At its most recent Worldwide Partner Conference, held in July 2015, Microsoft announced several new cloud-based initiatives, the most interesting of which for enterprise businesses was the Cortana Analytics Suite. This is Microsoft's big data and predictive analysis package, and it will compete with the likes of IBM for a share of this lucrative market.
The promise of big data, and the analysis tools that come with it, is that enterprises will be able to "mine" the huge amount of data they generate on customers, vendors, markets, and products for insights into unforeseen or untapped information—the kind of information that leads to more business, more revenue, and more profits.
In simple terms, a solid big data analytics infrastructure is an absolute necessity for any business enterprise with aspirations for success. Enterprises that do not take the time and spend the money to establish a big data infrastructure are going to operate at a disadvantage. That is not a good place to be.
The Cortana Analytics Suite (Figure A) is Microsoft's foray into this important and lucrative market. According to the announcement, Cortana Analytics will take advantage of machine learning, unlimited data storage, and perceptual intelligence to "transform data into intelligent action." If only it were that simple.
The Cortana Analytics Suite.
No matter where you turn for your big data solutions, the software and infrastructure can only take you so far. All of the business intelligence and big data analytics in the world is not going to do you any good if your employees don't use them.
This is where Microsoft is trying to carve out a niche. The Cortana Analytics Suite will be available for a simple monthly subscription, similar to the way enterprises pay for Office 365. It will have a familiar interface, and all of the analytical tools will be available in one product. There will be no need to mix and match tools from various sources.
The other "simplification" effort Microsoft hopes will establish its niche in the market is Cortana itself. Cortana, Microsoft's voice-controlled personal assistant, is integrated into the analytics suite. The idea is that users can ask questions using Cortana and natural language without having to formulate old-fashioned database queries.
It's a start
Microsoft's Cortana Analytics Suite is a very ambitious project. I applaud Microsoft for recognizing that many current business intelligence and big data analytics solutions are overly complicated and unwieldy. Simplification is the right strategy—it's the niche that can separate Microsoft from everyone else.
However, knowing the right strategy and executing the right strategy are two different things. From what I have seen of the Cortana Analytics Suite, it does indeed present a set of streamlined and simplified analytical tools. But those tools are more of a framework, and they aren't likely to be exactly what your enterprise needs.
In other words, enterprises using the Cortana Analytics Suite are still going to have to build applications that meet the particular needs of their particular enterprises. Cortana Analytics may make application development easier, at least we know that's Microsoft's plan, but we won't know if that's true or not until enterprises get their hands on it.
And even if Cortana Analytics does make development easier, enterprises will still have to hire people to do the app development and then train their employees how to use those apps.
As I said before, big data analytics is vital to the success of modern business enterprises, but it requires a significant commitment of resources. So, even if Microsoft has indeed simplified big data with Cortana Analytics, it has not made it truly easy.
What big data analytics infrastructure does your enterprise have in place? Is it working to your satisfaction? Does a move toward more simplified tools sound like a good idea to you? Let us know in the discussion thread below.
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.