If Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) are starting to wear you out, blame information overload — and not just because they’re the topics of just about every article and PowerPoint presentation these days. The fatigue comes more from the struggle of analyzing all that data so you can act on it. And with IoT enabling even more data collection, the fatigue could get even worse.
Now for some good news. Relief is coming in the form of another buzzword: artificial intelligence, which can do a lot of the analytical grunt work, freeing you to focus on applying those insights to your business.
As a CDW field business architect, I specialize in helping businesses develop and execute their Big Data and IoT strategies. That usually means deploying heavy-duty AI solutions such as Azure and Splunk. But Microsoft recently announced a host of Office 365 features that extend AI’s benefits throughout an entire organization.
For example, Microsoft Excel is adding Insights, which uses machine learning to automatically analyze data sets for patterns and then highlight them. That makes it fast and easy for users to spot trends, anomalies and other patterns so they can address them. Just as important, extending AI to platforms that most employees already use — in this case, Office 365 — means more employees now can use AI to analyze and act on data, instead of just data scientists and other people who know how to use traditional AI platforms such as Azure. It’s democratizing AI the way that video collaboration got democratized when it expanded out of conference rooms and executive suites and onto desktops.
In the case of a retail chain, for example, a store manager or district manager could use Excel Insights to identify local sales trends — ones that corporate AI users might not get around to finding and flagging until it’s too late to act on them. In manufacturing, a plant manager could use Excel Insights to ferret out production or quality problems so they can be nipped in the bud. Or a building manager could use Excel Insights to analyze IoT data from HVAC and lighting systems to pinpoint where and how energy efficiency could be improved.
These all show how Excel Insights democratizes AI by extending those tools, insights and business benefits to rank and file employees. Cortana, Outlook and Word are among several other Microsoft platforms adding AI capabilities that nearly any employee can use, such as applying Bing’s machine learning capabilities to images from drones. But none of these new features reduce or eliminate the need for traditional AI platforms. Just the opposite: The rank-and-file feedback helps corporate make better decisions about where to make additional investments in traditional AI platforms.
To get the most out of these and other new Microsoft AI tools, you’ll need the right infrastructure in the right places to collect, store and present data. At CDW, I’ve witnessed our digital transformation experts assist organizations in dozens of verticals with successfully implementing IoT and AI. For instance, we’ve helped healthcare providers and construction companies implement IoT devices such as beacons, biosensors and augmented reality glasses to work smarter. If you’re swimming in a deluge of data that you don’t know what to do with, consider using Microsoft’s new AI tools to get even more insights out of IoT investments and the data they produce.