When Satya Nadella assumed the top job at Microsoft a couple of years back, he laid out a simple vision in a memo to employees: “Our job is to ensure that Microsoft thrives in a mobile- and cloud-first world.”

Last week at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta, Nadella and other Microsoft executives detailed how the company plans to build on that mobile-first, cloud-first vision. A key element of the strategy is to infuse artificial intelligence into everything the company does — every product and service — from the Cortana digital assistant at the heart of Windows 10 to the Azure cloud platform, and from Office 365 to its other productivity tools and more.

Adding AI to Everywhere

Nadella made it clear that Microsoft wants to use AI not just for gee-whiz novelty projects but to help businesses and users be productive.

“It’s never about our technology. It is really, to me, about your passion, your imagination, and what you can do with technologies that we create,” he said during a keynote presentation at the conference.

“What societal problem, what industry will you reshape? That is what we dream about, what we’re passionate about,” he said. “We want to pursue democratizing AI just like we pursued information at your fingertips. But this time around, we want to bring intelligence to everything, to everywhere, and for everyone.”

At Ignite, Microsoft previewed new skills for Cortana, including health insights and reminders, and the ability to connect Cortana to bots that can help users in industries such as transportation, social media and financial services. Microsoft has touted the Cortana Intelligence Suite as a tool that can leverage Big Data and machine learning to give users sharper insights into making better predictions based on data.

At Ignite, Microsoft previewed new skills for Cortana, including health insights and reminders, and the ability to connect Cortana to bots that can help users in industries such as transportation, social media and financial services. Microsoft has touted the Cortana Intelligence Suite as a tool that can leverage Big Data and machine learning to give users sharper insights into making better predictions based on data.

As for Office 365, it’s getting new cloud-based intelligent capabilities, including “Tap,” an intelligent embedding feature in both Word and Outlook. Tap will use the Microsoft Graph to make it easier to incorporate content from existing documents within an organization into a user’s own documents and emails.

Another new feature, QuickStarter for PowerPoint and Sway, provides curated outlines for any topic (including text and images) that can be used as a starting point to build presentations. And MyAnalytics (formerly Delve Analytics) will serve as a personal analytics service in Office 365 to help users understand how they spend time at work.

Microsoft seems laser-focused in achieving these AI pursuits to make work easier by making it smarter, thus freeing up a user’s time to focus less on the nitty-gritty of productivity apps and more on the big picture and business outcomes.

More Cloud Goodies to Come

The release this month of Windows Server 2016 was another hot topic at Ignite. The operating system will offer IT professionals new layers of security and Azure-inspired innovation for infrastructure and cloud applications.

Windows Server 2016 introduces security to harden the platform and address emerging threats, to control privileged access and to protect virtual machines. The new operating system also offers users more capabilities for managing software-defined storage environments. Additionally, it will bring the main networking capabilities and software-defined networking architecture from Azure into the data center.

In other cloud-related news, Microsoft revealed that System Center 2016 will be generally available this month as well. The new offering will provide a simplified hybrid management solution across the data center and the cloud. With the System Center update, Microsoft aims to ease the deployment and management of virtualized, software-defined data center and hybrid cloud infrastructures running on Windows Server 2016.

For users both small and big, the news at Ignite seems pretty exciting as new products begin to weave together the many Microsoft tools that businesses have deployed deep into their environments. Now, we’ll need to plot ways to act on, and take advantage of, all these intelligent products!

For a more in-depth look under the hood at Windows Server 2016, read this post from one of our field architects, Drew Shanahan.

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