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Microsoft, Walmart ink AI, cloud pact to take on Amazon

Walmart and Microsoft on Tuesday signed a five-year engineering partnership to bring the fight against online giant Amazon to the artificial intelligence, cloud computing and retail arenas.  

The companies have been making concerted moves into healthcare and, in fact, they both battle Amazon on distinct fronts.  

Microsoft has optimized Azure services for a health cloud platform that company executives say enable customers to focus on clinical and operational efficiency, as well as offering AI capabilities and Microsoft Genomics, which is in place at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As for Walmart, the retail giant already runs pharmacies and a burgeoning healthcare business — a market that Amazon, after months of rumors, moved into late last month when it acquired the online pharmacy Pillpack. 

Walmart, for its part, announced on July 16 that Sean Slovenski, most recently president of Healthways’ population health division, will step into the senior VP of health and wellness for Walmart beginning on August 1.

In the new deal, Walmart and Microsoft engineers will collaborate on the assessment, development, and support phase of moving hundreds of existing applications to cloud-native architectures. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Walmart will connect into Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Microsoft 365 to help speed transformation while Walmart. 

Walmart is already using some Microsoft services. Now the retailer is gearing up for new possibilities, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and data platforms that deliver new capabilities that officials said will make shopping faster and easier. And Walmart plans to migrate a significant portion of and to Azure, including its cloud-powered check-out.

Beyond that, the companies revealed plans to build a worldwide Internet of Things platform to connect stores and shipping to simplify Walmart’s supply chain. 

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon added that the partnership will drive the company’s “ability to innovate further and faster.” 

Microsoft and Amazon have also ratcheted up the competition with each other in healthcare and other industries, engaging in a pricing war over cloud computing infrastructure services earlier this year. 

The two vendors, meanwhile, along with tech rivals Apple and Google, have filed hundreds, if not thousands, of patents that foretell plans for future technologies in the AI, machine learning, analytics and longitudinal health records areas, among others of interest to hospital IT shops. 

Twitter: @Bernie_HITN
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