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Introduction to Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite


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Problem

I have been hearing about the term Cortana Analytics for a while now and would like to know more about it. Can you explain what this term means, how is it relevant to Business Intelligence, and any other details which will help me get started with this technology.

Solution

Cortana Analytics is a suite of fully managed Business Intelligence (BI), Big Data, and Advanced Analytics service offerings from Microsoft in the Azure Cloud. Recently it has been re-named / re-branded as Cortana Intelligence, so we will refer to it as Cortana Intelligence Suite through the rest of this tip.

Overview of Cortana Intelligence Suite

Cortana Intelligence is a Suite of service offerings on the Microsoft Azure Cloud, which enable businesses to transform the data into Intelligent Actions. The following is a high level diagram which shows where exactly Cortana Intelligence Suite fits in the overall Data Analytics Ecosystem.

Overview of Cortana Intelligence Suite
Source: Microsoft (http://bit.ly/1RTOHRg)

As we can see from the above diagram, Cortana Intelligence allows us to process the data from a variety of data sources, transform the data, apply advanced analytical techniques (Data Mining, Machine Learning etc.), and extract actionable insights which enables the business to take intelligent and timely actions.

Data can be extracted from a variety of data sources including applications, files, logs, devices and sensors, and a variety of Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) systems. There are various offerings as part of Cortana Intelligence Suite which enable data engineers and power users to extract valuable insights from such variety of data sources and deliver them to decision makers, applications, and automated systems enabling them to take intelligent actions.

Architecture of Cortana Intelligence Suite

Now let's take a look at the architecture of Cortana Intelligence Suite. The below architecture diagram shows the various Azure offerings which the Cortana Intelligence Suite is comprised of.

Architecture of Cortana Intelligence Suite
Source: Microsoft (http://bit.ly/1r7dBXz)

As we can see from the above architecture diagram, following are the key pillars of Cortana Intelligence Suite:

  • Information Management: Consists of services which enable us to capture the incoming data from various sources including the streaming data from sensors, devices, and other IoT systems.  Manage various data sources which are part of the data analytics ecosystem within the enterprise; and orchestrate and build end-to-end flows to perform various activities and data processing and data preparation operations.
  • Big Data Stores: Consists of services which enable us to store and manage large scale data. In other words, enables us to store and manage big data. These services offer high degree of elasticity, high processing power, and high throughput with great performance.
  • Machine Learning and Analytics: Consists of services which enable us to perform advanced analytics, build predictive models, and apply machine learning algorithms on large scale data.  Allows us to perform data analysis on large scale data of different variety using programming languages like R and Python.
  • Dashboards and Visualizations: Consists of services which enable us to build reports and dashboards to view the insights. It primarily consists of Power BI which allows us to build highly interactive visually appealing reports and dashboards. Apart from this, other tools like SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), Excel, etc. can also be used to connect to data from some of these services in Cortana Intelligence Suite.
  • Intelligence: Consists of advanced intelligence services which enable us to build smart interactive services using advanced text, speech, and other recognition systems.

Each of the above areas contain one or more offerings. We will look at each of these areas / offerings in subsequent tips.

Cortana Intelligence Suite Highlights

Here are the highlights of Cortana Intelligence Suite:

  • A fully managed Big Data and Advanced Analytics Suite enabling businesses transform data into intelligent actions.
  • An excellent offering perfectly suited for handling modern day data sources, data formats, and data volumes to gain valuable insights.
  • Offers various preconfigured solutions like Forecasting, Churn, Recommendations, etc.
  • Apart from the big data and analytical services, Cortana Intelligence Suite also includes some of the advanced intelligence services - Cortana, Bot Framework, and Cognitive Services.
  • Contains services to capture the data from a variety of data sources, process and integrate the data, perform advanced analytics, visualize and collaborate, and gain intelligence out of it.
  • Offers all the benefits of Cloud Computing like scale, elasticity, and pay-as-you-go model, etc.

Use Cases for the Cortana Intelligence Suite

Cortana Intelligence Suite can address the data challenges in various industries and enable them to transform their data into intelligent actions and helps to be more proactive in the day-to-day operational aspects of the business. Of the various industries where Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used, here are a few of them.

  • Financial Services: Monitor the transactions as they happen in near real-time and based on the analysis on the historical data and historical data anomalies/trends, Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used to apply complex machine learning algorithms and predictive models to predict a potential fraudulent transactions and help business prevent such transactions in future thereby protecting customer's valuable money. The Financial Services sector is pretty vast and we can use Cortana Intelligence Suite in various scenarios including credit/debit card fraud, electronic transfer fraud, phishing attempts to steal confidential customer data, etc.
  • Retail: Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used across the Retail Industry in various scenarios including optimizing availability by forecasting demand, enabling businesses to ensure the right products in the right location at the right time. There are numerous use cases in the retail industry and Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used in conjunction with IoT systems. For instance, with the help of sensors (Beacon Technology) we can detect when a customer enters a retail store and based the data that we have in the database about that customer, we can offer them targeted discounts based on customer's demographics, past purchase history, what the customer has been browsing online (this is where bringing in the data from outside the enterprise comes into picture as discussed in this tip on Introduction to Big Data), and other relevant information which can help understand the customer's preferences.
  • Healthcare: There are various scenarios in Healthcare where the Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used. Historical data on the utilization of various resources (Rooms, Beds, Other Equipment, etc.) and manpower (Doctors, Nurses, general staff, etc.) can be analyzed to predict the future demand thereby enabling the hospitals to mobilize and optimize the resources and manpower accordingly. Historical patient data can be analyzed in conjunction with weather data to identify the patterns and potential illness that might be caused during particular seasons and help the authorities take preventive measures.
  • Manufacturing: By constantly monitoring the equipment and collecting the data over time, probability of issues occurring can be predicted and accordingly a maintenance schedule can be defined to prevent the potential issues which if occur can hamper the production and day-to-day operations leading to unhappy customers, loss of business, and increased operational costs. Cortana Intelligence Suite fits very well in this scenario and enables end to end data collection, monitoring, alerting, and to take proactive actions/decisions.
  • Public Sector: There are various areas in the public sector where Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used to improve the overall operational efficiency including Public Transport, Power Grids, Water Supplies, and a lot more. By monitoring the usage of resources in various areas, we can identify the patterns in the usage, predict and forecast the demand, and accordingly ensure the supply so that there is neither shortage nor a waste of resources thereby improving the overall operational efficiency and happy customers.

Above are just a glimpse of scenarios in each of those sectors and there are many more such scenarios in each of the sectors. Apart from these, there are various other countless sectors where the Cortana Intelligence Suite can be used like Education, Insurance, Marketing, Hospitality, Aviation, Research, and so on.

Each of the areas of Cortana Intelligence Suite contain one or more offerings. We will look at each of these areas in subsequent tips.

Next Steps
  • Follow Cortana Intelligence on Twitter (@MSAdvAnalytics) to get the latest news and updates about Cortana Intelligence Suite.
  • Explore Cortana Intelligence Gallery which contains Experiments, Machine Learning APIs, Solution Templates, Tutorials, and a bunch of other resources from Microsoft as well as those contributed by the developer community.


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Dattatrey Sindol Datta has 8+ years of experience working with SQL Server BI, Power BI, Microsoft Azure, Azure HDInsight and more.

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