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Microsoft Cloud at Ignite 2021: Metaverse, AI and hyperconnectivity in a hybrid world

The last 18 months have resulted in a sea change throughout every industry – from the adoption of telehealth in healthcare to digital wallets in financial services to curbside pickup and contactless shopping in retail – and digital technology has been at the forefront of this seismic shift. My own habits have changed as well,…

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The last 18 months have resulted in a sea change throughout every industry – from the adoption of telehealth in healthcare to digital wallets in financial services to curbside pickup and contactless shopping in retail – and digital technology has been at the forefront of this seismic shift.

My own habits have changed as well, to the point I can’t imagine going back to a world lacking technological flexibility and digital dexterity. In other words, thank goodness I can get away with sometimes forgetting my wallet at home. Digital technology is now more necessary than ever, for every organization in every sector, as we move into an era in which people expect their digital data to be available anywhere, at any time and on any device.

Microsoft and the Microsoft Cloud are at the cutting edge of helping organizations and their employees and customers navigate the major trends of this new time. The Microsoft Cloud is used by organizations large and small – from new startups to the Fortune 500. It powers an organization’s digital capability, while providing the safeguards necessary to keep data confidential and secure.

Microsoft Ignite is an opportunity for us to show the results of our efforts across a wide spectrum of products in several key trends:

At Ignite, we are introducing more than 90 new services and updates. At the core of these new announcements is a commitment to addressing the trends and exploring breakthrough ways of connecting people, organizations and ideas. There are three major areas of news we are highlighting during Ignite:

Powering the metaverse

Let’s start by defining the term, and no, it is not the metaverse first imagined by Neal Stephenson in 1992’s “Snow Crash.” Instead, it is a persistent, digital world that is connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places and things. The metaverse enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds. As enterprises accelerate their digital transformation, the metaverse can help people meet up in a digital environment, make meetings more comfortable with the use of avatars and facilitate creative collaboration from all around the world.

The Microsoft Cloud provides a comprehensive set of resources designed to power metaverses – there will be more than one! – IoT capabilities that enable customers to create “digital twins” of physical objects in the cloud; utilizing Microsoft Mesh to build a shared sense of presence on devices; and using AI-powered resources to create natural interactions through speech and vision machine learning models.

As we discuss the metaverse, we are thinking about both a new medium and an app type, like the way we talked about the web and websites a long, long time ago, aka the 1990s. At Ignite, we are making two important announcements that continue the evolution of the metaverse:

  • Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces: Now in preview, this product provides a new perspective on the way people move and interact with nearly any space, from the retail store to the factory floor, and how they manage health and safety in a hybrid work environment.
  • Mesh for Microsoft Teams: This bridging of communication methods makes human presence the ultimate connection. Now, everyone in a meeting can be present without being physically present using personalized avatars and immersive spaces that can be accessed from any device, with no special equipment needed.

Translating AI breakthroughs for customers

Large-scale artificial intelligence models are now becoming platforms, creating ambient intelligence – digital environments that are responsive and aware of a user’s needs. These AI breakthroughs can be used by organizations in a variety of ways, from deploying intelligent agents to aid in customer service to extracting information from volumes of unstructured data.

Microsoft is continuing to expand the possibilities of what this technology can do. Just five years ago, we announced the first hyperscale AI computer. Now, we have the most powerful AI supercomputer in the world, with customers using the infrastructure to address major issues. AMD, for instance, used it to design next-gen processors. Researchers in the Netherlands utilized it to simulate how COVID-19 can be spread by aerosol particles in highly populated areas.

In Azure, we have built the fundamental capabilities to create and train large-scale models. Our partner OpenAI has used the supercomputer to train GPT-3 models, a breakthrough in natural language understanding and generation.

At Ignite, we are announcing the Azure OpenAI Service, which initially will be available by invitation only. This will give customers access to OpenAI’s powerful models in addition to the security, reliability, compliance, data privacy and other enterprise-grade capabilities built into Microsoft Azure.

Microsoft also is offering Azure OpenAI Service customers tools to ensure outputs the models provide are business-appropriate and we are monitoring how people are employing the technology to assure it is being used correctly.

Learn more about AI breakthroughs and Azure products here.

Building a trust fabric

As we continue to explore hybrid work, hyperconnected business, multi-cloud/multi-edge computing and zero trust security, there’s one key element that connects them: the ability to have a digital ecosystem where trust between parties can be established in real time.

Microsoft is building the identity system of the future, one that connects and enables people, organizations, apps and even smart devices to make real-time access decisions safely and securely. It begins with Azure Active Directory (AD), which extends beyond securing and managing access to now assisting customer processes across external collaboration methods.

Microsoft Teams Connect runs on this trust fabric – every user and every access request is secured through our identity platform. And now, secure and trusted collaboration across boundaries can be established in a matter of minutes.

At Ignite, we are excited to announce two updates to Teams Connect that help remove even more barriers and create a boundaryless ecosystem.

  • Teams Shared Channels allows users to invite an external team to join a channel, schedule a shared channel meeting and collaborate on files.
  • Chat with Teams allows users to chat seamlessly with people outside of a work network. Teams users at work can chat with any Teams user with a Microsoft personal email address or phone number and remain within the security and compliance protocols of their organization.

This means employees across multiple companies can collaborate as one extended team, and only receive the correct access necessary to do their best work.

Continuing the story

The major areas of focus we just reviewed are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new products and updates we are revealing at Ignite. Other news of note includes:

  • Microsoft Loop, a new app that moves freely across applications, enabling teams to think, plan and create together. You can organize everything you need for your project – files, links and data from other apps – into a single workspace. It is easy to use portable components to complete work in chat, meetings or documents, knowing that the content always stays in sync.
  • The Microsoft Customer Experience Platform, a marketing solution that puts organizations in control of their customer data to personalize, automate and orchestrate customer journeys.
  • Context IQ, a set of capabilities that will further integrate collaboration, sharing and communication in the flow of work across Dynamics 365, Office 365 and Teams.
  • Several major updates across Azure, including how we are helping customers manage data and applications across hybrid and multicloud environments with Azure Arc.
  • New, best-of-breed security solutions for small businesses with Defender for Business.

There’s a lot to absorb, but we are excited to share it all with you. You can watch Satya Nadella’s Ignite keynote on demand, check out all the news and announcements on the Book of News page, explore product specific blogs and read about several customer stories on our news page to learn more about this technology in action.

Related:

How we’re empowering everyone for a new world of hybrid work

Your hybrid, multicloud and edge strategy just got better with Azure

Build a hyperconnected business on a foundation of data, AI and collaboration

Protect everything with the most comprehensive approach to security

Tags: AI, Azure OpenAI Service, Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces, Ignite 2021, Mesh for Microsoft Teams, metaverse, Microsoft Cloud

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Customers share their stories on migrating to Dynamics 365

At some point, we’ve all experienced regret over not doing something. Opportunity passes us due to our over analysis, indecision, and uncertainty. Even though we’ve all done this, we rarely seek the advice of others, thinking our situation is somehow unique or different. This rationale is common among the on-premises organizations we speak to. They…

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At some point, we’ve all experienced regret over not doing something.

Opportunity passes us due to our over analysis, indecision, and uncertainty. Even though we’ve all done this, we rarely seek the advice of others, thinking our situation is somehow unique or different.

This rationale is common among the on-premises organizations we speak to. They understand the benefits for moving to the cloud but chose to focus on all the reasons not to—aging infrastructure, manual processes, and siloed data notwithstanding.

Hearing how others are approaching this critical technological evolution can be invaluable. Not to mention relatable. Here are a few customer stories we’ve collected; perhaps you might recognize yourself or the circumstances?

Discover other Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM customer stories to learn about migration best practices and the benefits others are seeing in the cloud.

A small company with sizeable goals

Sonee Sports, is a small 28-year-old, family-run retail chain in the Maldives. The company moved its Microsoft Dynamics AX to Dynamics 365 in the cloud to streamline its resource planning, point of sale, and relationship management activities. Sonee Sports has grown from a single desk in a hardware store to 10 stores across the Maldives however, this growth didn’t come without challenges, particularly when it came to technology.

Maumoon Abdullah, Sonee Sports’s co-founder, has long advocated for using technology to understand, retain, and engage new customers. “In 2016, we had a customer churn rate of 10 percent—not good. We knew that technology was key to keeping our business afloat,” Abdullah said. However, their previous enterprise resource planning (ERP) took hours to generate reports, the data was inaccurate, so decision makers stopped using it. In time, Sonee Sports realized it had to move its entire business to the cloud.

With help from Mumbai-based CloudFronts, a Microsoft Partner Network partner, Sonee Sports upgraded to Microsoft Dynamics 365, deployed Microsoft Power BI for analytics, and rolled out a cloud-based e-commerce system. “We needed an all-around ERP system that was reliable, easy to use, and mobile-friendly and that offered a host of options for accessing information. Dynamics 365 Retail fits these criteria very well.” Abdullah says. 

With this setup, Sonee Sports has cut its IT maintenance costs by 38 percent and improved customer retention by over 8 percent.

“With Dynamics 365, we finally have the data we need to understand our customers.” Abdullah says. “The value of this is priceless.”

Read more about Sonee Sport’s migration to Dynamics 365.

A growing city with changing needs

It can be easy to forget that cities are a lot like corporations—they provide services to their “customers,” often relying on technology to deliver the goods.

Bristol is a diverse city in southwest England, with more than 90 languages spoken and a population of just over 463,000. Bristol City Council is the unitary authority and is responsible for a wide range of services including taxation, waste management, education, etc. Like many struggling municipalities, Bristol City Council felt it could no longer rely on its IT system to meet day-to-day demands of the city. Its systems weren’t agile or mobile-friendly and lacked a unified platform to support collaboration or leverage data insights.

“The council was historically, deeply dissatisfied with its IT systems and processes.” says Simon Oliver, Director of Digital Transformation at Bristol City Council. 

Bristol City Council realized the only way forward was to modernize its Dynamics CRM 2016 instance to Dynamics 365, which would improve efficiency and collaboration. Moving, however, was a significant undertaking, involving migrating 54 workloads and orchestrating nearly 500 ecosystem partners, and staff.

Built on Microsoft Azure, with Microsoft Power Platform and Office 365, Bristol City Council deployed Dynamics 365 alongside toolsets to increase productivity. “Working with Microsoft has given us an opportunity to look at our entire approach to delivering IT services, to reshape our way of thinking and the culture of the IT department,” explains Oliver. 

Read more about the Bristol City Council transformation.

An industry leader looking to drive purpose

Peet Limited, a leader in Australia’s property industry, believes in helping people gain peace of mind through property ownership. And their commitment to IT innovation has enabled them to remain competitive through market disruptions.

As part of its ongoing mission to offer quality service, the company partnered with Microsoft to upgrade its IT systems and move critical line-of-business applications to the cloud. Justyn Bridge, IT Manager at Peet Limited, explained, “Microsoft 365 is a complete, intelligent solution…it empowers Peet employees to be creative and work together.” Peet Limited had confidence in Microsoft because the organization was already using both Dynamics CRM and Dynamics AX, for its customer relationship management (CRM) and ERP, respectively.

Peet Limited designed its cloud strategy around security with the goal of end-to-end protection in mind; for them, security promoted value. Bridge explains that one of the best benefits of using Microsoft 365 is having a “single pane of glass” to view Peet Limited’s security landscape. Using Microsoft’s Advanced Threat Analytics, Peet Limited had a succinct, real-time view of an attack timeline with the ability to analyze and identify normal versus suspicious user or device behavior.

Considering the project, Bridge notes, “We sought better end-to-end protection, and Microsoft 365 gave us that. Our business has gained security in both protection and mindset.”

Read more about Peet Limited’s story.

When you’re ready to migrate, Microsoft is here to help

We all have stories that define us. Organizations are no different. Whether you’re looking to grow your footprint, improve services, or modernize your underlying technology, the Microsoft Cloud can meet your changing needs. While migrating to the cloud should be a business priority, the experiences above illustrate the importance of planning. When you’re ready to migrate your on-premises solution to the cloud, Microsoft is here to support your journey.

Learn from the other Dynamics AX and Dynamics CRM migration stories in our library. Visit the Dynamics 365 Migration Community to access partner discovery resources and other assets to help you migrate with confidence.

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Facebook: Our Largest Ever Climate Survey Can Inform Policies, Research and Campaigns Around the World

Today, Meta and researchers at Yale University are publishing the results of our biggest ever global survey about public views towards climate change. In March and April this year, a sample of more than 100,000 Facebook users from nearly 200 countries and territories were asked about their knowledge of, and attitudes and behavior towards, climate change…

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Today, Meta and researchers at Yale University are publishing the results of our biggest ever global survey about public views towards climate change. In March and April this year, a sample of more than 100,000 Facebook users from nearly 200 countries and territories were asked about their knowledge of, and attitudes and behavior towards, climate change issues and what should be done to address them. The results paint a picture of deep concern around the world and the desire of a significant majority of people to see governments and others take meaningful action.

 

Infograph about climate change survey results

 

The survey is a collaboration between Meta and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, as part of Meta’s Data for Good program. It is hoped its findings can be used to inform policy decisions and priorities for governments, especially in many countries where surveys of this sort have not taken place before. The findings should also be valuable for researchers around the world, as well as a resource to inform public information or awareness raising campaigns by activists and NGOs, and help journalists with nationally-relevant data. For example, the Social Progress Imperative is using data from this survey to develop a new Climate Perception Index, which will serve as a tool to better understand the societal implications of climate change and will provide insights for policy makers on where to focus most in order to deliver tangible societal outcomes to their citizens.

The survey found:

  • The majority of people in nearly all countries surveyed say they are somewhat or very worried about climate change, including more than 9 in 10 respondents in many countries in Central and South America. In almost every country, majorities saw climate change as a threat to their country or territory over the next two decades.
  • A majority in two-thirds of the countries and territories surveyed think climate change will harm future generations a great deal. 
  • Majorities in nearly all countries think climate change is caused at least partially by human activity. Europeans were most likely to correctly answer that climate change is caused by human activities, led by Spain (65%) and Sweden (61%).
  • In most countries, a majority say they don’t hear about climate change at least once a week in their daily lives. Europeans are more likely to say they hear about climate change at least once a week compared to other regions.
  • Most people say their country should reduce pollution causing climate change, either on their own or if other countries also do so. However, people have different views on who is primarily responsible for reducing pollution — majorities in 43 countries said their government is responsible, 42 countries said individual people and 25 said businesses. 
  • People everywhere think climate change should be a high priority for their government. Majorities in most countries in North and South America say it should be a “very high” priority.
  • A majority in almost all areas surveyed think action to reduce climate change will either improve or have no negative impact on the economy.
  • People support using more renewable energy and less fossil fuels. About 9 in 10 people in Hungary, Portugal and Spain think their country should use somewhat or much more renewable energy.

The Data for Good program is an unprecedented collaboration between technology companies, the public sector, universities, nonprofits and others using privacy-protected datasets for social good, including disaster relief and recovery. Many of our humanitarian partners operate in some of the most challenging environments in the world. By sharing free tools that provide fast insights, Meta data has made decision-making on the ground easier, cheaper and more effective. In recent years, this collaboration has informed policies governing things like the delivery of vaccines and aid to Ukrainian refugees, and been utilized for environmental campaigns in the US, Germany, Belgium, Croatia and the UK.

Alongside the survey, Meta has also published its annual Sustainability Report, detailing the solid progress we’re making in minimizing the environmental impact of our business, supply chain and wider community. This includes:

  • Setting an ambitious goal to be water positive by 2030, meaning we will restore more water than our global operations consume. In 2021, Meta helped restore more than 2.3 million cubic meters of water through investments in water restoration projects.  
  • Progress towards our goal of reaching net zero emissions across our value chain, and maintaining 100% renewable energy for our global operations.
  • Expanding our Climate Science Center to more than 150 countries.
  • Supporting key policies to advance sustainable policies and climate action, such as joining the European Climate Pact and participating in organizations advocating for clean energy policies in the United States.

Read the full climate opinion survey report and sustainability report.

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Facebook: Uplifting Tribal Communities in India Through Digital Entrepreneurship

Inspired by the rich culture and talent represented by the tribal and indigenous communities of India, we are extending our collaboration with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to launch the second phase of the Going Online As Leaders (GOAL) program. GOAL 2.0 will look to digitally upskill, connect and empower 10 lakh youth and women…

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Inspired by the rich culture and talent represented by the tribal and indigenous communities of India, we are extending our collaboration with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to launch the second phase of the Going Online As Leaders (GOAL) program. GOAL 2.0 will look to digitally upskill, connect and empower 10 lakh youth and women from the tribal communities of the country and will act as a bridge for the socially marginalized youth with a vast canvas of opportunities using technology that they otherwise may not have access to.

Through this program, the identified GOAL participants will have access to Meta Business Coach — a WhatsApp based learning bot — that will give the participants an opportunity to learn skills on how to build and grow their business using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. To empower the participants to play an active role in the digital economy, the program will also include Facebook Live sessions in nine languages by master trainers on topics like Anti Scamming education, staying safe online, how to combat misinformation and being a good digital citizen. 

​Sh. Arjun Munda, Hon’ble Minister of Tribal Affairs launched the second phase of the GOAL program.

Speaking on the occasion, Sh. Munda said: 

“Honorable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has always spoken about bridging the digital divide. Digitally empowering India’s tribal communities would contribute significantly to the socio-economic development of the country and an important step towards creating a flourishing community of tribal leaders. The first phase of GOAL has seen changing the lives of tribal youth through the digital mentorship program. In the second phase, we will reach out to 10 lakh women and youth entrepreneurs and will also create a platform for more than 50,000 self-help groups and 10 lakh families associated with TRIFED to take their products global.” 

Sharing his views on the importance of digital empowerment for the tribal communities, Ajit Mohan, Vice President & Managing Director, Facebook India (Meta) said: 

“India’s massive digital transformation can be complete when even the most vulnerable communities of our society are digitally empowered. We are deeply inspired by the stories of some of the Tribal leaders who benefitted from the first phase of GOAL that we kicked off in 2020. We recognize the wide canvas of opportunity that gets unlocked when these tribal communities have access to digital tools and technologies, and that is why we are excited to launch the next phase of this program. In collaboration with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GOAL 2.0 will upskill and empower 10 lakh women and youth across tribal communities to harness the full potential of digital platforms and tools.”

Tribal population constitutes about 8.6% of the total population in India. Digitally empowering India’s tribal communities could contribute significantly to the socioeconomic development of the country and an important step towards creating a flourishing community of tribal leaders.  The first phase of GOAL included inspiring, connecting and upskilling tribal youth from across the country. As a result of GOAL, 75% of the participants from the tribal community admitted to being able to better articulate their thoughts to words and saw an improvement in their interpersonal skills. About 69% were able to leverage digital commerce for increased reach and about 63% said that it helped them understand how to set up their business. 

The program is aimed at empowering youth and women from tribal and indigenous communities to harness the full potential of digital platforms and enhancing their leadership skills for driving community development. Along with digital inclusion, the program aims to actively contribute to the economy by continuing to support the most vulnerable communities in tribal districts with a focus on tribal youth and on businesses led by tribal women in rural areas. 

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