Apr
17
2019
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Spotinst, the startup enabling companies to purchase and manage excess cloud capacity, acquires StratCloud

Spotinst, the cloud automation and optimization startup founded in Tel Aviv but now with offices in San Francisco, New York and London, has acquired AWS partner StratCloud. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although I’m hearing it combines both cash and stock and was somewhere in the region of $5 million.

As part of the acquisition, StratCloud’s team of 15 people will be joining Spotinst, including founder Patrick Gartlan, who will become VP, Cloud Services at Spotinst. StratCloud hadn’t raised any venture capital but instead was bootstrapped by Gartlan, who was the former CTO of cloud optimization company CloudCheckr.

Founded in 2015, Spotinst enables enterprises to optimize their cloud infrastructure usage by automating the process of using excess — and therefore cheaper — capacity from leading cloud providers.

As TechCrunch’s Ron Miller previously explained, cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, all of which Spotinst supports, have to maintain more resources than they need at any given time. All three companies offer steep discounts to customers who want to access these resources, but they come with a strict condition that the platforms can take those resources back whenever they need them — which is where Spotinst (and today’s acquisition of StratCloud) comes in.

Spotinst’s platform manages the process of acquiring spare capacity, powered by predictive AI, and seamlessly switches providers before it’s withdrawn. This ensures that cloud computing “workloads” keep functioning, while the customer still receives the best possible price.

Meanwhile, StratCloud tech is described as an “optimization platform” that buys, sells and converts reserved capacity, therefore maximizing savings for on-demand infrastructure. “This leads to lower compute payments, without engineers having to change anything in the applications and infrastructure they manage,” explains Spotinst.

Related to this, Spotinst will migrate StratCloud’s several dozen customers to the Spotinst platform, where they’ll continue to receive all of the current functionality.

Overall, the acquisition means Spotinst can now offer a complete solution for cloud users, including offering reserved instances and unused computer power so that enterprises can run any workload and support large-scale migrations on any cloud provider. In addition, Spotinst says the combined technologies give Managed Service Providers (MSPs) a comprehensive tool to optimize cloud workloads for all of their managed customers.

Spotinst claims more than 1,500 enterprise customers in 52 countries, including Samsung, N26, Duolingo, Ticketmaster and Wix. The company currently employs approximately 150 staff across its four offices and has raised $52 million in VC funding to date.

Apr
17
2019
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Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new president of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a president of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

Apr
17
2019
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Meet the first judges for The Europas Awards (27 June) and enter your startup now!

I’m excited to announce that The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new “tech, culture & society” event creator The Pathfounder.

Here’s how to enter and be considered for the awards.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.

*** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019 ***

For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories, including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The Europas “Diversity Pass”

We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women founder or person of colour founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London.

The Europas Awards

The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself.

But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

The complete list of categories is here:

  1. AgTech / FoodTech
  2. CleanTech
  3. Cyber
  4. EdTech
  5. FashTech
  6. FinTech
  7. Public, Civic and GovTech
  8. HealthTech
  9. MadTech (AdTech / MarTech)
  10. Mobility Tech
  11. PropTech
  12. RetailTech
  13. Saas/Enterprise or B2B
  14. SpaceTech
  15. Tech for Good
  16. Hottest Blockchain Project
  17. Hottest Blockchain Investor
  18. Hottest VC Fund
  19. Hottest Seed Fund
  20. Grand Prix

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:
* 6 March 2019 – Submissions open
* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close
* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins
* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends
* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact dianne@thepathfounder.com

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

Meet the first set of our 20 judges:


Brent Hoberman
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder
Founders Factory


Videesha Böckle
Founding Partner
signals Venture Capital


Bindi Karia
Innovation Expert + Advisor, Investor
Bindi Ventures


Christian Hernandez Gallardo
Co-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital

Apr
17
2019
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Enterprise events management platform Bizzabo scores $27M Series D

Bizzabo, the New York and Tel Aviv-based events management platform, has raised $27 million in Series D funding. Leading the round is Viola Growth, along with new investor Next47.

We’re also told that previous backers, including Pilot Growth, followed on. The new funding brings the total raised by the company to $56 million.

Originally launched in 2012 as a networking app for event attendees, Bizzabo now claims to be the leading end-to-end “Event Success Platform.” As it exists today, one way to describe the cloud-based software is akin to “Salesforce for events”: helping enterprises create, manage and execute every aspect of a live event.

As TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu previously wrote, the SaaS automates time-consuming event tasks related to email, social media and web marketing, and contact management.

There’s an increasing data play, too, with the ability to crunch and analyse event data to help event organisers garner more registrations, increase revenue and improve the overall attendee experience.

“Our vision is to provide a data-driven and personalized journey for attendees,” Bizzabo CEO and co-founder Eran Ben-Shushan tells me. “An 800-person conference should feel like 800 unique in-person event experiences. By leveraging hundreds of data points throughout the attendee journey, our customers can deliver extremely personalised promotion campaigns, custom-tailor the event agenda and proactively cater to each attendee action.”

As an example, Ben-Shushan says an attendee at a user conference can receive recommended sessions, business introductions and even sponsored offers based on interest and intent expressed before, during and after the event.

To that end, Bizzabo says its Series D will be used to expand the platform’s capabilities and continue to help enterprise and mid-market organizations “build data-driven, personalized and engaging professional event experiences.” That will include growing its R&D and own marketing teams, adding to the more than 120 current employees in its New York and Tel Aviv offices.

Ben-Shushan reckons that on average 25 percent of a B2B company’s marketing budget is spent on live events. This has resulted in the number of professional events increasing exponentially each year, such as conferences and seminars, trade shows or other experiences.

However, it remains a challenge to create, manage, market and measure the success of events while maximizing ROI — which is where Ben-Shushan says Bizzabo comes in.

Bizzabo’s better-known customers include Inbound, SaaStr, Forbes, Dow Jones, Gainsight and Drift. Meanwhile, the event management space as a whole is said to be worth $500 billion.

Apr
16
2019
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Logistics startup Zencargo raises $20M to take on the antiquated business of freight forwarding

Move over, Flexport. There is another player looking to make waves in the huge and messy business of freight logistics. Zencargo — a London startup that has built a platform that uses machine learning and other new technology to rethink how large shipping companies and their customers manage and move cargo, or freight forwarding as it’s known in the industry — has closed a Series A round of funding of about $19 million.

Zencargo’s co-founder and head of growth Richard Fattal said in an interview that the new funds will be used to continue building its software, specifically to develop more tools for the manufacturers and others who use its platform to predict and manage how cargo is moved around the world.

The Series A brings the total raised by Zencargo to $20 million. This latest round was led by HV Holtzbrinck Ventures . Tom Stafford, managing partner at DST Global; Pentland Ventures; and previous investors Samos, LocalGlobe and Picus Capital also participated in the round.

Zencargo is not disclosing its valuation, nor its current revenues, but Fattal said that in the last 12 months it has seen its growth grow six times over. The company (for now) also does not explicitly name clients, but Fattal notes that they include large e-commerce companies, retailers and manufacturers, including several of the largest businesses in Europe. (One of them at least appears to be Amazon: Zencargo provides integrated services to ship goods to Amazon fulfillment centers.)

Shipping — be it by land, air or sea — is one of the cornerstones of the global economy. While we are increasingly hearing a mantra to “buy local,” the reality of how the mass-market world of trade works is that components for things are not often made in the same place where the ultimate item is assembled, and our on-demand digital culture has created an expectation and competitive market for more than what we can source in our backyards.

For companies like Zencargo, that creates a two-fold opportunity: to ship finished goods — be it clothes, food or anything — to meet those consumer demands wherever they are; and to ship components for those goods — be it electronics, textiles or flour — to produce those goods elsewhere, wherever that business happens to be.

Ironically, while we have seen a lot of technology applied to other aspects of the economics equation — we can browse an app anytime and anywhere to buy something, for example — the logistics of getting the basics to the right place are now only just catching up.

Alex Hersham, another of Zencargo’s co-founders who is also the CEO (the third co-founder is Jan Riethmayer, the CTO), estimates that there is some $1.1 trillion “left on the table” from all of the inefficiencies in the supply chain related to things not being in stock when needed, or overstocked, and other inventory mistakes.

Fattal notes that Zencargo is not only trying to replace things like physical paperwork, faxes and silos of information variously held by shipping companies and the businesses that use them — but the whole understanding and efficiency (or lack thereof) that underlies how everything moves, and in turn the kinds of businesses that can be built as a result.

“Global trade is an enormous market, one of the last to be disrupted by technology,” Fattal said. “We want not just to be a better freight forwarder but we want people to think differently about commerce. Given a choice, where is it best to situate a supplier? Or how much stock do I order? How do I move this cargo from one place to another? When you have a lot of variability in the supply chain, these are difficult tasks to manage, but by unlocking the data in the supply chain you can really change the whole decision making process.”

Zencargo is just getting started on that. Flexport, one of its biggest startup competitors, in February raised $1 billion at a $3.2 billion valuation led by SoftBank to double down on its own freight forwarding business, platform and operations. But as Christian Saller, a partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures describes it, there is still a lot of opportunity out there and room for more than one disruptor.

“It’s such a big market that is so broken,” he said. “Right now it’s not about winner-take-all.”

Apr
16
2019
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Leapwork raises $10M for its easy process automation platform, plans US expansion

Most work involving computers is highly repetitive, which is why companies regularly have developers write code to automate repetitive tasks. But that process is not very scalable. Ideally, individuals across an entire business would be able to create automated tasks, not just developers. This problem has created a new category called process automation. Startups in this space are all about making companies more efficient.
Most of the existing tools on the market are code-based and complicated, which tends to make it tough for non-technical people to automate anything. Ideally, you would allow them to train software robots to handle repetitive and mundane tasks.

This is the aim of Leapwork, which today announces a Series A investment of $10 million, from London’s DN Capital and e.ventures out of Berlin. The company already has many clients, from tier-one banks and global healthcare firms to aerospace and software companies, and now plans to expand in the U.S. Its customers typically already have a lot of experience with tools such as Tricentis, MicroFocus, UiPath and BluePrism, but employ Leapwork when code-based tools prove limiting.

Founded in 2015 and launched in April 2017, Leapwork has an entirely visual system, backed by a modern tech stack. Instead of using developer time, staff automate tasks themselves, without writing any code, with a simple user interface that is likened to learning PowerPoint or Excel. Leapwork estimates it can save 75 percent of an employee’s time.

Christian Brink Frederiksen, Leapwork’s CEO and co-founder said: “About half of our business comes from the U.S. and this investment will enable us to serve those customers better, as well as reaching new ones.”

Leapwork has found traction in the areas of software testing, data migration and robotic process automation in finance and healthcare. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Leapwork has offices in London, U.K., San Francisco, USA, Minsk, Belarus, and Gurugram, India.

Thomas Rubens, of DN Capital, said: “From the outset we were impressed by Leapwork’s product, which we believe will change the automation landscape. Every company has repetitive tasks that could be automated and few have the developer resource to make it happen.”

The founders began in June 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark, after having worked for almost two decades in enterprise software and business-critical IT. They launched their first pilot in July 2016 and, after working with Global2000 pilot customers in the U.S. and Europe, went live with the Leapwork automation platform in March 2017.

Prior to this funding the company was bootstrapped by the founders, as both had previous successful exits.

Apr
11
2019
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Rasa raises $13M led by Accel for its developer-friendly open-source approach to chatbots

Conversational AI and the use of chatbots have been through multiple cycles of hype and disillusionment in the tech world. You know the story: first you get a launch from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or any number of other companies, and then you get the many examples of how their services don’t work as intended at the slightest challenge. But time brings improvements and more focused expectations, and today a startup that has been harnessing all those learnings is announcing funding to take to the next level its own approach to conversational AI.

Rasa, which has built an open-source platform for third parties to design and manage their own conversational (text or voice) AI chatbots, is today announcing that it has raised $13 million in a Series A round of funding led by Accel, with participation from Basis Set Ventures, Greg Brockman (co-founder & CTO OpenAI), Daniel Dines (founder & CEO UiPath) and Mitchell Hashimoto (co-founder & CTO Hashicorp).

Rasa was founded in Berlin, but with this round, it will be moving its headquarters to San Francisco, with a plan to hire more people there in sales, marketing and business development; and to continue its tech development with its roadmap including plans to expand the platform to cover images, too.

The company was founded 2.5 years ago, by co-founder/CEO Alex Weidauer’s own admission “when chatbot hype was at its peak.”

Rasa itself was not immune to it, too: “Everyone wanted to automate conversations, and so we set out to build something, too,” he said. “But we quickly realised it was extremely hard to do and that the developer tools were just not there yet.”

Rather than posing an insurmountable roadblock, the shortcomings of chatbots became the problem that Rasa set out to fix.

Alan Nichols, the co-founder who is now the CTO, is an AI PhD, not in natural language as you might expect, but in machine learning.

“What we do is more is address this as a mathematical, machine learning problem rather than one of language,” Weidauer said. Specifically, that means building a model that can be used by any company to tap its own resources to train their bots, in particular with unstructured information, which has been one of the trickier problems to solve in conversational AI.

At a time when many have raised concerns about who might “own” the progress of artificial intelligence, and specifically the data that goes into building these systems, Rasa’s approach is a refreshing one.

Typically, when an organization wants to build an AI chatbot either to interact with customers or to run something in the back end of their business, their developers most commonly opt for third-party cloud APIs that have restrictions on how they can be customized, or they build their own from scratch — but if the organization is not already a large tech company, it will be challenged to have the human or other resources to execute this.

Rasa underscores an emerging trend for a strong third contender. The company has built a stack of tools that it has open-sourced, meaning that anyone can (and thousands of developers do) use it for free, with a paid enterprise version that includes extra tools, including customer support, testing and training tools, and production container deployment. (It’s priced depending on size of organization and usage.)

Importantly, whichever package is used, the tools run on a company’s own training data; and the company can ultimately host their bots wherever they choose, which have been some of the unique selling points for those using Rasa’s platform, when they are less interested in working with organizations that might also be competitors.

Adobe’s new AI assistant for searching on Adobe Stock, which has some 100 million images, was built on Rasa.

“We wanted to give our users an AI assistant that lets them search with natural language commands,” said Brett Butterfield, director of software development at Adobe, in a statement. “We looked at several online services, and, in the end, Rasa was the clear choice because we were able to host our own servers and protect our user’s data privacy. Being able to automate full conversations and the fact it is open source were key elements for us.”

Other customers include Parallon and TalkSpace, Zurich and Allianz, Telekom and UBS.

Open source has become big business in the last several years, and so a startup that’s built an AI platform that has a very direct application in the enterprise built on it presents an obvious attraction for VCs.

“Automation is the next battleground for the enterprise, and while this is a very difficult space to win, especially for unstructured information like text and voice, we are confident Rasa has what it takes given their impressive adoption by developers,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, partner at Accel, in a statement.

“Existing solutions don’t let in-house developer teams control their own automation destiny. Rasa is applying commercial open source software solutions for AI environments similarly to what open source leaders such as Cloudera, Mulesoft, and Hashicorp have done for others.”

Apr
05
2019
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Peter Kraus dishes on the market

During my recent conversation with Peter Kraus, which was supposed to be focused on Aperture and its launch of the Aperture New World Opportunities Fund, I couldn’t help veering off into tangents about the market in general. Below is Kraus’ take on the availability of alpha generation, the Fed, inflation versus Amazon, housing, the cross-ownership of U.S. equities by a few huge funds and high-frequency trading.

Gregg Schoenberg: Will alpha be more available over the next five years than it has been over the last five?

To think that at some point equities won’t become more volatile and decline 20% to 30%… I think it’s crazy.

Peter Kraus: Do I think it’s more available in the next five years than it was in the last five years? No. Do I think people will pay more attention to it? Yes, because when markets are up to 30 percent, if you get another five, it doesn’t matter. When markets are down 30 percent and I save you five by being 25 percent down, you care.

GS: Is the Fed’s next move up or down?

PK: I think the Fed does zero, nothing. In terms of its next interest rate move, in my judgment, there’s a higher probability that it’s down versus up.

Apr
03
2019
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Onfido, which verifies IDs using AI, nabs $50M from SoftBank, Salesforce, Microsoft and more

Security breaches, where malicious hackers obtain snippets of information that then get used to impersonate individuals in order to gain access to individuals’ and businesses’ sensitive financial and other private information, have become par for the course in the world of digital services. More than 2.7 billion records were  breached in a single incident this year in the US, and overall the damage from incidents like these potentially runs into the trillions of dollars globally.

Today, a startup called Onfido, which uses AI techniques combined with human verifiers to efficiently verify people are who they say they are when using digital services — is today announcing $50 million in funding to help address that ongoing — and growing — problem.

The funding comes on the heels of some very strong growth for the startup, which was founded in London but now operates most of its business out of San Francisco. In an interview, co-founder and CEO Husayn Kassai said that more than half of its customers, and most of its new growth, is coming out of the US.

Onfido uses computer vision and a number of other AI-based technologies to verify against some 4,500 different types of identity documents, using techniques like “facial liveness testing,” to see patterns invisible to the human eye, now has 1,500 businesses as customers, primarily in categories like marketplaces and communities, gaming and financial services, including companies like Remitly, Zipcar and Europcar; and in the last year, it had sales growth of 342 percent. Kassai said that it has to date verified “tens of millions” of IDs.

The money — a Series C2, technically — is coming from a group that includes top strategic tech investors. The round is being co-led by SoftBank Investment (SBI) and Salesforce Ventures, with M12 (the new name for Microsoft Ventures), FinVC and other unnamed new and previous investors are also participating. That’s a signal not just of how the biggest companies in that sector today are grappling with this problem, but also what approach they are using to solve it.

For SoftBank, the investment is separate from the Vision fund, founder and CEO Husayn Kassai noted, but it’s notable that a lot of the businesses that have been backed out of that fund — companies like Didi, Uber, Oyo, Lemonade, and others — fundamentally rely on people trusting that they are handling personal details securely while also carefully vetting suppliers on the platform (meaning, they need and use services like Onfido’s).

Meanwhile, both Microsoft and Salesforce have extensive enterprise businesses that could see multiple benefits from working with an identity verification provider, not just for their own purposes, but as a service that is sold on to its customers as part of a larger identity management and security offering.

The company is not revealing its valuation but has raised around $100 million to date and Kassai confirmed that it was an upround, with “a lot of happy investors.”

“We have strong metrics, and we have a long way to go in our growth,” he added.

There are a lot of companies today offering services to help offer secure services to authenticate users, for example, to help them log on to their work accounts or to access their online banking services. Onfido’s business focuses on the first step in all of this — customer onboarding — specifically around services geared towards consumers.

The opportunity that has opened up for it has been the result of more than just a rise in breaches. There’s also been a growing realization that a lot of the existing services that had been used for verification are simply not fit for purpose: either they too have been breached — as in the case of some of the bigger credit agencies like Equifax — or are not realistically efficient enough for how many online services run today, such as in the case of in-person verifications. (Onfido claims that its system can make a verification in as little as 15 seconds.)

Or, they are part of the new guard that has shifted its approach to the business of ID verificiation, either by choice or force. One would-be competitor from the past, Checkr, is now a partner of Onfido’s, Kassai noted. Others like Jumio — which is still grappling with the fallout from major illegal missteps from previous management — seem to still be trying to find their feet as standalone businesses.

“Fraud is rising and not going anywhere,” Kassai — who co-founded the company with Ruhul Amin and Eamon Jubbawy — said. “And the problem is that there are a dozen other companies that have not done a good enough job to detect it so far.” While no service is perfect — Onfido says that its “risk exposure” is 0.0195 percent — he says that the advantage of building its service on top of AI means that the algorithms use every experience to continue honing its accuracy. “What we learn from one client gets applied everywhere,” he notes.

“There has never been a more important time for companies to build trust with their customers by showing they are one step ahead of fraudsters,” said Frank van Veenendaal, the ex-vice chairman of Salesforce, who is joining the board with this round. “I believe Onfido has the unique opportunity to transform the digital identity market and deliver robust and scalable authentication-as-a-service, similar to how Salesforce transformed customer relationship management.”

Apr
02
2019
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Microsoft teams up with BMW for the IoT-focused Open Manufacturing Platform

Car companies are making big investments in technology to help ensure that they are not cut out of the next generation of transportation and automotive manufacturing, and today came the latest development in that trend.

The BMW Group and Microsoft announced they would team up in a new effort called the Open Manufacturing Platform, aimed at developing and encouraging more collaborative IoT development in the manufacturing sector, focusing on smart factory solutions and building standards to develop them in areas like machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration.

The two companies have not disclosed how much they intend to invest in the project — we have sent a message to ask. The plan will be to bring in more manufacturers and suppliers — the goal, they say, is to have between four and six others with them, working on 15 use cases by the end of this year — working with open source components, open industrial standards and open data to develop both hardware and software that runs on it.

The two say that future partners do not have to be from within the automotive industry.

The OMP will be built on Microsoft’s industrial IoT platform — part of its Azure cloud business. But this is a natural progression of how Microsoft and BMW were already working together. BMW already has 3,000 machines running on Azure cloud, IoT and AI services in its existing robots and in-factory autonomous transport systems, and it said it will be contributing some of the technology that it had already built — for example around its self-driving systems — into the group as part of the effort.

“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group, said in a presentation in Germany today. “Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain.”

“Mastering the complex task of producing individualized premium products requires innovative IT and software solutions,” added Oliver Zipse, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production, a statement. “The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches. With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term.”

The problem that Microsoft and BMW are going after here is a longstanding one. Much of the computing in the world of IT has been built around open standards, or in any event on very widely-used proprietary platforms that can interface with each other. The same does not go in the world of manufacturing, where proprietary systems are specific to each manufacturer, making them difficult to modify and often impossible to use in conjunction with other proprietary systems.

That ultimately slows down how things have been able to evolve, and will mean that implementing new generations of technology becomes expensive or even in some cases impossible. And given the speed with which things are moving, and the increasing sophistication of the machines that are being built (cars as “hardware”), something had to change.

That is what BMW and Microsoft are addressing. For BMW it will give it a hand in helping shape how standards develop, and for Microsoft it will give it a potential window into expanding its business in this enterprise sector.

The collaborative approach has been a big one for tech companies hoping to find a common way forward in the future of computing. Microsoft may own a lot of proprietary platforms that are not open source, but it’s making efforts to collaborate more in a number of other ways. It works with SAP, Adobe, WPP and others on the Open Data Initiative; with Intel, Google and others it’s working on an open standard for connecting data centers; it’s part of an open standard initiative for software licensing; and it’s part of a new cross-licensing patent database.

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