We'll focus on supporting enterprises: Anant Maheshwari of Microsoft India

Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India
Asserting that digital transformation is the bedrock of his company's global strategy, President, Microsoft India, tells Neha Alawadhi in an interview, that the organisation is becoming an enabler for the country's MSME sector through our partner ecosystem. Excerpts:

Small and medium businesses have been a huge focus for Microsoft. What is the end goal for SMBs going forward?

If you look at the large companies, we served a large number of the top 1,000 companies here in India. All these organisations have a CIO, CDO or CTO. They are resourced to do things at scale. When you come to small and medium businesses, they don't have a CIO, CDO or CTO.

In a way, we are becoming that enabler for them through our partner ecosystem. We have the largest partner base in the country. Our cloud-ready partner base dwarfs the combination of partners that many of our peer groups would have. We have continued to expand that in the country and will go to all parts of India geographically. 

You have set up data centres in India, and in light of data protection Bill in India, how are you looking at the regulatory side of data in India?

On the data centre side, we believe that the data capability will need to be more and more geographically dispersed around the world because every country would want — not just for reasons of performance, but also for the reason of security, privacy and trust — to have their data within their national boundaries. 

Today, we have 104 data centres around the world in 54 regions that we call as cloud regions. We created three data centres in India many years back. That is a reason why we have seen the growth we have seen in India.

What are the focus areas and priorities for Microsoft right now?                                       

Digital transformation remains the bedrock of our global story. We’ve done the same in India as our strategy is to empower every person, every organisation on the planet. 

The first thing is the modern workplace. Our Workplace 365 makes everyone use Windows Office and enterprise mobility to harness the data that is important for them. 

Second part is how you harness the data of your organisation for your own productivity. That is where our Azure story comes together on the intelligent cloud. From public to hybrid to private cloud, even Azure Sphere — a small microcontroller which sits inside any kind of device — to have secure data transmission. 

Security, trust and productivity are the basic tenets on which we create the cloud infrastructure.

Third part is business applications. Not likely to be from a single tech platform,which is where the Dynamics 365 comes in, allowing you to plug third party applications and translate data. 

We are helped in India by the fact that we’ve been here for over three decades and have made tremendous investments in the country. We are more than 10,000 people, working on a variety of assets we have on the ground, including front-end sales and marketing, engineering, research, services and centres of excellence, data centres and cybersecurity engagement centres. 

How is the Azure (cloud) business shaping up?

It is very consistent with what is happening globally. Almost all CIO surveys indicate that a very large proportion of CIOs are either using or planning to use Azure. 

In the Indian context, the best example would be the unicorns and startups. A lot of them may have started on a different cloud platform, not Azure, but over the last 24 months, we have seen a number of them migrate to Azure either partly or completely. The reason is that they’re convinced that Microsoft s not going to compete with them. 

We are not going to enter into business areas that they are doing right now. Our model is to support enterprises to achieve more. 

Today a startup may be working with a company as a cloud provider, and the next day a different part of the cloud company may be competing with them. 

We started working on roughly around 50 unicorns or companies that were likely to be unicorns. We took them as the first targets about two years back and we have had tremendous success with all 50 of them on the Microsoft cloud story. It’s now extending into the wider startup ecosystem. 

Where does GitHub fit into this scheme of things and how is LinkedIn being integrated into Microsoft?

Microsoft focus is about creating communities of people, our focus has been on empowering organisations. The LinkedIn acquisition nearly three years ago was thought of at that point as not really aligned with Microsoft portfolio, but now everybody says we were a perfect match.

Now if you look at all organisations, they’re all software or technology organisations effectively. Take a company in banking, manufacturing, logistics, retail, government, education, whichever part of economy you go to. Every company is trying to find what are the technology assets at scale outside that it can just adopt.

Everybody who is creating capability needs software developers and that is where GitHub comes in. It is the largest community of open source development.

You look at LinkedIn, it has remained a completely independent in the last two years in the way they have continued to build their own business model, it’s quite unique. That’s what our leaders have already said about Github also that it will continue to build what is core to Github-building communities of software developers.

Who do you consider your peer group?

Given the tech landscpae that we operate in, nearly every technology company in some shape or form would be in the ecosystem that we operate in. We collaborate very actively. The company that writes the maximum amount of code on Android and iOS is Microsoft. Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. (both digital voices assistant products) talk to one another. We have partnerships with Adobe, SAP and in Mobi.

What happened to the White-Fi experiments you were carrying out in India?

Globally, we continue to work on it, and we are continuing to work even in India but these are really dependent on the users and the governments really integrating to work specifically. It is a great technology because it opens up broadband availability to wide sections of populations who may not have it because of the limitations of other technologies.

We will continue to find ways for it to become more accessible to wider sections of the population. It is a focus area but every geography moves at its own path and India has had a tremendous technology/data/telecom revolution in the last two years.

Do you have any plans to enter the payments business?

 Like I said categorically, we don't compete with our customers. For example, our Kaizala app has solutions integrated into the app and platform.

What is your acquisition strategy in India? Are you looking at specific areas?

 We don't have that kind of a playbook on acquisitions. Our acquisition strategy is really a global one, it’s not limited to a geography. It is very specific around big platforms and communities and multiple acquisitions that we do in technology areas complement our capabilities.  

What is the larger plan around cybersecurity?

 Security is built in for every Microsoft platform. The Digital Crimes Unit does a lot of partnerships with different (law enforcement) agencies to support them in this arena, and helping them with Microsoft technology.

Skilling is something you often talk about. How do you see the conversation around skilling and re-skilling in the country?

We have really seen the uptick with different parts of the country going digital. We give a lot of importance to the learning culture for everyone in the company. Every day, I tell myself I will learn something new today. We have a very big focus on skilling for ourselves, our partners and customers. I think everybody in the world needs to upgrade their skill sets. I just took a course on Azure myself, and now the next time I speak to someone, I can explain better.

What is your acquisition strategy in India? Are you looking at specific areas?

 We don't have that kind of a playbook on acquisitions. Our acquisition strategy is really a global one. It’s not limited to a geography. It is very specific around big platforms and communities and multiple acquisitions that we do in technology areas complement our capabilities.  

What is the larger plan around cybersecurity?

 Security is built in for every Microsoft platform. The Digital Crimes Unit does a lot of partnerships with different (law enforcement) agencies to support them in this arena, and helping them with Microsoft technology.

Skilling is something you often talk about. How do you see the conversation around skilling and reskilling in the country?

We have really seen the uptick with different parts of the country going digital. We give a lot of importance to the learning culture for everyone in the company. Every day I tell myself I will learn something new today. We have a very big focus on skilling for ourselves, our partners and customers. I think everybody in the world needs to upgrade their skill sets. I just took a course on Azure myself, and now the next time I speak to someone, I can explain better.

Do you have plans to scale up both businesses?

 The LinkedIn global leadership sits in Seattle and report into Satya (Nadella, Microsoft CEO), but we’ve had very strong learnings from one organisation to the other. Kevin Scott now is the CTO for Microsoft globally, he used to play that part at LinkedIn before. GitHub we have things in the works and you will hear more on that. 

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