Every company needs to have a basic understanding of how what and where its data lives as well as how to responsibly protect and handle it. The right data and analytics strategy is key to business transformation, but only 20% of business leaders think their organization can do that well.

Data science for business analytics. Infographics on futuristic virtual interface screen.

They may be right. Hidden in the recent allegations about security issues at Twitter was a hint that it might have data governance issues too: The product sales team found an interesting dataset and started using it to target ads without ever checking where the data came from, how it was collected or whether they were supposed to have access to it.

That’s exactly the kind of thing a data platform is supposed to help with, but it also needs to deal with multiple versions of data stored in different places and in different ways, making sure the right people in the business get the right data to help make decisions.

“If you don’t know what data you have, then you really don’t know what your future is as a business, so you really need to get on top of it,” said Sharieff Mansour, general manager of data, AI and mixed reality at Microsoft.

The way Microsoft suggests you achieve that kind of data management is with its end-to-end offering for database storage, analytics, and governance, which it calls Intelligent Data Platform.

Intelligent Data Platform stitches together data services

The pieces that make up the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform are services you may already be using because it includes all of Microsoft’s key data services, such as SQL Server 2022, Azure SQL, Cosmos DB, Azure Synapse, Microsoft Purview and more. But you’re probably not using them together as well as you could; the Intelligent Data Platform is here to make that easier.

“These are the best-in-class services across what we consider the three core pillars of a data platform,” Mansour explained.

According to Mansour, the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform offers services for databases and operational data stores, analytics, and data governance, providing authorized users with insight that will allow them to properly understand, manage and govern their business’s data.

“Historically, customers have been thinking about each of those areas independent from one another, and what the Intelligent Data Platform does is bring all these pieces together,” said Mansour.

Integrating databases, analytics and governance aren’t new either, but the point of presenting this as a platform is the emphasis on simplifying the experience of working with it. Mansour claims that the Intelligent Data Platform can free businesses to be much more productive: Rather than spending time on tasks involving piecing together disparate data for analysis, they can spend their time on meeting their business’s needs.

Even customers who could integrate the different pieces want Microsoft to do more of that work for them, he suggested.

“What we’re hearing from customers, over and over, is that they’re moving beyond looking for point solutions,” said Mansour. “It’s not just about a database here or upgrading a legacy appliance there; they really need to take a much more holistic, cohesive approach for managing their entire data estate.

“They’re thinking about how to generate the insights they need across all the data.”

And with “staggering” statistics from Mansour claiming that 68% of data isn’t analyzed or used in analytics, businesses are looking for a solution that will help them “unlock insights that were very difficult to gain before.”

Intelligent Data Platform offers businesses flexibility, not just cloud

Just because it’s called a platform doesn’t mean this is all about cloud computing. According to Mansour, almost all organizations expect the cloud to be an important part of how they store data in the future, but the Intelligent Data Platform is more than moving data to the cloud. It’s about flexibility.

“It’s not just about moving to the cloud, it’s about managing your data wherever it resides,” said Mansour. “We offer Azure SQL Edge, so you can even manage your data in edge environments as well, with the same consistent platform.”

Moreover, Synapse Link is one of the new features in SQL Server 2022, and that’s a key part of the new data platform that started cloud-first in Azure Cosmos DB and then in Dataverse for Dynamics and the Power Platform.

By incorporating Synapse Link in its services, Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform is about to bridge operational data stores and analytical data sources, which have traditionally been separate. As a result,  Mansour claims businesses are able to gain more meaningful insights and analyze data “within seconds of a transaction being recorded in your operational store.”

“No one provides that kind of functionality in the market today,” said Mansour. “Since all these services are first-party offerings, we have the ability to provide that deep integration and enable those insights without affecting the operational systems because obviously, you don’t want to affect that. Because we have such a comprehensive data platform, we’re able to light up these new experiences.”

Before those insights can be useful though, businesses need to know what data they have to analyze and who needs to see it, which can be difficult for organizations with large amounts of data. But with Microsoft Purview as part of the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform, businesses will be able to “identify what data you have, and that’s step one in the journey,” said Mansour.

As well as managing who gets access, you can also start thinking about where data comes from and where it goes.

While traditional data warehouses are still useful, many organizations are looking for more flexible, agile options for analytics, like Power BI, which has a new Data Marts feature to make it easier for users to get insights from data without needing IT to set things up for them.

“It’s not about providing these insights to a select few people that reside in one corner of the organization; it’s about enabling everyone in your organization with the important insights and the ability to make decisions much faster and quicker,” Mansour said.

Power BI has hundreds of connectors to bring data in to analyze, but the Intelligent Data Platform can do more of that work for you.

“There’s intelligence that we’re building into the platform so that we proactively surface data sources that customers would need,” said Mansour. “They can search or we can recommend data sources based on the kinds of queries and the kinds of data that they’re looking at and the insights that they’re looking for.”

Bigger may be better: Intelligent Data Platform benefits companies with large databases

The Intelligent Data Platform will be useful to any organization, but according to Mansour, “companies that have large data estates that span multiple environments would benefit even more. Because of capabilities like Microsoft Purview and Synapse Link and the ability to provide the management capabilities across multiple environments, the more you use of the platform, the more you benefit from it.”

FedEx, for example, is using the platform for business transformation, using both traditional data sources and newer approaches like sensors and IoT.

“They use it today to scan millions of packages a day, billions of transactions. They’ve developed their own machine learning models to provide really deep contextual insights,” said Mansour. “They’ve also taken it a step further and established what they call the intelligent edge, collecting massive amounts of IoT (Internet of Things) data from devices and autonomous systems to provide even more insights.

“They’re using it to get much deeper insights, the ability to manage their shipment movements in a much better way, take corrective actions within minutes, and govern their data wherever it resides. For them, it’s about getting to the next level of insights beyond, traditional data warehousing, to really bring in many more signals across their business so that they can be much more agile and respond better to their customers.”

Even if you don’t need to build as powerful a system as someone like FedEx, the Intelligent Data Platform can make it easier to discover the opportunities that might be hidden in the data you’re already collecting.

“It’s about understanding what data you have, managing it properly and getting the insight you need, when you need it,” Mansour explained. “If there’s anything that we’ve learned from the last couple of years, it’s that for businesses to survive and thrive in today’s environment, you got to put data at the heart of everything you do, and companies that have done that have fared much better.”