Tech overhaul via public-private partnership will hasten recovery: Nadella

Topics Microsoft | Satya Nadella | FICCI

Satya Nadella says ubiquity of mobile phones in India has completely changed the expectations of what needs to be self-service
In February this year, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella was in Bengaluru during an India visit to address the developer community and leaders from the industry gathered at the company’s ‘Future Decoded’ tech summit at a luxury hotel. A lot has changed since then due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, while addressing India Inc. virtually at an event organised by industry body FICCI, Nadella said that this has been the time where digital tech is being adopted at scale for core resilience. 

Despite all the constraints, he is amazed to see the level of productivity and the ability of organisations to conduct mission-critical business in areas ranging from healthcare to financial services using technology. Digital technology is being discussed in every single boardroom by organisations not just for future transformation but for business continuity.

“I think (that’s) perhaps the biggest structural change that I see,” said Nadella during a fireside chat with Dr. Sangita Reddy, president of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) at the industry lobby's 93rd annual convention.

Nadella sees it in areas such as healthcare and retail. For instance, telemedicine has been discussed for decades. However now an outpatient visit will start with an AI-based triage tool, then a video call, and then ultimately one may show up at the hospital. That is going to be structural change. 

“I think our built-in infrastructure and capability around digital tech is going to create resilience and transformation and I think that is the most exciting thing to see,” said Nadella.

Though it is hard to predict the future, Nadella is of the view that technology is going to be an exponential change. He is seeing that in India in terms of the innovation around digital infrastructure in areas ranging from financial services, healthcare to retail. This is due to the ubiquity of the computing fabric that's available to every Indian business and citizen. The layer of AI and data capabilities that now are getting embedded in every consumer and business experience and application is tremendous.

“The ubiquity of mobile phones in India has completely changed the expectations of what needs to be self-service,” said Nadella.

Human beings and societies can deal with a limited amount of change. The question is what is the social contract between the government, the private sector and the citizens that would allow us to create that harmony to navigate this change together. “Because if any one of us is changing and the others are being left behind, that's going to create more turmoil,” said Nadella. “I think the currency in today's world  is how you bring everybody together to navigate these exponential curves.”

In terms of getting the public sector to an efficient frontier and adopt technology, Nadella said that the work that's happening in India including  ID-system and the banking or payment APIs (application programming interface) is enlightening. He said India is a case study for some real profound change being driven across the private and public sector. It is important to make sure the public sector is being supported in their modernization and then the public-private partnership is helping adopt all of the changes.

“I think that's one way for developing economies to be able to recover from the pandemic,” said Nadella. “The catch-up growth is possible when both the public institutions and the private sector, in tandem, are able to really move rapidly.”

When, five years ago, Nadella visited India for the first time after taking office as CEO of Microsoft, the company was in some disarray while the financials were under stress, according to industry sources. His focused execution on enterprise cloud has driven Microsoft’s market cap to grow nearly five-fold to cross the $1-trillion mark. According to industry insiders, Nadella, born in Hyderabad, remodelled Microsoft as a benevolent partner to its competitors or “frenemies.” 

When asked to share insights about his thought process for making decisions, he said that whenever he tries to answer any question, he goes back to two things. “What's that sense of purpose that drives and gives meaning to our organization and what's that culture that we have inside the organization that helps us sustain and keep that centre focus,” said Nadella.

The real direction for Redmond-headquartered tech giant is to create tools so that every organization out there in India and elsewhere can build their own technology.  

“From ancient times to modern Silicon Valley. The only thing that has sort of gotten in the way of sustained success is hubris,” said Nadella “You have to confront the fact that you're imperfect, but you can learn, and that helps us stay grounded and centred on our mission.”

He said the only two pillars one can fall back to when things get in more confusion is the sense of purpose and mission, and culture of the organisation. Due to these, other elements like strategies, picking technology and hiring people becomes much easier.

When asked about the mantras for the leaders in India and the world, Nadella said that leaders have this very unique capability of coming into ambiguous, uncertain situations and creating clarity. “You don't ever have leaders who come into an uncertain situation and create confusion, they just bring about clarity when none exists.”

Secondly, the leaders are great at creating energy for everybody and not just for their teams or companies but all the constituents. “The last one is, we can't wait for the perfect pitch. I can't say 'I would perform after the pandemic is done',” said Nadella. “You and I and everyone in the room have to keep working in spite of what the world throws at us.”

According to Nadella, the ability to solve sometimes the over-constrained problems is what leadership is all about and driving success. “None of us is perfect all the time,” he said. “But as they say in cricket, your class is permanent, even if your form is temporary and you have to keep practising that.”

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