Steve Ballmer: Worldwide Public Safety Symposium

Remarks by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Worldwide Public Safety Symposium
Redmond, Wash.
Jan. 27, 2010

STEVE BALLMER: Thanks. It’s a real pleasure for me to have a chance to kickoff or help kickoff and welcome you here to Microsoft.

From time to time I get the fortune of getting the first slot to get my licks in while you’re still fresh. I’m going to try to do a little bit of that, and set a little bit of context, and then real experts will step in.

We’re very pleased to have over 400 people attending. I’m quite impressed by the level of enthusiasm, essentially, for what information technology can mean to public safety, and I think that’s exactly right-minded in ways I’ll have a chance to chat about. I particularly want to welcome Commissioner Khoo Boon Hui from Singapore, Chief of Police and Interpol President. It’s an honor to have him in here with us today.

This is a discussion that we kicked off last year with Kevin Turner, and we want to make sure we’re really moving along with you with over 5,000 partners we have globally to try to drive information technology to do a better and better job of addressing the kinds of information needs that we see of law enforcement, first responder, border security and justice agencies. I think it’s really kind of the right perspective to have, because in some senses I would characterize your businesses, if I can use that word, as very information driven, as information driven as any other pursuit on the planet. And in some sense then we have a special responsibility along with our partners to try to ferret out what are the new applications, what do you need, business intelligence, collaboration.

And the challenge is, as the Commissioner said to me backstage, I would say is, that the crooks, so to speak, the bad guys, are having access to information technology, too, and how do we really push this along in the right way?

I’m going to come back and talk a little bit about public safety, and the industries in the room specifically, but I want to start with a characterization of the sort of big trend in information technology, because in some senses we can always do more of what we did yesterday with you, and more of what we did yesterday will be fantastic, but the thing we have to do in our business is say, what’s the thing that’s coming? What’s the thing that is underdeveloped, or under-exploited from a technology perspective? And what new things, what new scenarios, what new approaches does that permit in terms of applications? And there’s no question that the big thing that’s going on today is the shift to the cloud, the shift to the cloud, which I think is probably going to be fantastically important. It changes the way we write software, it changes the way software gets designed so that it is more manageable, it scales out in better ways.

It has a fundamental assumption that software is built from the get-go with collaboration, with identity and security that kind of transfers across organizations. It’s sort of built with that in mind, that’s fundamental to the cloud, and it transforms everything that’s going on, but particularly in, let me say again, industries like yours where fundamentally collaboration and information sharing is actually far more important, and I’ll talk about that in a very specific example later. I think the cloud isn’t just about cost and efficiency. It’s actually about building a whole new generation of applications that are probably  well, not probably  will be far more able to get the job done than anything that would have been able to be built sort of in yesterday’s model.

The flipside of everything moving to the cloud in my opinion is also the development of richer and richer client-side devices that have more and more natural user interface. Sometimes when people say rich client, that’s a codeword for saying hard to manage, this, that, or the other thing. We need easy-to-manage devices, but we want to build in speech, and voice, and touch. We want to build in video and voice and biometric recognition into the client-side devices. Big screens, PCs, phones, they all need to have those technologies built in and then connect to the cloud.

In fact, our ability to build software that works more like humans is enhanced by the presence of the cloud. All of the data about speech recognition being right or wrong, instead of being locked in a corporate environment it feeds back to it through the cloud and lets us improve the kind of naturalness and normalness of the user interface. And that’s true whether you’re Microsoft, or any of the partners who build important applications for the tablet, for the camera-equipped device, that may be important in many of the applications inside this industry.

So, these two kind of colossal shifts, the shift to the cloud, and the shift to more natural user interface I think are  they’re vital to our industry. They will shift the way we think about software and hardware. They will shift the applications and deployment models and they will have, I think, both of them in different ways, a material and unique impact on what’s going on generally in the public safety realm.

There’s certainly, as I kicked off with, unbelievable opportunity and need for improved information technology in this industry. Collaboration is the one that sort of pops to the fore. And if you think about almost any public safety problem, what’s going on in Haiti today, or what goes on in various criminal justice cases, there is a level of collaboration. I remember probably six or seven years ago sitting down with some folks from the U.S. Air Force, where I’ve been the Microsoft Executive Sponsor on that account for a long time. And they were trying to figure out, what would you ever do systems-wide without a massive redesign of every system from every first responder, let’s just start in the U.S., let alone the world.

And you say, how do we collect up the data from all those people and correlate it, because in some senses that’s part of the issue, how do you spot patterns and trends? How do you get the collaboration right? How do you get the communication right? How do you approximate and accept data from systems before they’re standardized, they’re normalized, let alone then how do you visualize the data, how do you give people the ability to model, see trends, patterns, et cetera? I think all of those things are quite important. Collaboration, visualization and decision support are incredibly important in public safety in addition to what I would call more routine and normal transactional applications which aren’t going to go away, and are going to remain very, very important.

We have new products that we’ve brought to market over the last couple of years that I think are incredibly valuable for what we’re doing with you. Windows 7, SharePoint, Bing, we’re trying to bring those together into scenarios, building blocks under our Citizen Safety architecture that can make some sense. And continue to enhance what I would call broad horizontal technologies, but then work with you and with our partners. Detection and prevention, response, recovery, single-view platforms, intelligence, how do all these things come together?

We’re going to show you a little bit of a video of one case where there needed to be a lot of collaboration on the public safety realm. For those of you from outside the U.S., I’ll apologize for the Americana of the case, but it’s a good one. It’s the Baseball All-Star Game, which was held in St. Louis in 2009, and brought quite a list of dignitaries, and quite a crowd of people together, and presented quite a public safety challenge.

Why don’t we take a look at the video please.

(Video segment.)

It’s a five-day event, over 35 different public safety agencies involved, all the living U.S. Presidents attended. So you get sort of the national public safety agencies involved as well. I think it gives you a sense of some of the kind of work that’s going on around our platform, leveraging the cloud, and leveraging the work of a number of partners who are doing great work in this arena.

Another public safety application I’m pretty excited about, I’ve been honored to have a chance to participate in its rollout in about five or six different countries, but where I think we have exciting news today, is an application called CETS, which is the Child Exploitation Tracking System. I’m still not sure whether it’s CETS or CETS, but I’m going to use CETS as the official pronunciation for today.

Actually, I think the story has been told some, but it was the result of an e-mail request Bill Gates got from a police leader in the Royal Mounted Police in Canada saying, we’ve got a real problem. There’s a lot of bad guys who are preying on children over the Internet. How do you give us some tools to help track and manage, and get after these guys. We did some work, and we did some work with the Canadians. We’ve had a chance to rollout subsequently in Spain, and a number of other countries. The collaboration has moved sort of to another level.

We have certainly started working with Interpol on the application which is incredibly important and, by definition and by nature, this is a collaborative application. Every time we rollout in a country, I’m really excited, because these bad guys are more pan-border than your average bad guys, I’m going to guess, because it is a cyber-crime essentially they’re committing. And the ability to do bad things at quite a remote distance, across national borders is quite high. If ever there was an application that was meant to, or would benefit from coming to the cloud so that data could really be shared by law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions, this is the application. If ever there was an application where you would say it really helps to have it pretty universally, even in agencies that may not have the budget to go do an implementation, this is it.

And so we’ve been working on and talking with various countries that have done the deployment in various cities in the U.S., and of course with Interpol, about moving this thing to the cloud, and making it more available, and more accessible, and more sharing of data that will actually enhance the ability of public safety officials to get after these guys, and really bring sort of what I consider one of the more evil set of perpetrators, at least relative to things I care about, to justice.

And so we’re pretty excited about this. We’re excited certainly about the collaboration with Interpol, but it’s a fantastic example of really highlighting why the move to the cloud makes a difference. A database of child exploiters that’s sort of by country, where you lose people at country borders, is far less effective than what we think we’ll be able to do with this collaboration with a cloud-hosted solution.

Let me give one other example from Haiti, since that tragedy is very much certainly on the minds of folks here at Microsoft, and I’m sure in the audience, and around the world. There’s a lot of sympathy, and things people want to do. We tried to ask how does technology and what role can technology play in helping aid disaster response? We’ve been working hard on online collaboration portals to allow the responders to exchange situational awareness, and other data amongst the humanitarian community. Those were deployed within 24 hours.

On Bing Maps we’ve done some work so that we can represent the post-earthquake data out there. Our research team has been hustling to get Haitian Creole machine translation done. It turns out to be quite important. The universal languages don’t always work as well. Haitian Creole is not an area where people have done a lot of work with automatic machine translation. Our researchers have jumped in, and I think we’ll have real-time response on that.

Ourselves, as a company, we’ve made an initial commitment of about $1.25 million of cash, software. Our people have jumped in, 4,000 Microsoft employees have contributed $1-1/2 million, and I’m not sure exactly where he is in the audience, but one of our technical people from Iceland, Gisli Olafsson, who is also a disaster management technical advisor, he leads the Iceland Urban Search and Rescue Team, and is a Microsoft employee. I think he’s here in the audience. Why don’t you stand up briefly, Gisli. He’s been involved in this effort. (Applause.) Certainly I think there’s a lot of good learning that is worth sharing from this real tragedy.

So we’ve been trying to move things along. You can see a little bit of the sense of the timeline, but when these kinds of disasters happen in some senses mobilizing the right information technology is only a small aspect, but it’s sort of the underpinning to enhance the productivity of a lot of people who need to do a lot of very, very important work.

I’m going to shift now from the specifics of public safety back kind of to technology in general, because while these are all exciting things, and they’re leveraging the move to the cloud, and to natural user interface, I want you to really understand the breadth of our commitment to invest in technology in every different way that I think can make a difference.

We’re investing in the future of the PC, the phone, the TV, and saying, what does it take to advance those systems? What does it take to give you better and better tools to build enterprise applications with enterprise infrastructure? How do we enhance communication and productivity and collaboration? I’ll even add entertainment to the list. You might say what does entertainment have to do with public safety, it has a lot to do when it’s time to actually reach, notify, and communicate with the citizen: you want to be able to target those people at the right time.

I may be showing my age, but when I was a child watching television, probably at least once a week we’d get the test message from the civil authorities that wanted to make sure that every television, if it was on, could get automatically tuned to emergency messages essentially coming from public safety. If you think about both the opportunities to do that well and the complexity of doing that, the notion of being able to reach any citizen at any time with the right message to help enhance their safety I think is of increased importance.

Search, and advertising, and maps, a large part of what were trying to do together essentially is to give you tools to model a whole set of things that are going on in the real world, in the virtual world, what are the tips, the clues, what data is coming in, how do you correlate it, and in some senses that’s a lot like what we’re trying to do with search. We’re trying to take a whole corpus of information that we kind of cull by crawling around on the Web, and then we’re trying to interpret it, understand its meaning, and then when somebody expresses what they’re interested in, we’re trying to match them up.

In a sense that’s the same thing that happens in your industry, how do you collect data about sensor data, what’s going on, what do we see, what do we hear, what are first responders saying, what do police on the street, what’s interesting? We pull that together; how do we get intelligence out of it? If somebody poses a query, how do we give them the thing that probably matches their interest? And so a lot of what we need to build up turns out to be very important, I think, in this industry, as well, despite the fact we’re pioneering it in other places.

Across this entire set, we’ll invest this year about $9-1/2 billion in R&D. That’s a number I’m never quite sure whether I’m supposed to be bragging about, or apologizing for. Probably, it’s a big number, more than anybody else spends on the planet, but we’re spending across a broader set of things, and trying to innovate in a broader set of ways. And I think it always depends on how we’re doing. This was a particularly good year for us, in terms of actually delivering. Windows 7 delivered off of that. We delivered our Bing product into the marketplace. And we’ve seen a pretty interesting surge in market share. We’re still the small player, but we’re just working at it, innovating, trying to come up with an alternate approach that really helps people get done what they’re trying to get done when they turn to the Internet.

Certainly, for the people in this audience I encourage you really to take a look at what we’ve done with maps and street-side views. It’s, I think, really quite important and impressive. SharePoint, you’ll see a new version of SharePoint here in the next several months, which I think is outstanding, both in terms of a platform for business applications, but also a way to bring some of the notion of essentially social computing into the enterprise, or business environment, enabling next generation collaboration.

We’ve watched our Azure technology, Windows and SQL, which will be the basis for the future partnership around CETS. We’ve got new technologies that essentially use cameras and video recognition as a form of input. Our Surface product, which essentially turns a camera underneath and it stares up at you, and now this coming Christmas we’ll introduce a camera in association with Xbox, and literally you will control that device with your voice, with your gestures, with your inputs. You want to play soccer, you kick and the camera recognizes and transmits that image wherever you want to be on the globe. You could say, hey, that sounds like a consumer thing, and yet the industrial, and business, and enterprise applications I think are quite broad for modeling, for simulation, for video conferencing, for control and the like.

So we’re pushing ahead down the innovation front at max speed. Some of these things will weave into the dialogue we’re having with you about public safety specific applications, and some of these you’ll probably just find, I hope, interesting yourselves, or kids, and grandkids and the like, because there’s a lot of great stuff coming not just from our company, I’d say, but from our industry overall.

We look ahead, and I’d say there are bright times over the next several years, in terms of what information technology will do to continue to advance.

It’s kind of hard for people to fathom, there are very few industries that have been able to stay at the pace of innovation that our industry has now for 50 years, essentially, and yet we look out two, three, five, ten years. The number of problems to be solved, the advances in technologies, the correct applications of physics at the hardware level, and of computer science at the software level, says that we ought to be able to continue to revolutionize the way technology is used in the broad sense, and specifically the way it can make a difference to those of you involved in public safety, for which we’re all very, very grateful.

So with that I want to say, again, thanks. You’ll have a lot of chance to dive in with experts from Microsoft, from our partners, members of this audience, you’ll be able to hear, and see and learn best practices from across the globe, but we really appreciate the time that you’ve spent. I have some time to take a question. I’ll look forward to it. If you have a question that we don’t get to, my e-mail address is [email protected]. Please feel free to follow-up in e-mail, as long as it doesn’t look like spam to Outlook, I promise to get back to you.

Thank you very much and I’ll look forward to questions. (Applause.)


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