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Microsoft launches cloud-powered marketing, supply chain, and retail solutions

Beyond updates across Azure, this week at its Ignite 2021 conference, Microsoft has announced additions to its Dynamics 365 business app and industry portfolio, including Microsoft Customer Experience Platform, a marketing solution that is aimed at helping customers personalize, automate, and orchestrate customer journeys. Another — Microsoft Connected Spaces — is designed to let organizations leverage observational data to produce predictive insights, while Supply Chain Insights aims to proactively mitigate supply chain issues.

“[W]e are announcing innovation across the Microsoft Cloud that will allow every organization to build a hyperconnected business, providing the agility and flexibility for organizations and employees to thrive now and into the future,” Microsoft’s corporate VP of industry, apps, and data marketing Alysa Taylor said in a blog post. “In order to be successful given these trends, every organization must move beyond ‘business as usual’ and toward a new model of hyperconnected business.”

Microsoft Customer Experience

Microsoft pitches its Customer Experience Platform as a service to “deliver personalized and connected experiences from awareness to purchase.” Leveraging assets from the existing Microsoft Customer Insights and Dynamics 365 Marketing products, the goal is to understand and predict intent to deliver the right content on the right channel and at the right moment, the company says.

To the company’s point, Epsilon found that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences — marketing or otherwise. Moreover, according to a Smart Insights survey, 63% of consumers will stop buying from brands that use poor personalization tactics.

Customer Experience Platform’s Consent-enabled Consumer Data Platform (CDP) feature, currently in preview, enables chief data officers to use consent data to build customer profiles, manage known and pseudonymous aliases, ensure consumer data practices are compliant and protect the data with privacy and security controls. The complementary business-to-business CDP combines customer data from all sources — including customer relationship management software, email, websites, point-of-sales, partner systems, and social networks — and performs identity resolution at the contract and account level to generate profiles for people and companies. The AI-suggested content creation and delivery tool automatically generates a set of “content snippers” to serve as inspiration for customer emails.

Taylor says that customers including Home Depot, Chipotle, and agency partners like VMLY&R and Kin+Carta are already using Customer Experience Platform in their organizations. “Many [businesses] struggle to manage, organize, and gain insight from the vast quantity of data available to them, and for marketers that challenge is even more acute,” she added. “[C]ustomer data is the key to personalized, relevant, timely customer experiences.”

Connected Spaces

Another new service joining Dynamics 365, Connected Spaces, lets organizations “gain a new perspective” in the way people move and interact in nearly any space, Microsoft claims. With it, companies can monitor safety in high-risk areas and observe queue management, ranging in environments from retail stores to factory floors.

“With Connected Spaces … organization[s] can harness observational data with ease, [using] AI-powered models to unlock insights about [their] environment and respond in real-time to trends and patterns,” Taylor added.

At a high level, Connected Spaces provides analytics and trend information about people, places, and more. For example, in a store, Connected Spaces can monitor foot traffic patterns, cashier queue lengths, dwell times, and product display engagement. Microsoft says that Mattress Firm has piloted the technology to measure the effectiveness of its in-store promotions.

While the purported goal of products like Connected Spaces includes health, safety, and analytics, the technology could be co-opted for other, less humanitarian intents. Many privacy experts worry that they’ll normalize greater levels of surveillance, capturing data about workers’ movements and allowing managers to chastise employees in the name of productivity.

Microsoft did not detail the steps it’s taken to prevent the potential misuse of Connected Spaces. Once the service comes to preview, further details regarding this are likely to be disclosed.

Supply Chain Insights

The launch of the aforementioned Supply Chain Insights (in preview) comes as companies face historic supply challenges. According to one source, only 6% report full visibility on their supply chain. And 38.8% of U.S.-based small businesses experienced supply chain delays due to the pandemic.

“Customers like Daimler Trucks North America can gain new visibility into their supply chains across multiple tiers of suppliers. They can get data in near real-time, allowing them to assess risks and mitigate problems before a massive disruption occurs,” Taylor continued. “Supply Chain Insights also enables customers to enrich their own supply chain data with external signals like global weather data to predict its impact on shipments, putting increased intelligence and predictive power at their fingertips.”

With Supply Chain Insights, companies can reconcile data from third-party data providers, logistics partners, customers, and multi-tier suppliers and create a “digital twin” simulation of the supply chain — generating insights powered by AI. Digital twin approaches to simulation have gained currency in many domains, for instance helping SenSat clients in construction, mining, energy, and other industries create models of locations for projects they’re working on.

Supply Chain Insights also enriches signals with external constraints like environmental disasters or geopolitical events that could affect the supply chain. Beyond this, the service can automate and execute actions through existing enterprise resource planning and supply chain execution systems, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Cloud

Manufacturing

Building on the release of Supply Chain Insights, Microsoft is introducing Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, the newest entry in the company’s Industry Cloud lineup. Announced in February and now available in preview, Cloud for Manufacturing brings together new and existing capabilities across the Microsoft Cloud portfolio in addition to partner solutions to connect people, assets, workflows, and business processes.

According to a 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, companies in manufacturing expect efficiency gains over the next five years attributable to digital transformations. McKinsey’s research with the World Economic Forum puts the value creation potential of manufacturers implementing “Industry 4.0” — the automation of traditional industrial practices — at $3.7 trillion in 2025.

“Cloud for Manufacturing … connects experiences across the end-to-end product and service lifecycle and lighting up the entire Microsoft Cloud with capabilities specifically tailored to manufacturing,” Taylor said. “Customers including Johnson & Johnson are working with Microsoft on their digital manufacturing transformation with tools like Azure, AI, and Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing capabilities.”

Nonprofit, Sustainability, Financial Services, and Healthcare

Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit, a collection of tools, apps, cloud services, and infrastructure geared toward nonprofit scenarios, is now generally available following a preview earlier this year. Built for fundraisers, volunteer managers, and program managers, and other roles unique to the nonprofit segment, it’s designed to help address challenges ranging from constituent and supporter engagement to program design and delivery.

The closely related Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, previously in private preview and now in public preview, aims to bring greater transparency and data sharing, agreement on common taxonomy and methods of measurement, and standard practices for tracking and reporting data on carbon emissions. The solution uses a common format to connect data from various sources and get a company’s carbon footprint as well as provide insights to understand data, measure progress, meet regulatory and reporting requirements, and identify actions needed to reduce the footprint.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced that Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services — its collection of solutions for the financial industry — is generally available, with new capabilities across Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, and Power Platform to help enable retail banks to “enhance customer and employee experiences.” Alongside this, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare — which launched last year — has received several updates, including:

  • An enhanced patient view that allows providers to associate one patient record with other patient records (in preview)
  • A new waiting room for Microsoft Teams (in preview).
  • Integration of Microsoft Forms with Microsoft Bookings (in preview)
  • A scheduled queue for virtual visits in Microsoft Bookings (in preview)
  • Virtual Visits Manager, a standalone Teams app to facilitate reporting about virtual consults (in preview)

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