Microsoft’s Quest for the Next Killer App

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In January, we saw a financial dip in cloud revenue across cloud providers, with Microsoft’s earnings missing Wall Street estimates at the end of 2022. But rather than rest on its laurels, the company was already looking ahead to the next big thing, a shift in technology bigger than the launch of public cloud itself. The revelation it would be investing an additional $10 billion into OpenAI initially shocked the industry; however, it now makes perfect sense.

Microsoft’s investment into OpenAI was a clear move for the company to align itself with the next killer app that would drive engagement on Azure cloud. 

For the last few months, ChatGPT has been the talk of the tech industry. Running on generative AI, it uses OpenAI’s large language model, GPT-3, and more recently, GPT-4, to create convincing responses to users’ prompts. From quickly drafted content to easy-to-read summaries of large and complex datasets, the potential of the technology has captivated many. In education, we’ve seen professors divided about whether or not students should be allowed to use ChatGPT in their work. German publishing firm Axel Springer has gone one step further, announcing that it’s looking to use AI to streamline and replace the role of its journalists. 

What’s certain is that ChatGPT has started a new conversation about the capabilities of AI and its future implications for people at both a personal and enterprise level. 

The new battleground of search

Google has long been considered synonymous with internet search. However, ChatGPT is Microsoft’s master move to overthrow this dominance. Marketing the capability as ‘your copilot for the web’, Microsoft has been keen to show users that it can offer more relevant and specific searches to curate the internet with Bing AI.

Initial responses have shown that this tactic could be fruitful for Microsoft. According to UBS, ChatGPT reached 100 million active users in January – making it the fastest-growing app in history. Whilst this is not currently a threat to Google, which claims around 92% of the search engine market share, the rapid uptake of the app indicates to many that Bing’s market share will grow. And as the app grows, so will the compute activity on the Azure platform. The strategy appears to be to drive demand for compute generated by Amazon’s leading Cloud business – AWS and its commercial eCommerce platform, or Google’s Cloud business – GCP, as well as its search engine and advertising business.

The competition is on to become the front-runner in the new search wars. Despite Microsoft’s head start, following the disappointing early demo of Bard, which wiped $100 billion off Google’s share price, Google has announced the launch of PaLM 2. It is being presented as a so-called ‘family of models’ that will power the updated iteration of Bard and is said to focus more on capabilities such as common sense, logic, maths and reasoning rather than size. These developments will likely improve the model’s ability to write and debug code, for example, highlighting its enhanced real-world applications. We’ve also seen Amazon enter the race with Amazon Bedrock, a serverless way for users to build and scale generative AI-based applications using foundation models powered by AWS tools. The space is rife with innovation, and only time will tell who will come out on top.

Beyond search – ChatGPT and the Microsoft ecosystem

Since its announcement, ChatGPT has become a huge asset for Microsoft by incorporating it into its offerings. The latest addition is the integration of ChatGPT into Microsoft 365, which has been termed Copilot. Capabilities include creating PowerPoint presentations, including images, from prompts, analysing email threads and documents, analysing datasets and creating graphs in Excel. The value of this is cutting through repetitive and time-consuming tasks and freeing human workers to focus on more high-value activities.

In data management, many are looking for the use cases of generative AI for datasets. Being able to source data and filter out information effectively is of key concern for enterprises. ChatGPT offers key summaries of datasets, so organisations hope the technology will increase efficiency by helping workers access information quickly and effectively. Additional capabilities are being explored for using the model to analyse large and complex datasets running on a company’s own data.

We’ve also seen other integrations, such as with GitHub’s Copilot tool, which suggests lines of code and functions in real time. Like Copilot for Microsoft 365, the software aids developers by cutting down time spent on repetitive code patterns by suggesting code to implement solutions described by the developers. This enables them to spend more time using their skills to develop logic instead of writing repetitive code. 

A closer look at the semantics of the OpenAI-Microsoft deal reveals that Microsoft is now connected with OpenAI’s own ecosystem of AI start-ups, backed by OpenAI’s $100 million Start-up Fund. Access to these new firms allows Microsoft to invest, support their growth, and ultimately provide them access to Microsoft Azure to grow their products. Combined with the 75-79 per cent of OpenAI’s revenue that Microsoft will gain until their debt is paid off, at which point they’ll become a 49 per cent shareholder, it’s clear to see how this deal greatly benefits Microsoft.

It appears Microsoft is making a play for the title of the home of future AI innovation. As they enable businesses to build their applications leveraging the latest AI technology, the organisation is gradually positioning itself as the ideal partner to generate results through innovation – ultimately driving more users to its Azure platform, aligning with its overall strategy. 

Moving into the fourth industrial revolution

2023 appears to be the year of the new era for AI. ChatGPT is the first publicly available iteration of AGI, a form of AI intended to be smarter than us, and it’s proven to be successful with users. We’ve not only seen its widespread uptake, but with the release of GPT-4, the hype is unlikely to die soon. 

As developments continue, we’ll see a wave of new enhanced capabilities that can support more complex use cases and shepherd in the next-generation technologies of The Fourth Industrial Revolution. With their OpenAI partnership, Microsoft has given itself access to the next big thing in tech, and it’s likely the investment will pay off through reliable revenue across the next decade. 

About the Author

Gordon McKenna, is VP of Cloud Evangelist & Alliances at technology adviser and managed services provider, Ensono. Gordon’s 25-year career spans legacy IT such as mainframe and midrange, transform to the cloud, and leadership roles in some of the largest Microsoft public and Private cloud infrastructure projects in the US and EMEA. He is also a well-known speaker on the Public Cloud presentation circuit, having spent 17 years as a Microsoft MVP. He is passionate about technology and regularly lends his thoughts, learnings, and perspective online to inspire others to be passionate too.

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  1. It’s fascinating to witness Microsoft’s forward-looking approach in its quest for the next killer app, especially in the realm of AI and cloud technology. The strategic investment of an additional $10 billion into OpenAI shows Microsoft’s commitment to stay at the forefront of innovation and drive engagement on Azure cloud.