Michelle Simmons, the General Manager of Microsoft’s Multi-Country* subsidiary, for the first time got the opportunity to speak at the largest Slovenian business and technology event, NT Conference, which took place in Portorož this month. In the interview the largest Slovenian business media Finance, Michelle spoke about the importance of technology for the acceleration of the digital journey and gave her views on the technological innovations that will be the most impactful in the future.
The last decade was focused on business and digital transformation, now the term sustainability is coming to the foreground. How is software helping companies in this regard?
Organizations of all types, sizes, and sectors will need to transform common practices to deliver on their ESG (environmental, social, and governance) commitments while continuing to balance investments that effect operational excellence, business revenue, market share, and shareholder value. They will need to understand the full extent of their environmental footprint across their operations, their products, their employees, and their supply chain. This requires reliable data insights, generated through a solid digital infrastructure. While information technologies (IT) are critical to measure emissions and chart a path towards transformation, they also contribute directly to an organization’s footprint. That means IT investments in everything from data storage to system configuration and devices need to be adopted with sustainability in mind, enabling employees to contribute to reducing the footprint of the organization with tools they use every day.
What are Microsoft’s environmental goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
Our experience has shown us that prioritizing both organizational and digital transformation is critical for lasting change. We are addressing and reducing our footprint by making progress towards becoming a carbon negative, water positive, zero waste company that protects more land than we use by 2030 and to build a Planetary Computer. Also, we are translating our experiences into helping customers and partners with existing and new products, and we’re advocating for policy change to help us all move faster. Our products, services, and devices are built with sustainability in mind and security, privacy, and compliance built in. A great example is Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability – our horizontal industry cloud designed to work across multiple industries and 3rd parties to gain transparency and the insights to manage their environmental footprint thru whole value chain. Additionally, our Climate Innovation Fund will invest $1 billion in four years to accelerate the development of carbon removal technology.
Technology has proven itself in the times of the pandemic as well, companies resorted to remote work. Do you think the hybrid work models and workforce are here to stay? How will companies adapt further in this regard?
Today the labor market is very fluid. The economist previously warned of a Great Resignation expecting employees to quit in record numbers and leave considerable vacancies in the workforce. But, instead of quitting the workforce entirely, employees have simply been finding better jobs. Flexibility and wellbeing today are no longer negotiable – especially for Gen Z and Millennials. 49% of Gen Z and Millennials are likely to consider changing employers this year, 49% of Gen Z workers are likely to consider transitioning to a hybrid model in their current role, and 46% are likely to go remote. Slovenia has made great strides towards more flexible work in the past 2 years. A good example is the Slovenian Labour Inspectorate where they are supporting the field work of their employees with the help of our Power Apps and Teams platform, estimating 20% increase in efficiency and saving 20 hours monthly with faster data entry and automatic reporting. What we know is that hybrid, remote, or in the office —flexible work is the new way we work and is here to stay. This requires business leaders to rethink entire working models, cultures, and company values.
What is yours or Microsoft’s take on the EU Digital Agenda 2030? What’s good, what’s missing, do you see it playing out as planned?
When we look back, the first EU digital agenda from 2010 achieved a lot – lower prices for electronic communications and end of roaming charges, better internet connectivity, legislation on privacy and data protection. The second Digital Agenda is even more ambitious with focus on profound changes introduced by digital technologies, the essential role of digital services and markets. What is important is that the focus is not only on infrastructure, business, and public sector transformation, but also on people and their skills. A particularly important EU objective is to have at least 80% of all adults with at least basic digital skills and a million ICT specialists employed. This will establish a firm foundation for delivering sustainable, green, and equitable growth in Europe in years to come. Slovenia is doing great in digitization of education and integration of digital technology in business, performing 38% above EU average in cloud services usage – it positions SI well to significantly contribute to EU Digital Agenda 2030.
How can Europe become and stay more competitive? Do you see the EU Data boundary as a good or not so good practice?
We believe the tech sector needs to adapt to Europe, not the other way around. And EU Data Boundary for the Microsoft Cloud, our promise to process and store all data of our public sector and commercial customers in the EU by the end of 2022, is a reflection of this vision. In other words, we will not need to move your data outside the EU. This can help our European customers realize their ambitions to achieve digital transformation and increase their competitiveness with the assurance that they can operate in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
Many are calling for stricter regulation of the software giants in the likes of Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and others. Are you really data hogs, taking advantage of knowing what people think and like and monetizing this?
Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure. And Europe is playing a vital role providing regulatory inspiration, including on issues such as privacy and a human-first approach. Privacy is a core value for Microsoft because we believe people will only use technology that they can trust it. This is why we were the first cloud provider to adopt new technical standards for cloud privacy, and are enthusiastic supporters of the GDPR since it was first proposed in 2012. As a company, we will continue to advance solutions that further strengthen customer trust in our services, particularly for those customers who want more control over their data.
The saying “software makes the world go round” seems to be spot on. What technologies make the European economy flourish and why?
Today, Europe is the world’s largest exporter of goods and services, which was achieved due to savvy business and policy decisions over the last 50 years. But time does not keep still – as Asia and North America doubling down on innovation to compete in a data-led age, transformation – particularly among Europe’s legacy enterprises – is not just an opportunity, it is an imperative. The biggest opportunity for Europe therefore does not lie in one particular technology, but in ability to use all available digital technologies, such as cloud, artificial intelligence, mixed reality, IoT etc, to create new data-driven business models and reinvent products, services, and customer experiences.
What would happen if – by some chance – software would break down completely? Is the threat real? There are so many malicious codes and hackers out there, targeting companies of all sorts and sizes? What can Microsoft do to enhance cyber security?
Just a few years ago, we perceived cybersecurity as a “technical issue” handled by IT people. Today we see it as one of the key challenges and threats to the organization’s very existence. Cybersecurity is vital. For example: ransomware attacks surged by 1.070% from July 2020 to June 2021, and 88% of security leaders say phishing attacks have affected their organizations. With more than 8,500 security experts from across 77 countries, Microsoft helps to provide a critical perspective on the security landscape. But equally important is to know that comprehensive protection starts with individuals – attackers’ tactics and techniques are constantly refined – defense-in-depth strategies should include educating employees on how to avoid being targeted themselves and to apply Zero Trust principles across corporate resources – protecting people, devices, apps, and data no matter their location or the scale of threads faced.
Will real wars, like the one being fought in Ukraine, change into digital warfare in the future? What would this mean for the global economy?
As shown in our latest “Defending Ukraine: Early lessons from Cyber War” report, Ukrainian case is strongly showcasing the importance of cybersecurity: because of our cyber capability and trillions of signals, we were able to see, long before the attack started, Russian activities on critical Ukraine infrastructure, and were able to work with Ukraine Government to evacuate them effectively into our cloud and protect them. Having our customers in the cloud, we protect them together with us. In a connected world there is no isolated system. The lessons from Ukraine call for a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to strengthen defenses against the full range of cyber destructive, espionage, and influence operations.
In your opinion, what technological innovation/disruption will be the most impactful for our lives in the future?
One of the greatest measures of progress is economic growth, sustained growth that will lift every person on the planet out of poverty, that will bring equal opportunity for wealth creation to every nation and every group, while protecting our environment and fundamental human rights. Ubiquitous digital technologies — the cloud, AI, big data, modern networks, the digitization of every experience and business process — will provide the keys to delivering that growth.
*Multi-Country is a subsidiary within Central and Eastern Europe, including 25 countries: Armenia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.