Microsoft looks at helping solve India's local problems, eyes govt contracts

Microsoft is looking to win large contracts from the Indian government in the field of education, healthcare and agriculture, putting to use its latest predictive analytics tools to tackle issues such as student dropouts and increasing crop yields.

In the state of Andhra Pradesh, Microsoft has successfully piloted a programme to identify student dropouts post standard 10 before they actually dropped out. The company analysed student profiles from 1,100 schools in the district of Chittoor, achieving over 90 per cent accuracy in identifying dropouts.

Another pilot, which aimed to help groundnut farmers increase crop yields, saw Microsoft partnering with ICRISAT, an international crop research institute.

"For our solution we basically used weather data from the past 45 years and data on the groundnut seed from the past 10 years. Using that, and all the machine learning algorithms that we've developed, we were able to accurately provide insights to farmers. The way we actually delivered this was a single SMS in the local language," said Anil Bhansali, managing director at Microsoft India R&D.

In both cases, while Microsoft partnered with the Andhra Pradesh government, it says it is seeing interest from many other states in the country, including some who is already in discussions with. While the Centre and state governments have the potential to become prolific buyers of Microsoft solutions, the theme fits with the company's overall move towards data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

India, which is home to a large number of mathematicians and statisticians, can develop a lead over the rest of the world, when it comes to use of data science to solve real world problems. Moreover, with the government's push to digitise records and services, getting real world data will become much easier for both public and private entities to begin analysing to get insights.

"What is great is that India has a group of people with good mathematics and software background. I think India is going to be able to adopt machine learning and data science so much faster than a lot of other places," said Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice-president of Data Group at Microsoft.

Apart from targeting the government bodies, Microsoft is also turning to start-ups and IT enterprises in the country to build solutions on top of its machine learning and AI platforms. It is working with Tech Mahindra, Cognizant and start-ups such as uninstall.io and yellowmessenger to build solutions on its platform. 

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