Hershey's, Fruit of the Loom, Geico Sign On to Microsoft Azure

Microsoft has signed new Azure customers, including wealth management company UBS, logistics company Maersk, Hershey's, Fruit of the Loom, and Geico, Redmond announced today at its "Digital Difference" event in New York City.

The event, which focused on the rapid pace of cloud technology innovation, featured discussions from Microsoft executives, technology researchers, and Microsoft clients.

Abbie Lundberg, Contributing Editor at Harvard Business Review, said non-digital companies are aware of the digital transformation, but they're not doing anything about it, a problem that starts at the top. "For a wholesale transformation it's got to be top down," she said. "Successful companies are good at defining what it means for a business."

Judson Althoff, EVP of Microsoft's Worldwide Commercial Business, said digital transformation is a wave of business technology that's fueled by augmented reality and the cloud, among other technologies. Customers that are embracing digital are "doing so at light speed, faster than we've ever seen companies embark on large technology projects than ever before," he said.

According to Althoff, the formula for successful digital innovation, is 1) understanding the business outcome, 2) assessing the digital maturity estate, and 3) enabling technology to drive a business outcome that's unique to a specific company.

"We're seeing two pathways," he explained. "A company goes all-in or the other scenario is strong partnerships where you have an innovative CIO partnered with a line of business and there's shared ownership of a strategy."

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Althoff predicts AI will change how people work. "We may not have taxi and truck drivers [in the future]. But we will have mid-skill jobs to keep the machines running and high-tech jobs to teach the machines."

There's reason to be concerned, because jobs will be lost, but there's also reason to be motivated and inspired because new jobs and new industries will emerge as AI matures and is connected to company data.

"The companies we talk to say the human-machine collaboration will be essential to their success across the board," said Lundberg. "Now that we've generated data, how do we use it to operate our busines? Are the employees skilled at working with data and putting it to use? We were surprised to find that 87 percent of companies [we spoke to said] they viewed digital disruption as an opportunity rather than a threat."

Microsoft Clients

Silvestre Jos, Director of Technology Services at Spanish soccer league La Liga, said the league began its journey as a Microsoft customer three years ago when it realized it needed to improve live transmission of matches, develop new digital assets—like apps, fantasy sports, and games for teenagers—and have its services perform better for fans and customers.

"We have done a lot of work to establish the base of digital transformation," he said. "We have reached an agreement with Microsoft and their cloud [product]...We have a set of tools for social engagement, security, machine learning, Big Data analysis. We're working very hard to launch the project.

"We have a lot of data. We need Microsoft AI to help us learn," said Jos. "We need to be global and Microsoft is global. We need to deliver assets globally and Microsoft can help us with this."

Ibrahim Gokcen, Chief Digital Officer at Maersk, said the company has "amazing talent at shipping and logistics, but when we started talking about digital transformation, I was surpised by the hunger of people to drive this across the company. We knew we had to transform."

Maersk identified digital natives who might be able to help, and hired them to help spread this culture across the company. Althoff said he is proud of the work Microsoft has done with Maersk, particularly understanding the intellectual property and best practices for selling goods around the world, and being able to provide that knowledge to other businesses in Microsoft's ecosystem.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.