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New Uber feature uses machine learning to sort business and personal rides

August 14, 2018 No Comments

Uber announced a new program today called Profile Recommendations that takes advantage of machine intelligence to reduce user error when switching between personal and business accounts.

It’s not unusual for a person to have both types of accounts. When you’re out and about, it’s easy to forget to switch between them when appropriate. Uber wants to help by recommending the correct one.

“Using machine learning, Uber can predict which profile and corresponding payment method an employee should be using, and make the appropriate recommendation,” Ronnie Gurion, GM and Global Head of Uber for Business wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

Uber has been analyzing a dizzying amount of trip data for so long, it can now (mostly) understand the purpose of a given trip based on the details of your request. While it’s certainly not perfect because it’s not always obvious what the purpose is, Uber believes it can determine the correct intention 80 percent of the time. For that remaining 20 percent, when it doesn’t get it right, Uber is hoping to simplify corrections too.

Photo: Uber

Business users can now also assign trip reviewers — managers or other employees who understand the employee’s usage patterns, and can flag questionable rides. Instead of starting an email thread or complicated bureaucratic process to resolve an issue, the employee can now see these flagged rides and resolve them right in the app. “This new feature not only saves the employee’s and administrator’s time, but it also cuts down on delays associated with closing out reports,” Gurion wrote in the blog post announcement.

Uber also announced that it’s supporting a slew of new expense reporting software to simplify integration with these systems. They currently have integrations with Certify, Chrome River, Concur and Expensify. They will be adding support for Expensya, Happay, Rydoo, Zeno by Serko and Zoho Expense starting in September.

All of this should help business account holders deal with Uber expenses more efficiently, while integrating with many of the leading expense programs to move data smoothly from Uber to a company’s regular record-keeping systems.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


InVision hires former Twitter VP of Design Mike Davidson

August 7, 2018 No Comments

InVision continues its slow march toward design world domination, today announcing the hire of Mike Davidson who will take over as Head of Partnerships and Community.

Davidson was previously the VP of Design at Twitter, where he built a 100-person team that was responsible for every aspect of Twitter’s user experience and branding, including web, mobile web, native apps and business tools.

Before Twitter, Davidson worked at ESPN/Disney until 2005, when he founded NewsVine, which was purchased by NBCNews in 2007. Davidson then took on a vice president roll for five years before starting at Twitter.

At InVision, Davidson will oversee partnerships, product integrations, strategic acquisitions and community building. This includes leading InVision’s Design Leadership Forum, which hosts private events for design leaders from big companies like Facebook, Google, Lyft, Disney, etc. Davidson will also work with the new Design Transformation team at InVision to help create educational experiences for InVision’s customers.

Davidson says he plans to spend the next 30 to 60 days talking as little as possible, and listening to the feedback he hears from his team around what can be improved.

“InVision has a seamless workflow that includes everyone in the company in the design process,” said Davidson. “If there’s one goal I’d like to realize, it’s that. Design is a team sport these days, which wasn’t the case 10 or 20 years ago.”

In Davidson’s own words, the position at InVision is “less about business to business and more about designer to designer.” Davidson will be meeting predominantly with the design teams from various companies to discuss not only how InVision can help them build better experiences, but how InVision can incorporate those design teams’ personalities into the product.

InVision was built on the premise that the screen is the most important place in the world, considering that every brand and company is now building digital experiences across the web and through mobile applications. CEO Clark Valberg hopes to turn InVision into the Salesforce of design, and partnerships, acquisitions and product integrations are absolutely vital to that.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have an authentic leader like Mike step into this role to help us further build out our design community — which is as important to us as our product — and to help drive design maturity inside of every organization,” said Valberg. “Digital product design is shaping every industry in the world, and as the leader in the space, we see it as our responsibility to support and foster community and advanced education.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


The Istio service mesh hits version 1.0

July 31, 2018 No Comments

Istio, the service mesh for microservices from Google, IBM, Lyft, Red Hat and many other players in the open source community, launched version 1.0 of its tools today.

If you’re not into service meshes, that’s understandable. Few people are. But Istio is probably one of the most important new open source projects out there right now. It sits at the intersection of a number of industry trends like containers, microservices and serverless computing and makes it easier for enterprises to embrace them. Istio now has over 200 contributors and the code has seen over 4,000 check-ins since the launch of  version 0.1.

Istio, at its core, handles the routing, load balancing, flow control and security needs of microservices. It sits on top of existing distributed applications and basically helps them talk to each other securely, while also providing logging, telemetry and the necessary policies that keep things under control (and secure). It also features support for canary releases, which allow developers to test updates with a few users before launching them to a wider audience, something that Google and other webscale companies have long done internally.

“In the area of microservices, things are moving so quickly,” Google product manager Jennifer Lin told me. “And with the success of Kubernetes and the abstraction around container orchestration, Istio was formed as an open source project to really take the next step in terms of a substrate for microservice development as well as a path for VM-based workloads to move into more of a service management layer. So it’s really focused around the right level of abstractions for services and creating a consistent environment for managing that.”

Even before the 1.0 release, a number of companies already adopted Istio in production, including the likes of eBay and Auto Trader UK. Lin argues that this is a sign that Istio solves a problem that a lot of businesses are facing today as they adopt microservices. “A number of more sophisticated customers tried to build their own service management layer and while we hadn’t yet declared 1.0, we hard a number of customers — including a surprising number of large enterprise customer–  say, ‘you know, even though you’re not 1.0, I’m very comfortable putting this in production because what I’m comparing it to is much more raw.’”

IBM Fellow and VP of Cloud Jason McGee agrees with this and notes that “our mission since Istio’s launch has been to enable everyone to succeed with microservices, especially in the enterprise. This is why we’ve focused the community around improving security and scale, and heavily leaned our contributions on what we’ve learned from building agile cloud architectures for companies of all sizes.”

A lot of the large cloud players now support Istio directly, too. IBM supports it on top of its Kubernetes Service, for example, and Google even announced a managed Istio service for its Google Cloud users, as well as some additional open source tooling for serverless applications built on top of Kubernetes and Istio.

Two names missing from today’s party are Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’ll change over time, though, assuming the project keeps its momentum.

Istio also isn’t part of any major open source foundation yet. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, is backing linkerd, a project that isn’t all that dissimilar from Istio. Once a 1.0 release of these kinds of projects rolls around, the maintainers often start looking for a foundation that can shepherd the development of the project over time. I’m guessing its only a matter of time before we hear more about where Istio will land.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Google’s Cloud Functions serverless platform is now generally available

July 24, 2018 No Comments

Cloud Functions, Google’s serverless platform that competes directly with tools like AWS Lambda and Azure Functions from Microsoft, is now generally available, the company announced at its Cloud Next conference in San Francisco today.

Google first announced Cloud Functions back in 2016, so this has been a long beta. Overall, it also always seemed as if Google wasn’t quite putting the same resources behind its serverless play when compared to its major competitors. AWS, for example, is placing a major bet on serverless, as is Microsoft. And there are also plenty of startups in this space, too.

Like all Google products that come out of beta, Cloud Functions is now backed by an SLA and the company also today announced that the service now runs in more regions in the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to these hosted options, Google also today announced its new Cloud Services platform for enterprises that want to run hybrid clouds. While this doesn’t include a self-hosted Cloud Functions option, Google is betting on Kubernetes as the foundation for businesses that want to run serverless applications (and yes, I hate the term ‘serverless,’ too) in their own data centers.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Microsoft caps off a fine fiscal year seemingly without any major missteps in its last quarter

July 21, 2018 No Comments

Microsoft is capping off a rather impressive year without any major missteps in its final report for its performance in its 2018 fiscal year, posting a quarter that seems to have been largely non-offensive to Wall Street.

In the past year, Microsoft’s stock has gone up more than 40 percent. In the past two years, it’s nearly doubled. All of this came after something around a decade of that price not really doing anything as Microsoft initially missed major trends like the shift to mobile and the cloud. But since then, new CEO Satya Nadella has turned that around and increased the company’s focused on both, and Azure is now one of the company’s biggest highlights. Microsoft is now an $ 800 billion company, which, while still considerably behind Apple, Amazon and Google, is a considerable high considering the past decade.

In addition, Microsoft passed $ 100 billion in revenue for a fiscal year. So, as you might expect, the stock didn’t really do anything, given that nothing seemed to be too wrong with what was going on. For a company that’s at around $ 800 billion, that it’s not doing anything bad at this point is likely a good thing. That Microsoft is even in the discussion of being one of the companies chasing a $ 1 trillion market cap is likely something we wouldn’t have been talking about just three or four years ago.

The company said it generated $ 30.1 billion in revenue, up 17 percent year-over-year, and adjusted earnings of $ 1.13 per share. Analysts were looking for earnings of $ 1.08 per share on revenue of $ 29.23 billion.

So, under Nadella, this is more or less a tale of two Microsofts — one squarely pointed at a future of productivity software with an affinity toward cloud and mobile tools (though Windows is obviously still a part of this), and one that was centered around the home PC. Here are a couple of highlights from the report:

  • LinkedIn: Microsoft said revenue for LinkedIn increased 37 percent, with LinkedIn sessions growth of 41 percent. Microsoft’s professional network was also listed in a bucket of other segments that it attributed to increased operating expenditures, which also included cloud engineering, and commercial sales capacity. It was also bucketed into a 12 percent increase in research and development with cloud engineering, as well as a bump in sales and marketing expenses. This all seems pretty normal for a network Microsoft hopes to continue to grow.
  • Azure: Microsoft’s cloud platform continued to drive its server products and cloud services revenue, which increased 26 percent. The company said Azure’s revenue was up 89 percent “due to growth from consumed and SaaS revenue.” Once again, Microsoft didn’t break out specifics on its Azure products, though it seems pretty clear that this is one of their primary growth drivers.
  • Office 365: Office 365 saw commercial revenue growth of 38 percent, and consumer subscribers increased to 31.4 million. Alongside LinkedIn, Microsoft seems to be assembling a substantial number of subscription SaaS products that offset a shift in its model away from personal computing and into a more cloud-oriented company.
  • GitHub: Nada here in the report. Microsoft earlier this year said it acquired it for a very large sum of money (in stock), but it isn’t talking about it. But bucket it alongside Office 365 and LinkedIn as part of that increasingly large stable of productivity tools for businesses, as GitHub is one of the most widely adopted developer tools available.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Walmart enlists Microsoft cloud in battle against Amazon

July 17, 2018 No Comments

Once a seemingly unstoppable retail juggernaut, Walmart’s been scrambling to define its digitally in this Amazon-defined era. This morning, the company announced that it’s struck a five-year deal with Microsoft, Amazon’s chief cloud competitor.

These sorts of partnerships are a regular occurrence for AWS — in fact, it announced one with Fortnite maker Epic Games, just this morning. The companies involved tend to put on a big show, in return for a discount on services, but Walmart and Microsoft are happily playing into the concept of teaming up to take on Amazon.

Microsoft’s certainly not making any bones about the competition. In an interview, Satya Nadella told The Wall Street Journal that the fight against Amazon “is absolutely core to this,” adding, “How do we get more leverage as two organizations that have depth and breadth and investment to be able to outrun our respective competition?”

Of course, neither Walmart nor Microsoft can be framed as an underdog in any respect, but Amazon’s stranglehold on online retail also can’t be understated. Not even a massive outage at the height of Prime Day could do much to ruffle the company’s feathers.

Included in the deal are AI/ML technologies design to help optimize the in-store experience — one of the key factors Walmart brings to the table in a battle against Amazon, which has mostly just dabbled in brick and mortar. For its part, Walmart has been testing cashier-less stores along the lines of Amazon’s, but the company has just to officially unveil its plans in that space.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Box acquires Butter.ai to make search smarter

July 10, 2018 No Comments

Box announced today that it has acquired Butter.ai, a startup that helps customers search for content intelligently in the cloud. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Butter.AI team will be joining Box.

Butter.AI was started by two ex-Evernote employees, Jack Hirsch and Adam Walz. The company was partly funded by Evernote founder and former CEO Phil Libin’s Turtle Studios. The latter is a firm established with a mission to use machine learning to solve real business problems like finding the right document wherever it is.

Box has been adding intelligence to its platform for some time, and this acquisition brings the Butter.AI team on board and gives them more machine learning and artificial intelligence known-how while helping to enhance search inside of the Box product.

Photo: Box

“The team from Butter.ai will help Box to bring more intelligence to our Search capabilities, enabling Box’s 85,000 customers to more easily navigate through their unstructured information — making searching for files in Box more contextualized, predictive and personalized,” Box’s Jeetu Patel wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

That means taking into account the context of the search and delivering documents that make sense given your role and how you work. For instance, are if you are a salesperson and you search for a contract, you probably want a sales contract and not a one for a freelancer or business partnership.

For Butter, the chance to have access to all those customers was too good to pass up. “We started Butter.ai to build the best way to find documents at work. As it turns out, Box has 85,000 customers who all need instant access to their content. Joining Box means we get to build on our original mission faster and at a massive scale,” company CEO and co-founder Jack Hirsch said.

The company launched in September, 2017, and up until now it has acted as a search assistant inside Slack you can call upon to search for documents and find them wherever they live in the cloud. The company will be winding down that product as it becomes part of the Box team.

As is often the case in these deals, the two companies have been working closely together and it made sense for Box to bring the Butter.AI team into the fold where it can put its technology to bear on the Box platform.

“After launching in September 2017 our customers were loud and clear about wanting us to integrate with Box and we quickly delivered. Since then, our relationship with Box has deepened and now we get to build on our vision for a MUCH larger audience as part of the Box team,” the founders wrote in a Medium post announcing the deal.

The company raised $ 3.3 million over two seed rounds. Investors included Slack and General Catalyst.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Dell will soon be a public company (again)

July 7, 2018 No Comments

Dell, which went private in one of the the largest leveraged buyouts in tech circa 2013, announced today that it will once again be going public through a relatively complex mechanism that will once again bring the company back onto the public markets with founder Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners largely in control.

Dell’s leveraged buyout largely marked the final page in the company’s storied history as a PC provider, going back to the old “dude, you’re getting a Dell” commercials. The company rode that wave to dominance, but as computing shifted to laptops, mobile phones, and complex operations were offloaded into cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google Cloud, Dell found itself navigating a complex environment while having to make a significant business transition beyond the PC era. That meant Dell would be beholden to the whims of public markets, perhaps laden with short-term pessimism over the company’s urgent need to find a transition.

The transaction is actually an offer to buy shares that track the company’s involvement in VMWare, converting that tracking stock into Dell Technologies stock that would mark its return as a publicly-traded company. Those shares will end up traded on the NYSE, around five years later after its founder took the company private with Silver Lake Partners in a deal worth roughly $ 25 billion. Silver Lake Partners owns around 24% of the company, while Dell owns 72% and will continue to serve as the chairman and CEO of the company. This move helps the company bypass the IPO process, which would remove the whole time period of potential investors scrutinizing the company (which has taken on a substantial debt load).

Dell said in its most recent quarter it recorded revenue of $ 21.4 billion, up 19% year-over-year, and over the past 12 months the company generated $ 82.4 billion of revenue with a net loss of $ 2.3 billion. The company said it has also paid down $ 13 billion of gross debt since its combination with EMC back in 2016. All this has been part of the company’s transition to find new businesses beyond just selling computers, though there’s clearly still demand for those computers in offices around the world. As it has expanded into a broader provider of IT services, it’s potentially positioned itself as a modern enterprise tools provider, which would allow it to more securely navigate public markets while offering investors a way to correctly calibrate its value.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Google Cloud’s COO departs after 7 months

July 3, 2018 No Comments

At the end of last November, Google announced that Diane Bryant, who at the time was on a leave of absence from her position as the head of Intel’s data center group, would become Google Cloud’s new COO. This was a major coup for Google, but it wasn’t meant to last. After only seven months on the job, Bryant has left Google Cloud, as Business Insider first reported today.

“We can confirm that Diane Bryant is no longer with Google. We are grateful for the contributions she made while at Google and we wish her the best in her next pursuit,” a Google spokesperson told us when we reached out for comment.

The reasons for Bryant’s departure are currently unclear. It’s no secret that Intel is looking for a new CEO and Bryant would fit the bill. Intel also famously likes to recruit insiders as its leaders, though I would be surprised if the company’s board had already decided on a replacement. Bryant spent more than 25 years at Intel and her hire at Google looked like it would be a good match, especially given that Google’s position behind Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud wars means that it needs all the executive talent it can get.

When Bryant was hired, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene noted that “Diane’s strategic acumen, technical knowledge and client focus will prove invaluable as we accelerate the scale and reach of Google Cloud.” According to the most recent analyst reports, Google Cloud’s market share has ticked up a bit — and its revenue has increased at the same time — but Google remains a distant third in the competition and it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Leena AI builds HR chatbots to answer policy questions automatically

June 30, 2018 No Comments

Say you have a job with a large company and you want to know how much vacation time you have left, or how to add your new baby to your healthcare. This usually involves emailing or calling HR and waiting for an answer, or it could even involve crossing multiple systems to get what you need.

Leena AI, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class, wants to change that by building HR bots to answer questions for employees instantly.

The bots can be integrated into Slack or Workplace by Facebook and they are built and trained using information in policy documents and by pulling data from various back-end systems like Oracle and SAP.

Adit Jain, co-founder at Leena AI, says the company has its roots in another startup called Chatteron, which the founders started after they got out of college in India in 2015. That product helped people build their own chatbots. Jain says along the way, they discovered while doing their market research a particularly strong need in HR. They started Leena AI last year to address that specific requirement.

Jain says when building bots, the team learned through its experience with Chatteron that it’s better to concentrate on a single subject because the underlying machine learning model gets better the more it’s used. “Once you create a bot, for it to really add value and be [extremely] accurate, and for it to really go deep, it takes a lot of time and effort and that can only happen through verticalization,” Jain explained.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, as the founders have become more knowledgeable about the needs of HR, they have learned that 80 percent of the questions cover similar topics, like vacation, sick time and expense reporting. They have also seen companies using similar back-end systems, so they can now build standard integrators for common applications like SAP, Oracle and NetSuite.

Of course, even though people may ask similar questions, the company may have unique terminology or people may ask the question in an unusual way. Jain says that’s where the natural language processing (NLP) comes in. The system can learn these variations over time as they build a larger database of possible queries.

The company just launched in 2017 and already has a dozen paying customers. They hope to double that number in just 60 days. Jain believes being part of Y Combinator should help in that regard. The partners are helping the team refine its pitch and making introductions to companies that could make use of this tool.

Their ultimate goal is nothing less than to be ubiquitous, to help bridge multiple legacy systems to provide answers seamlessly for employees to all their questions. If they can achieve that, they should be a successful company.


Enterprise – TechCrunch