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Microsoft Touts 'Digital Transformation' with Azure and IoT Customer Wins

Microsoft recently turned the spotlight on some high-profile customers that are using its latest cloud, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions as part of what it calls "digital transformation" initiatives.

At this week's Digital Experience event in New York, Microsoft touted over a dozen customers that are piloting or implementing its wares, such as Bank of America, Hershey, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, Maersk and UBS -- all of which are using some of the latest Azure-based technologies.

For example, Hershey is using Azure Machine Learning, Azure IoT and Power BI to better predict the temperatures in the vats it uses to manufacture Twizzlers. The company does this by reading feeds from sensors on the vats.

"This is a beautiful correlation plot that we run in Power BI," said George Lenhart III, senior manager of IS innovation and disruptive technologies at Hershey. "We turned on the Machine Learning, and by adjusting every five minutes with the prediction of whether it was going to be heavy or light, we were able make changes accordingly."

Maersk Transport and Logistics, one of the world's largest logistics providers, plans to use Microsoft's technology to automate its supply chain and predict scenarios that could cause delays, with the goal of reducing its costs by tens of millions of dollars.

"It's all about speed -- how do we go to market faster, how do we do much more with less and how do we increase our return on investments," said Ibrahim Gokcen, Maersk's chief digital officer.

Gokcen said Maersk started using the Azure Machine Learning, IoT suite and other services about a year ago, and has decided to engage in a long-term effort to build out an Azure-based digital marketplace. Maersk is also considering the potential of Azure Stack and of running it on the company's 1,000-plus ships throughout the world.

"It will be great because as we build applications in the cloud, we will be able to just drop them on-premises and do some streaming analytics on data that we generate on the vessels that can't be transmitted to the cloud when they're in the middle of the ocean. Then when they reach a port, they can replicate and synchronize the data," he said.

Patrick Moorhead, principal of Moor Insights and Technology, said the Digital Experience event is a sign that Microsoft is making more progress with customers than it often gets credit for.

"I think they're making a lot more progress with their customers than people realize. And if there's one thing I can fault Microsoft for, is I think they need to be telling this story more," Moorhead said. "They have infinitely more customers using Google Cloud and [Amazon Web Services]."

Before turning the spotlight on its customers, Microsoft officials at the event revealed the results of a Harvard Business Review study it commissioned that validates the viewpoint of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and leaders of just about every major IT provider and consultancy: Companies that want to remain viable must embrace the shift toward digitization.

Based on a global survey of 783 people with various roles in business operations and management, the survey found that only a handful (16 percent) considered their operations to be fully digital, though 61 percent said they have started going down that path. Only 23 percent said their businesses rely on many digital technologies. The survey is available for download here.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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