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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft Takes on Amazon, Snowflake in Cloud Data Services

“Today, we are generating data faster than we are able to understand it. It’s relegated to internal and external silos or simply ignored."

Dina Bass (Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. released one product and unveiled another designed to warehouse, analyze and keep track of data, taking on Inc. and Snowflake Inc. in a growing market for cloud-based tools that help companies do more with reams of information. 

Microsoft widely released its Azure Synapse Analytics tool and announced a preview of a new product called Purview, which is meant to help companies keep up with data security and compliance needs. ABN Amro Bank NV is using Synapse to figure out what financial services products are best targeted at which customers, and Wolters Kluwer NV, which helps develop medical software, built an artificial intelligence system that better predicts which patients will get a rapidly spread hospital-borne infection. Companies like FedEx Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. are also using the new software, Jason Zander, Azure executive vice president, said in an interview. 

Too many customers aren’t able to effectively use the data generated from a variety of different programs and devices, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella will tell customers Thursday at a virtual event. 

“Today, we are generating data faster than we are able to understand it,” Nadella will say, according to prepared remarks provided by Microsoft. “It’s relegated to internal and external silos or simply ignored.” Half of Fortune 1,000 executives say they don’t treat their data as a “business asset. It’s not because they don’t think it matters. They just don’t have the process or capability to get there.”

Azure Purview adds data governance, security and compliance features. The service lets users find confidential data and allows executives responsible for securing it to get a high level view of all the information in various programs, including those from rivals like Amazon and SAP SE, Zander said. 

Microsoft’s new products come as the market for such tools is heating up, part of why Snowflake’s September initial public offering hit a record for a software company and was the biggest in the U.S. this year. Amazon’s AWS cloud unit has been improving its Redshift data warehouse. The market for cloud data management services will be worth $13 billion next year, according to estimates from Forrester, as customers try to make sense of information that’s stored in the cloud, corporate data centers and devices disbursed around offices, factories and other sites. 

“There's been this no-man’s land between where the data sits and how you are using the data,” said Michele Goetz, an analyst at Forrester. “There’s a lot that needs to be done to transform the data into something that’s usable and contextual.”

Microsoft’s own finance department saw the need for these tools. When staffers had to locate some sort of information or insight, 70% of time they had to manually collect data— before the company introduced its new tools.

“It was pretty demoralizing,” said Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood in a video that will be shown at the event. “You have great talent and you want to make a difference and instead they’re spending time explaining to me how much time they spent in cut, copy and paste.”

Now the finance team has combined 120 different data sources in Azure, which also cut costs. The ability to better see all the information let Hood’s team improve financial forecasting. “We were OK at it — we weren’t great at it,” she said about their work before using the new products. After, her team cut the variance of forecasts in half. “People may say, gosh is that lot? Well going from 3% to 1.5% is the difference frankly between being right and being wrong and saving hundreds of millions of dollars,” she said.

Some of the technology also came from the work Microsoft did to comply with European data privacy regulations, Zander said.

“We built out all of these custom tools and work in order to handle exabytes of data,” Zander said. “We're taking all that technology that we use ourselves and making it available to our customers.”

The new products and the focus on data management will also intensify competition with companies like SAP, Inc. and Oracle Corp., Goetz said. It remains to be seen how Microsoft navigates the partnerships and rivalries it has with those companies, including, for example, using SAP’s software for Hood’s finance department. 

TAGS: Cloud
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