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Microsoft Ignite NZ: IoT, data analytics, AI and the future of Microsoft Services

By Heather Wright
Thu 27 Oct 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Microsoft’s Darren Hubert specialises in ‘the art of the possible’.

As the Asia Pacific area chief technology officer for Microsoft Services, Hubert’s role is to work with customers across the region on how to use modern technology to solve ‘the next generation of business problems’.

That remit puts Hubert at the forefront of current ‘hot’ technologies, including internet of things, data analytics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cognitive services and bots.

“My specialty is to help envisage modern solutions leveraging the latest technologies Microsoft offers and to help [customers] put them in a roadmap that is achieveble,” Hubert says.

He says recent years have seen customer’s business problems revolving around digital transformation, something he says is no longer just hype, but is a real trend.

“Businesses are really looking to pay dutiful attention to how modern technology can solve their next generation of business problems,” Hubert says.

“Digital transformation just by nature, is leveraging modern technology to help  transform either how a company engages with customers, how they transform their operations, how they transform their products and how they transform perhaps their employees and how their employees can better collaborate.”

He cites the example of a Singapore government division managing more than 50 million square feet of commercial real estate, harnessing IoT to help drive down energy use in a city-state where energy is imported and costs are high.

“The last thing you want to be doing is running air conditioning in a floor of a building when no one is physically there, or in off hours, or running lighting when people aren’t there.

“Yow want to be able to proactively manage that.”

While today’s world sees the organisation able to monitor the HVAC units to understand how well they’re performing and when they’re breaking fault rules, tomorrow’s world, Hubert says, will be about understanding data and getting telemetry in advance so it can do pre-emptive maintenance and the like.

“Just collecting data is not IoT. It’s cool, but it’s just telemetry,” Hubert says.

“IoT is the promise of taking that data and developing insight and then turning that insight into action,” he says.

With that in mind, Hubert is adamant companies should be capturing as much data as they can right now.

“Data to me is the currency of the next century and companies need to have as much ability to collect and store data,” he says.

“It might not be useful today, or companies may not know what to do with it today, but it will be hugely important tomorrow because at some point you’ll have enough representative data to start devloping insights, perhaps to start leveraging thinks like machine learning where you need to build these models and models need historical data to give you a viable result,” he says.

“As companies start to delve into their data, and start really focusing on it and hiring people to really understand the richness of the data they have and are able to collect, then you’ll start seeing the exponential growth of the analytics and how that will enable decision making all over an enterprise – everything from product development through understanding how customers are leveraging and using their services, their products as well as how customers need to be approrached.”

When it comes to IoT, Hubert says we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all that is possible.

“There are a lot of realisations of it that are starting to happen, but it’s incremental – it’s a crawl, walk, run type approach.”

“There are a lot of scenarios and a lot of opportunities and we’re partnering with a lot of private as well as public entities globally.”

Hubert says every implementation brings Microsoft and its customers more understanding of patterns and practices.

“Those patterns and practices are becoming honed to identify what is best practice as well as the Microsoft product groups are learning how these products are being consumed in the marketplace and are identifying where there services need to be extended and enhanced.

“The advances in Azure for example, are coming out every month – the number of services being enhanced and extended as part of our Azure IoT suite for example. The number of scenarios that are possible are multiplying seemingly every cycle.”

Hubert says Microsoft is leveraging its research division in a ‘much more strategic way’ than the company has in the past.

“We’re taking a lot of the investments in technology and brining them out to real world scenarios.

“For example HoloLens is an amazing technology and the idea of augmented reality is a scenario that came out of Microsoft research, but its highly applicable to how companies and businesses – and I would argue society – will change going forward.

“It’s not a virtual reality where you are completely immersed in an alternative world, but it is an augmented reality where you leverage the power of cloud computing and the power of Windows and you’re able to bring that to today’s world and have multiple people collaboarte on these types of ideas.”

But while Microsoft’s research division are looking at new technologies, Hubert says the focus is remaining firmly on helping people and companies be more productive.

“When we come out with new technologies such as artificial intelligence, our aim isn’t to beat a human at Majong, for example. That’s not our thing.

“But if we can help people be more productive through language and translation services, that’s amazing,” he says in reference to a recent Microsoft AI experiment which did voice to text and translation ‘better than humans can understand and translate’.

“We’re crossing an amazing line there with a lot of the bot frameworks we have the cognitive frameworks. It’s another aspect of our Microsoft research that is coming that is enabling new scenarios that weren’t possible even six months ago.

“A year ago at Ignite I wasn’t  having the conversations about bots and AI and this year we are. It’s incredible. The advancements are coming so quickly and its opening up a world of new scenarios. It’s a really fun time to be engaged in this line of work.”

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