Last week Microsoft announced the acquisition of Nuance for an estimated USD 19.7 billion. This is Microsoft’s second largest acquisition ever, after they acquired LinkedIn in 2016. Nuance is an established name in the Healthcare industry and is said to have a presence in 10,000 healthcare organisations globally. Apart from Healthcare, Nuance has strong capabilities in Conversational AI and speech solutions to support other industries. This acquisition is in line with Microsoft’s go-to-market roadmap and strategies.
Microsoft’s Healthcare Focus
Microsoft announced their Healthcare Cloud last year and this acquisition will bolster their Healthcare offerings and market presence. Nuance’s product portfolio includes clinical speech recognition SaaS offerings – Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One and PowerScribe One for radiology reporting – on Microsoft Azure. The acquisition builds on already existing integrations and partnerships that were in place over the years.
“Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offers its solution capabilities to healthcare providers using a ‘modular’ approach. Given how diverse healthcare providers are in their technology maturity and appetite for change, the more diverse the ‘modules’, the greater the opportunities for Microsoft. This partnership with Nuance also brings to the table established relationships with EHR vendors, which will be useful for Microsoft globally.
The Healthcare industry continues to struggle as the world negotiates the challenges of mass vaccination. But on the upside, the ongoing Healthcare crisis has given remote care a much-needed shot in the arm. Clinicians today will be more open to documentation and transcription services for process automation and compliance. The acquisition of Nuance’s Healthcare capabilities will definitely boost Microsoft’s market presence in provider organisations.
However, Healthcare is not the only industry that Microsoft and Nuance are focused on. The Microsoft Cloud for Retail that was launched earlier this year aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. Nuance has omnichannel customer engagement solutions that can be leveraged in Retail and other industries. As Microsoft continues to verticalise their offerings, they will consider more acquisitions that will complement their value proposition.“
Microsoft’s Focus on Conversational AI
Microsoft already has several speech recognition offerings, speech to text services, and chatbots; and they continue to invest in the Conversational AI space. They have created an open-source template for creating virtual assistants to help Bot Framework developers. In February, Microsoft announced their industry specific cloud offerings for Financial services, Manufacturing, and Non-Profit, and also introduced a series of AI and natural language features in Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Office Lens and Microsoft Office mobile to deliver interactive, voice forward assistive experiences.
“There is no slowing down in this space and the acquisition clearly demonstrates the vision that Microsoft is building with Nuance – a vendor that has made speech recognition, text to speech, conversational AI the foundation of the company. This is a brilliant move by Microsoft in the Conversational AI space and a win-win for both companies.
This move could also mark further inroads for Microsoft into the contact centre space. With Teams now being integrated into contact centre technologies, working with large customers using speech and conversational AI, Dynamics 365 could herald the start of more acquisitions for Microsoft to bolster a wider customer engagement vision.
The Conversational AI war is heating up and various other cloud vendors such as Google and AWS are starting to get aggressive and have made investments in recent years to enhance their Conversational AIcapabilities. Google Dialogflow has been seeing rapid uptake and they now have deep partnerships with Genesys, Avaya, Cisco and other contact centre players. Microsoft coming into the game and acquiring a company with years of history and IP in the speech space, demonstrates how the cloud battle and the war between Google, Microsoft and AWS is heating up in the Conversational AI. All of a sudden you have Microsoft as a powerhouse in this game.”
The Microsoft Cloud for Retail aims to offer integrated and intelligent capabilities to retailers and brands to improve their end-to-end customer journey. It brings industry-specific capabilities to the Microsoft suite including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft Dynamics 365 – and is aimed at the growing need for “intelligent retail’. Microsoft’s partner ecosystem will also be involved in the new platform to address challenges in the sector and future proof the retail evolution.
In The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021, Ecosystm notes that while retailers will focus on the shift in customer expectations, a mere focus on customer experience will not be enough this year. From the customer experience angle, they will strongly focus on omnichannel, catering to ‘glocal’ consumption, using location-based services, and improving both their onsite and online customer experience. They will also have to work on their supply chain and pricing capabilities, as distribution woes continue. These trends are seeing a deeper need for transformational technologies and leading cloud providers are introducing solutions targeted at the industry. Google has introduced its cloud retail solutions aiming to help retailers get more from data. Similarly, AWS has cloud offerings for the retail industry leveraging its retail domain experience and cloud deployment services.
“Global cloud vendors continue to “move up the stack” to provide more of the technology landscape for organisations. The focus of these tech giants is on adding unique value to customers by tailoring the combination of the different cloud services they can provide to specific industries. Providing the full-stack will mean higher customer retention rates – as the implementation time should be lower than traditional on-premises implementations. Microsoft has a diverse range of capabilities. Having a software company and implementation partner that can deliver the full stack of technology and business processes should improve the time to value for organisations.
But I see three key difficulties in implementing systems such as these:
People adapting effectively to use the new processes
Migrating enough high-quality data to leverage the new capabilities
Integrating the new capabilities into an organisation’s existing landscape.
This is why it is likely that initial use will come from Microsoft’s existing Retail customers as they expand the range of services they use. New adopters of these Microsoft solutions will find that much of the complexity and cost of implementing a new business solution will remain.
However, these value-added cloud services open access to smaller organisations. If Microsoft is able to work with their partners to simplify the implementation of these capabilities, it will allow smaller organisations to access these complex capabilities affordably.“
“The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study aims to determine how optimistic industries are about successfully negotiating these uncertain times (Figure 1). The industries that are rated the most optimistic fall into two clear categories. In the first category, there are industries, such as Healthcare that had to transform urgently – mostly in an unplanned manner. This has led to a greater appetite for change and optimism in these industries. Then there are industries, such as Retail, that had some time to re-focus their technology roadmap when the crisis hit. These industries have a strong customer focus and had started their digital journeys before the pandemic.
Microsoft’s industry focus appears to be spot-on. Their first two vertical clouds target enterprises that have had to – and will continue to – pivot. The ‘modular’ approach taken in the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offering allows providers to choose the right capability for their organisation – whether it is workflow automation, patient engagement through virtual health, collaboration within care teams or better clinical and operational insights. As healthcare organisations across the world negotiate the challenges of mass vaccination, they may well find themselves leveraging these industry-specific capabilities as they revamp their workflows, processes, and data use.”
Get to know the right research, insights and technologies for you to be one step ahead in this new world of retail in our top 5 retail trends for 2021 that represent the most significant shifts in 2021
SAS announced that it has acquired Boemska, a provider of low-code development tools and analytics workload management software. The small, privately held company is UK-based with an R&D centre in Serbia. The acquisition will be integrated into SAS Viya, its cloud-native platform, which includes containerised analytics and machine learning offerings. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
A SAS silver partner, Boemska has wins in Health, Finance, and Travel. Most of its reference clients are based in Europe in addition to a small number in the US and South Africa. Boemska has two primary software offerings – Enterprise Session Monitor (ESM) and AppFactory. Additionally, it delivers cloud migration, performance diagnostics, and application development services.
Boemska ESM provides visibility into performance and cost management of analytics workloads. The product enables self-service root cause analysis for developers, monitoring and batch schedule optimisation for administrators, and departmental cost allocation of cloud resources. ESM manages SAS, R, and Python workloads and is compatible with workload management platforms from the likes of IBM and BMC. Boemska shipped an updated version of ESM in 2020 to improve the UI and ensure support for SAS Viya. At the time, it announced that its development team had doubled in the preceding 12 months, suggesting a trajectory of growth.
SAS Focuses on Cloud-Native Analytics and AI
SAS launched Viya 4.0 in mid-2020, a major step in its vision to become a provider of cloud-native analytics and machine learning solutions. The platform includes offerings, such as Visual Analytics, Visual Statistics, Visual Machine Learning, and Visual Data Science packaged in containers and orchestrated by Kubernetes. Microsoft Azure has become its preferred cloud partner, assisting in developing SAS Cloud, hosted from data centres in the US, Brazil, Australia, and newly launched facilities in Germany and the UK. Viya managed services are also available from Azure regions. AWS and Google Cloud are expected to make the leap to Viya 4.0 from version 3.5 soon. As part of its cloud-native strategy, SAS now offers three tiers for software updates – bi-annual, monthly, or immediately after release.
The major overhaul of SAS Viya is part of the vendor’s USD 1B investment into AI over three years from 2019-2021. The platform includes a heavy emphasis on NLP, machine learning, and computer vision. The integration of Boemska’s low-code development offering into Viya will allow SAS clients to extract greater value from AI by quickly embedding it in mobile and enterprise applications. The converging trends of citizen developers and data literacy suggest SAS has selected the right path for the future.
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Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Darian Bird says, “The announcement of Nutanix Clusters on Azure is another piece of the hybrid puzzle that will allow Nutanix clients to extend their private cloud environments into public infrastructure. Organisations want the control associated with a private cloud but with the flexibility to scale up and down in the public cloud. Key to hybrid cloud is an additional layer that enables applications to be shifted from one cloud to another, either to prevent lock-in or to choose the best environment depending on the circumstances.”
The deal will also broaden the sales and support experience for Microsoft and Nutanix. “Nutanix has emphasised licence portability as a key characteristic of its hybrid cloud strategy. Microsoft clients will be able to use Azure credits to pay for Nutanix software, while those already with Nutanix licences will be able to port those over to Clusters on Azure. Simplified cloud procurement will be critical for IT departments looking to optimise cloud expenditure across multiple providers.”
Bird adds, “Organisations will now be able to manage servers, containers, and data services on Nutanix HCI, on prem or in the cloud through a single control pane with Azure Arc. Microsoft has realised that producing a true hybrid cloud system requires it to manage as many types of infrastructure as possible, whether they come from niche partners or major competitors. IT departments want the choice of supplier without adding complexity to their systems.”
Last year, Nutanix partnered with HPE for the general availability of HPE’s integrated hybrid cloud as a service offering, HPE GreenLake for Nutanix, and the HPE ProLiant DX solution.
Earlier in the month, Nutanix launched its global partner multi-cloud program – Elevate – to bring Nutanix’s global partner ecosystem under one integrated architecture managed through consistent tools, resources and platforms, to accelerate their clients’ multi-product, multicloud roadmap in their transformation journeys.
“Nutanix has made great strides in its shift from hardware vendor to HCI provider and it’s now focused on delivering tools that enable the shift to cloud. These recent moves will help Nutanix catch up to VMware and become a viable alternative in a hybrid cloud environment,” says Bird.
Identifying emerging cloud computing trends can help you drive digital business decision making, vendor and technology platform selection and investment strategies.Gain access to more insights from the Ecosystm Cloud Study.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Dr Alea Fairchild says, “Education administration budgets are not increasing, but the pressure for quick response and more personalised interaction for students, means that administrators need to focus on interaction as the core competency. This requires institutions to automate as much of the volume back-office activity as feasible. The challenge is that individualised course structures mean more complex billing configurations.”
Dr Fairchild, who is active in international education in Belgium, says, “Individual study paths, including Erasmus exchanges, create a need for an audit trail on transfers, exemptions and completions.”
Ecosystm research finds that educational institutions are focused on adopting emerging technologies mainly to improve student services (Figure 1). The processes are being automated to reduce risks, errors and turnaround times for results and application processing, while also removing repetitive tasks so administration can focus on more value-add student-facing activities.
University of Staffordshire Embraces Digital Transformation
The University of Staffordshire is a “connected university” with an emphasis on industry connections and graduate employability. At the heart of Stoke-on-Trent and a regional hub for healthcare education, the university has six schools as well as a well-known degree in computer games design.
The UK-based University has over the years built a reputation for being keen on embracing digital as a way of better management, offering better student services, and serving the larger community. In 2018, Staffordshire University announced plans to build a multi-million-pound apprenticeship hub at its Stoke-on-Trent campus supported by tech giants including Microsoft to equip students with digital skills and to deliver more than 6,500 new apprenticeships over the next decade.
Last year, the University implemented a digital assistant, called Beacon, hosted on Microsoft Azure Cloud that provides support to their students on their learning and on-campus activities, including monitoring their emotional well-being and providing recommendations on groups and societies that they might be interested in. Beacon aims to ease the life of a university student, acting as a digital coach, and to minimise drop-outs due to stress and uncertainty.
The University of Staffordshire, recently implemented robotic process automation (RPA) as part of its digital transformation plan. Talking about the role of RPA in Education, Dr Fairchild says, “This is a recent trend in higher education, with other new initiatives seen at the University of Auckland and University of Melbourne. RPA as a tool is used in Education to achieve the service levels required to meet both students’ and potential students’ expectations. This includes downloading student applications, processing language waiver requests, and entering academic results. These are all rule-based, high volume applications where automation increases speed and reduces errors.”
The University is using Blue Prism Cloud to access the RPA software and has plans for a automation-led digital transformation roadmap. Dr Fairchild says, “Blue Prism is based on Java and uses a Top-Down approach. It offers a visual designer with no recorders, scripts, or any intervention. Blue Prism is based on process diagrams that utilise core programming concepts and create the operational process flows to analyse, modify and scale business capability.”
The Staffordshire Digital team initially implemented RPA in the Finance department, as it involves a lot of administrative and back-office operations such as management of finance, records, tuition fees details and more. The University’s emphasis is to free up personnel and make them focus on more productive areas. This is beneficial for both the administrative staff’s feeling of personal contribution as well as student service satisfaction levels. “Using RPA gives the opportunity to universities to revisit, redesign, and improve their existing processes in line with expectations from digital native students. For prospective students, the next wave of RPA integration is intelligent machine learning algorithms to help route emails and integrate chatbots to address questions on course selection,” says Dr Fairchild.
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