminates the processing of information at the processor level and does more "at the edge," which enables a greater amount of processing faster. For real-time analysis, Chouffani said, you want that performance to crunch information quickly.

With Azure behind the scenes, "Microsoft will have the most powerful supercomputer that will be able to crunch all the information to compute all the data to deliver insightful information to consumers," Chouffani said. This kind of highly scalable computing enabled the translation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace from Russian into English in less than three seconds.

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