Microsoft is struggling. The tech giant still relies on its PC software, but nobody buys PCs anymore, with sales of the technology falling 10.8% year-on-year in Q3 of last year. Attempts to remain relevant have had mixed success, with their attempts to crack the smartphone market one of the more notable failures.
One of the ways that Microsoft hopes to remain relevant that may see more success is heavy investment in creating data analytics tools, an important and lucrative industry that they are well positioned to enter.
Microsoft first entered the data analytics market just over two years ago when Power BI went into preview. Last Autumn, they introduced the Cortana Analytics Suite - a single subscription for all of the Azure big data and analytics tools, that puts all Microsoft’s cloud analytics services under one roof and eliminates the need to mix and match tools from various sources. This is combined with the Cortana digital personal assistant technology, as well as ‘Perceptual Intelligence,’ which includes computer vision, facial and speech recognition as well as text analytics. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the new analytics suite would ‘democratize big data,’ and along with Cloud technology, it is an area that company hopes with bring them back into the public consciousness.
The Cortana suite uses machine learning, unlimited data storage, and perceptual intelligence to ‘transform data into intelligent action.’ It uses the Cloud to deliver analytics as a service, which means it benefits from having data stored in a secure, compliant and scalable environment, that also makes significant use of that cloud platform's storage facilities. A single analytics subscription product therefore facilitates the payment of dividends on its substantial cloud infrastructure investment.
Azure-backed CAS works with both the structured data found in databases and the unstructured data of Internet of Things situations and log files. The Power BI tools that Microsoft has previously set out for dashboard and visualizations have been combined with the predictive Microsoft machine learning (ML) software, as well as the Cortana voice interface that will be present in Windows 10. Its voice-controlled personal assistant is one area which Microsoft hopes will help it carve out its niche in the market. Cortana is integrated into the analytics suite, with the thought process being that users can ask questions using Cortana and natural language without having to formulate old-fashioned database queries.
Another of the main components of the Cortana Suite is Azure Data Factory (ADF). ADF is designed to automate and streamline the movement of data from disparate sources into an organization's business intelligence and analytics systems, and convert it into formats that companies can use to leverage insights.
In an Aug. 6 statement, Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president of Information Management and Machine Learning at Microsoft, wrote: ‘With ADF, existing data processing services can be composed into data pipelines that are highly available and managed in the cloud. These data pipelines can be scheduled to ingest, prepare, transform, analyze, and publish data, and ADF will manage and orchestrate all of the complex data and processing dependencies without human intervention.’
How successful are they going to be? Early reports around the power of the technology are good, and simplification certainly seems to be the right strategy, setting it apart from the rest of the market. Microsoft has invested heavily in analytics and the Cloud, and although it may be struggling, it still has the power and the know-how to make it pay off.