Microsoft is eyeing digital transformation opportunities worth $100 billion in India in the next few years said Anant Maheshwari, president, Microsoft Corp (India). The world’s largest software maker, which competes with Amazon and Google in the cloud services space, is driving this digital transformation using technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud computing for applications ranging from helping farmers to increase crop yields to supporting doctors provide better diagnosis and a cure for diseases, he said.
You said Microsoft can ‘make digital in India’. Could you explain how?
The most simple interpretation at times that people have is, are you making products and solutions that are digital? To me, that is one of the outcomes, but the real focus that I have when I say ‘make digital in India’ is what outcomes you create for the customers, enterprises and partners, [is key].
That is the real ‘make digital in India.’ ... Let’s [take] a customer in the banking financial or in the manufacturing sector or in the IT industry; if you can do digital transformation for them. We work with a lot of partners, and along with them with the end customer, to create the final digital transformation. That, to me, is the real ‘make digital in India’. When you bring a couple of ISV (independent software vendor) partners with their unique solutions building something on the Microsoft stack with the end user folks and working together to create a unique solution for the customer. That makes the digital transformation for the customer sustainable over a period of time.
You pegged this opportunity at about $100 billion in the country. How is Microsoft going to tap it?
This is a combination of ‘intelligent cloud’ and ‘intelligent edge’ that you could pull together. Therefore, a lot of solutions need to be created in the ‘intelligent edge’ that makes the digital transformation real. Yes, this is clearly something that we see as the potential for India in terms of driving solutions in the short to medium term..... in the next couple of years.
What is AI’s role here?
Take farming; we have a pilot we have done with ICRISAT [International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics].
The application of artificial intelligence and machine learning allows us now to tell a farmer within a period of even three weeks: “what is the best time to sow the seeds?” based on weather patterns, soil conditions and so on. Immediately after sowing, the next few days are very critical. If the seeds get the right moisture and nutrition, the productivity goes up dramatically. And that to me is a very simple application of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Even just the SMS coming to a farmer saying “today is a good day to sow the seeds” and if that can increase the productivity of the farmer by 20%-30%, that is great in terms of making [him or her] a better farmer.
[In] healthcare, if a doctor is able to get a predictive summary for a patient, seeing all the [medical] records and the key parameters and say “this seems to be the issue, this is the likely diagnosis and cure.” The doctor can always override this and say “my judgment says that it should be some other diagnosis or cure.” But at the base at least you are getting a predictive help to the doctor, where they can move a little faster and also go deeper into each patient’s case. In the education (field), if you can have more student-specific inputs provided to a teacher, where you can track the learning capability of each student and are able to [customise] the content provided to each student based on his or her learning ability, you can get much better teaching experience. There are many different ways of applying AI and ML in professions that really affect us deeply.
Wouldn’t Amazon’s $18 billion cloud business give you some tough competition?
A quick response would be... we are really focused on how we are driving the impact for our customers and partners. While there are very strong peer groups that we have in this space, I think everybody is aware that Microsoft had set a target to.... get to the (annualised) run rate of $20 billion on the cloud by 2018. The entire analyst community is aware that this was achieved three quarters [early]. So, clearly, our cloud momentum is faster than even what we had anticipated and targeted. Microsoft (global) cloud (business) is already $20 billion in terms of annualized run rate.
How do you perceive the competition from Amazon and Google which are rapidly gaining share for their cloud services in markets like India?
I would not specifically comment on any of our peer group. I think the good part is to have a strong peer group, therefore all of us are able to bring the best of the technology to our customers and partners. Each of us has clear areas of strengths and we have been providing those areas of strengths to our customers. I think Microsoft’s specific capabilities are around end-to-end portfolio on infrastructure platform and software when it comes to the cloud. The fact that we have these four solution areas around modern workplace, business applications, applications and infrastructure, and data and AI......make it ready to go for many of our small, medium and large enterprise customers in driving their digital transformation. And finally, this strong partner network that we have around the world where we can bring best of the breed solutions and long-term implementation to our customers, to me are the core areas of strength for the Microsoft offerings.
What investments will you make, especially in your cloud computing platform Microsoft Azure?
We are continuing to make significant investments in our data centre network, the largest on the planet. We are continuing to invest very heavily in artificial intelligence and also in the entire area of cybersecurity.
Those are the core areas of growth and concern that many of the communities have worldwide and we are at the cutting edge of all of that. If you go back to the intelligent cloud, I spoke about it being productive, hybrid, intelligent and trusted. Those are the four critical elements of our strategy around the cloud and we are investing in all of those.