The head of Microsoft’s crucial new cloud AI team says that it can win against Amazon by focusing on practical tech that actually helps customers (MSFT, AMZN)

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The head of Microsoft’s crucial new cloud AI team says that it can win against Amazon by focusing on practical tech that actually helps customers (MSFT, AMZN)
  • Microsoft AI cloud platform, Azure AI, is at the center of CEO Satya Nadella’s vision for the future of Microsoft.
  • The platform now has 20,000 customers, and more than 85% of Fortune 100 companies have used Azure AI in the past 12 months, according to the company.
  • Azure AI takes technologies Microsoft already uses internally and sells it to customers.
  • The company that figures out how to sell “pedestrian” uses for Artificial Intelligence will have an advantage in the cloud computing business, Gartner analyst Sid Nag said.
  • The Redmond-based company has had to figure out how to transition its traditional businesses to use the cloud and Artificial Intelligence. That experience, plus its history working with enterprise customers, could give Microsoft an advantage in selling esoteric technologies like AI to non-tech businesses.
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Microsoft formed a new group during a companywide reorganization last year, charged with finding a way to sell the Artificial Intelligence research and technologies already used in the Redmond-based company’s products to customers.

Now, the executive running the group says that it’s a key differentiator for Microsoft’s Azure cloud business against competitors including market-leading Amazon Web Services.

“We knew that customers wanted this,” Eric Boyd, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence platform Azure AI, told Business Insider. “Really it was this recognition of, ‘How do we tap into all of the great learnings that we have both from our research division and from all of our product divisions and make it something?'”

Simplifying Artificial Intelligence and machine learning for cloud customers could make Microsoft more competitive in the fierce cloud computing battle with AWS. Microsoft’s cloud computing business Azure is widely considered to be the second-place player against AWS, but it has gained significant ground, including scoring a much-contested $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon.

Artificial Intelligence is one of the technologies Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said will play a key role in the company’s future. Azure AI is at the center of it. The platform now has 20,000 customers, and more than 85% of Fortune 100 companies have used Azure AI in the past 12 months, according to the company.

The start of Azure AI

About 18 months ago, Microsoft reorganized, dismantling its traditional Windows organization in favor of its focus on cloud computing. Amid the shift, Microsoft formed new engineering teams: one for the cloud and Artificial Intelligence, and another for user experiences and devices including Windows. Boyd’s group was created at that time.

Boyd joined Microsoft 10 years ago, first working with Bing Ads, the advertising business behind its Bing search engine.

“I love to tell the story [that] when I started, Bing lost $2.7 billion,” he recently told Business Insider, from his office overlooking the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. “Now it’s profitable. It’s massively profitable. We don’t talk about those numbers.”

Microsoft doesn’t disclose revenue for Bing, but in its most recent annual filing said overall search advertising revenue grew to $7.6 billion in fiscal year 2019, from just over $7 billion the year before. 

When his role shifted, the new group, centered around the

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