Matt Tester and I recently spoke at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Auckland. Ignite is the largest tech conference of the year in NZ and a great opportunity to rub shoulders with other IT professionals and be inspired by upcoming technologies.
Here are my pick of the new technologies from the conference most likely to transform businesses in the near future.
Big data is a reality. Every organisation is capturing more and more information and the race is on to make sense of that data and turn it into a competitive advantage. Machine learning makes it easy to examine datasets for correlations that can be used to predict future behaviour.
Learning algorithms typically have multiple inputs and a desired output, for instance if we wanted to classify customers as being low spenders or high spenders we might have the following inputs:
– Job Type
And the output could be annual spend, which is broken into ‘low’ or’ high’.
We would upload our dataset to Azure and then run a number of different machine learning algorithms over the data to determine which one is the most accurate. Typically, you would train the algorithm on two thirds of your data and then test it for accuracy on the remaining third.
Once you have an accurate algorithm you can then pass parameters to it in real time and receive an answer. So the next time a customer is added to your CRM he or she can be automatically classified into the correct spending group.
You can also keep on training the algorithm by continually feeding updated data into it.
Bots are a new way for users to interact with their software systems using a conversational type experience. They can be integrated into many different applications, such as Facebook, Skype, or SMS.
They make use of Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to parse and understand the user’s intention. So for instance, you could type into Skype “What is John Doe’s phone number?” and the CRM bot would provide it for you. Or you could ask the Rostering Bot when your next shift is.
On the face of it this is a fantastic opportunity to re-imagine how people interact with software. The text based conversational style is extremely easy and intuitive. You ask questions of the system and have them answered as opposed to having to actively try and find the answers.
Organisations have been crying out for a cost-effective, intuitive means to visualize and interact with their data. There are a number of well-known business intelligence tools but cost has either been prohibitive or they have required specialist skills.
Microsoft are taking on this market with a well-priced product that can be configured by the end-user.
For me there are a couple of things that really stand out about Power BI:
Data Importation and Transformation
Power BI can read and import data from just about anywhere! Most database types are supported, including Postgres, MySQL, Sybase and Oracle. They also have support for the obvious candidates like Excel and Access but beyond that there are connectors for Facebook, Mailchimp, Salesforce, Dynamics, Xero, etc.
The list really is very long, we have even connected it up for a client using the oData protocol.
Once you have the data imported you can then run transformation steps over it. So if you want to do calculations, or clean up your data, every time it is imported then those repeatable steps can be easily created.
The power to build interactive dashboards has been moved from developers to end-users. The dashboard builder is incredibly easy to use and after a 10 minute tutorial you’ll be building and sharing dashboards like there is no tomorrow.
What I like most about this is that end-users are very often looking for correlations and meaning in data, they don’t necessarily know what it is until they have explored the data. Power BI gives these users the ability to find meaning and value in their data.