• 11 min read

What’s new in Azure Data, AI, and Digital Applications: Are you ready to go from GenAI experimentation to solutions deployed at scale?

Corporate building snapshot
We are now in the second year of the era of AI. The first year was full of excitement and experimentation, giving all of us a glimpse into the powerful potential of AI to revolutionize experiences for customers, improve employee productivity, and ignite a sense of wonder.

For many organizations, implementing AI is not an “if” but a “when.” Determining the “when” piece depends on many factors, but one that may be tricky to scope is “when we are ready?.” Is it when your workloads are in the cloud? When your team has the skills? When it’s a good fit for your culture and customers? All of the above, and …?  

Prior to working at Microsoft, I was a Microsoft Systems Implementor (SI) partner implementing Microsoft Azure solutions. A big reason we were exclusive with Microsoft was the investment in tooling and expertise Microsoft makes to help customers assess their transformation readiness. Going back to our very beginning, Microsoft’s roots are in helping developers and organizations use technology to solve some of the world’s biggest opportunities and challenges. In this era of AI, we once again find ourselves seeking ways to empower our customers to adopt GenAI widely and at a pace not seen before in the technology industry. In fact, in a recent IDC study, we found that pace is a huge part of the GenAI equation. 

As someone who has been at a keyboard building software solutions, I can tell you—having enterprise-ready tooling and seamless integration into the broader cloud services needed to build applications is at the top of the list for delivering on time, with quality, no doubt about it.

Azure OpenAI Service

Build your own copilot and generative AI applications

We are now in the second year of the era of AI. The first year was full of excitement and experimentation, giving all of us a glimpse into the powerful potential of AI to revolutionize experiences for customers, improve employee productivity, and ignite a sense of wonder. The focus this year is on implementation, realizing value, and discovering where AI can take your organization. Read on for what’s new across the business, with a special focus on updates that will help ensure you’re ready for what’s next.

What’s new in AI readiness

Evaluate apps in Azure AI Studio before deploying

Ensuring an AI-powered app is ready to deploy means evaluating model accuracy and robustness, response quality, scalability, compliance, and other items critical to launching a successful app. With Azure AI Studio, generative AI app developers can build and evaluate applications for safety, reliability, and performance before deploying. If needed, they can fine-tune models and reorchestrate prompt application components. The platform facilitates scalability, transforming proof-of-concepts into full production with ease. And continuous monitoring and refinement supports long-term success. To get a look at this in action, watch our good friend Seth Juarez in this Microsoft Mechanics episode, “Build your own copilots with Azure AI Studio,” to see how evaluation is built into the workflow.

Calling all retailers! AI-ready data solutions in Microsoft Fabric now in public preview

In January we unveiled new generative AI and data solutions across the shopper journey, offering copilot experiences through Microsoft Cloud for Retail. A new retail industry data model can be used for data governance, reporting, business intelligence and advanced analytics. A data connector brings e-commerce data from Sitecore OrderCloud into Microsoft Fabric in real time. Analytics templates, such as frequently bought together, provide actionable, data-driven recommendations to help retailers improve product upselling and shelf optimization. New copilot templates on Azure OpenAI Service allow retailers to build personalized shopping experiences and support store operations. Add to that new copilot features in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, and the launch of Retail Media Creative Studio in the Microsoft Retail Media Platform and Microsoft Cloud for Retail now offers more options for retailers to choose from to infuse copilot experiences throughout the shopper journey. Learn more.

Advancing through the LLMOps Maturity Model: A roadmap for generative AI operational excellence 

The latest in our ongoing series on LLMOps for business leaders delves into how to use the LLMOps Maturity Model to methodically advance from theoretical to practical with powerful generative AI models. The LLMOps Maturity Model is not just a roadmap from foundational LLM utilization to mastery in deployment and operational management; it’s a strategic guide that underscores why understanding and implementing this model is essential for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of AI. This fourth blog in the series offers a practical roadmap for businesses to skillfully navigate the world of generative AI and Large Language Models. It’s all about moving from the basics of using LLMs to mastering deployment and management.

New Azure SQL Database Hyperscale pricing and Azure AI Search integration

AI applications need high-performance databases that can handle large volumes of data and complex queries. Azure SQL Database Hyperscale’s unique architecture provides the needed flexibility and scalability for AI-ready cloud applications of any size and I/O requirement. And new, reduced compute pricing gives you the performance and security of Azure SQL at commercial open-source prices. Learn more.

New, integrated vectorization capability in Azure AI Search means customers can now do vector search using data stored in Azure SQL Database. This new capability opens up new application scenarios for integrating vectors into traditional search as well as Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG) applications. Learn more.

Microsoft is a leader in the 2023 IDC MarketScape for AI Governance Platforms  

We are proud of the work we put into ensuring our AI products and services empower you to deploy solutions that are safe, responsible, and effective. So, we are honored to be recognized as a Leader in the inaugural IDC MarketScape Worldwide AI Governance Platforms 2023 Vendor Assessment (doc #US50056923, November 2023). Learn more about this recognition.

Azure Partners: Faster app delivery, cost savings, and funding with Azure Migrate and Modernize and Azure Innovate

Whether your customers are migrating to gain a secure and AI-ready foundation, modernizing their app portfolio, or are ready to build new intelligent apps, it is now easier to bring value to our mutual customers and help them capitalize on the technological innovations transforming every industry.

Achieve faster application delivery times, significant cost savings, and access funding through with Azure Migrate and Modernize and Azure Innovate. Why is this so important to get ready for AI? You must get to the cloud before that innovation can begin!

Formerly the Azure Migration and Modernization Program, Azure Migrate and Modernize is an expanded offering for customer scenarios across apps, data, and infrastructure that includes support for more workloads, streamlined access to specialized partners, incentives to offset migration costs, and security guidance built into every engagement. Azure Innovate is a new offering focused on building new solutions and modernizing existing ones on Azure to meet the demand for AI transformation.

Both offerings provide end-to-end coverage of customer needs, from migration and modernization scenarios to AI innovation, and are built to scale as customer requirements and priorities evolve. Partners providing services, or ISVs building new or modernizing applications, have access to assessments, pilot PoCs, tooling, funding, and Microsoft expert guidance when you need it – all designed to help you accelerate the cloud journey and drive growth and impact.

Visit Azure Migrate and Modernize and Azure Innovate for more info. 

Ready for the cloud and AI? Find out with a free Azure Expert Assessment

Looking for the best way to leverage the scale and compute horsepower of the cloud to optimize your IT infrastructure, data, and applications? Want a personal recommendation on that best way? For free? Check out Azure Expert Assessment, a one-to-one offer to collaborate with a Certified Azure Expert who will personally guide you through the assessment and make recommendations for your organization’s cloud adoption plan. You’ll get a clear technical roadmap and a comprehensive business case to support your cloud strategy. You will also get access to best practices, tools, and resources to help you implement your cloud solutions. Sound good? Go: Azure Expert Assessment.

Build your AI skills

Coming soon: Industry AI Implementation Workshops for partners

A new series of AI workshops to help partners implement industry-specific AI solutions is launching soon. The goal is to inform, educate, and accelerate our industry-specific partners on generative AI and equip them with what’s needed to go from concept to market. Workshop benefits include:

  1. Architectural guidance supporting customer/partner adoption of our Generative AI stack (Azure OpenAI, Copilot, etc.)
  2. An approach to Code ‘For’ / Code ‘With’ depending on the relationship
  3. Offer feature requests/improvements to our horizontal platforms (Azure OpenAI, Copilot for M365, copilot for D365, etc.)

The Retail workshop is currently in pilot with Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Sustainability following soon. Stay updated on the Industry AI Workshops 

Workshop: Get started with Responsible AI

The Responsible AI framework helps AI developers identify and mitigate risks and harms that could impact people, businesses, and society. This hand-on workshop gives participants experience using Responsible AI to debug their machine learning model to improve the model’s performance to be more fair, inclusive, safe, reliable, and transparent. Learn more on the Responsible AI Framework.

Opportunities to connect

Register for the Microsoft Fabric Community Conference

Unifying data from across a sprawling infrastructure is critical to AI readiness. Microsoft Fabric helps you connect and curate data from anywhere and apply powerful analytics and share insights across your organization all while governing and protecting your data. Come see for yourself – join us at the Microsoft Fabric Community Conference in Las Vegas March 26-28and see firsthand how Fabric and the rest of our data and AI products can help your organization prepare for the era of AI. You’ll hear from leading Microsoft and community experts from around the world and get hands on experiences with the latest features from Microsoft Fabric, Power BI, Azure Databases, Azure Databricks, Azure AI, Microsoft Purview, and so much more. Use discount code MSCUST to save $100 off. Register today. 

Azure Cosmos DB Conf 2024—Call for speakers

Azure Cosmos DB is the database for the era of AI and modern app development. From Chat GPT to TomTom Digital Cockpit—an immersive, conversational in-car infotainment system—Azure Cosmos DB powers responsive and intelligent apps with real-time data, ingested and processed at any scale.

There are many, many examples of developers building innovative apps with Azure Cosmos DB and if you’re one of them, we invite you to showcase your work at Azure Cosmos DB Conference 2024 on April 16. This free, virtual developer event is co-organized by Microsoft and the Azure Cosmos DB community. This year’s theme is “Building the next generation of AI Apps with Azure Cosmos DB.” We seek stories about customers using Azure Cosmos DB and AI to power next-gen intelligent apps, focusing on unique customer scenarios/use cases, and on integrating with open-source APIs like MongoDB, PostgreSQL, and Apache Cassandra. Customer demo sessions showcasing innovative AI use cases will get priority. This call for speakers is open until Feb. 15. Get the details and submit a session.

AI era ready customers are making transformative moves

Walmart unveils new generative AI-powered capabilities for shoppers and associates

Microsoft and Walmart established a strategic partnership in 2018 that has accelerated innovation on several fronts. At CES Walmart unveiled that latest results of our ongoing collaboration: an all-new generative AI-powered search function that works across iOS, Android, and Walmart’s own website. The new capability is specifically designed to understand the context of a customer’s query and generate personalized responses. Soon, customers will have a more interactive and conversational experience, get answers to specific questions, and receive personalized product suggestions. Read the story.

Windstream uses Azure OpenAI Service to empower employees and transform business outcomes

Windstream, a leading telecommunications services provider in the U.S. was ready for the era of AI and has fully embraced it to revolutionize operations. From using Azure OpenAI Service to extract valuable insights from customer interactions and call transcripts to improve customer service, to using the service to analyze technical information and error codes and transform it into customer-friendly messages to inform users about issues and expected resolution times. Windstream also uses Azure AI, including cognitive search and OpenAI’s Davinci, to index their vast amount of internal social media data and documents, which included approximately 100,000 indexed documents on their Confluence wiki. This indexed data is made available to Windstream’s custom-built GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) platform, hosted within Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). This allows employees to access indexed knowledge and answer questions, leading to increased efficiency and more informed decision-making. And that’s not all. Read more about Windstream’s AI story.

Ally Financial empowers customer service associates to focus on human engagement by using Azure OpenAI Service

Ally, a digital financial services firm, wanted to increase the time its call-center customer service associates have to spend with customers. Those associates had to write detailed notes after customer calls, taking time away from customers. To free up that time and maintain detailed call documentation, Ally used Microsoft Azure and Azure OpenAI Service to automate note-taking. Now associates can quickly review the AI-generated summary after each call and turn their attention back to serving customers. This solution cut associates’ post-call effort by 30 percent. As Ally improves call summary accuracy—which is over 85% to start—they expect to reduce associate post-call effort by 50%. Read more on Ally’s AI integration.

Microsoft and Cognite build industrial data operations platform on Microsoft Fabric and Azure OpenAI Service

Another partnership transforming industry with AI is our partnership with Cognite, which recently expanded to converge enterprise and industrial data operations to create a scalable, AI-driven platform that meets the demands of modern industries from the shop floor to the top floor. The solution integrates flagship Cognite Data Fusion with Microsoft Fabric to deliver a unified enterprise DataOps solution with capabilities for vertical industrial data workloads enabled through copilots. Customers can leverage Cognite Data Fusion for driving decisions in asset centric scenarios, for example asset performance optimization, and Fabric to generate insights to run their business. Read more on Cognite’s story.

How Microsoft’s AI screened over 32 million candidates to find a better battery—in 80 hours

In an awe-inspiring example of how AI can reshape our world, the Microsoft Quantum team used advanced AI to screen over 32 million candidates to discover and synthesize a new material that holds the potential for better batteries—the first real-life example of many that will be achieved in a new era of scientific discovery driven by AI. Joining forces with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the team accomplished in days something that would have taken traditional science and lab experimentation multiple lifespans to achieve. The discovery is important for many reasons. Solid-state batteries are safer than traditional liquid or gel-like lithium batteries and provide more energy density. Lithium is scarce, expensive, and environmentally and geopolitically problematic. Creating a battery that reduces lithium requirements by approximately 70% could have tremendous environmental, safety, and economic benefits. This achievement is a glimpse at how the convergence of high-performance computing (HPC) and AI is accelerating scientific discovery across industries. Microsoft puts the power these breakthroughs into customers’ hands with our Azure Quantum Elements platform. Read the AI breakthrough battery story.

Are you ready for the era of AI?

With an average return of $3.5 for every $1 invested and firms beginning to see returns in just 14 months, as reported by IDC,1 AI is rerouting technology roadmaps everywhere as the focus sharpens around when to deploy AI-powered solutions. The era of AI dramatically expands that next horizon and moves it much, much closer, accelerating transformation and value realization timelines.

If you are assessing your organization’s readiness milestones on a revised roadmap, include room for experimentation [the unknown?]. With AI, there’s what you want it to do, and in many cases, what more you realize it can do once you begin implementation. Not quite serendipity, but close.

Microsoft Azure was purpose built with your limitless innovation in mind. With the most comprehensive and responsible AI toolset in the market, the most advanced supercomputer in the world, and a team of the best and brightest on hand to help you plan and execute, Microsoft is the trusted partner to empower you to make the most of the AI era. 

  1. IDC STUDY—The Business Opportunity of AI (microsoft.com)