darren whittingham - Fotolia

How the Microsoft Open Data Initiative may benefit partners

Partners responded optimistically to the Open Data Initiative from Microsoft, citing potential opportunities to help customers derive greater value from their data.

Channel partners are reacting favorably so far to the Microsoft alliance and technology initiative formed with SAP and Adobe, dubbed the Open Data Initiative.

Revealed at the 2018 Ignite conference, the Microsoft Open Data Initiative will let customers of the three companies integrate siloed data sets within their organizations to boost business operations. The ODI, in part, will look to enhance interoperability and data exchange between Microsoft, SAP and Adobe's respective apps and platforms and establish a unified data store on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. Other aspects of the Microsoft Open Data Initiative include enhancing data governance, security and privacy capabilities for customers.

SAP sees the Microsoft alliance benefitting its customers and as an acknowledgement by the vendors that customers should control their data, according to Arlen Shenkman, executive vice president of global business development and ecosystems at SAP. Customers should also have the ability to access and use that data to support their needs, he added.

"Our companies intend to enable organizations to generate a unified, consent-driven view of their customers by unlocking siloed data," Shenkman said. "This initiative creates the opportunity to enrich data by bringing front office together with back office and by combining various data types -- transactional, marketing, commerce, sales and operations."

Arlen Shenkman, executive vice president of global business development and ecosystems, SAPArlen Shenkman

Partners can use this data to generate insight and build compelling views on end-to-end customer experiences and understand where the opportunities and challenges are, he said. This will eliminate the need for custom integration and one-off deployments, reducing customer total cost of ownership, Shenkman noted.

ODI could enhance focus on customer experience

According to early reaction from partners, the Microsoft Open Data Initiative will be in the interest of their customers and good for their businesses. Vishal Sarkar, global lead for digital sales and service at IT consulting firm Avanade, said the news did not come as a surprise.

In the last few years, "we've seen Microsoft open up to working with partners they haven't aligned with very well in the past," Sarkar said. "Typically, partners [Microsoft has] competed with, they're opening the doors to in the interest of customers."

One of the biggest problems Avanade's customers have is disparate systems and siloed data, Sarkar noted. "Our job is to deliver business solutions, and in that journey, we have to go across functional areas [of the business], ... and we try to deliver value by bringing disparate data together. That requires a lot of heavy lifting."

A lot of systems don't talk to one another or were developed using different standards, he said. The three companies, through the ODI, are "stepping up and saying, 'In the interest of customers we're going to take ownership of making sure our platforms talk a common language, which will make it easier to break down data silos'" to generate insight.

The Microsoft Open Data Initiative will also open up more possibilities for Avanade, he said, "because a lot of our work is less about pure technology and more about customer experiences." But those experiences cannot happen without access to data, which is the currency of the digital world, he said.

See the Open Data Initiative announced at
Microsoft Ignite 2018.

"This will allow for more interesting things because we have to worry less about data cleansing and data integration, because the three companies are stepping up to make it easier for their customers by having a common language," Sarkar said. "We can focus more on building intelligent solutions on top of the integrated data."

He also sees the Microsoft Open Data Initiative as the beginning of a trend and that other companies will join in, as well. "It didn't seem like the announcement was limited, but that these three are founding members," he said. "Time will tell who else will join the alliance."

Sarkar said he'd like to see Salesforce and Oracle, which formed a technology alliance in 2013, become involved in ODI.

In the meantime, Sarkar said there haven't been specific details offered on how deep the Microsoft alliance with SAP and Adobe will be. In the enterprise segment, "we have limited insight into what SAP will do." Avanade works on sales, marketing and services with Adobe, he said. "I'm very hopeful that now that they've announced [a partnership] with SAP, they will share a common data model and language to help break down data silos, as well."

Integration remains an issue

Brandon Ebken, CTO, InsightBrandon Ebken

Brandon Ebken, CTO of digital innovation at managed services provider Insight, said he is cautiously optimistic that the Microsoft alliance with SAP and Adobe will prove valuable to customers.

"This is a big deal to our customers, and it will provide significant value," he said. Insight's work includes giving clients visibility into their end customers' data. The visibility can provide competitive advantage for organizations that need to understand their customers' behavior in detail, their buying patterns and the impact of marketing.

"This [visibility] was long considered a utopia simply due to the amount of data and integration required," Ebken said. "Big data and advanced analytics technologies change the game here, especially as they have become more pervasive in the cloud. However, there is a massive amount of integration that needs to happen to enable [360-degree customer view] solutions, which often limit or doom these initiatives."

While he noted that the Microsoft Open Data Initiative "opens new doors to assessing customer data for a personalized user experience and anticipating customer needs, we caution our clients to always take a thoughtful approach to protecting consumer privacy."

That said, the initiative "further changes the game by reducing the speed to value. Adobe and SAP are titans in the customer experience management space, and Microsoft has basically enabled a platform service for [a 360-degree customer view] through these two key partners," Ebken noted.

We can focus more on building intelligent solutions on top of the integrated data.
Vishal Sarkarglobal lead for digital sales and service, Avanade

Other companies will also start providing additional platform services to reduce time to value and to differentiate themselves from other cloud providers, he said.

Like Sarkar, he said the initiative should be good for Insight's business.

"Sure, it could impact services revenue associated with setting up foundational infrastructure or at least further commoditize these types of offerings," Ebken said. "However, the partnership allows companies like Insight to bring solutions to market faster and with greater impact. This is good for Adobe, SAP, Microsoft, their strategic partners and ultimately all of our customers."

Shenkman agreed, saying that while companies have existing integrations, customers consistently tell SAP, Microsoft and Adobe there are silos preventing them from using their data.

The three vendors believe "this is an opportune time to talk about a standard, open format," he said. "With an open and extensible model, we can define a common approach to the data, which should ultimately reduce the time, cost and energy required for companies to extract data from siloes and gain actionable insights."

Partners also expect the ODI will create new opportunities for their customers, he said.

"This initiative will enable data to flow bidirectionally to a common infrastructure and set of APIs, where the parties will put their data, including transactional, operational, financial, behavioral and IoT data, in a manner that ensures customers can move their data to and from the common infrastructure," Shenkman said. ODI will also help partners build trust by incorporating consumer consent and preferences around data rights and usage, he said.

"Unlocking and harmonizing this siloed data will produce a new set of capabilities and common data attributes, all of which can then be leveraged to create new intelligent applications that automate business processes and drive business agility," Shenkman said. "We believe this initiative will drive opportunity throughout our ecosystems."

Dig Deeper on MSP business strategy

Cloud Computing
Data Management
Business Analytics