Satya Nadella opens his Inspire 2017 address by stating that we have an “unprecedented opportunity”
Microsoft is breaking complacency and working with everyone to build the future
by John Filippis, Strategic Engagement Manager, Quorum
The one word that hit me during the keynotes here at Microsoft Inspire 2017 was, Complacency.
Complacency is something that affects every organisation and each individual to varying degrees at different points in life.
In a new book, The Complacent Class, economist Tyler Cowen argues that many people in society (in his book he focuses on the united states) are aligning their mindsets to stagnation.
It seems that people everywhere have grown more risk averse and as a result this has bred an aura of reluctance, which has slowly abraded any desire to innovate, grow and change. The human mind, according to internationally recognised evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is a “pattern seeking” machine. Our evolutionary past has ensured that our minds are geared to seek out and create mental patterns of observed life, which in turn would improve our chance of survival. These patterns force people’s thinking and consequent actions to pursue safety, known quantities and repeatability.
The human mind is so good at this game, that it even produces patterns of understanding from data sets of complete randomness. For living proof of this, the next time you visit a casino and sit at the roulette table you will very likely find someone who will tell you with complete confidence that they know “from observation” when the wheel will spin a red or black number. Of course they cannot possibly know the pattern as its a random event, but their primitive minds have made precarious associations to try and make sense of the randomness.
Although biology of such primitive design has aided and been core to human survival in the past, adaptability and creativity per contra have been granted little consideration in this evolutionary construct. According to Cowen, the result of this is that the desire to innovate, grow and change (by virtue of it being consciously avoided) has now eroded.
In an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Tyler Cowen says he’s worried that more and more communities are self-segregating.
“We’re making decisions that are rational and even pleasurable from an individual point of view, but when everyone in society behaves this way to cement in their own security, their own mobility and social mobility as a whole goes down, inequality goes up, many measures of segregation go up,” he says. “And ultimately a bill for this comes due.”
One may draw parallels from the defining attributes of Cowen Tyler’s self-aggregating, egocentric, complacent and pleasure-seeking society to behaviours in the IT corporate landscape. Despite being an industry that drives unprecedented and unstoppable change it is always interesting to see how many things also quite oddly, stay the same.
Many organisations in these recent times of uncertainty, have retreated to the pseudo safety found in the sanctuary of the known, despite its positional alignment to stagnation and complacency. As I wander around the bustling Expo hall at Microsoft Inspire 2017 which is being held in Washington DC this year; I see a varying mix of the behavioural traits that Tyler Cowen highlighted in the exhibitors stands. Some organisation it seems are happy to keep doing what they know to be a safe bet without any fear that one day the party may end. Remember the book “Who moved my cheese ?” by Dr Spencer Johnson ? It applies here..
Our hosts Microsoft are not immune to this behaviour either, they have themselves fallen victim to complacency in recent times. Under the previous tenure of COO Kevin Turner and CEO Steven Ballmer, Microsoft had successfully grown its business from $29 Billion to $70 billion. It had successfully expanded its reach through numerous product lines to become a global behemoth, with massive leverage and cash reserves. However, despite this advantage it had descended into a position of safety by staying well inside the sanctuary of the known.
Ballmer and Turner’s mandate of strict governance and resistance to change the status quo meant that many new ideas and potential new markets got squashed before they had a chance to flourish. The most lucrative of these lost opportunities were the fastest growing tech markets of mobile, music, handsets and tablets.
Why that context is important as I sit alone typing, amongst the maelstrom that is stirring in the Expo Hall; is that Microsoft, to its credit has realised that its complacency has hindered not only its own success, but that of its partner community as well.
Satya Nadella since taking the reins of the organisation, has actively been trying to remove the barriers of complacency and the safety in the familiar, to form something new. His track record to date has been impressive in the way that he has introduced change to one of the world’s biggest corporate engines.
In the keynote addresses that have taken place this week one gets the sense that Microsoft is making every effort to reignite its position a s a leader in this new world of creativity, innovation and digital transformation. In addition to its own metamorphosis, Microsoft is making it much easier for its 64,000 strong partner network to work closer with it and come along for the ride.
According to Satya Nadella Microsoft has now re organised its products, services and partner support structures to align to the following pillars:
– Modern Workplace
– Business applications
– Application and infrastructure
– Data and Ai
Modern Workplace is defined as being the pillar that involves creative thinking, dynamic teamwork, integrated solutions and sophisticated interaction. This is delivered by Microsoft’s recently announced Microsoft 365 offering which is a composite of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS). This new Microsoft 365 offering will be offered in Business and Enterprise editions for simplicity, where Business edition will be the choice for 95% of customers. What this will deliver will be a single way to get access to a platform that can deliver creativity and teamwork with simplicity and security. Nadella constantly reiterated that Microsoft 365 is now “infused” with artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable the leverage of the rapidly strengthening cognitive services now on offer.
Business applications as defined by Nadella are no longer passive tools that wait for the input but rather they need to be to be intelligent and they need to take action on your behalf. The key to making this happen is that there needs to be a common data model from which they can leverage. Once the data model is communised these business applications can utilise their inbuilt modularity and connected data graphs from which AI components can act. This architectural construct was highlighted with a demonstration utilising Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and LinkedIn to showcase how data can move through this new model with seamless transition.
Applications and infrastructure is defined as having a Distributed hybrid cloud which is able to exhibit the characteristics of having an Intelligent Core and Edge. In addition, the utilisation of containers and microservices combined with a connected data estate is what the future of the cloud will look like for many organisations. As part of the realisation of this hybrid cloud, will be the embedding or “infusion” (as Satya likes to say) of cognitive services and AI. Microsoft have teamed up with Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo to hit the ground running with an Azure Stack offering. This promises to deliver a cloud based level of agility and flexibility to customers who are bound to on premises solutions.
Data and AI
Data and AI is by far the most interesting space of research and development in the industry at the moment. There are a myriad of applications and use cases where Artificial Intelligence or AI will have a broad and fundamental impact. What will make this impact felt in our lives will be the rate at which vast cloud based data estates can be made available to AI engines. Once these data ecosystems are available and can be accessed, the “Intelligence” of AI can then develop dramatically. These two very powerful elements will require each other in the future to produce fruitful outcomes for making a difference in many aspects of society.
A powerful demonstration in one of the keynotes showed how a Skype for Business IM based bot was able to generate and process an instantiation of an insurance policy for a 2016 Ford Mustang (and a red one at that!). The bot was able to quickly access the data estate which comprised the information for the vehicle details, insurance risk level, pricing and many other insurance policy attributes. It was then able to ask the pertinent questions, compile the answers from the customer and immediately issue an insurance policy that was accurate. It was impressive to watch how AI and its access to the relevant data repositories, could potentially make insurance policy generation a person free zone.
To put the pending impact of the above technologies in context, I recently I caught an article in The Australian newspaper that was penned by Chris Griffith. He had interviewed professor of AI Toby Walsh from the University of New South Wales. In the interview Professor Walsh set the scene for what the foreseeable future would look like and predicted that in 15-20 years the following will likely occur:
– Smartphones will regularly take photos of you to identify your health status
– Computers with applications will both hire you and fire you
– Computers will manage you during your employment
– We will send our autonomous cars off to work as taxis and earn us money
– Day to day business management will slowly be ceded to machines
– Taxi drivers will be a thing of the past
– The nightly news will be automatically created and edited by machines
– Device interfaces will disappear; we will simply speak and the devices will perform the required tasks
– Your digital presence (i.e. social media profile) could well continue after you have passed away with AI engines running your conversations based of their previous learnings
– Hollywood stars long passed away will be reanimated in new films
For some the above predictions may seem like a distant and obscure world, however the technology for all of the above is already here and some of these predictions have already transcended to become history. Think self-driving cars, Ford has already planned release in 2025. Another example is from the latest Star Wars Film Rogue One, where the late actor Peter Cushing was digitally reanimated to resume his role (and very convincingly at that!) as Gran Moff Tarkin. Or you might find that the Cortana and Siri experience you have today is already in the intelligent quadrant and is now starting to think and act more like you with every update.
We are at a key inflexion point with AI, where the future is already upon us, what we have today are the first baby steps into a realm of immense opportunity and it is just going to get better, smarter and faster.
I took some baby steps of my own into this brave new world by virtue of taking an Augmented Reality (AR) tour at the HoloLens Lab at Inspire 2017. I was able to experience the creation of medical operating theatre design in AR, through the HoloLens headsets that were showcased at last years conference in Toronto.
The experience was interesting but not as immersive or as convincing as I had expected. It feels like I have a little TV screen hanging in front of my face that I cant really see properly. The viewing pane is too small to show you the full scale of the image. Thereby forcing you to move your focus around to see the whole projected image. Although the technology is impressive, it is unable at this point in time to provide the 180 or 360 degree view that one would need to experience AR in its full form. But I am sure that someone in a lab somewhere already has that next generation HoloLens headset or even a ” HoloLens cornea implant” already on the drawing board!
The opportunities and possibilities of what these technologies promises is exciting as it is endless. Microsoft have made significant operational changes since last year to ensure that its technology and support structures are more accessible than ever. With its incredibly diverse and capable global partner network behind it, the stage is set to take Microsoft’s base metal tools, play alchemy and turn them into solution gold.
Refreshingly it seems, Microsoft is not just breaking complacency, it is smashing it to pieces. It is getting creative, more connected and is definitely going to be true to its vision of empowering its customers and partners to “do more”.
Satya Nadella describes this as an “unprecedented opportunity” and I concur.
Check out his Inspire 2017 keynote message here..
Overall it was a great event and I am already imagining what the Microsoft world will look like at Inspire 2018! It will be Inspiring for sure!
Who knows, if I play my cards right next year with a bit of coding, I may even have a bot writing that 2018 article for me…or even replace me altogether!
Check out the Inspire 2017 pics from the show below….!