Peggy Johnson announces M12 Female Founders Competition winners

Earlier this year, our corporate venture fund, M12, took an important step in helping identify promising women entrepreneurs and accelerating their access to capital. Partnering with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group, we launched the Female Founders Competition, awarding $4M to two women-led companies building innovative software solutions for the enterprise.

Those following this industry are well aware of the hard truths women founders face when seeking funding: just 17 percent of all startups boast a single female founder; and of that small percent, only 2.2 percent of total global venture capital funding went to female founders over the past two years. While the numbers clearly indicate there’s a need to do more, many investors struggle with where to start.

There are plenty of women entrepreneurs focused on solving enterprise technology challenges, but we needed a better way of finding them. With the previous success in sourcing incredibly promising portfolio companies from our Innovate.AI competition, we decided to try a competition again, but this time focused on surfacing female founders. And the results spoke volumes.

We received hundreds of submissions from female founders building enterprise solutions that spanned a multitude of industries and countries. This competition, while a small step to shift how we sourced deals, not only showed us that there is more than one way to effectively discover talent and expand networks, but it’s our responsibility as venture capitalists to begin leveling the playing field so those companies receiving funding are a truer reflection of the world in which we live.

Today, it’s my pleasure to share the results of the Female Founders Competition, and the stories behind the two incredible women whose companies will now join our portfolio.


Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta, began her journey as a software engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where she developed an interest in robotics and autonomous vehicle systems. While working on a research project with Sebastian Fischmeister, a professor at the university, she became fascinated with recent developments in connected and autonomous vehicles, sparking a career that led her to work with and learn from automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier-1 manufacturers before returning to her roots in research. Cutulenco, Fischmeister and another colleague, Jean-Christophe Petkovich, would go on to create Acerta, using machine learning to provide real-time malfunction detection and failure prediction in vehicles. To commercialize their work, Cutulenco spent time in local incubators and attending business and sales courses before securing Acerta’s participation in the Techstars Mobility accelerator in Detroit. Just over two years later, Acerta has grown from a team of three to nearly 20, with Greta recently being named to Forbes 30 under 30 for Manufacturing and Industry, the company gaining traction with some of the largest auto manufacturers as customers, and now becoming a winner of the Female Founders competition.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to work with M12, EQT Ventures, and SVB Financial Group,” said Cutulenco. “The funding and ongoing support will bring a big boost to the company’s long-term growth.”

 Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta

Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas, trained as an architect before becoming a world-class computer scientist specializing in computer graphics. Her appreciation for, and expertise in these two disciplines inspired her to create the core technology behind Mental Canvas, which reimagines sketch for the digital age by augmenting it with spatial strokes, 3D navigation, and free-form animations. As supported by its early customers, Mental Canvas is a platform that addresses a wide and varied market, with early customers spanning a variety of industries from architecture, concept development for movies, animation and games, product design, education, and scientific illustration. Dorsey is also a professor of computer science at Yale University, and previously was on the faculty at MIT, where she held tenured appointments in the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Architecture. She is an inventor on more than a dozen awarded and four pending patents, and for the past two years, has devoted herself full-time to her vision of enhancing visual communication by fundamentally elevating the way people draw.

“It is a great honor to be recognized in this way,” said Dorsey. “Of course, we are pleased with the funding, but even more, we are thrilled by the recognition and affirmation this prize provides. It says to me and our team that the technology Mental Canvas is developing to bring sketch into the digital age is groundbreaking and impactful. We look forward to working with M12, EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group to make our company’s vision a reality.”

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas

This afternoon, I’ll join the next generation of female leaders at a forum focused on building and nurturing this community and preparing them for what’s next. While it’s a great way to welcome our winners to the M12 portfolio, it’s also an opportunity to continue this journey – one that is very personal to me – of doing our part to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.

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Waiting until the last minute to shop for the holidays? You’re not alone

Microsoft Store winter graphic

For some, holiday gift giving is an exercise in ingenuity, and shoppers become even more resourceful as the countdown winds down. Microsoft Store conducted an online survey* with U.S. shoppers who self-identify as last-minute gifters. They shared why they procrastinate when it comes to purchasing gifts.

The survey revealed that the majority of last-minute gift shopping is done in two weeks or less, with 25 percent taking place in two days or less – and 37 percent feel stressed about it. If you’re one of these shoppers, Microsoft Store can help you up your gifting game this holiday season and ease the pressure thanks to free shipping and returns on every item, every day. You can also buy your gifts online and pick them up at your local Microsoft Store. Or go entirely digital, by gifting apps, games, and other content through your Windows 10 PC, Xbox One console, or online.

Microsoft Store also has you covered when it comes to selecting gifts that suit your last-minute shopping style. Additional results uncovered procrastinating behaviors that were decoded into five archetypes: the Illusionist, the Overcompensator, the Card Dealer, the Present Perfectionist, and the Shameless Staller.

Think you fall into one of these categories? Read on to find out more about each type and the Microsoft Store’s suggestions for what each type could pick up as presents while there’s still time. For more inspiration, check out Microsoft’s holiday gift guide.

Illustration infographic showing a man in a tophat and cape with snow behind him as The Illusionist, "The thought was there, even if the present wasn't." 57% of procrastinators have used the ol' "It's in the mail" or "I forgot it at home" trick. 28% end up grabbing something convenient while running errands.

What to buy?

JBL Flip 4 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: From partying on the patio to boomin’ on the beach, this waterproof Bluetooth speaker is ready to crank out the jams.

Turtle Beach Stealth 600 gaming headset: In gaming, hearing can be the difference between a w00t dance and an early exit. Help them get their w00t on.

Illustrated infographic shows The Overcompensator as a blond woman. "Can money make up for time and thought?" is under this title, with statistics that say 19% of procrastinators bank on big-ticket items to do the trick. 78% reported a positive reaction to their gifts.

What to buy?

Xbox One S Fortnite Bundle: A fave game with a fave console.

Surface Laptop 2: Beyond the traditional laptop, this Surface has a unique, elegant and ultra-light build to complement your style.

Illustrated infographic shows a man as The Card Dealer, "They've got a gift card up their sleeve...and that's it." 20% admit gift cards are the least favorite gift they've given and 62% end up buying them when the clock's running out.

What to buy?

Xbox Game Pass: Immediate access to more than 100 games.

Microsoft Store digital gift card: Give the gifts of apps, games, and more.

Illustrated infographic shows The Present Perfectionist as a woman, "The search for the perfect gift never ends." 46 percent cite indecision or the need to find the perfect gift as their reason for dallying and 18% make a DIY gift.

What to buy?

Xbox Design Lab: From shadows to camos to NFL team logos, you can make them a one-in-a-billion controller that perfectly matches them and their style, gaming and otherwise.

Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit: Kids – and big kids – get to unlock their inner wizard and learn how to code by making wand-directed magic happen.

Illustrated infographic showing a woman as The Shameless Staller, "no shame in their tardy shopping game." 47% of procrastinators count on their family to love and accept them anyway. 80 percent of female Stallers believe their recipients don't know it was a last-minute gift and 38% of Stallers go to the mall with under 24 hours to spare.

What to buy?

Surface Go: The most portable Surface yet is primed for life on the go. At just over a pound, they’ll go far.

JLab Audio Epic Sport Wireless Earbuds: Durable, sweat-proof, and wireless with customizable sizing for comfort and top tier audio make an epic gift, especially for those who tune in on the go.

*SurveyMonkey. Last-Minute Gifting Survey, 11-12 Oct. 2018. Based on a sample of 1,607 Americans aged 18-44 who identify as last-minute gift givers.


Forbes exclusive interview: Satya Nadella reveals how Microsoft got its groove back


n early 2016, two years into running Microsoft, CEO Satya Nadella needed advice from one of his newest employees, the cofounder of an app-tool maker Microsoft had just bought. Nadella was close to pulling off his blockbuster $27 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, but he wanted to talk about another company he coveted: GitHub. “Can we do it?” Nadella asked the executive. “Have we earned the trust?”

Back then, the answer was no. GitHub is the virtual watercooler of software development, a site where millions of programmers talk shop and share code across company boundaries. Microsoft had earned a reputation during its 1990s heyday as its polar opposite, an insular software belligerent, and GitHub was seen as wanting nothing to do with it. But after watching Nadella lead the Redmond, Washington-based giant for two years, GitHub made a surprise move, choosing Microsoft over Google as its acquirer this past June. 

The December 31, 2018 issue of Forbes featuring Satya Nadella.

The December 31, 2018 issue of Forbes featuring Satya Nadella.

It was the latest coup for Nadella, 51, who’s breaking free of Microsoft’s recent past by returning it to its roots under cofounder Bill Gates.

“Bill used to teach me, ‘Every dollar we make, there’s got to be five dollars, ten dollars on the outside,’ ” Nadella tells Forbes, in his first sit-down interview since the $7.5 billion deal closed. 

Great companies were once built on Microsoft’s code, Nadella says he was reminded by Gates. Nadella’s mission: Rebuild Microsoft brick by brick until it can happen again. “That’s what I want us to rediscover,” he says.

Signs of Nadella’s progress are found everywhere. From a Microsoft voice assistant that integrates with Amazon’s Alexa to a deepening alliance with Samsung and, most crucially, in its financial statements. Revenue, at $110 billion, is growing at a double-digit percentage after slumping for most of the past decade, in large part because of the hard-charging—and high-margin—cloud suite the company has built around Office and Azure, Microsoft’s challenger to Amazon’s cloud juggernaut. Net profits are at $16.6 billion, an increasing share of which is attributable to Azure, which is growing at 91% annually with multiyear contracts only just starting to boost the bottom line. Microsoft ended November as the most valuable company in the world, eclipsing Apple and Amazon. The consensus among analysts is that it will hit $1 trillion in market cap sometime next year.

Read the complete Just 100 2019: America’s Best Corporate Citizens

Much of the credit belongs to Nadella, a Microsoft near-lifer who took the reins from Steve Ballmer in 2014 and immediately started knocking down walls. The former engineer says he has focused the company around a simple concept: “equitable growth.”

“People are finally coming around to saying, ‘It’s not just the surplus you’ve created for yourself. What’s the state of the world around you?,’ ” Nadella says. “That’s where I feel like we’re at our best.”

Nadella signaled his intentions with the help of an iPhone. Weeks after his start as CEO, Microsoft opened up its Azure cloud service to make it easier for developers to create iOS apps. The following year, Nadella used an iPhone onstage at an event—unthinkable for a company that had brewed up the market-lagging Windows phone in 2010 and then blew more than $7 billion in 2014 buying Nokia’s mobile division to support it. When Nadella took over, he wrote off the whole deal as a loss. 

Behind the scenes, Nadella got to work on Microsoft’s culture of infighting and of treating competitors as if it were “straight-up war,” as a former Oracle exec puts it. With its rearward-facing obsession with Windows, the cash-cow operating system, Microsoft was caught unawares by the cloud boom (exemplified by Amazon Web Services) and by subscription software businesses like Salesforce. 

CEO Nadella is returning to a core Bill Gates lesson: “Every dollar we make, there’s got to be five dollars, ten dollars on the outside.”

Nadella, who immigrated to America from India in 1988, was an insider who led the company’s nascent cloud business before taking the top job. He quickly installed new leaders and smashed the barriers between Microsoft and open-source rival Linux, which had been famously called a “cancer” by his pugnacious predecessor Steve Ballmer. Nadella and Scott Guthrie, the new cloud boss, welcomed Linux onto Azure’s IT framework, where it’s now used by half of all computer systems operating on Microsoft’s cloud. “When we achieved our success, with that success came out the classic hubris that I describe as being the know-it-alls,” Nadella says. “I said, ‘Let’s shed that.’ ”

To chip away at Amazon’s massive head start in cloud (Amazon Web Services is on track to make $27 billion in revenue a year, compared with an estimated pace of $10 billion for Microsoft’s Azure and $3 billion for Google), Microsoft turned to its partners. Sales reps are now compensated when a deal with a key ally of Microsoft leads to more activity on Microsoft’s cloud. And companies working with Azure find themselves brought into million-dollar deals at the one-yard line. “All of us have been stunned they are doing it,” says Bob Muglia, CEO of San Mateo-based data-warehouse software maker Snowflake and a 23-year Microsoft veteran, who left in the Ballmer years. “Satya’s recognized this is a service-oriented world.”

Starbucks, which uses Microsoft to help power its ordering app, sent a dozen engineers to the world’s largest invite-only hackathon, hosted by Microsoft—another Nadella-era idea. “It’s a different approach from a traditional software company,” says Gerri Martin-Flickinger, Starbucks’ CTO.

But there are asterisks attached to this new exuberance. Much of Microsoft’s success has come from moving existing customers onto its cloud services and its revamped Office 365 work software suite, raising concerns that the company is simply harvesting low-hanging fruit, says Dan Ives, an analyst at the Los Angeles investment firm Wedbush. And while the breadth of Microsoft’s portfolio, which also includes gaming, search and devices like Surface tablets, is a great strength, it could still get tripped up again by success. “The risk is they go back to the old days,” says Raimo Lenschow, an analyst at Barclays. (Both are bullish on the stock.) 

“People are finally coming around to saying, ‘It’s not just the surplus you’ve created for yourself. What’s the state of the world around you?’ That’s where I feel like we’re at our best.”

Now with GitHub in the fold—following acquisitions of the maker of Minecraft ($2.5 billion, 2014), app-building-tool provider Xamarin (reported as $400 million, 2016) and LinkedIn—Nadella’s team needs to avoid falling into bad habits such as restrictive long-term contracts. How the company integrates all these purchases—and history suggests it will be difficult—will also test Nadella. To navigate these challenges, Nadella relies on his broader vision that happier employees, customer and partners—even prickly coders—have to do well for Microsoft’s business to flourish. “A successful product is one that fosters more success around it,” Nadella says. 

To pull it off, Nadella will lean on new leaders like Nat Friedman, the Xamarin cofounder whom Nadella asked about GitHub in 2016 and then tapped to run the business for Microsoft once the deal closed. As Friedman, whose new job entails evangelizing that message to GitHub’s 31 million developers, puts it: “People are giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt.”

Reach Alex Konrad at Cover image by Jamel Toppin for Forbes.

This story appears in the December 31, 2018 issue of Forbes. Subscribe


Over 140 educators to recap the best of 2018 in Dec. 18 TweetMeet

Wow, 2018 has been a remarkable year for educators. Our #MSFTEduChat TweetMeets have brought us together every month and unfurled so much knowledge, we’re going to need some extra help looking back and capturing the highlights. Well, with over 140 hosts joining us for this special Best of 2018 TweetMeet, we just might do it!

Over the last twelve months, many of you joined the Microsoft Educator Community and have taken part in the courses, learning paths, lesson plans and other resources it offers. The global MIEExpert community continues to grow with incredible collaboration projects taking place between classrooms around the world.

Here on the Microsoft Education Blog, our 2018 was just a flurry of great news about OneNote Class Notebook, Learning Tools, Microsoft Teams, Minecraft: Education Edition, Flipgrid, Skype in the Classroom, Hacking STEM and Microsoft Whiteboard for Education. Thanks for following along and helping us wrap up the year with a collaborative recap for the TweetMeet.

Join the #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet on Tuesday, December 18, at 10:00 a.m. PST (check your time zone here) to learn more. (Sounds great, but what’s a TweetMeet?)

This month we’re offering more simultaneous language tracks than ever before, for a total of 17. New this month are Македонски (Macedonian), हिंदी (Hindi) and Česky (Czech).

For each language track, we have one or more hosts to post the translated questions and respond to educators. As always, we’re super grateful to all current and former hosts who are collaborating closely to provide this service.

The #TweetMeetXX hashtags for non-English languages are to be used together with #MSFTEduChat so that everyone can find the conversations back in their own language. For example: Portuguese-speaking people use the combination #TweetMeetPT #MSFTEduChat. English-speaking educators may all use #MSFTEduChat on its own.

Our #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet is celebrating the best learnings from 2018! Join us on Tuesday, Dec. 18 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PST. #Bestof2018 #MSFTEduChat Click To Tweet

#MSFTEduChat TweetMeet changes in 2018

The monthly #MSFTEduchat TweetMeets by Microsoft Education themselves underwent significant changes in 2018 as well. Our events are now multilingual and more global than ever. Team TweetMeet, which organizes the events, now consists of three people: Marjolein Hoekstra, Francisco Texeira and Anica Tričković.

Last September we decided to move all preparations for these Twitter events to Microsoft Teams. The switch to the Teams platform allows Team TweetMeet and our expert hosts to collaborate more effectively, because it combines the power of group conversations, file sharing and meetings all in one system. Being able to add guests to our teams is an incredible benefit, too.

Celebrating 2.5 years of TweetMeets

The first Microsoft Education TweetMeets were held in the summer of 2016. To celebrate their 2.5 years in existence, and to close 2018 in style, we decided to invite all former hosts to return once again. As many as 143 of these former hosts immediately accepted this invitation. They are very much looking forward to your best experiences, products and resources from 2018.

With so many hosts coming together for this special occasion, we just had to make a video to introduce (or re-introduce) them all to you:

More ways to participate

  • Post-event summary: We will publish a new post after this #MSFTEduChat event summarizing the key lessons from the conversations during the TweetMeet. The hosts will collaborate to curate a top selection of the tweets and trends they found most significant. For even more highlights from the TweetMeet, the blog post will offer multiple Twitter Moments – curated stories and conversations from Twitter. Look for this blog post on Thursday, December 20.
  • TweetMeet fan? Show it off on your Twitter profile: Every month more people discover the unique nature of the TweetMeets and become passionate about them. Well, you can now show your passion for the TweetMeets right from your Twitter page. The dimensions of our Twitter Header Photo are 1500×500 – the perfect size for your Twitter profile. Get this month’s image here: #MSFTEduChat Twitter Header Photo.

Why join the #MSFTEduChat TweetMeets?

TweetMeets are monthly recurring Twitter conversations about themes relevant to educators, facilitated by Microsoft Education. The purpose of these events is to help professionals in education to learn from each other and inspire their students while they are preparing for their future. The TweetMeets also nurture personal learning networks among educators from across the globe.

We’re grateful to have a support group made up exclusively of former TweetMeet hosts, who volunteer to translate communication and check the quality of our questions and promotional materials. They also help identify the best candidates for future events, provide relevant resources, promote the events among their networks, and, in general, cheer everybody on.

Our hosts are thrilled about this upcoming TweetMeet. Watch how each of them has their own exciting way of inviting you to the event:

When and how can I join?

Join us Tuesday, December 18 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PDT on Twitter using the hashtags #MSFTEduChat, #Bestof2018 and #MicrosoftEDU (which you can always use to stay in touch with us). To find the event time for your specific location, use this time zone announcer.

From our monthly surveys we know that you may be in class at event time, busy doing other things or maybe even asleep – well, no problem! All educators are most welcome to join after the event. Simply take a look at the questions below and respond to these at a day and time that suit you best. You can also schedule your tweets in advance. In that case, be sure to quote the entire question and mention the hashtag #MSFTEduChat, so that everyone knows the right question and conversation to which you are responding. Mark the exact timings – they are different this month.

How can I best prepare?

To prepare for the #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet, have a look at the questions we crafted this time. Because of the enormous scale of the December event, we will have 4 questions this month. This will give everyone more time to engage with each other.

TweetMeet Questions


With 143 educators on this month’s #MSFTEduChat hosts team, it’s not possible to list everyone’s profile in this announcement like we normally do. We did once again make a Twitter list so you can easily follow everyone.

What are #MSFTEduChat TweetMeets?

Every month Microsoft Education organizes social events on Twitter targeted at educators globally. The hashtag we use is #MSFTEduChat. A team of topic specialists and international MIE Expert teachers prepare and host these TweetMeets together. Our team of educator hosts first crafts several questions around a certain topic. Then, before the event, they share these questions on social media. Combined with a range of resources, a blog post and background information about the events, this allows all participants to prepare themselves to the full. Afterwards we make an archive available of the most notable tweets and resources shared during the event.

Please connect with TweetMeet organizer Marjolein Hoekstra @OneNoteC on Twitter if you have any questions about TweetMeets or helping out as a host.

Join for next month’s topic: Transforming classroom time


Johnson Controls tackles a $15B building industry problem with Azure Cosmos DB

This blog post was co-authored by Nikisha Reyes-Grange, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Azure Marketing, and Balamurugan Balakreshnan, Cloud Solution Architect, CSU-Data and AI.

Johnson Controls has been a pioneer in building management solutions and services since founder Warren Johnson invented the first electric room thermostat in 1885. Johnson Controls has introduced many innovations to the building industry over the years and are now tackling a problem that costs the building industry billions each year.

Modern buildings include multiple systems that handle everything from building management to HVAC to security. These systems are managed by protocols, proprietary systems, and applications without a common data model, which prevents interoperability, limits scalability, and costs the industry an estimated $15 billion annually.


To help building operators gather and understand data about their buildings, operations, and occupants, Johnson Controls created Digital Vault to integrate internal and external data sources and present a harmonized view of energy usage, security breaches, fire alarm status, temperature controls, and other building management systems. Digital Vault, powered by Azure Cosmos DB, simplifies object relationship management through a single Application Programming Interface (API) layer for IoT data and events while at rest and in motion. Another API layer leverages Azure Cosmos DB’s auto-indexing and multi-modal capabilities to accept data in forms ranging from key-value to graph. Digital Vault is then able to create a virtual version of a physical structure, like a floor or room, making it easy to conceptualize the relationships between building assets.

Johnson Controls Digital Vault technical architecture

Johnson Controls Digital Vault technical architecture

Combining and processing data from Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) of smart environments, Digital Vault creates a real-time knowledge graph that can answer questions about a building’s past and present conditions and make predictions about its future. OT data comes from devices and sensors in the building, and from HVAC, fire, lighting, security, IT, asset tracking, and more. The challenge in such an environment is the variety, volume, and velocity of data. As devices evolve over time, so do their schema and data models. With multiple generations of devices present in buildings, a data store must flexibly handle a variety of schemas. Sensors can save data at high rates, dramatically increasing the volume of saved data as the number of sensors increase. Velocity increases as data stores power real-time views, dashboards, and decisions, while also enabling historical data to be leveraged for advanced analytics and AI.

By processing incoming OT data, Digital Vault can perform common data cleaning and analytic functions automatically. Building owners and application developers do not have to spend time building out a processing system for streaming data. The raw and processed data from devices is available in one spot, with common algorithms for filling missing values, cleaning and smoothing outliers, and many analytic and normalization functions already applied to the stream.

Why Azure Cosmos DB?

In order to service thousands of buildings around the world generating billions of daily data samples, Johnson Controls knew they needed a platform-as-a-solution (PaaS) data store that could provide global service, manage huge volumes of data, scale as needed, reduce costs, and keep operational complexity low. They turned to Azure Cosmos DB to meet these needs while also easily managing data in a variety of models, auto-indexing data, and integrating with other Azure services.

Digital Vault uses Azure IoT Hub to collect data streams from devices in buildings, Azure Event Hubs to manage the streams of data, and Spark in an HDInsight cluster to process the full stream and apply the analytical algorithms that embody Johnson Control’s 135 years of experience in building management. Azure Cosmos DB is at the heart of the processing system, feeding in additional data as needed and storing processed data, with its Graph API allowing developers to process graph data in any language with minimal integration time.

Digital Vault architecture

Digital Vault architecture

For a building to be truly smart, it must have access to a significant amount of IT data – data that has traditionally been held in multiple silos, with no connection to OT data. To store and manage the IT portion of the knowledge graph, Johnson Controls again turned to Azure Cosmos DB. Just as with the OT data, there is a huge variety in schema and shape of IT data. Digital Vault ingests, stores, and incorporates IT data into a building’s knowledge graph using the Azure Cosmos DB Graph API. This makes it possible for Johnson Controls’ developers to use industry-standard APIs for processing graph data from any language.

This graph understands the relationships between different types and sources of data and makes it possible to navigate among the many sensors, assets, people, and processes in the building. Digital Vault is, in turn, able to assess the current health and maintenance history of equipment and apply predictive models to anticipate future status and trends.


4 innovations that are revolutionizing the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is reshaping every industry from manufacturing to medicine, and opportunities to transform business are nearly limitless. And while IoT is a complicated endeavor requiring multiple partners, skillsets, and technologies, new innovations are making projects easier to deploy, more secure, and more intelligent than ever.

Below I’ve called out four innovations that are revolutionizing the IoT industry. To learn more about how to take advantage of these innovations, be sure to register for our upcoming IoT in Action Virtual Bootcamp.

IoT in Action virtual event details

1. Artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive capabilities

Cognitive services and AI used to come with a high price tag. But times have changed, and these capabilities are becoming increasingly accessible.

IoT Hub and Cognitive Services enable you to tailor IoT solutions with advanced intelligence without a team of data scientists. Not only do AI and Cognitive Services make it easier to infuse IoT solutions with capabilities such as image recognition, speech analytics, and intelligent recommendations, but they also help companies act on the data being gathered and realize the true value of IoT. Scenarios are virtually limitless. Companies like UBER are using visual identity verification to increase platform security, and Spektacom is making cricket better with its AI-infused sticker for cricket bats that can deliver insights around batting style.

2. Real-time analytics at the intelligent edge

You need data analytics to make your IoT solution complete, but all the data you need is not where you want it to be—it’s at the edge. One solution is to reproduce a cloud environment locally, but this can be costly and you may end up having to support two solutions, not one.

Now you can extend cloud intelligence and analytics to the edge. Azure IoT Edge optimizes performance between the edge and cloud, reducing latency, so you get real-time data. This secure solution enables edge devices to operate reliably even when they have intermittent cloud connectivity, while also ensuring that only the data you need gets sent to the cloud. And by combining data from the cloud and data from the edge, you get the best of both worlds.

3. More secure IoT devices

IoT security continues to evolve. Which means it’s never been easier to lock down your IoT solutions. At Microsoft, we continue to build uncompromising security into every product we make. We recently released Azure Sphere, which is an end-to-end solution for creating highly-secure, connected devices using a new class of microcontrollers (MCUs). Azure Sphere powers edge devices, combining three key components including Azure Sphere certified MCUs, Azure Sphere OS, and the Azure Sphere Security Service.

4. Provisioning IoT quickly at scale

Provisioning IoT manually is time-intensive and can quickly become a showstopper, especially when you’ve got hundreds, thousands, or even millions of devices to configure. Even if manual provisioning is possible now, building in the capability to quickly and securely provision future devices is critical.

Azure IoT Hub features a Device Provisioning Service (DPS) that enables remote provisioning without human intervention. Azure DPS provides the infrastructure needed to provision millions of devices in a secure and scalable way. DPS extends trust from the silicon to the cloud where it creates registries to enable managed identity services including location, mapping, aging, and retirement. It works in a variety of scenarios from automatic configuration based on solution-specific needs to load balancing across multiple hubs to connecting devices based on geo-location.

Register for the IoT in Action Virtual Bootcamp

To learn more about how you can take advantage of these innovations, be sure to register for an IoT in Action Virtual Bootcamp. Whether you are an engineer, software architect, or practice owner, this virtual bootcamp will give you a clear understanding of IoT from device to cloud and accelerate the development of an IoT solution for your business.

This event will help you get hands on with the latest in IoT devices and cloud services including secure MCUs, IoT OSes, and advanced application services. You will also receive trusted guidance and a singular ecosystem view, supporting you in the design of secure IoT solutions that add real-world business value and create exciting new customer experiences. Join us to establish a leadership position in the IoT ecosystem by creating new experiences and revenue streams while optimizing bottom-line performance.

Register for an IoT in Action Virtual Bootcamp in your time zone:

Interested in attending one of our in-person IoT in Action event? Register for a free event coming to a city near you.


New to Xbox Game Pass in December: ‘Mortal Kombat X,’ ‘Ashen’ and more

Hello, Xbox Game Pass members! It’s been, what… a whole week since we announced new games coming to Xbox Game Pass? Time to drop a few more for December. We’re here to share the factual facts about factual games coming, in fact, to Xbox Game Pass with facts.

You already know that there are over one hundred great games at your fingertips… but wait, there’s more! Here is how to get the most out of your Xbox Game Pass membership this month (that isn’t just a shameless plug to go follow our Twitter and Instagram and ask you to share your favorite cat gifs with us):

  • Warn everyone in the house you might randomly yell, “Finish him!” when playing Mortal Kombat X
  • Caution them that when playing Pro Evolution Soccer 19 you could also burst out yelling “Goooaaaallll!” sometimes
  • Uh, just go ahead and buy the whole house a bunch of ear plugs
  • Promise yourself you won’t shriek, but know you’re going to get pretty freaked out after you start playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Play Shadow Warrior 2 and scream loudly as you play another game with someone stuck in your head, but this time you’re a ninja
  • Realize you’re probably still going to need to buy more ear plugs
  • Install Ori and the Blind Forest to give you all the feels, and less of the loud yelling, shrieking, and angry looks every time people walk past when you turn on the Xbox
  • Make room for the even more games we’ve got coming this month, but seriously, don’t uninstall anyone’s games to make room because they’re already a little mad about all the yelling
  • Convince your friends to play Spintires Mudrunner, and salvage your friendships over some (digital) time playing in the mud

Without further ado, let’s dive into some details on the new games coming soon to Xbox Game Pass:

Mortal Kombat X (December 7)

Jump 25 years into the future as the epic Mortal Kombat saga continues. Mortal Kombat X introduces a new generation of fighters (including the return of some fan favorites), brilliant cinematic presentation, and the Character Variation system that allows players to pick from special moves, attacks, or weapons that impact both the strategy and fighting style of each character. Gather your best buds to battle it out in this fantastic fighting game.

Pro Evolution Soccer 19 (December 13)

PES 2019 recreates soccer by showcasing the power of football through authentic leagues and enhanced realism — and Xbox Game Pass members will have access to all the action! And now thanks to a recent game update that added new stadiums, team kits, and a new range of football boots and balls, the game is better than ever before. Xbox Game Pass members are invited to compete in the upcoming season of PES League, Konami’s official global esports competition, to find and award the best player of PES 2019.

Spintires: Mudrunner (December 13)

In the harsh wilds of Siberia, take control of mighty, off-road vehicles in Spintires: Mudrunner. Experience mud, torrential rivers, and other harsh obstacles powered by an impressive physics engine that simulates some of the toughest environments known to man. Drive 19 formidable vehicles, each with their own customizable attachments with nothing but your wits and navigational abilities, or with up to three friends at your side in multiplayer! Work together to haul lumber and unlock new vehicles and maps as you go.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (December 17)

From Ninja Theory, one of the creative development teams added to the Microsoft Studios family earlier this year, and the makers of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness. Set in the Viking age, a broken Celtic warrior embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover. Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will pull you deep into Senua’s mind.

Ori and the Blind Forest (December 20)

Often described as exquisitely beautiful and heart-wrenchingly emotional, Ori and the Blind Forest earned critical acclaim – with over 30 industry awards to its name – and deeply passionate fans when it arrived on Xbox One. Moon Studios’ side-scrolling platformer combines incredible art, stirring music, challenging gameplay, and powerful narrative into a landmark game that shouldn’t be missed..

Shadow Warrior 2 (December 20)

The lovechild to one of the most frantic franchises in the world and developer Flying Wild Hog, comes the best FPS melee combat system ever made. Slice your enemies into sashimi with lethal blades or go out with a bang using staggering amount of firepower and archaic magic to purge the world of evil. With those elements combined you have the wackiest, weirdest, and bloodiest looter-shooter ever made. Jump into the shoes of Lo Wang, your friendly, neighborhood ninja slash assassin, slash hitman, slash, slash, slash… Defeat unending waves of monsters on your way to solve the mystery of a girl magically locked in your head.

Aaaaannnddd if you missed it, at The Game Awards yesterday, we announced three more games coming to Xbox Game Pass. Seriously, just quit your job now.

Ashen (December 7)

An open world co-op action RPG about a wanderer in search of a place to call home. As you adventure through the realm of Ashen, you’ll occasionally encounter other players in a passive, co-operative multiplayer open world. It’s up to you to decide how to deal with them – fight together against evil, invite them into your party or simply ignore them.

Kingdom Two Crowns (December 11)

Work with other players in the brand-new solo or co-op campaign mode to build a kingdom and secure it from the threat of the Greed. Experience new technology, units, enemies, mounts, and secrets in the next evolution of the award-winning micro strategy franchise!

Below (December 14)

A procedural terrarium filled with life, mystery, and death. Test your adventurer mettle against The Isle’s subterranean labyrinths. Explore a large, interconnected underworld crawling with cunning wildlife, deadly traps and stalked by a shadowy presence. Survive the perils of The Depths and unearth what lies below… or die trying.

Join Xbox Game Pass Today

With over 100 great games for one low monthly price, including highly-anticipated new Xbox One exclusives the day they’re released, including the highest-rated* Xbox exclusive of this generation Forza Horizon 4, plus more games added all the time, Xbox Game Pass gives you the ultimate freedom to play. If you haven’t tried Xbox Game Pass, join today and get your first month for $1, and discover your next favorite game.

For the latest Xbox Game Pass news, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, download the Xbox Game Pass app for Android and iOS and keep it tuned here to Xbox Wire. Until next month, game on!

*Source: Metacritic


Brad Smith: It’s time for governments to regulate facial recognition technology

In July, we shared our views about the need for government regulation and responsible industry measures to address advancing facial recognition technology. As we discussed, this technology brings important and even exciting societal benefits but also the potential for abuse. We noted the need for broader study and discussion of these issues. In the ensuing months, we’ve been pursuing these issues further, talking with technologists, companies, civil society groups, academics and public officials around the world. We’ve learned more and tested new ideas. Based on this work, we believe it’s important to move beyond study and discussion. The time for action has arrived.

We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology. The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.

In particular, we don’t believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success. We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition. And a solid floor requires that we ensure that this technology, and the organizations that develop and use it, are governed by the rule of law.

While we don’t have answers for every potential question, we believe there are sufficient answers for good, initial legislation in this area that will enable the technology to continue to advance while protecting the public interest. It’s critical that governments keep pace with this technology, and this incremental approach will enable faster and better learning across the public sector. We’ve summarized our ideas below, and we will prioritize this topic in our public policy discussions in selected states and countries.

We also believe that while it’s better to address these issues broadly, we should not wait for governments to act. We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology. We believe this technology can serve our customers in important and broad ways, and increasingly we’re not just encouraged, but inspired by many of the facial recognition applications our customers are deploying. But more than with many other technologies, this technology needs to be developed and used carefully. After substantial discussion and review, we have decided to adopt six principles to manage these issues at Microsoft. We are sharing these principles now, with a commitment and plans to implement them by the end of the first quarter in 2019.

We will also release new materials and training resources to help our customers use this technology in a responsible way. Especially at this stage of its development and more so than for many other products, facial recognition technology requires that tech companies and customers work together to deploy these services successfully. We are committed to working closely with customers in the public and private sectors alike.

Governments and the tech sector both play a vital role in ensuring that facial recognition technology creates broad societal benefits while curbing the risk of abuse. While many of the issues are becoming increasingly clear, the technology is young. We need to tackle the initial questions now and learn as we go, developing more knowledge and expertise as the technology evolves and public sector experience deepens. It’s possible and perhaps likely that additional steps will be needed with time. But as Mark Twain once noted, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” The time to start is now.

Opportunities from facial recognition

As with all new technology, the uses of facial recognition are multiplying in both predictable and surprising ways. But it’s increasingly clear that a great many of these uses have created many new and positive benefits for people around the world.

It’s striking to review the breadth of this innovation. Police in New Delhi recently trialed facial recognition technology and identified almost 3,000 missing children in four days. Historians in the United States have used the technology to identify the portraits of unknown soldiers in Civil War photographs taken in the 1860s. Researchers successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose a rare, genetic disease in Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. And in October, the National Australia Bank designed a proof of concept to enable customers to withdraw money from an Automatic Teller Machine using facial recognition and a PIN.

Microsoft is one of several companies playing a leading role in developing facial recognition technology.  We’re working with customers around the world, while acting aggressively on industry-leading efforts to improve the capability of this technology to recognize faces with a range of ages and skin tones. Just last month, a new evaluation conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, verified the progress we’ve made in developing facial recognition technology that now ranks in the top tier across the IT sector. The algorithms Microsoft submitted to that evaluation were consistently ranked as the most accurate or nearly the most accurate of 127 algorithms tested.  We believe in the future of facial recognition technology and the positive role it can play.

Problems that need to be addressed

At the same time, we need to be clear-eyed about the risks and potential for abuse. As we’ve continued to assess where this technology is heading, we believe there are three problems that governments need to address.

First, especially in its current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions and, more generally, outcomes that are biased and, in some cases, in violation of laws prohibiting discrimination.

Second, the widespread use of this technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy.

And third, the use of facial recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms.

We believe all three of these problems should be addressed through legislation, as described below.

Addressing bias and discrimination

First, especially in the current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions, outcomes and experiences that are biased and even in violation of discrimination laws. Recent research has demonstrated, for example, that some facial recognition technologies have encountered higher error rates when seeking to determine the gender of women and people of color. This makes it especially important that Microsoft and other tech companies continue the work needed to identify and reduce these errors and improve the accuracy and quality of facial recognition tools and services. This work is underway, and we’re making important progress. It’s equally critical that we work with customers closely to ensure that facial recognition services are deployed properly in ways that will reduce these risks. Over time, we believe that well-functioning market forces can encourage the technology innovation that is needed.

But we also believe that new laws are needed in this area, and for two distinct reasons. First, market forces will work well only if potential customers are well-informed and able to test facial recognition technology for accuracy and risks of unfair bias, including biases that arise in the context of specific applications and environments. Tech companies currently vary in their willingness to make their technology available for this purpose. As a result, some academic tests of these services have omitted some of the market leaders. And when important advocacy organizations have tried to perform tests, they’ve almost immediately been met by rejections and criticism by some providers who claim that the testing is deficient. As a society, we need legislation that will put impartial testing groups like Consumer Reports and their counterparts in a position where they can test facial recognition services for accuracy and unfair bias in a transparent and even-handed manner.

We believe new laws can address this need with a two-pronged approach:

  • Requiring transparency.Legislation should require tech companies that offer facial recognition services to provide documentation that explains the capabilities and limitations of the technology in terms that customers and consumers can understand.
  • Enabling third-party testing and comparisons.New laws should also require that providers of commercial facial recognition services enable third parties engaged in independent testing to conduct and publish reasonable tests of their facial recognition services for accuracy and unfair bias. A sensible approach is to require tech companies that make their facial recognition services accessible using the internet also make available an application programming interface or other technical capability suitable for this purpose.

There’s a second reason we believe new legislation is needed in this area now, and it points to additional measures that new laws should address. While we’re hopeful that market forces may eventually solve issues relating to bias and discrimination, we’ve witnessed an increasing risk of facial recognition services being used in ways that may adversely affect consumers and citizens – today.

It’s obviously of little solace to think about the eventual improvements in this technology if it misidentifies you and is used in a way that deprives you of the ability to access government services, obtain admission to an event or purchase commercial products. These problems can be exacerbated when organizations deploy facial recognition beyond the limits of the current technology or in a manner that is different from what was intended when they were designed. We believe that a new law can help address these concerns without imposing onerous obligations on businesses and other users. This too involves a two-pronged legal approach:

  • Ensuring meaningful human review.While human beings of course are not immune to errors or biases, we believe that in certain high-stakes scenarios, it’s critical for qualified people to review facial recognition results and make key decisions rather than simply turn them over to computers. New legislation should therefore require that entities that deploy facial recognition undertake meaningful human review of facial recognition results prior to making final decisions for what the law deems to be “consequential use cases” that affect consumers. This includes where decisions may create a risk of bodily or emotional harm to a consumer, where there may be implications on human or fundamental rights, or where a consumer’s personal freedom or privacy may be impinged.
  • Avoiding use for unlawful discrimination.Finally, it’s important for the entities that deploy facial recognition services to recognize that they are not absolved of their obligation to comply with laws prohibiting discrimination against individual consumers or groups of consumers. This provides additional reason to ensure that humans undertake meaningful review, given their ongoing and ultimate accountability under the law for decisions that are based on the use of facial recognition.

Protecting people’s privacy

Second, the widespread use of facial recognition technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy. For example, every public establishment could install cameras connected to the cloud with real-time facial recognition services.

Interestingly, the privacy movement in the United States was born from improvements in camera technology. In 1890, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis took the first step in advocating for privacy protection when he co-authored an article with colleague Samuel Warren in the Harvard Law Review advocating “the right to be let alone.” The two argued that the development of “instantaneous photographs” and their circulation by newspapers for commercial gain had created the need to protect people with a new “right to privacy.”

Technology today gives a new meaning to “instantaneous photographs” that Brandeis and Warren probably never imagined. From the moment one steps into a shopping mall, it’s possible not only to be photographed but to be recognized by a computer wherever one goes. Beyond information collected by a single camera in a single session, longer-term histories can be pieced together over time from multiple cameras at different locations. A mall owner could choose to share this information with every store. Stores could know immediately when you visited them last and what you looked at or purchased, and by sharing this data with other stores, they could predict what you’re looking to buy on your current visit.

Our point is not that the law should deprive commercial establishments of this new technology. To the contrary, we are among the companies working to help stores responsibly use this and other digital technology to improve shopping and other consumer experiences. We believe that a great many shoppers will welcome and benefit from improvements in customer service that will result.

But people deserve to know when this type of technology is being used, so they can ask questions and exercise some choice in the matter if they wish. Indeed, we believe this type of transparency is vital for building public knowledge and confidence in this technology. New legislation can provide for this in a straightforward approach:

  • Ensuring notice. The law should require that entities that use facial recognition to identify consumers place conspicuous notice that clearly conveys that these services are being used.
  • Clarifying consent.The law should specify that consumers consent to the use of facial recognition services when they enter premises or proceed to use online services that have this type of clear notice.

In effect, this approach will mean that people will have the opportunity to vote with their feet – or their keyboards or thumbs. They’ll be informed, and they can ask questions or take their business elsewhere if they wish.

We appreciate that some, including consumer groups, will argue that the law should go farther, especially when it comes to the issue of consumer consent. In Europe, it already does. It’s important to consider these views. For example, consent to use facial recognition services could be subject to background privacy principles, such as limitations on the use of the data beyond the initially defined purposes and the rights of individuals to access and correct their personal data. But from our perspective, this is also an area, perhaps especially in the United States, where this new regulation might take one quick step and then we all can learn from experience before deciding whether additional steps should follow.

Protecting democratic freedoms and human rights

Third, the use of facial recognition technology by a government can encroach on democratic freedoms and human rights. Democracy has always depended on the ability of people to assemble, to meet and talk with each other and even to discuss their views both in private and in public. This in turn relies on the ability of people to move freely and without constant government surveillance.

There are many governmental uses of facial recognition technology that will protect public safety and promote better services for the public without raising these types of concerns. There is an increasing number of such services in place already, and we should encourage them subject to the other protections described here.

But there is one potential use for facial recognition technology that could put our fundamental freedoms at risk. When combined with ubiquitous cameras and massive computing power and storage in the cloud, a government could use facial recognition technology to enable continuous surveillance of specific individuals. It could follow anyone anywhere, or for that matter, everyone everywhere. It could do this at any time or even all the time. This use of facial recognition technology could unleash mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale.

Unprecedented, but not unimagined. As George Orwell described in his novel “1984,” one vision of the future would require that citizens must evade government surveillance by finding their way secretly to a blackened room to tap in code with hand signals on each other’s arms – because otherwise cameras and microphones will capture and record their faces, voices and every word. Orwell sketched that vision nearly 70 years ago. Today technology makes that type of future possible.

But not inevitable.

We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel “1984.” An indispensable democratic principle has always been the tenet that no government is above the law. Today this requires that we ensure that governmental use of facial recognition technology remain subject to the rule of law. New legislation can put us on this path.

  • Limiting ongoing government surveillance of specified individuals.To protect against the use of facial recognition to encroach on democratic freedoms, legislation should permit law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition to engage in ongoing surveillance of specified individuals in public spaces only when:
    • a court order has been obtained to permit the use of facial recognition services for this monitoring; or
    • where there is an emergency involving imminent danger or risk of death or serious physical injury to a person.

It will be important for legislators to consider the standards for obtaining court orders in this area. For the most part, we believe this should be based on traditional rules like probable cause for search warrants. But there may be other narrow circumstances that also should be permissible, such as appropriate uses to help locate missing persons.

It’s worth noting that this approach builds on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions. In June, the court decided that the government cannot obtain without a search warrant the cellphone records that show the cell sites, and hence the physical locations, where someone has traveled. In Carpenter v. United States, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a majority of the court that an individual has a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements” that are recorded in these cell site records.

Even though we travel with our phones in public and in effect share our location with our cellular provider, the Supreme Court concluded that our location records are covered by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and its protection of our right to be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Therefore, the court decided that the government cannot track our movements through our phones and these cell site records unless it secures from an independent judge a search warrant based on probable cause to believe that we have committed a crime.

Put in this context, facial recognition raises a new constitutional question: do our faces deserve the same protection as our phones? From our perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.

As a company, Microsoft has brought four lawsuits against the U.S. government since 2013 to protect people’s privacy rights in an era when new technology can enable mass surveillance. We repeatedly have sought to preserve longstanding protections – and in our view timeless values – that are embodied in the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. From our vantage point, it’s important to act before an excessive use of facial recognition technology can put these freedoms at risk. And while these issues ultimately may find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, as one of our four cases did this past February, they should begin with the people who are elected by the people to protect our rights – our legislators in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

Looking beyond law and regulation

While we believe that new laws and regulations are indispensable, we also recognize that they are not a substitute for the responsibility that needs to be exercised by tech companies. In July, we announced that we would undertake work to assess and develop additional principles to govern our facial recognition work. Today, we make good on an important aspect of this work by publishing the principles that we will adopt for Microsoft’s facial recognition work and inviting feedback to guide our implementation of them.

List of Microsoft facial recognition principles

Over the past six months, we have spent considerable time seeking input and advice from our employees, customers, public officials, academics and groups across civil society. We have benefitted from discussions in the United States and around the world. We have decided to take the next step today by adopting six principles that address the concerns we believe governments need to address as well. These are:

  1. Fairness.We will work to develop and deploy facial recognition technology in a manner that strives to treat all people fairly.
  2. Transparency.  We will document and clearly communicate the capabilities and limitations of facial recognition technology.
  3. Accountability.We will encourage and help our customers to deploy facial recognition technology in a manner that ensures an appropriate level of human control for uses that may affect people in consequential ways.
  4. Nondiscrimination.We will prohibit in our terms of service the use of facial recognition technology to engage in unlawful discrimination.
  5. Notice and consent.We will encourage private sector customers to provide notice and secure consent for the deployment of facial recognition technologies.
  6. Lawful surveillance.We will advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios, and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.

Next week we will publish a document detailing these principles, and we will work in the coming months to gather feedback and suggestions from interested individuals and groups on how we can best implement them.

As we take this step, we’re cognizant of the need to create policies, processes and tools to make these principles effective across our company. We will pursue this work and will formally launch these principles, together with this supporting framework, before the end of March 2019.

As with the regulatory issues discussed here, we’re taking an incremental approach with the adoption of these principles. We readily recognize that we don’t yet have all the answers. Given the early stage of facial recognition technology, we don’t even know all the questions. But we believe that taking a principled approach will provide valuable experience that will enable us to learn faster. As we do, we’re committed to sharing what we learn, perhaps most especially with our customers through new material and training resources that will enable them to adopt facial recognition in a manner that gives their stakeholders and the public the confidence they deserve.

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Beyond automation: Volkswagen’s future of connected, shareable cars

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Cars as a service: the future of shareable vehicles
“A future in which every single Volkswagen vehicle is shareable in every way you can imagine. This is what we want to achieve,” Huettel states.

For Volkswagen, the future of connected vehicles transcends beyond automation and even digital assistance.

“We want a future where you can find and enter a car using nothing but your smartphone as a key, or letting friends and family borrow your car while you’re away, simply by granting them permission through an app. It’s a future of convenience. It’s what we’re striving for. I think this could have a huge impact on transportation infrastructure in general. Our most important goal is to enable people.”

The importance (and integrity) of data
For technology to become more useful, and as it does more for us, data increasingly vital. Without it, the many conveniences of advances such digital assistants and other artificial intelligence-powered solutions, simply would not be able to exist.

In a world where companies are transforming into  tech companies, where data privacy concerns are rightfully becoming more important, Volkswagen is approaching privacy from the ground up: “AI is the future, but before we all work on it, we need to focus on the first step,” says Huettel. “Not only what data, and how it’s used to maximum effect, but the security of this data is absolutely paramount. The first step must always be to ensure that customer data is safe. Then, and only then, can we safely leverage that data to its full potential, to benefit the customer’s life.”

The integrity of data is also a primary concern for Volkswagen, and programs such as Microsoft’s Shared Innovation Initiative ensure that Microsoft will never leverage Volkswagen’s data to compate against the company.

Microsoft sign, Redmond campusNo tech without culture
Beyond applying technology, the importance of culture and leadership cannot be overstated when it comes to transformation – especially a transformation as vast and as ambitious as the one that Volkswagen is undergoing.

As for the partnership between Volkswagen and Microsoft itself, Huettel states that “We had a lot of discussions and looked at offerings from several cloud vendors. We based our decision around organisational and cultural transformation. We weren’t just looking for a technology partner – we were looking for a cultural that is really interesting.”

As part of the partnership with Microsoft, Volkswagen will establish a new automotive cloud development office in the US, close to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond. Microsoft will provide hands-on support to Volkswagen as it ramps up its new office, including assistance in the hiring process, human resources management, and consulting services. The workforce is expected to reach around 300 engineers in the near future.

In addition, Volkswagen developers and engineers will benefit from Microsoft’s cloud expertise across its organisation, learning valuable insights through collaboration, while ensuring that the development process remains agile.

“We came to the conclusion that we needed to change in a revolutionary way,” says Huettel, “We want to leverage what we can from Microsoft’s culture and Microsoft’s technology. We want to be the Microsoft of the automotive industry, in terms of being seen as the company that made a digital transformation, and is really perceived as one of the digital players in the market.”


Introducing Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit — a solution to launch and scale your freelance workforce

With increasing participation in the gig economy—the contingent labor market made up of independent workers who contract for short-term engagements—enterprises are beginning to test and include freelance talent to support projects. According to the Future Workforce Report, 47 percent of hiring managers at enterprise organizations utilized freelancers (up from 44 percent the prior year), while roughly 9 in 10 hiring managers say they are open to engaging freelancers rather than temporary workers through a staffing firm. To help enterprises digitally transform or complement their conventional contingent staff solutions, we’re launching Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, a curated set of tools, templates, and best practices to help our customers launch, execute, and manage freelance programs at scale. 

The gig economy, which includes freelancers, consultants, contractors, and solopreneurs, is on the rise. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, the total spent on gig work in 2015 was $792 billion. Experts believe that within 10 years a larger proportion of the U.S. workforce will participate in the gig economy. In addition, according to Field Nation, 86 percent of independent workers intentionally choose freelancing.

The implications for enterprise companies are profound. To thrive in a highly competitive environment with rapidly changing technology and customer needs, enterprises must be agile and adapt to new business models to get work done with external talent. While adding on-demand freelance talent to the mix offers measurable results in speed and efficiency, the path to transforming existing policies and processes is largely undefined.

Our launch partner for this toolkit is Upwork, one of the largest online global marketplaces with over 375,000 freelancers in over 180 countries. We specifically are partnering with Upwork Enterprise, their end-to-end compliance and freelance talent sourcing solution.

The Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit offers solutions for the main friction points enterprises encounter when deploying a freelance program, including: internal communications and awareness, team-wide collaboration, data analytics, and workflow automation.

Internal communications and awareness

One of the major challenges of launching an enterprise freelance program is driving awareness and education among internal stakeholders and adopters. Employees need a place where they can get started to learn how the program works, access required training, and review best practices for engaging with freelancers.

Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit solves for this with the SharePoint communication site template—a “one-stop shop” for program details to help accelerate freelance adoption and onboarding, including:

  • Repository for relevant documentation and presentations about the program.
  • Use cases to show employees the kinds of projects they can get done with freelancers.
  • FAQs seeded with the top questions from enterprise employees.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the SharePoint expert talent pool.

See our SharePoint communication site infographic to learn more.

Team-wide collaboration

The nature of enterprise freelance projects requires team members to collaborate on multiple files, manage varied tasks, and communicate across time zones. To keep cross-functional, multi-geographical teams moving in the same direction, the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit provides guidance around using Microsoft Teams as a powerful hub for teamwork that brings chats, meetings, calls, files, and apps into one shared workspace.

With Teams, enterprises can manage their freelance communication and collaboration needs, specifically through:

  • Communication—Public and private teams for members to engage in discussion.
  • Task management—One place to track progress and align each team member’s workflow via integration with project management tools like Microsoft Planner.
  • File storage—One place to store shared files and retrieve them through intelligent search.
  • External guest access—The ability for external users worldwide to collaborate in all aspects of freelance projects through the free version of Teams.
  • Security—External guest access to project-specific teams keeps your information safe without giving wholesale access.

See our Teams infographic to learn more.

Data analytics

A major challenge in scaling an enterprise freelance program is capturing, tracking, and communicating performance KPIs. The Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit leverages Microsoft Power BI, a business analytics service that deliver insights by collecting real-time data from multiple sources, simplifying data prep, and producing customized, easy-to-understand reports and dashboards.

Power BI helps enterprise program managers to:

  • Make data-driven decisions.
  • Compare freelance program results to conventional staffing solutions.
  • Identify the teams within your organization currently leveraging freelance talent by discipline type to help identify future opportunities within your company.

To enhance the core functionality of Power BI for a freelance environment, the freelance toolkit offers:

  • A Power BI template with sample visualizations.
  • A Power BI connector to pull data from disparate sources into dashboards.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the Power BI talent pool.

See our Power BI infographic to learn more.

Workflow automation

An enterprise freelance program requires provisioning, compliance, and monitoring, all while providing a frictionless process for your employees. To reduce the need for manual completion of repetitive tasks, Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit uses Microsoft Flow to create automated workflows between apps and services that send notifications, synchronize files, and collect data.

For example, Microsoft Flow can help business decision makers automate the following scenarios:

  • Employee training and compliance. By visiting the freelance program SharePoint communication site, employees can sign up for the pilot by completing a compliance training video supported by Microsoft Stream.
  • Internal community signup. After an employee completes the compliance training video, the employee is automatically added to an internal Teams channel where employees can collaborate with others who are part of the program and share experiences.
  • Upwork account creation. After the employee is added to the Teams channel, their account information, which includes their name and email address, is sent to Upwork for account creation on their platform, so they can start posting jobs on the platform.

In addition to core Microsoft Flow functionality, the freelance toolkit offers:

  • Case studies to show how you can use Microsoft Flow within an enterprise freelance program.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the Microsoft Flow talent pool.

See our Microsoft Flow infographic to learn more.

Our journey and what we learned

Like many of our customers, Microsoft is also in the process of navigating how to responsibly weave freelance engagements into our enterprise environment. Over the past year, we completed over 2,000 freelance projects across writing, research, video editing, translation, design, and data science—spanning 25 internal teams and hundreds of employees.

But getting to this point was not easy—we had to internally transform ourselves, and we needed to build an infrastructure that could support the complexities of an enterprise freelance program. This led us to develop the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, which combines our leading enterprise productivity apps with curated tools, templates, and best practices to address the specific needs of enterprise freelance programs. The work has paid off. To date, we’ve seen measurable cost and time savings.

Get started

Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit is available for no additional cost as part of an Office 365 Enterprise or Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription. Learn more about Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit and a Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription.

Please note: Each enterprise will need to evaluate and determine its own needs—including such things as data handling and compliance requirements—and should use their existing Microsoft 365 investments they determine appropriate.

Learn more about the freelance toolkit journey with Upwork.