Craig Mundie: Government Leaders Forum

Remarks by Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer for Microsoft, About the Role IT Can Play in Advancing Education and Healthcare
Government Leaders Forum
Leesburg, Va.
March 25, 2009

CRAIG MUNDIE: Thank you. Good morning. It’s an honor to be here today and have the opportunity to talk to such a distinguished group of government and community leaders. The backdrop for this meeting, just outside of Washington, D.C., is perhaps appropriate. The current economic crisis may not be of your making, but in a global economy it impacts every one of us. And each of your governments is working to alleviate that impact on your economy, and your citizens. In turn, a sustained global recovery will depend on every government getting its economic house in order, especially those in Washington, and other capitals in the world’s largest economies.

But there are steps that every country can take on their own to address the downturn, both in mitigating the short-term impact on your communities, and just as important in laying the foundation for the opportunities that will arise as we emerge from this recession. Sharing ideas and best practices on both near-term and long-term challenges will be our focus over the next two days. Our theme for this forum is Fostering Innovation and Productivity in the Americas with an emphasis on the power of information technology to promote economic development and transform key areas like education and health.

Craig Mundie (right), Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Microsoft Corp., greets President Bill Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, at the Government Leaders Forum – Americas, held just outside of Washington, D.C., March 25, 2009.

I would like to start by talking about economic development because it’s central to everything that we’ll be discussing. Promoting economic development has obviously always been a core goal for every government, and in a downturn it’s more important than ever. But the kind of economic development needed today is very different from the past. Whether it’s accelerating the recovery from the current downturn, or positioning to thrive in the 21st-Century global marketplace when recovery does take hold, countries must focus on creating world-class knowledge economies. And this is particularly good news for developing economies, because the transformation from industrial and agrarian economies to knowledge economies is a great global leveler, and it’s a transformation that technology can drive.

In fact is that in his book, “The World Is Flat,” my friend Tom Friedman identified 10 forces that flattened the world, and nearly all of them were made possible by IT-based innovation. These IT innovations, such as the PC-driven information revolution, the Internet, productivity, workflow and collaboration software, increasingly low-cost and ubiquitous digital devices, all of these are building blocks of knowledge economies. IT helps companies increase efficiency and productivity, it contributes to network effects like lowering transaction costs and speeding innovation. The Internet promotes global trade by connecting buyers and sellers, and by cutting market entry costs. IT investments in youth can cause a shift toward higher skilled workers with higher wages. And, of course, a thriving IT industry itself is a key driver of economic growth.

Realizing the immense potential of information technology as a driver of economic growth and development is even more critical right now. As the current crisis starts to resolve, new opportunities will emerge for countries and companies that are leaders in innovation. History shows that new technologies are born out of every downturn, in turn spawning some of the world’s leading global companies. Thomas Edison founded General Electric during the panic of the 1870s. Hewlett-Packard was launched with a $538 investment during the Great Depression of the 1930s. And near the end of the recession of the mid-’70s, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. In the years ahead, many new names will be added to that list with one key difference. In those previous years, the resources needed to create breakthrough technology were largely available only to a select few in the most developed parts of the world. The IT era has now put those resources in reach of anyone with a great idea no matter where they live.

A great example is the Virtual Research Institute, a partnership between Microsoft Research and 29 universities in Latin America, along with organizations like the InterAmerican Development Bank, and the Organization of American States. It was the first of its kind for Microsoft, and it currently supports and connects more than 200 researchers in 11 countries across the region working on everything from education and health to e-government, agribusiness, and computer-human interaction.

So with the help of IT every country now has the opportunity to go head to head with established global competitors, and that just wasn’t possible in the past.

But innovation and economic growth can’t thrive in a vacuum. To make them broad-based and sustainable you need to solve fundamental issues such as education and healthcare. Without an education system that produces skilled workers, countries can’t create the pool of talent needed to compete globally, and without adequate healthcare society as a whole will find it hard to thrive. Information technology can also play a key role in solving both of those problems, as we’ll discuss in the new two days.

How technology can help education

Let’s look at education first. When you consider the world’s education system, the first thing you notice are the extremes. Nearly every school and college in the United States has Internet access, nearly all schools in the United Kingdom use interactive white boards. Yet over 350 million primary and secondary age children worldwide don’t attend school at all. And children in many countries get nothing beyond a basic primary education.

You’ll also notice that today’s classrooms aren’t that much different from 100 years ago. Students still sit at desks taking notes on paper from teacher’s lectures, who speak from the front of the room. And the way teachers teach hasn’t changed much either. Productivity and collaboration software have made a huge impact in the business world but only have scratched the surface in education.

Mobile phones, instant messaging, social networks, and many of these technology revolutions are a big part of student’s lives today, but almost totally absent from the classroom. So while technology has transformed how we live and work, it hasn’t yet made much of an impact on how we learn. Why is that?

The No. 1 reason is that information technology has yet to deliver solutions that meet the needs of every part of the education system. Students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and governments all have different requirements. As a result, information technology is still seen often as an overhead, rather than as an enabler by the education system. That system already is under immense pressure from growing student populations, teachers who fear rather than embrace the technology, in fear that it will create even greater demands on their time, and of course, widespread budget cuts in the current environment.

For information technology to really get traction in education it must, from the outset, help education systems overcome these challenges. We’re actually now at a point where IT can help. It can broaden the reach of education from well-resourced, developed world systems to underserved communities, by utilizing a new generation of digital devices, from tablet computers to low-cost cell phones. It can enable relevant, personalized, and more engaging models of learning, with more interactive learning processes that stimulate and reengage students. You can compare this typical learning experience with that of the digital lives that the kids particularly in the rich world lead outside of the classroom today.

IT can give educators more insight and more time by optimizing tasks that consume much of their time today, like routine grading, finding new course material, and tracking students’ progress, and by using new kinds of personalized learning to meet the student’s unique learning needs. IT can nurture powerful learning communities, as well, by enabling groups of educators to create and share great learning materials, and enabling students to reach out to peers and experts around the world, and it can support agile and connected school systems, systems that work more efficiently and deliver better outcomes.

We’re already seeing some notable successes when we apply information technology in these ways. For example, Microsoft’s Innovative Teacher’s Network, the world’s largest online collaboration portal for educators, has 1.6 million teachers, one-third of them in Latin America, who connect through the system to share ideas, practices, and professional development resources.

Our Partners in Learning Program provides educators and partners around the world with resources, training, content, and now operates in 109 countries, reaching 128 million students worldwide, and about half of those are in Latin America.

And we’re also seeing a growing number of successful country-specific initiatives. For example, in Mexico, the partnership with the Ministry of Education provides personalized e-learning for students aged 14 to 18 who cannot attend high school. As part of a broad teacher program in Argentina’s San Luis Province, more than 4,000 teachers are using step process videos from their peers that are posted weekly to a local portal. San Luis Province also has launched, a video game development sites where 600 high school students are honing their software development skills. You’ll hear more about some of those programs later today.

What I hope we can draw from these discussions is how we can work together to achieve the educational outcomes we all seek. Through strong partnerships and close collaboration with every part of the education systems, we can use proven real-world technologies to deliver immediate results, and to clear a pathway to the future of innovation. With the right combination of software, online services, and devices, we can put empowering technologies into the hands of every student, scaling the benefits of a 21st-century education quickly and affordably to as many young people as possible. And as a result, we can start to flatten the inequalities that exist between the world’s education systems.

Tackling the healthcare issue

Another core focus of this week’s forum is healthcare, which is confronting many of the same issues the world’s education systems are struggling with. The world health ecosystem, patients, providers and funders of care, health agencies, and life science organizations collectively face numerous and growing challenges. The first is access. Only 1.5 billion of the planet’s 6.7 billion citizens have adequate health coverage. Demographics, developed markets are facing aging populations. Developing markets face a growing, more expanding middle class. Both are increasing demand for healthcare. Costs are increasing dramatically, impacting everyone from patients and providers to government funders. Healthcare is up to about 20 percent of the general government outlay in many countries, and growing quickly. A global shortage of qualified healthcare workers at virtually every level. Inconsistent quality, the healthcare systems vary widely in the level of services that they provide from country to country and region to region. And changing consumer expectations. In mature markets, people want to take much more responsibility for their own health and wellness and the technology allows them to consider that.

All of this is driving what you might think of as a Copernican shift in global healthcare, a shift that’s largely powered by these information technologies. The patient is moving to the center of the healthcare universe, and IT is empowering them with the information they need to take control of their well-being. Advanced software technologies enable data-driven approaches to medicine that shift priorities of healthcare from treatment and curing to prevention and long-term wellness. Software can seamlessly connect a wide range of medical technologies, devices, and data sources to give patients, providers, and funders a complete picture of their health. IT also makes it possible for more medical care to take place at home rather than in costly hospitals. A growing range of online health resources and services will help cut costs and increase access, particularly in countries that currently lag behind in healthcare.

The technologies to make this happen are already emerging at Microsoft. For example, we’re focusing on the following areas, a new hospital in a box technology information system which enables fully integrated health data platforms to be delivered even in institutions that have little technology expertise; a unified business intelligence system that aggregates all types of patient data from hundreds of sources, making it instantly available at the point of care; a consumer health platform offering a secure, shared data repository and online service for people to collect, store, gather, share and search for health-related information. Today these are primarily developed world solutions, but information technology will be even more transformative in the developing market. In fact, IT can help flatten the global differences in healthcare standards and accessibility.

Developing markets can leverage information technology to take a low-cost, data-driven approach to healthcare from the outset, avoiding many of the mistakes made by the developed countries. The integrated information system developed by Colombia’s Ministry of Social Protections is a great example. It aggregates information from insurers, providers, and hundreds of local and national agencies, dramatically increasing the quality and quantity of health and social services to 45 million citizens. And in Brazil, the State of Sao Paolo has developed a Web-based organ donation matching system, creating life saving efficiencies in matching donors with those waiting for the transplant. It’s led to a 50 percent increase in transplants, and the state projects it will eliminate the waiting list for eye transplants by the end of 2009.

We also expect low-cost devices powered by advanced software, and partnered with online services to revolutionize diagnosis and care even in the most remote areas. For example, researchers at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, are working on a project focused on diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that will use a cellular network to relay information to a server from patient monitoring devices. Advanced software will alert medical officers if immediate action is needed, and patients will receive advice via their cell phones. And during tomorrow’s closing plenary, I will demonstrate how we might use such tools in addressing a flu epidemic, as well as another key public sector challenge disaster response.

Everyone can play a role

We know there are no simple answers. Like education, healthcare is an incredibly complex issue, and no single entity is going to fix it alone. But by partnering with health organizations and governments around the world, we believe we can help people in every nation live longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. I hope this forum will enable us to dig into all of these issues, and understand them more deeply, and understand how IT can help transform development, education, and healthcare. But to drive IT-related innovations, and effective IT deployments in areas like public health and education, you need a supportive public policy environment. Sound public policy provides the framework for innovation and sustainable economic growth. This is particularly crucial for entrepreneurs, who are the source of new ideas, and who are willing to take the kind of risks that result in new products, and markets, and ultimately a thriving IT sector.

The next few years will present a unique opportunity for Latin America, with the financial sector reforms of the past decade many parts of the region may be better positioned than some more developed markets to draw investment to support and sustain innovative new businesses. I think it’s going to be very important for people in this region to embrace the capability that these new technologies bring.

One of the best examples, and one of the favorite demos that I give lately, is one where we take the technologies of robotics, and we bring them together in order to create avatars, models of humans, that we can teach to do important tasks. This has been a great exercise in bringing together many of our most advanced technologies. And today these robotics systems are being used to do very simple tasks like arranging shuttle buses on the Microsoft campus.

But each time I demonstrate this technology I say that today we’re teaching this robot to do only administrative tasks, but my dream for this robot is that in a few years, as the computer power increases, that we’ll be able to have this be a doctor. And through that be able to deliver scalable technological means to bring healthcare, or personalized educational training to billions of people around the world who today have no prospect of having rich world styles of healthcare or education delivered to them and their children.

It’s those kind of technological advances that to me are so exciting, and compelling, and we look forward t working with all of you to bring them to fruition in the future. So this is a time of both profound challenges, and real opportunity for the region. I look forward to our discussions on both fronts, and to joining you again tomorrow afternoon with Bill Gates.

Thank you. (Applause.)