Microsoft almost always responds to the IT world of today, the short-term and long-term future. Where are your opportunities and what are you investing in in 2020?
AI, IoT, VR & WEARABLES
Thanks to artificial intelligence, many physical and simple tasks can be automated. Today’s systems are so intelligent that they also improve themselves.
THE I OF?
Thanks to the wealth of available data, the ‘I’ in IT no longer stands for information, but for intelligence.
The first step to successful use of innovations is to get the data management in order.
New technologies are developing rapidly. One breakthrough after another presents itself and this can be very confusing. Where are the opportunities and what should you invest in? In our experience, Microsoft has usually followed the smartest course in recent years. The software company mainly focuses on artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, virtual/augmented/mixed reality and wearables.
Around 2020, the average person will generate 1.5 GB of data per day, a smart home 50 GB per day, and a smart city will generate a whopping 250 petabytes. Thanks to the wealth of available data, the ‘I’ in IT no longer stands for information, but for intelligence. The most important trend is everything that has to do with artificial intelligence (AI): from Big Data and advanced analyses to machine learning, bots and autonomous vehicles. Thanks to artificial intelligence, many physical and simple tasks can be automated. Today’s systems are so intelligent that they also improve themselves.
Microsoft sees AI as a series of technologies that enable computers to see, to listen, to understand, to learn and to reason. Just as people do. As a result, the way we deal with computers becomes ever more natural and responsive. Microsoft’s vision is that the machine should not replace humans, but supplement them. This reinforces your network with an additional conversation partner.
AI offers a range of possibilities for automating repetitive, administrative and customer support activities. Because of the multitude of possibilities, it is important to find a focal point: a problem you want to solve or a service you want to improve. For instance, more and more businesses are using chat bots to answer customer questions. The bot supports employees and answers simple questions.
AI can also predict events. This allows Feenstra to better monitor central heating boilers and organisations to repair the machines in factories even before they break. To help make society more inclusive, Microsoft is investing 25 million dollars in supporting people with disabilities via the ‘AI for Accessibility’ programme. This yields intelligent apps such as ‘Seeing AI’ that helps visually impaired and blind people navigate. Another example is Hepicto, an AI tool that makes it easier for people with autism to communicate.
INTERNET OF THINGS
Microsoft wants to invest 5 billion dollars into the Internet of Things over the coming four years. This serves a simple goal: giving customers the possibility to transform their business operations – and the world in general – with connected solutions. All things that will have a built-in computer chip, sensors and connectivity, will be forming a huge network in the future. Then everything is connected to everything. This is the ‘intelligent edge’: the interface that brings together AI and the cloud to collect and understand new information. This can significantly help us more with one of our most valuable possessions: time.
IoT makes new approaches possible to overcoming business challenges: in the workplace, in the factory and in hospitals and operating rooms, for instance. Hospitals and doctors who remotely monitor their patients. Supermarkets that measure their products’ shelf life with sensors.
Thanks to IoT, people can control their business more efficiently, improve their service provision and save significantly on costs, including on power and water. IoT will radically change the world.
VIRTUAL, AUGMENTED AND MIXED REALISTY
Virtual Reality creates an immersive experience of the digital world and Augmented Reality creates a digital layer over the real world. There are many conceivable interesting applications for this. Helping surgeons locate and visualise organs in preparation of a surgical procedure, for instance. Or maintenance workers who, while repairing a lift, get to see a graph of the maintenance history and other relevant information, schematics and instructions via their headset.
The most promising development may be the combination of VR and AR into mixed reality (MR). With mixed reality experiences that envelop you, focus your attention, involve your senses and arouse your curiosity and imagination. This unlocks new scenarios for communication, learning and collaboration. Great examples are the Microsoft Remote Assist and Microsoft Layout applications launched in May 2018. Assist enables employees to be brought into contact directly with an expert from a helpdesk. With Microsoft layout, you create spatial designs and room layouts.
Wearables are devices you can wear on your body, on your head or around your wrist, for instance. Smart glasses, smart fitness bands and smart watches with sensors and wireless Internet connections. You can link them to your smartphone or laptop and view and interpret the collected data.
An appealing example is the HoloLens. This headset puts a virtual layer over your experience, allowing you to consult contextual information.
This technology will be developing rapidly in the coming years thanks to improvements in sensor technology. Moreover, wearables are starting to look better and better and become more affordable. For example, students at the University of Twente have developed the Aryzon AR headset as a cardboard counterpart to the HoloLens. We are also seeing more and more Microsoft Bands: fitness trackers with a heartrate monitor, GPS system, UV sensor and more.
IT STARTS WITH DATA AND LEADERSHIP
Data is the foundation of all these trends. The first step to successful use of innovations is to get the data management in order. It is also important to determine a digital strategy and keep an eye out for any opportunities that may arise. Allowing room for innovations also means: facilitating and inspiring employees and building in the right degree of coordination and sharing. How can you use technology to strengthen employees, improve customer contact, optimise processes and transform products? Continuous innovation is the new ‘business as usual’. There is an entirely new playing field for this. And the good news is, lots of good ideas can also be found in your organisation.