Microsoft’s Five ‘Industry Clouds’: What Partners Need To Know

Microsoft will expand its strategy of marketing packages of cloud-related services and products to particular business verticals, with new packages aimed at three additional industries.


Microsoft’s Vertical Approach

Microsoft is putting further investment into its “industry cloud” strategy of offering vertical-specific packages of cloud-related products and services to customers--which partners say could offer some major growth opportunities. The ability to provide industry-specific cloud packages “gives us an immediate competitive advantage,” and could ultimately help partners to land customers in new verticals, said Matt Dierolf, enterprise architect at Blue Bell, Pa.-based solution provider Anexinet, a Microsoft Gold partner. The new industry clouds announced on Tuesday are the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services, the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing and the Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit.

Microsoft executives told CRN that these industry clouds can save partners time in implementing new products and services for existing customers while attracting new customers in the targeted verticals, which now number five--including the previously announced retail and health care cloud offerings. The industry cloud offerings are at a different points in the timeline to becoming generally accessible to partners and customers. Here’s what partners need to know about each of these five industry clouds.

Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services

Some of the capabilities advertised for the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services include helping financial services providers upsell and cross-sell to their customers, provide self-service tools and automate tasks to speed up the lending process. The offering brings together existing and new capabilities in Microsoft 365, Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform to improve employee collaboration, improve customer insights for upselling and provide better data analysis to prevent fraud, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Financial Services Bill Borden said in a blog post. The public preview period is planned to begin March 31. More details are expected at the Microsoft Ignite digital conference on March 3.

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Microsoft is hardly the only company seeking vertical-focused marketing approaches to grow consumption of its cloud products. Google Cloud, for example, has industry-specific packages for financial services, health care, manufacturing and industrial, the public sector, retail, and media, telecommunications and entertainment.

Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing

The pandemic’s effects on various industries’ supply chains showed the vulnerability of factories that were slow to adopt digital tools. This Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing will provide manufacturers with a suite of tools and services to automate processes, analyze massive amounts of data and hire new workers, Microsoft Manufacturing Industry Vice President Çağlayan Arkan said in a blog post. By the end of June, the package for manufacturing should enter public preview.

In a video address provided to the media, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the industry cloud offerings are designed to cut across the different silos within a customer’s business. “Each offering is designed to work as one seamless solution and to enable cross-industry workflows,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (pictured) said in the address. “For example, retailers and manufacturers can work across clouds to manage inventory and production in real time from shelf to warehouse to factory.”

Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofits

Like the manufacturing industry cloud, the Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofits should enter public preview by the end of June. The offering is meant to help organizations engage constituents, design and deliver programs, manage volunteers and raise funds, among other features. The Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofits draws on features from Microsoft 365, Power Platform, Dynamics 365, Azure, and LinkedIn. It also provides nonprofits with a common data model to ease integration with their current IT systems.

Fundraising and Engagement--a nonprofits-focused tool built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales Enterprise that will come with this industry cloud--launched last year. Another tool, Volunteer Engagement and Management, will enter public preview at the end of June and become generally available in the latter half of 2021, Microsoft Philanthropies Global Head of Tech for Social Impact Justin Spelhaug said in a blog post.

Microsoft Cloud for Retail

Though announced by Microsoft in January, the retail industry cloud remains in private preview. Like the financial services package, the Microsoft Cloud for Retail will exit private preview in March. This industry cloud will help retailers provide customers with recommendations and notifications, simplify payment processing and protect against fraud.

The packages are designed to still allow customers choice in the Microsoft products and services they adopt, said Alysa Taylor (pictured), Microsoft ‎corporate vice president of business applications and global industry, in an interview with CRN. “If you’re a retailer, you may want to light up new commerce capabilities to enable things like curbside curbside pickup and contactless shopping,” Taylor said. “But you might not want to use our ad assets because you have your own ad platform. So we’ve designed them to be very modular both at a departmental level.”

Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

Though already generally available, Microsoft has announced the first batch of updates for users of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. The healthcare industry cloud will have its first update in April with eight new languages and new features for virtual health, remote patient monitoring, care coordination and patient self-service.

As an example of how solution provider partners can use the industry cloud offerings, Avtex worked with Mary Washington Health System of Fredericksburg, Va., to build a service digitally connecting providers with patients who canceled or deferred important elective procedures, Microsoft said.

Although Luis Alvarez hasn’t yet tried to offer his clients a Microsoft industry cloud package, the CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Alvarez Technology Group said he sees how a vertical-focused package can be a marketing win for channel partners. The industry clouds can help partners go to market faster and break into unfamiliar verticals, said Alvarez, whose company serves customers in health care and agriculture. “You have a narrative that’s been curated for you,” Alvarez said. “You already have the talking points and know the benefits.”