Category Archives: Tech News

Microsoft bringing Dynamics 365 mixed reality solutions to smartphones

Posted by on 21 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Last year Microsoft introduced several mixed reality business solutions under the Dynamics 365 enterprise product umbrella. Today, the company announced it would be moving these to smartphones in the spring, starting with previews.

The company announced Remote Assist on HoloLens last year. This tool allows a technician working onsite to show a remote expert what they are seeing. The expert can then walk the less experienced employee through the repair. This is great for those companies that have equipped their workforce with HoloLens for hands-free instruction, but not every company can afford the new equipment.

Starting in the spring, Microsoft is going to help with that by introducing Remote Assist for Android phones. Just about everyone has a phone with them, and those with Android devices will be able to take advantage of Remote Assist capabilities without investing in HoloLens. The company is also updating Remote Assist to include mobile annotations, group calling, deeper integration with Dynamics 365 for Field Service along with improved accessibility features on the HoloLens app.

IPhone users shouldn’t feel left out though because the company announced a preview of Dynamics 365 Product Visualize for iPhone. This tool enables users to work with a customer to visualize what a customized product will look like as they work with them. Think about a furniture seller working with a customer in their homes to customize the color, fabrics and design in place in the room where they will place the furniture, or a car dealer offering different options such as color and wheel styles. Once a customer agrees to a configuration, the data gets saved to Dynamics 365 and shared in Microsoft Teams for greater collaboration across a group of employees working with a customer on a project.

Both of these features are part of the Dynamics 365 spring release and are going to be available in preview starting in April. They are part of a broader release that includes a variety of new artificial intelligence features such as customer service bots and a unified view of customer data across the Dynamics 365 family of products.

Mixmax brings LinkedIn integration and better task automation to its Gmail tool

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

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Mixmax today introduced version 2.0 of its Gmail-based tool and plugin for Chrome that promises to make your daily communications chores a bit easier to handle.

With version 2.0, Mixmax gets an updated editor that better integrates with the current Gmail interface and that gets out of the way of popular extensions like Grammarly. That’s table stakes, of course, but I’ve tested it for a bit and the new version does indeed do a better job of integrating itself into the current Gmail interface and feels a bit faster, too.

What’s more interesting in that the service now features a better integration with LinkedIn . There’s both an integration with the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, LinkedIn’s tool for generating sales leads and contacting them, and LinkedIn’s messaging tools for sending InMail and connection requests — and see info about a recipient’s LinkedIn profile, including the LinkedIn Icebreakers section — right from the Mixmax interface.

Together with its existing Salesforce integration, this should make the service even more interesting to sales people. And the Salesforce integration, too, is getting a bit of a new feature that can now automatically create a new contact in the CRM tool when a prospect’s email address — maybe from LinkedIn — isn’t in your database yet.

Also new in Mixmax 2.0 is something the company calls “Beast Mode.” Not my favorite name, I have to admit, but it’s an interesting task automation tool that focusing on helping customer-facing users prioritize and complete batches of tasks quickly and that extends the service’s current automation tools.

Finally, Mixmax now also features a Salesforce-linked dialer widget for making calls right from the Chrome extension.

“We’ve always been focused on helping business people communicate better, and everything we’re rolling out for Mixmax 2.0 only underscores that focus,” said Mixmax CEO and Co-Founder Olof Mathé. “Many of our users live in Gmail and our integration with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator ensures users can conveniently make richer connections and seamlessly expand their networks as part of their email workflow.”

Whether you get these new features depends on how much you pay, though. Everybody, including free users, get access to the refreshed interface. Beast Mode and the dialer are available with the enterprise plan, the company’s highest-level plan which doesn’t have a published price. ThedDialer is also available for an extra $20/user/month on the $49/month/user Growth plan. LinkedIn Sales Navigator support is available with the growth and enterprise plans.

Sadly, that means that if you are on the cheaper Starter and Small Business plans ($9/user/month and $24/user/month respectively), you won’t see any of these new features anytime soon.

Google’s managed hybrid cloud platform is now in beta

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Last July, at its Cloud Next conference, Google announced the Cloud Services Platform, its first real foray into bringing its own cloud services into the enterprise data center as a managed service. Today, the Cloud Services Platform (CSP) is launching into beta.

It’s important to note that the CSP isn’t — at least for the time being — Google’s way of bringing all of its cloud-based developer services to the on-premises data center. In other words, this is a very different project from something like Microsoft’s Azure Stack. Instead, the focus is on the Google Kubernetes Engine, which allows enterprises to then run their applications in both their own data centers and on virtually any cloud platform that supports containers.As Google Cloud engineering director Chen Goldberg told me, the idea here it to help enterprises innovate and modernize. “Clearly, everybody is very excited about cloud computing, on-demand compute and managed services, but customers have recognized that the move is not that easy,” she said and noted that the vast majority of enterprises are adopting a hybrid approach. And while containers are obviously still a very new technology, she feels good about this bet on the technology because most enterprises are already adopting containers and Kubernetes — and they are doing so at exactly the same time as they are adopting cloud and especially hybrid clouds.

It’s important to note that CSP is a managed platform. Google handles all of the heavy lifting like upgrades and security patches. And for enterprises that need an easy way to install some of the most popular applications, the platform also supports Kubernetes applications from the GCP Marketplace.

As for the tech itself, Goldberg stressed that this isn’t just about Kubernetes. The service also uses Istio, for example, the increasingly popular service mesh that makes it easier for enterprises to secure and control the flow of traffic and API calls between its applications.

With today’s release, Google is also launching its new CSP Config Management tool to help users create multi-cluster policies and set up and enforce access controls, resource quotas and more. CSP also integrates with Google’s Stackdriver Monitoring service and continuous delivery platforms.

“On-prem is not easy,” Goldberg said, and given that this is the first time the company is really supporting software in a data center that is not its own, that’s probably an understatement. But Google also decided that it didn’t want to force users into a specific set of hardware specifications like Azure Stack does, for example. Instead, CSP sits on top of VMware’s vSphere server virtualization platform, which most enterprises already use in their data centers anyway. That surely simplifies things, given that this is a very well-understood platform.

New conflict evidence surfaces in JEDI cloud contract procurement process

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

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For months, the drama has been steady in the Pentagon’s decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process. This week the plot thickened when the DOD reported that it has found new evidence of a possible conflict of interest, and has reopened its internal investigation into the matter.

“DOD can confirm that new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest. As a result of this new information, DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts,” Elissa Smith, Department of Defense spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear what this new information is about, but the Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior federal judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered that the lawsuit filed by Oracle in December would be put on hold to allow the DOD to investigate further.

From the start of the DOD RFP process, there have been complaints that the process itself was designed to favor Amazon, and that were possible conflicts of interest on the part of DOD personnel. The DOD’s position throughout has been that it is an open process and that an investigation found no bearing for the conflict charges. Something forced the department to rethink that position this week.

Oracle in particular has been a vocal critic of the process. Even before the RFP was officially opened, it was claiming that the process unfairly favored Amazon. In the court case, it made the conflict part clearer, claiming that an ex-Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi had influence over the process, a charge that Amazon denied when it joined the case to defend itself. Four weeks ago something changed when a single line in a court filing suggested that Ubhi’s involvement may have been more problematic than the DOD previously believed.

At the time, I wrote:

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

And Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch:

“During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.

Whether the new evidence that DOD has found is referring to Ubhi’s rehiring by Amazon or not, is not clear at the moment, but it has clearly found new evidence it wants to explore in this case, and that has been enough to put the Oracle lawsuit on hold.

Oracle’s court case is the latest in a series of actions designed to protest the entire JEDI procurement process. The Washington Post reported last spring that co-CEO Safra Catz complained directly to the president. The company later filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which it lost in November when the department’s investigation found no evidence of conflict. It finally made a federal case out of it when it filed suit in federal court in December, accusing the government of an unfair procurement process and a conflict on the part of Ubhi.

The cloud deal itself is what is at the root of this spectacle. It’s a 10-year contract worth up to $10 billion to handle the DOD’s cloud business — and it’s a winner-take-all proposition. There are three out clauses, which means it might never reach that number of years or dollars, but it is lucrative enough, and could possibly provide inroads for other government contracts, that every cloud company wants to win this.

The RFP process closed in October and the final decision on vendor selection is supposed to happen in April. It is unclear whether this latest development will delay that decision.

Arm expands its push into the cloud and edge with the Neoverse N1 and E1

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

For the longest time, Arm was basically synonymous with chip designs for smartphones and very low-end devices. But more recently, the company launched solutions for laptops, cars, high-powered IoT devices and even servers. Today, ahead of MWC 2019, the company is officially launching two new products for cloud and edge applications, the Neoverse N1 and E1. Arm unveiled the Neoverse brand a few months ago, but it’s only now that it is taking concrete form with the launch of these new products.

“We’ve always been anticipating that this market is going to shift as we move more towards this world of lots of really smart devices out at the endpoint — moving beyond even just what smartphones are capable of doing,” Drew Henry, Arms’ SVP and GM for Infrastructure, told me in an interview ahead of today’s announcement. “And when you start anticipating that, you realize that those devices out of those endpoints are going to start creating an awful lot of data and need an awful lot of compute to support that.”

To address these two problems, Arm decided to launch two products: one that focuses on compute speed and one that is all about throughput, especially in the context of 5G.

ARM NEOVERSE N1

The Neoverse N1 platform is meant for infrastructure-class solutions that focus on raw compute speed. The chips should perform significantly better than previous Arm CPU generations meant for the data center and the company says that it saw speedups of 2.5x for Nginx and MemcacheD, for example. Chip manufacturers can optimize the 7nm platform for their needs, with core counts that can reach up to 128 cores (or as few as 4).

“This technology platform is designed for a lot of compute power that you could either put in the data center or stick out at the edge,” said Henry. “It’s very configurable for our customers so they can design how big or small they want those devices to be.”

The E1 is also a 7nm platform, but with a stronger focus on edge computing use cases where you also need some compute power to maybe filter out data as it is generated, but where the focus is on moving that data quickly and efficiently. “The E1 is very highly efficient in terms of its ability to be able to move data through it while doing the right amount of compute as you move that data through,” explained Henry, who also stressed that the company made the decision to launch these two different platforms based on customer feedback.

There’s no point in launching these platforms without software support, though. A few years ago, that would have been a challenge because few commercial vendors supported their data center products on the Arm architecture. Today, many of the biggest open-source and proprietary projects and distributions run on Arm chips, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, Suse, VMware, MySQL, OpenStack, Docker, Microsoft .Net, DOK and OPNFV. “We have lots of support across the space,” said Henry. “And then as you go down to that tier of languages and libraries and compilers, that’s a very large investment area for us at Arm. One of our largest investments in engineering is in software and working with the software communities.”

And as Henry noted, AWS also recently launched its Arm-based servers — and that surely gave the industry a lot more confidence in the platform, given that the biggest cloud supplier is now backing it, too.

Xage brings role-based single sign-on to industrial devices

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Traditional industries like oil and gas and manufacturing often use equipment that was created in a time when remote access wasn’t a gleam in an engineer’s eye, and hackers had no way of connecting to them. Today, these devices require remote access and some don’t have even rudimentary authentication. Xage, the startup that wants to make industrial infrastructure more secure, announced a new solution today to bring single sign-on and role-based control to even the oldest industrial devices.

Company CEO Duncan Greatwood says that some companies have adopted firewall technology, but if a hacker breaches the firewall, there often isn’t even a password to defend these kinds of devices. He adds that hackers have been increasingly targeting industrial infrastructure.

Xage has come up with a way to help these companies with its latest product called Xage Enforcement Point (XEP). This tool gives IT a way to control these devices with a single password, a kind of industrial password manager. Greatwood says that some companies have hundreds of passwords for various industrial tools. Sometimes, whether because of distance across a factory floor, or remoteness of location, workers would rather adjust these machines remotely when possible.

While operations wants to simplify this for workers with remote access, IT worries about security and the tension can hold companies back, force them to make big firewall investments or in some cases implement these kinds of solutions without adequate protection.

XEP helps bring a level of protection to these pieces of equipment. “XEP is a relatively small piece of software that can run on a tiny credit-card size computer, and you simply insert it in front of the piece of equipment you want to protect,” Greatwood explained.

The rest of the Xage platform adds additional security. The company introduced fingerprinting last year, which gives unique identifiers to these pieces of equipment. If a hacker tries to spoof a piece of equipment, and the device lacks a known fingerprint, they can’t get on the system.

Xage also makes use of the blockchain and a rules engine to secure industrial systems. The customer can define rules and use the blockchain as an enforcement mechanism where each node in the chain carries the rules, and a certain number of nodes as defined by the customer, must agree that the person, machine or application trying to gain access is a legitimate actor.

The platform taken as a whole provides several levels of protection in an effort to discourage hackers who are trying to breach these systems. Greatwood says that while companies don’t usually get rid of tools they already have like firewalls, they may scale back their investment after buying the Xage solution.

Xage was founded at the end of 2017. It has raised $16 million to this point and has 30 employees. Greatwood didn’t want to discuss a specific number of customers, but did say they were making headway in oil and gas, renewable energy, utilities and manufacturing.

Why Daimler moved its big data platform to the cloud

Posted by on 20 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Like virtually every big enterprise company, a few years ago, the German auto giant Daimler decided to invest in its own on-premises data centers. And while those aren’t going away anytime soon, the company today announced that it has successfully moved its on-premises big data platform to Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This new platform, which the company calls eXtollo, is Daimler’s first major service to run outside of its own data centers, though it’ll probably not be the last.

As Daimler’s head of its corporate center of excellence for advanced analytics and big data Guido Vetter told me, that the company started getting interested in big data about five years ago. “We invested in technology — the classical way, on-premise — and got a couple of people on it. And we were investigating what we could do with data because data is transforming our whole business as well,” he said.

By 2016, the size of the organization had grown to the point where a more formal structure was needed to enable the company to handle its data at a global scale. At the time, the buzzword was ‘data lakes’ and the company started building its own in order to build out its analytics capacities.

Electric Line-Up, Daimler AG

“Sooner or later, we hit the limits as it’s not our core business to run these big environments,” Vetter said. “Flexibility and scalability are what you need for AI and advanced analytics and our whole operations are not set up for that. Our backend operations are set up for keeping a plant running and keeping everything safe and secure.” But in this new world of enterprise IT, companies need to be able to be flexible and experiment — and, if necessary, throw out failed experiments quickly.

So about a year and a half ago, Vetter’s team started the eXtollo project to bring all the company’s activities around advanced analytics, big data and artificial intelligence into the Azure Cloud and just over two weeks ago, the team shut down its last on-premises servers after slowly turning on its solutions in Microsoft’s data centers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. All in all, the actual transition between the on-premises data centers and the Azure cloud took about nine months. That may not seem fast, but for an enterprise project like this, that’s about as fast as it gets (and for a while, it fed all new data into both its on-premises data lake and Azure).

If you work for a startup, then all of this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but for a more traditional enterprise like Daimler, even just giving up control over the physical hardware where your data resides was a major culture change and something that took quite a bit of convincing. In the end, the solution came down to encryption.

“We needed the means to secure the data in the Microsoft data center with our own means that ensure that only we have access to the raw data and work with the data,” explained Vetter. In the end, the company decided to use thethAzure Key Vault to manage and rotate its encryption keys. Indeed, Vetter noted that knowing that the company had full control over its own data was what allowed this project to move forward.

Vetter tells me that the company obviously looked at Microsoft’s competitors as well, but he noted that his team didn’t find a compelling offer from other vendors in terms of functionality and the security features that it needed.

Today, Daimler’s big data unit uses tools like HD Insights and Azure Databricks, which covers more than 90 percents of the company’s current use cases. In the future, Vetter also wants to make it easier for less experienced users to use self-service tools to launch AI and analytics services.

While cost is often a factor that counts against the cloud since renting server capacity isn’t cheap, Vetter argues that this move will actually save the company money and that storage cost, especially, are going to be cheaper in the cloud than in its on-premises data center (and chances are that Daimler, given its size and prestige as a customer, isn’t exactly paying the same rack rate that others are paying for the Azure services).

As with so many big data AI projects, predictions are the focus of much of what Daimler is doing. That may mean looking at a car’s data and error code and helping the technician diagnose an issue or doing predictive maintenance on a commercial vehicle. Interestingly, the company isn’t currently bringing any of its own IoT data from its plants to the cloud. That’s all managed in the company’s on-premises data centers because it wants to avoid the risk of having to shut down a plant because its tools lost the connection to a data center, for example.

Google acquires cloud migration platform Alooma

Posted by on 19 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Google today announced its intention to acquire Alooma, a company that allows enterprises to combine all of their data sources into services like Google’s BigQuery, Amazon’s Redshift, Snowflake and Azure. The promise of Alooma is that handles the data pipelines and manages for its users. In addition to this data integration service, though, Alooma also helps with migrating to the cloud, cleaning up this data and then using it for AI and machine learning use cases.

“Here at Google Cloud, we’re committed to helping enterprise customers easily and securely migrate their data to our platform,” Google VP of engineering Amit Ganesh and Google Cloud Platform director of product management Dominic Preuss write today. “The addition of Alooma, subject to closing conditions, is a natural fit that allows us to offer customers a streamlined, automated migration experience to Google Cloud, and give them access to our full range of database services, from managed open source database offerings to solutions like Cloud Spanner and Cloud Bigtable.”

Before the acquisition, Alooma had raised about $15 million, including an $11.2 million Series A round ed by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital in early 2016. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but chances are we are talking about a modest price given how much Alooma had previously raised.

Neither Google now Alooma said much about what will happen to the existing products and customers — and whether it will continue to support migrations to Google’s competitors. We’ve reached out to Google and will update this post once we hear more.

Alooma’s co-founder do stress, though, that “the journey is not over.” “Alooma has always aimed to provide the simplest and most efficient path toward standardizing enterprise data from every source and transforming it into actionable intelligence,” they write. “Joining Google Cloud will bring us one step closer to delivering a full self-service database migration experience bolstered by the power of their cloud technology, including analytics, security, AI, and machine learning.”

Slack off. Send videos instead with $11M-funded Loom

Posted by on 19 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many emails can you replace with a video? As offices fragment into remote teams, work becomes more visual, and social media makes us more comfortable on camera, it’s time for collaboration to go beyond text. That’s the idea behind Loom, a fast-rising startup that equips enterprises with instant video messaging tools. In a click, you can film yourself or narrate a screenshare to get an idea across in a more vivid, personal way. Instead of scheduling a video call, employees can asynchronously discuss projects or give ‘stand-up’ updates without massive disruptions to their workflow.

In the 2.5 years since launch, Loom has signed up 1.1 million users from 18,000 companies. And that was just as a Chrome extension. Today Loom launches its PC and Mac apps that give it a dedicated presence in your digital workspace. Whether you’re communicating across the room or across the globe, “Loom is the next best thing to being there” co-founder Shahed Khan tells me.

Now Loom is ready to spin up bigger sales and product teams thanks to an $11 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins . The firm’s partner Ilya Fushman, formally Dropbox’s head of business and corporate development, will join Loom’s board. He’ll shepherd Loom through today’s launch of its $10 per month per user Pro version that offers HD recording, calls-to-action at the end of videos, clip editing, live annotation drawings, and analytics to see who actually watched like they’re supposed to.

“We’re ditching the suits and ties and bringing our whole selves to work. We’re emailing and messaging like never before. but though we may be more connected, we’re further apart” Khan tells me. “We want to make it very easy to bring the humanity back in.”

Loom co-founder Shahed Khan

But back in 2016, Loom was just trying to survive. Khan had worked at Upfront Ventures after a stint as a product designer at website builder Weebly. Him and two close friends, Joe Thomas and Vinay Hiremath, started Opentest to let app makers get usabilty feedback from experts via video. But after six months and going through the NFX accelerator, they were running out of bootstrapped money. That’s when they realized it was the video messaging that could be a business as teams sought to keep in touch with members working from home or remotely.

Together they launched Loom in mid-2016, raising a pre-seed and seed round amounting to $4 million. Part of its secret sauce is that Loom immediately starts uploading bytes of your video while you’re still recording so it’s ready to send the moment you’re finished. That makes sharing your face, voice and screen feel as seamless as firing off a Slack message, but with more emotion and nuance.

“Sales teams use it to close more deals by sending personalized messages to leads. Marketing teams use Loom to walk through internal presentations and social posts. Product teams use Loom to capture bugs, stand ups, etc” Khan explains.

Loom has grown to a 16-person team that will expand thanks to the new $11 million Series A from Kleiner, Slack, Cue founder Daniel Gross, and actor Jared Leto that brings it to $15 million in funding. They predict the new desktop apps that open Loom to a larger market will see it spread from team to team for both internal collaboration and external discussions from focus groups to customer service.

Loom will have to hope that after becoming popular at a company, managers will pay for the Pro version that shows exactly how long each viewer watched for. That could clue them in that they need to be more concise, or that someone is cutting corners on training and cooperation. It’s also a great way to onboard new employees. ‘Just watch this collection of videos and let us know what you don’t understand.’ At $10 per month though, the same cost as Google’s entire GSuite, Loom could be priced too high.

Next Loom will have to figure out a mobile strategy — something that’s surprisingly absent. Khan imagines users being able to record quick clips from their phones to relay updates from travel and client meetings. Loom also plans to build out voice transcription to add automatic subtitles to videos and even divide clips into thematic sections you can fast-forward between. Loom will have to stay ahead of competitors like Vidyard’s GoVideo and Wistia’s Soapbox that have cropped up since its launch. But Khan says Loom looms largest in the space thanks to customers at Uber, Dropbox, Airbnb, Red Bull, and 1100 employees at Hubspot.

“The overall space of collaboration tools is becoming deeper than just email + docs” says Fushman, citing Slack, Zoom, Dropbox Paper, Coda, Notion, Intercom, Productboard, and Figma. To get things done the fastest, businesses are cobbling together B2B software so they can skip building it in-house and focus on their own product.

No piece of enterprise software has to solve everything. But Loom is dependent on apps like Slack, Google Docs, Convo, and Asana. Since it lacks a social or identity layer, you’ll need to send the links to your videos through another service. Loom should really build its own video messaging system into its desktop app. But at least Slack is an investor, and Khan says “they’re trying to be the hub of text-based communication” and the soon-to-be-public unicorn tells him anything it does in video will focus on real-time interaction.

Still, the biggest threat to Loom is apathy. People already feel overwhelmed with Slack and email, and if recording videos comes off as more of a chore than an efficiency, workers will stick to text. And without the skimability of an email, you can imagine a big queue of videos piling up that staffers don’t want to watch. But Khan thinks the ubiquity of Instagram Stories is making it seem natural to jump on camera briefly. And the advantage is that you don’t need a bunch of time-wasting pleasantries to ensure no one misinterprets your message as sarcastic or pissed off.

Khan concludes “We believe instantly sharable video can foster more authentic communication between people at work, and convey complex scenarios and ideas with empathy.”

GN acquires Altia Systems for $125M to add video to its advanced audio solutions

Posted by on 19 February, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Some interesting M&A is afoot in the world of hardware and software that’s aiming to improve the quality of audio and video communications over digital networks.

GN Group — the Danish company that broke new ground in mobile when it inked deals first with Apple and then Google to stream audio from their phones directly to smart, connected hearing aids — is expanding from audio to video, and from Europe to Silicon Valley.

Today, the company announced that it would acquire Altia Systems, a startup out of Cupertino that makes a “surround” videoconferencing device and software called the PanaCast (we reviewed it oncedesigned to replicate the panoramic, immersive experience of vision that we have as humans

GN is paying $125 million for the startup. For some context, this price represents a decent return: according to PitchBook, Altia was last valued at around $78 million with investors including Intel Capital and others.

Intel’s investment was one of several strategic partnerships that Altia had inked over the years. (Another was with Zoom to provide a new video solution for Uber.)

The Intel partnership, for one, will continue post-acquisition. “Intel invested in Altia Systems to bring an industry leading immersive, Panoramic-4K camera experience to business video collaboration,” said Dave Flanagan, Vice President of Intel Corporation and Senior Managing Director of Intel Capital, in a statement. “Over the past few years, Altia Systems has collaborated with Intel to use AI and to deliver more intelligent conference rooms and business meetings. This helps customers make better decisions, automate workflows and improve business efficiency. We are excited to work with GN to further scale this technology on a global basis.”

We have seen a lot of applications of AI in just about every area of technology, but one of the less talked about, but very interesting, areas has been in how it’s being used to enhance audio in digital network. Pindrop, as one example, is creating and tracking “audio fingerprints” for security applications, specifically fraud prevention (to authenticate users and to help weed out imposters based not just on the actual voice but on all the other aural cues we may not pick up as humans but can help build a picture of a caller’s location and so on).

GN, meanwhile, has been building AI-based algorithms to help those who cannot hear as well, or who simply needs to hear better, be able to listen to calls on digital networks and make out what’s being said. This not only requires technology to optimise the audio quality, but also algorithms that can help tailor that quality to the specific person’s own unique hearing needs.

One of the more obvious applications of services like these are for those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids (which can be awful or impossible to use with mobile phones), another is in call centers, and this appears to be the area where GN is hoping to address with the Altia acquisition.

GN already offers two products for call centre workers, Jabra and BlueParrot — headsets and speakerphones with their own proprietary software that it claims makes workers more efficient and productive just by making it easier to understand what callers are saying.

Altia will be integrated into that solution to expand it to include videoconferencing around unified communications solutions, creating more natural experiences for those who are not actually in physical rooms together.

“Combining GN Audio’s sound expertise, partner eco-system and global channel access with the video technology from Altia Systems, we will take the experience of conference calls to a completely new level,” said René Svendsen-Tune, President and CEO of GN Audio, in a statement.

What’s notable is that GN is a vertically-integrated company, building not just hardware but software to run on it. The AI engine underpinning some of its software development will be getting a vast new trove of data fed into it now by way of the PanaCast solution: not jut in terms of video, but the large amount of audio that will naturally come along with it.

“Combining PanaCast’s immersive, intelligent video with GN Audio’s intelligent audio solutions will enable us to deliver a whole new class of collaboration products for our customers,” said Aurangzeb Khan, President and CEO of Altia Systems, in a statement. “PanaCast’s solutions enable companies to improve meeting participants’ experience, automate workflows, and enhance business efficiency and real estate utilization with data lakes of valid information.”

Given GN’s work with Android and iOS devices, it will be interesting to see how and if these video solutions make their way to those platforms as well, either by way of solutions that work on their phones or perhaps more native integrations down the line.

Regardless of how that develops, what’s clear is that there remains a market not just for basic tools to get work done, but technology to improve the quality of those tools, and that’s where GN hopes it will resonate with this deal.

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