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Schuster: AI a Big Focus at Microsoft Inspire

Expect to hear a lot about artificial intelligence (AI) at Microsoft Inspire, the company's annual July partner confab being held this year in Las Vegas.

Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president for Microsoft One Commercial Partner (OCP), talked about Inspire in an interview posted this week on Vince Menzione's "Ultimate Guide to Partnering" webcast.

"The hottest topic at Inspire is probably going to be all about our data service and how to unlock that through artificial intelligence. That is clearly what all of our partners want to learn more about. It's what all of our customer engagements are about and every single one of our partners is buildings some sort of a data service, AI service, into their applications of the service that they deliver. That will be the theme of the whole event," Schuster told Menzione.

Schuster and her team at Microsoft made clear earlier this year that AI would be a major area of emphasis for partners in calendar year 2018.

On Jan. 24, Microsoft launched an AI Practice Development Playbook for partners. Based on detailed input from a dozen early-adopter partners and a survey of another 550 partners, the 144-page playbook goes through the basics of defining strategy, building a team, operationalizing a practice, going to market and closing deals.

Microsoft's intention with the playbook is to give its sizable partner base clear guidance on starting up AI practices, which would help Microsoft grab AI mindshare in what IDC calls a "Battle of AI Platforms" between Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft.

"Partners can build a roadmap that helps customers layer in sophisticated AI capabilities with minimal training," wrote Melissa Mulholland, cloud profitability lead for Microsoft, in the blog post introducing the playbook. The end game, she suggested, was for partners to "use AI technologies pragmatically to differentiate their current services, so they can re-engage customers with enhanced end-to-end systems that learn from data to deliver new insights and efficiencies."

In Schuster's interview this week, she suggested that, in keeping with the main idea of Inspire as a conference, hearing about AI successes and best practices would get partners thinking. "The more you hear about what partners are doing today and about what customers are doing, the more it sparks your imagination of what's possible and how to bring these different elements of the technology together," she said.

According to IDC analyst Steve White, that's probably the appropriate messaging for the current state of the AI opportunity. "AI is currently what cloud was a number of years ago," White said in an interview. "It's really, really interesting. It's going to be big in the future. Customers are going to be interested, but we haven't turned the corner yet on it. If you are an analytics partner, it should be an easy add. Those playbooks that Microsoft built are detailed. If you want to make that dive into it, they're a great place to start."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 28, 2018