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Microsoft and the Future Firstline Worker

Microsoft and the Future Firstline Worker

Several Venado crew members and I recently returned from last week’s Microsoft Inspire conference, Microsoft’s annual partner event. As a long-time partner of Microsoft, we were excited to hear Microsoft’s current product initiatives and vision for the future.  

Anyone who follows Microsoft knows the company is obsessively focused on transforming itself into a prominent cloud provider. And, as reflected in its most recent earnings announcement, Microsoft continues to make significant strides with Azure: it reported a 4th quarter revenue of $6.9 billion, with 53% growth of commercial cloud services. 

The growth of Azure is critical not only as a revenue driver but also as a foundation for the next set of emerging technology that will determine Microsoft’s – and its customers’ – collective futures. During his Wednesday keynote, CEO Satya Nadella revealed his vision for Microsoft beyond Azure and the cloud: mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing.  

But most interestingly, Inspire revealed that Microsoft is thinking beyond just shifting its customers’ computing resources to the cloud. The company is increasingly focused on providing platforms on which partners can build solutions that solve complex business problems, particularly within industrial and field environments. The heavy emphasis on the internet of things (IoT) sessions on the agenda was a clear reflection of that, as were other emerging topics such as connected field service and mixed reality. 

Venado squarely focuses on providing digital experiences for mobile workers intersecting with the physical world around them. Like Microsoft, we refer to these workers as “firstline workers”: mobile employees who engage with customers and interact with mission-critical physical assets daily. While Microsoft may be traditionally associated with products and productivity tools for cubical dwellers and white-collar professionals, the company has its sights on firstline workers, and several product initiatives reflect this increased focus. 

“Intelligent Edge” and IoT

“Edge” computing is nothing new, particularly to people tracking the IoT space. Edge computing is moving certain elements of the computing stack (e.g., processing, storage, or analytics) locally due to connectivity challenges to the cloud (like an off-shore oil rig), or security/regulatory constraints (such as the restriction of moving certain data out of a country). Ultimately, the “intelligent edge” works in conjunction with cloud resources, creating a distributed computing environment. This architecture particularly applies to industrial IoT environments. The importance of enabling IoT solutions for Microsoft is not only for continued Azure growth; data captured from IoT solutions can be combined with other Microsoft applications to create more compelling use cases for firstline worker solutions. 

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Dynamics 365 Field Service

Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s ERP/CRM SaaS offering, has seen incredible growth over the past several years, and the company sees opportunities to expand the platform; field service provides another growth area for Dynamics. While the Dynamics 365 Field Service module provides more traditional capabilities such as work-order management, route optimization, and dynamic scheduling, the potential game-changer for Microsoft is combining field service with IoT data. Microsoft refers to this combination as “Connected Field Service,” enabling solutions such as predictive maintenance with the potential to drive greater operational efficiencies and better customer engagement for firstline workforces. 

Mixed Reality

The introduction of HoloLens in 2016 signaled Microsoft’s intention to rethink traditional computing and participate in the burgeoning mixed reality market (mixed reality is a spectrum covering augmented reality to virtual reality). At Inspire, Microsoft continued to expand its thinking about how mixed reality can be a crucial computing platform for firstline workers and industrial applications. The company introduced its first set of mixed reality applications targeted at the enterprise: Microsoft Remote Assist and Microsoft Layout. With Remote Assist, firstline workers can use mixed reality on either head-worn displays or mobile devices to collaborate in real time, stream video in a “see-what-I-see” manner, and share augmented reality annotations between remote support staff. The solution targets firstline workers in repair and inspection roles, but the technology provides a foundation for additional use cases.

Microsoft Layout aims to assist workers with creating designing space plans; a sweet spot for Layout is manufacturing plants, where workers can virtually view and move equipment in a real physical environment such as a shop floor. Both applications reveal the growing maturation of mixed reality and Microsoft’s intention to think beyond gaming to real-world industrial use cases. 

These initiatives are a good start by Microsoft to address the needs of firstline workforces and help transform critical business processes for enterprise customers. Like Microsoft, we at Venado believe that current digital solutions largely underserve firstline workers, and Microsoft clearly believes it needs partners to develop and deliver these new solutions for their customers. Emerging technologies such as IoT, mixed reality, and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform digital experiences for firstline workforces. As a Microsoft partner, we are excited to create these experiences together. 


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About Venado Technologies

At Venado Technologies, our passion is helping customers solve important business problems by applying technology the right way. We believe that emerging technologies will continue to change the way work gets done. Venado Technologies helps business leaders and their most critical workers use technology in a way that makes their work easier, better, and safer.

Venado Technologies provides the brainpower and processes to ideate, create, run, and refresh digital experiences where mobile workers connect with the physical world. By bridging the divide between IT and line-of-business demands, Venado strikes a balance between the mobile worker experience and secure, reliable enterprise technology requirements to drive business outcomes.