Microsoft doubling down on Big Data

Microsoft says its recent focus on and investments in the Big Data space have made it a key player. That carries with it new partner opportunities, even for smaller ones with a focused vertical strategy.

Tiffany Wissner MSFT

Tiffany Wissner, Senior Director, Data Platform, at Microsoft

MISSISSAUGA – Thursday, Microsoft hosted what it termed the Big Data Debate at its Mississauga Ontario offices, in a well-attended event that the sponsors noted attracted almost everyone who had signed up in advance – no mean feat. Tiffany Wissner, Senior Director, Data Platform, at Microsoft was the featured keynote speaker, and she laid out the company’s initiatives in the Big Data space, some of which were very recent. She also provided some genuinely exciting examples of how customers are using the technology to become more efficient, save money, and even of being able to offer new services to customers.

Wissner emphasized Microsoft’s momentum in a growing Big Data space, particularly since they launched SQL Server 2014 a year ago. On a macro level, she emphasized the significance of the opportunity, as validated by a global study IDC did on behalf of Microsoft assessing how 2000 customers around the world were using and thinking about data.

“There were two types of companies — those effectively using data and those that were less strategically using it, and IDC estimated the difference between them was a $1.6 trillion revenue opportunity for those effectively using data, over their competitors,” Wissner said. “Companies that were more successful were using more diverse sets of data, beyond traditional relational data. The more data sources used, the more successful they were. Those that could quickly act on the data were more successful as well.”

Wissner said that it was essential to foster a data culture in organizations, where people want to use data to make decisions in the business.

“Part of our data platform strategy is enabling curiosity,” she said.

“First, you have to capture and manage the data, then analyze and transform it, because the way you grab it isn’t the most useful way to make decisions on it,” Wissner said. “Then you get it across the organization, and put it in visual tools, so people can act on it. We think about how to enable each stage of this lifecycle.”

“Part of our strategy has been enabling with our [Azure HDInsight] cloud solution, capturing data where it is born and the format it is born in, because moving data is hard, and much of it is born in the cloud,” she said. She indicated that SQL 2014’s true in-memory transaction processing, the result of a large investment in memory, gives the predictable performance customers need in the cloud.

Wissner provided several case studies showing the impact of Microsoft Big Data solutions.

“Every day the NASDAQ’s data warehouse is increasing by 500 TB, and they had queries that took a day or two to run,” she said. “Using SQL 2014, they were able to cut their query time to minutes, and to cut their storage footprint by 50 per cent.”

Another customer, ThyssenKrupp, equipped all their elevators with sensors, emitting information about them, providing data on things like wheels, cables, and cooling to indicate their health.

“A company that has been in physical manufacturing is re-energizing their business using data, turning data into a new service for their customers,” Wissner said. “This both creates a new source of revenue and drives a better customer experience.”

Pier 1 Imports has both brick and mortar sites and a very active online store, and wanted to combine them to create a single repository of data. Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning platform, which went live a month ago, makes this possible.

“Pier 1 are able now to use machine learning to look at purchase behavior and see what the next product was that customers bought,”Wissner said. “This lets them design marketing campaigns to target products people would be more likely to buy, which in turn produces a better customer experience and builds more customer loyalty.”

Microsoft’s Power BI cloud service, which utilizes Excel to provide a more familiar BI experience for users also received a major enhancement two months ago. New capabilities were added, and the service was also decoupled from Office and the price slashed.

“Deciding how people can be best armed to visualize the data has been a major focus for us,” Wissner said. “Power BI provides a richer and more visual experience, leveraging people’s knowledge of Excel to accelerate the time needed to get people up and running. The public preview allows users to explore and discover answers using natural language, with a drag and drop experience, providing really compelling visualizations with the ability to just ask questions.”

The customer case study here was MediaCom, a multichannel advertiser, which manages campaigns with multi-channel creative.

“They are looking to optimize their campaigns quickly, and historically, this would take a few weeks to gather data to get results people could use,” Wissner said. “Using Power BI – Excel with BI built on top of it – makes business intelligence much easier to use, and reduced reporting time from weeks to hours. They can now create reports within hours of campaigns, to see what advertising is working within a day instead of having to wait for weeks.”

Wissner said Microsoft is now focusing on how to take BI mobile.

“We hadn’t made a lot of progress here until the last few months, and since then it has been fantastic,” she said.

Utsav Arora UDC

Utsav Arora, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Applications at IDC

Utsav Arora, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Applications at IDC, said all this is creating new opportunities for the channel.

“There is a lot of potential for partners here, especially niche partners who can offer vertically specific solutions, like taking a Microsoft solution and customizing it for asset management firms,” Arora said. “That’s where the channel can play a significant role. Another opportunity is in services and consulting – because skills around data science are lacking. The niche players as well as the ‘Big Four’ integrators have major opportunities here.”