D365 brings AI to business

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The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) is nothing new to business management software, but until now the reality has lagged considerably behind the promise.

Only now, are we seeing true AI capabilities available in mainstream business applications. November 1 saw the official release of Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s next generation intelligent business software.

Dynamics 365 brings together Microsoft’s class-leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) suites, adds deep integration with Office 365, and infuses the entire platform with advanced AI capabilities.

Bringing AI to mainstream business applications has required not only significant development of software, but also a major investment in hardware. Machine learning and intelligent analytics require a serious amount of computing power.

Over the last couple of years, Microsoft has been upgrading every node in its Azure cloud platform with new chips from Altera (now part of Intel). This multibillion-dollar investment to upgrade its cloud infrastructure from a 10Gbps to a 25Gbps backbone reduces latency ten-fold and allows Azure to run AI, cognitive computing and neural networking-based applications.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said,

"We have the ability, through the magic of the fabric that we’ve built, to distribute your machine learning tasks and your deep neural nets to all of the silicon that is available…"

Dynamics 365 running on Microsoft Azure cloud places at the fingertips of each user the power of the world’s fastest supercomputer. Doug Burger, a networking expert from Microsoft Research, says the network is capable of “crazy speed” of more than 100 trillion operations per second.

So what does all this bring to practical, everyday business processes? Let’s look at an example.

The screenshots show the process of ordering an inventory item ‘Athens Desk’. The graph on the right is the inventory forecast produced by Cortana Intelligence (Microsoft’s predictive intelligence suite) which is plugged in to the back-end and continuously analysing inventory data.

Process of ordering an inventory item Athens Desk
  1. Forecast shows item will be out of stock in next period.
Forecast shows item will be out of stock in next period
  1. Create purchase order directly from forecast.
Creating purchase
  1. Accept the automatic Cortana Intelligence recommendation for quantity necessary to restock for next period.
Accepting Cortana
  1. “You have run out of stock on items…” Cortana Intelligence suggests items from the same supplier which will need restocking in the next period.
Cortana suggesting items from the same supplier

The innovation in this process is perhaps not the forecast capability, but the accuracy of the forecast produced by the machine learning algorithms.  

Another example of the built-in AI capabilities of Dynamics 365 is found in how sales teams can manage customer relationships. Debuting as part of the Dynamics 365 are two new stand-alone AI apps: Customer Insights and Relationship Insights. These apps leverage the power of Azure machine learning algorithms and Cortana predicative intelligence to bring new insights to data, whether that data is in Dynamics 365 apps or Office 365.

Relationship Insights takes advantage of your stored data to deliver actionable recommendations. It can automatically capture the data from emails sent and received through Outlook to populate CRM records, removing the need for manual updating by sales staff. It can then monitor the communications to and from a customer and, based on the content, automatically calculate the health of that relationship.

customer health metrics surfaced directly in the Sales app

The screenshot shows the customer health metrics surfaced directly in the Sales app. The analysis here is based on sentiment analysis of the content as well as time and frequency-based data points.

The Relationship Insights app will then go on to make personalised, pro-active recommendations assisting the sales person.

Nowadays, the data that’s often critical to an organisation’s success no longer lives exclusively on its own platforms. More and more, vital data comes from the web, from social networks, IoT devices or third-party information streams. The power of the Microsoft cloud and data analytics platform makes it possible to ingest all of this data and combine it with the data already stored in the Dynamics 365 system.

Customer Insights for Dynamics 365, built on top of the core Azure and Cortana Intelligence services, is able to consume data from any source. Built-in machine learning algorithms provide deep insights from that data enabling businesses to build transformational customer insight systems.

With the launch of Dynamics 365, Microsoft have achieved a first in the enterprise business software market. They have brought CRM and ERP together in one seamless package and, facilitated by the hardware infrastructure, built intelligence into the entire platform.

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