This is part of a series of blog posts about the Microsoft data platform and advanced analytics opportunity for partners. Select Data & Analytics to read the series. Subscribe to this blog by email or RSS.
by Sadie Van Buren
US Partner Technology Strategist
There are a number of free Microsoft tools that you can use to explore and learn about the latest capabilities in machine learning, advanced analytics, and data visualization, as well as to demo these capabilities to customers. By showing your customers these capabilities in action, you are opening the door for them to realize a substantial increase on the value of their data investments.
Companies that invest in the technologies, data, people, and practices at levels that are characteristic of more innovative organizations may see up to a 60% improvement on the return on their data assets. This translates to a worldwide data dividend of $1.6 trillion through 2018 (IDC research commissioned by Microsoft, 2014). The opportunity is real for your customers, and it’s real for you as a Microsoft partner. It all starts with that “Wow!” moment when you demonstrate the power of analytics tools for a customer.
The next time you’re preparing for a customer meeting that includes an analytics discussion, or you want to quickly get up to speed on machine learning or advanced analytics, check out these tools, which start with the fastest and easiest to use and then increase in complexity. Enjoy!
How old do I look?
This demo made headlines last year when it was released, as 50 million people uploaded half a billion images, over 7 days, to test this Microsoft algorithm’s ability to guess their age. What began as a fun analytics and machine learning app turned into a big data story for Microsoft. It's a quick, compelling, and fun demo to share with customers.
Time to demo: 5 minutes to upload a photo
Ability to customize: None
Microsoft Cognitive Services
With Cognitive Services, you can easily add smart capabilities into your applications. Enable natural and contextual interaction with tools that augment users' experiences using the power of machine-based intelligence. You can try these out and demo them with a free Microsoft Azure account. There are more than 20 APIs available for vision, speech, language, knowledge, and search.
Here are a few you could use to build your own AI demos:
- Recommendations API – provide personalized product recommendations for your customer and improve sales in your store
- Face API – detect human faces and compare similar ones, organize people into groups according to visual similarity, and identify previously tagged people in images
- Emotion API – analyze faces to detect a range of feelings and personalize your app's responses
- Speech API – convert audio to text, understand intent, and convert text back to speech for natural responsiveness
- Web Language Model API – automate a variety of standard, natural language processing tasks, such as determining word combination or sequence probability, predicting/completing text, and breaking up text that lacks spaces
- Language Understanding Intelligent Service – lets you teach your apps to understand commands from users, and provides pre-built models
The most accessible demo is for the Text Analytics API. It detects sentiment, key phrases, and language from your text.
Time to demo: 1 minute to type or paste text
Ability to customize: None for the demo, high if using the API
Partner opportunity with Cognitive Services
The wide range of Cognitive Services APIs available opens up many possibilities to create IP services. I recently spoke with the CIO of a home services company, who was interested in leveraging customer analytics in his business. He told me that his company’s biggest competitor advertised a service where they would send a representative to a customer’s home, take a video of the interior, and then produce an estimate for the services based on a computer analysis of that video. The CIO was intrigued, and planned to invest in a similar video analytics system. Then, he learned that his competitor was outsourcing the video analysis to an offshore firm. The estimates were actually being prepared manually by low-cost human resources who watched the videos. Using the Cognitive Services Video API, which includes enterprise-scale video analytics, this CIO could leapfrog his competitor and create a truly innovative and technology-based solution. You could be the partner that helps to make these kinds of transformations possible.
Microsoft Power BI data samples
Associate your free Microsoft Power BI account with an eligible Office 365 tenant to access eight prebuilt data samples for different industry scenarios that include fully built-out reports and dashboards. With just your account and a web browser, you can do an awesome Power BI demo for your customer, explaining specific line-of-business use cases, with minimal setup time.
Time to demo: 10–20 minutes to create a Power BI account, access the samples, and familiarize yourself with the data in any sample
Ability to customize: High. Once you connect to a dataset you have the full functionality of Power BI, and can build your own reports and dashboards, mash up the data with other datasets, etc.
Microsoft Azure Machine Learning studio
Microsoft Azure Machine Learning studio is a web-based, no-code tool for building data science workflows based on algorithms. Use the drag-and-drop interface to create predictive models and test them to see how they perform. We’re putting data science concepts in the hands of end-users, so you don’t need a degree in data science or computer programming to set up a system in which the machine teaches itself from your data. For example, if your customer’s marketing team wants to know who is most likely to respond to their next email campaign, and you have response data from previous campaigns, you could build a model to predict who will respond to the next campaign. Once you have built this model, it is easy to share with others, and to publish it as a web service.
The Azure Machine Learning studio provides a no-hassle, 8-hour guest access with no login required. You can access sample datasets and experiments, or build your own. There are tutorials to help you get started.
Time to demo: Minimum of 15 minutes to go through the tutorial, including re-creating a machine learning model that predicts income level based on demographic information. You can then spend hours here exploring datasets and experimenting.
Ability to customize: High, and a knowledge of data science concepts is very helpful
Cortana Intelligence Gallery
Once you're comfortable with the Azure Machine Learning studio, browse the Cortana Intelligence Gallery, where developers and data scientists share their analytics solutions. There are more tutorials here, as well as solution templates and experiments that range from common scenarios like credit risk and fraud detection to more specific use cases like corn price futures, wine quality prediction, and brain activity analysis.
Time to demo: 5 minutes to browse the gallery and add a solution to your studio (which could be a demo on its own), plus the time needed to familiarize yourself with the solution for demo purposes, which is dependent on your existing knowledge of machine learning concepts
Ability to customize: High. As with the Power BI samples, once the gallery solution is in your studio, you have the full range of functionality
SandDance by Microsoft Research lets you visually explore data, find insights, and communicate those insights to others. You can use your own datasets to create visualization and explore your data on a conventional desktop or on a touchscreen interface. The power of SandDance lies in the fine-tuned visualizations you can produce, and the insights that spring immediately and unexpectedly from setting changes. For customers that want to find stories within their data, this is the tool that can help them, while giving them incredibly granular control over the visualization.
Time to demo: Up to 20 minutes to take the tours, explore the datasets, and familiarize yourself with the features, which you can then demo. Additional time would be needed for connecting to your own dataset and setting up the visualizations.
Ability to customize: Medium. You can upload your own data or use a web data source (read the FAQ for limitations on data size)
Using the sites, tools, and demos above, you can now bring your customer data experiences that range from one-minute text analytics, facial recognition, and dashboard exploration to a fully customized data model or visualization for a specific business scenario. Every data or analytics conversation you have with a customer can be accompanied by a powerful demo that makes the value proposition more apparent and real. Investing time in learning and customizing these demos will make the impact greater. And, since these are all publicly available online, you can let your customer contacts get hands-on as well, so they can in turn advocate with their teams, steering committees, and other decision makers.
I encourage you to try each of these out, one per day, over the next week. Just spending about 15 minutes each day on one of these will let you add a new conversation starter to your stockpile, discover new value for your customers, and may even identify new opportunities for your Microsoft practice.