Data, compliance and IoT, Microsoft offers a way

Art Coughlan, business group lead, cloud and enterprise, Microsoft



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19 June 2017 | 0

Data management, regulatory compliance and the pressure to do something on the Internet of Things (IoT) are likely to be topics high on the agenda of CIOs in the coming months.

To help organisations tackle these challenges, Microsoft has a number of initiatives and offerings designed to allow organisations to ease adoption, take advantage of the journey and ultimately benefit from what could otherwise be a disruptive set of influences, said Art Coughlan, business group lead for cloud and enterprise, Microsoft Ireland speaking to TechPro magazine.

“If you think about our platforms, Azure, Office365, Dynamics, we will provide GDPR-compliant platforms to our customers to simplify and ease the work they have to do to become GDPR compliant,” Art Coughlan, Microsoft

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a journey not just for businesses of all sizes, but also for the major technology vendors, web giants and the public sector. In recognition of this, Microsoft has stated that it will use its own journey towards compliance to benefit its customers by not only providing a suite of products and services that are compliant themselves, but also that will help in achieving compliance, and to share its own experience along the way.

Shared responsibility
“We understand that GDPR compliance is a shared responsibility,” said Redmond in a white paper. “That is why we are committed to be GDPR compliant across our cloud services when enforcement begins on May 25, 2018.”

“We are also committed to share our experience complying with complex regulations to help you craft the best path forward for your organisation to meet the privacy requirements of the GDPR. With the most comprehensive set of compliance and security offerings of any cloud provider and a vast partner ecosystem, we are prepared to support your privacy and security initiatives now and in the future.”

The white paper entitled “Beginning your General Data Protection Journey”, is free to download and sets out a comprehensive approach to compliance, and how Microsoft’s portfolio can help on the journey.

We want to send a very clear signal to customers that the cloud will assist and accelerate you in your need to be GDPR compliant, said Coughlan.

“If you think about our platforms, Azure, Office365, Dynamics, we will provide GDPR-compliant platforms to our customers to simplify and ease the work they have to do to become GDPR compliant,” said Coughlan.

However, Coughlan is fully aware of the wider efforts needed around GDPR, that go far beyond technology.

That does not negate the efforts around discovery, analysis, process and policy review etc, he argued, but we are clear, with our own roadmap internally, across a huge a range of customers in enterprise and consumer.

Transparent and shared
“We have a lot of work to do ourselves to become compliant, and will be by the deadline,” said Coughlan. “We are going to be transparent and share the learning path we have ourselves as we move through the process.”

“We know it is not just a technology exercise, it is also about people, process and policy.”

Coughlan said that Microsoft is working with partners and ISVs to ensure that the collective knowledge and experience is available to all who need it.

“We are the only cloud service provider at the moment that has a legal commitment in our contract to being GDPR compliant,” said Coughlan.

The drive for compliance however, highlights another major trend, and that is towards better management of data in general, not just for governance, but also for competitive advantage.

Microsoft has been working to make its offerings more of a data platform than a set of solutions.

The company has worked hard on SQL Server 2017, building in intelligence at various levels, to make it that data platform.

Analytics and intelligence
Coughlan said that advanced analytics and artificial intelligence are now built into the database, making it much more than a database platform. The R language and Python have been integrated to allow them to run closer to the data. Coughlan said that rather than having to build an application tier, it is built into the DB. The computationally intensive work is being done where the data is, within the same hardware and software environments.

He said deep learning algorithms can now be called from stored procedures with huge benefits in terms of performance. In one such instance, MRI scan batches were analysed for evidence of cancer in a matter of minutes, compared to hours or days previously.

Another benefit is that combined AI and machine learning (ML) can be leveraged to protect the database itself, and improve its performance as it operates. Coughlan said that ML can be applied to the management of vulnerabilities and threat detection to ensure the integrity and continuity of the platform.

With these capabilities in place, backed by the improved data governance through regulatory compliance, the foundations are laid for another major change, and opportunity—the promise of IoT.

Citing Gartner and IDC figures, Microsoft said that the new monetisation avenues due to IoT-related services could be up to $130 billion (€116.5 billion), while 80% of companies have increased revenue as result of IoT implementation.

With such an level of opportunity, organisations face challenges related to skills, strategy formation and basic implementation.

To ease this transition, which Microsoft reckons is now in the early majority phase of adoption, the company has hit upon the strategy of making IoT more like Software as a Service (SaaS), rather than the current Platform as a Service (PaaS) approach seen from many providers.

Microsoft IoT Central is a comprehensive set of “connected products that propel digital business. Take the complexity out of the Internet of Things with a true, end-to-end IoT software as a service solution in the cloud that helps you build, use, and maintain smart products.”

“We are moving to make elements of our IoT functionality available in a SaaS format to make it easier for customers to gain the significant advantages that IoT can bring,” said Coughlan.

“It is not one size fits all, and some customers will continue to use the platform services we have, but for certain customers of a certain size, SaaS makes more sense.”

“It is the typical trade off around configuration versus customisation, but we do have a lot of pre-engineered templates to speed up development and deployment.”

The technology is not just for early adopters, he argues, it is now mainstream across multiple industries where new business models are emerging, based on IoT and advanced analytics.

Coughlan argues that this is not just traditional data insights, faster and with greater volume. There are cloud-scale efficiencies too, he said, so near real-time insights based on that huge influx of data. We have moved away from a batch process into a real-time analytics process.

Big data tools
Big Data tools allow you to merge or clash structured and unstructured sources for new insights, and predictive analytics can be done in near real-time, he said.

“[Customers] need to know their business well so that they can have faith in their analysis of what it is they are doing,” he said.

But these capabilities open up new possibilities for the likes of commodity style pricing, easily handling massive fluctuations, and here the power of Azure IoT allows them to manage supply and demand, based on the capacity of a market at any point in time.

“This allows a person to take action preventatively to pre-empt a problem or minimise its risk,” said Coughlan.

The barrier to entry in IoT can be high, in terms of cost, skills and resources and time to market can often be critical too. IoT Central, he said, and its SaaS approach reduces all of that, allowing organisations to derive value earlier, while minimising failures.


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