Previously, I wrote about how artificial intelligence is already changing project management. I suggest you read that blog post first.
Microsoft’s vision for technology today is to transform work by bringing artificial intelligence to everyday tasks. For project managers, this means more collaborative and human tools that engage everyone in the project through technologies like intelligent bots, speech recognition, and mobile apps.
Today I’m going to write a little more about how this transformation is playing out up and down the Microsoft stack of products and services.
Bots and Agents
At Ignite this year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the provocative statement that Microsoft now views intelligent agents as a “third runtime” alongside the web and the PC. Intelligent chatbots are already a common channel for customer service. This trend is expected to continue, with intelligent bots acting as digital personal assistants to project managers and others.
The Microsoft Bot Framework is Microsoft’s foray into this area, providing APIs and end-user tools to create and fine tune agents for a variety of channels and scenarios. It will be interesting to see how this integrates with Microsoft Cortana intelligence suit as the tools mature.
I think that business units, like the PMO, whose work touches multiple other departments, will be among the first to adopt intelligent agents to share information. Here are a few potential scenarios:
- Empower everyone in the company to ask basic project management questions through a chatbot, such as “what tasks are assigned to me” or “when is project x expected to be completed?”
- Enable project managers to create or update tasks, resource availability, and schedules using a mobile device.
- Integrate a bot with Microsoft Contana, so people can interact with it using voice commands on their phone or PC.
Internet of Things (Iot)
Put simply, the internet of things refers to the use of internet-connected devices and sensors to collect information from multiple sources and use it to drive and enrich business processes. Through the Microsoft Internet of Things solution, built on Microsoft Azure, this data can be made available to a wide variety of cloud-based tools, services, and solutions.
Through the cloud, PMOs can tie into IoT solutions being deployed throughout their organization to gain real-time insight into factors that impact their project. For example:
- Track the location and usage of heavy equipment, such as a forklift or each mover, to determine its availability and whether it’s over or under-utilized.
- Tap into maintenance data for equipment in order to predict performance and downtime.
- Use a remote camera to provide up-to-the-snapshots of work on a construction site or other location.
- Track a delivery in transit and predict when needed resources or raw materials will arrive, or raise an alert if they will be late.
Machine learning is a way of analyzing very large sets of data in order to make predictions about future conditions, including things like project execution. Microsoft Azure Machine Learning is a set of drag-and-drop tools for creating, training, and publishing machine learning algorithms.
Project management systems create huge amounts of historical data, making it an enticing scenario for machine learning. Correlating information about tasks, resources, and vendors, not to mention exterior factors like traffic or even the weather, can help predict potential issues, risks, costs, and delays for a project. For example:
- Historical weather data could be used to predict delays on a construction project.
- A hospital might determine the best time for an equipment upgrade or site improvements based on seasons trends, such as flu season.
- A software developer could make better predictions of resource usage and completion date based on development hours, bug velocity, and so on.
As business intelligence continues to improve, the emphasis has moved away from the underlying plumbing—data queries, integration, and the like—to data visualization. In project management, this means adding a whole new layer of contextual information that extends and enhances traditional project reporting. Visual project management—aims to put rich summary and detail data in context where it’s being used so people never have to hunt for information. Microsoft technologies such as Power Bi [LINK: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/] and Hololens are advancing rapidly in this direction today.
Some of the scenarios that become possible with next generation business intelligence and data visualization include:
- Respond to natural language queries instantly, from high level queries like “list all the active projects” to detailed questions such as “show me all my tasks sorted by project with work effort for next month”.
- Overlay project and geophysical data, whether it’s a job site for a single project or a project portfolio that spans geographical regions.
- Deliver summary and detail information in dashboards that are designed for different roles, such as the project manager, PMO leadership, human resources, partners, or executives.
- Take advantage of bleeding edge technologies, like augmented reality, to overlay project data on real objects and locations.
Microsoft Project Online is Microsoft’s cloud-based project and project portfolio management solution. Besides providing a solution for managing a portfolio of projects, Project Online has a set of APIs that can be used to mash up project data with information from other cloud-based systems. That’s a critical capability for cloud intelligence, because it means that Project Online is primed to interact with these other intelligent solution building blocks.
Microsoft is betting on a future of technologies that are natural and ubiquitous, seamlessly integrated into the flow of work through voice, text, and mobile interfaces, and I think it’s the right bet. Taking a cloud-based, service-oriented approach is going to make it easier for disparate departments, including the PMO, to transform their own work in line with this trend by integrating the pieces that make the most sense for them.