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Microsoft Wants More Partners to Focus on AI

Avanade says it's already delivering solutions using Microsoft’s AI capabilities and services from Accenture based on their recent partnership.

Microsoft wants partners to put more focus into delivering the artificial-intelligence (AI) capabilities offered in its data platform and cloud portfolios. The company doesn’t feel enough of its partners currently offer AI holistically to enable customers to transform their businesses.

Setting the stage for how Microsoft might help enable partners to do that, the company recently announced a partnership with Accenture and its Avanade subsidiary. Collectively, they are creating preconfigured solutions geared toward helping clients in specific industries such as consumer-packaged goods, retail and telecommunications using AI to automate their business processes.

Avanade’s latest research found that 88 percent of global business and IT decision-makers say they don’t know how to use AI — and 79 percent encounter resistance.

“Only [a] few are putting AI to use in large, transformational projects,” said Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft’s corporate VP for commercial channels and programs, in a recent blog announcing the partnership. “There’s room to do more. That’s where Microsoft’s robust partner ecosystem can help.”

Schuster described two solutions from the partnership that use the AI capabilities in Microsoft’s cloud and data platform portfolio with Accenture’s Applied Intelligence group, an organization that combines AI applied to analytics with industry expertise.

The first is based on Accenture’s Intelligent Customer Engagement (ICE) framework, designed to digitize customer service and interaction processes, that will enable interaction with bots and digital assistants. The other is Accenture’s Intelligent Revenue Growth (IRG) solution for consumer-packaged goods companies, which uses Microsoft’s machine-learning capabilities to identify sales leads.

“Business-decision makers aren’t interested in APIs or individual services; they want out-of-the-box solutions that simplify and solve their business processes,” Schuster noted. “Microsoft is a platform company; our partners bridge the gap between the platform and solutions for their business.”

Photo by Brian Smale

Gavriella Schuster

Avanade, which offers solutions based on Microsoft’s core platforms, is a venture controlled by Accenture, through Microsoft holds a 20 percent stake. Florin Rotar, who leads Avanade’s global Digital Market Unit, said that despite the hype around AI, many organizations are experimenting with it but haven’t figured out how to implement it effectively. 

“The purpose of this partnership is to try to democratize AI to make it sort of something that is business-durable and that is operating at scale, and something which has real business impact that’s measurable at either the top line or the bottom line,” Rotar told Channel Futures.

Florin Rotar

The Accenture solution frameworks can apply any of Microsoft’s frameworks that make sense for a given scenario, including its Cognitive Services, Machine Learning Studio, AI Toolkit for Azure IoT Edge, Microsoft’s Bot Framework, CortanaEmotion and Face Detection.

“It’s basically the complete stack,” Rotar said.

Avanade starts out by helping a client use the tools to get their data estates in order. Many organizations struggle with having the right data, in the proper order and at an adequate level of freshness, he said. The next step is training the algorithms to reason with data.

“There’s basically a bunch of industry-specific and scenario-specific machine learning algorithms that are prepared and ready to be deployed on the platform,” Rotar said. “And then there is the consulting and the managed services on top of this to help companies run and operate this at scale.”

Avanade can tailor to specific industry and customer business scenarios using Accenture’s ICE and IRG solution frameworks and Microsoft’s analytics tools, platforms and frameworks. Steve Palmer, Avanade’s senior VP for global data and analytics, described in a recent blog two examples of how the Accenture frameworks were implemented.

At ATB Financial in Canada, Avanade helped create a four-foot tall robot concierge to assist clients with its products. The other was a system for a global cleaning products company to predict health inspections with 90 percent accuracy, which Palmer said helped boost revenue by 27 percent.

“We’ve deployed advanced analytics scenarios at thousands of clients and understand what it takes to go beyond basic analytics functionality to deeply embedded intelligence applied to business processes,” Palmer noted.

Despite Microsoft’s minority stake in Avanade and the fact that Accenture is one of Microsoft’s largest services partners, Schuster indicated there’s more to come.

“I think there will be more strategic AI agreements like this going forward,” she noted in her post. “The growth around artificial intelligence is exponential, and my hope is that these AI partnerships will inspire other partners to make a bet on Microsoft to transform AI in the enterprise.”

David Rosenthal, VP and general manager of digital business solutions at services and integration provider Razor Technology, said the partnership, and Schuster’s indication that there are more partnerships are in the pipeline, bodes well for partners.

 “I am incredibly bullish on Microsoft Cognitive opportunities and we are already working on AI projects with video, collaboration, business intelligence and data estate, bots and much more,” Rosenthal said. “The power and opportunity given to ISVs and SIs to leverage these services from Microsoft to Google to Amazon is our future.”

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