Michelle Simmons is a general manager of the Microsoft “Multi-Country,” overseeing operations for 25 countries in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), including Serbia. Her primary mission in this position is further advancing Microsoft’s vision of helping the region build on its strong technical talent to thrive as a digital hotspot, a place where people, businesses, and communities are empowered to prosper and grow through digital innovation and with global ambitions. Michelle has been with Microsoft for over twenty years in a number of roles across CEE, Asia, and the USA and has significant knowledge and experience in the IT industry. We had the opportunity to talk with Michelle about digital transformation and innovation in Serbia, cloud technology, and the importance of acquiring digital skills to create more opportunities in the future.
You oversee Microsoft operations for 25 markets across Europe and Eurasia. Serbia is one of the markets in this cluster. How does Microsoft see Serbia from a digitalization perspective?
The world is at the crossroads of change: geopolitical, economic, social, and technological. In this context, it is encouraging for us to see how Serbia is accelerating on its path towards the EU membership, embracing the goals of the EU Digital Agenda and accelerating digitalization. The country is investing efforts in the development of national broadband infrastructure, setting up secure, energy-efficient data and development centers while ensuring data protection, and linking to EU initiatives on high-performance computing, digital incubators, and innovation hubs. The Serbian government recognizes digitalization as a priority. However, the regulatory and educational frameworks need to be improved in order for Serbian companies, citizens, and the government to benefit fully.
Compared to other countries in the region, how would you assess Serbian digital competitiveness?
Serbia is accelerating its digital transformational journey and continues to focus strongly on digital transformation and reforms. IT industry is among the top 4 sectors in Serbia, generating 10% of Serbia’s GDP. Also, as per the recent Microsoft Digital Futures Research, Serbia is above average in Central and Eastern Europe regarding ICT expertise exportation, the percentage of women in the industry, and the number of graduates in ICT and STEM. We also see high interest in skilling and upskilling in Serbia. In the last two years, more than 60,000 Serbs participated in our Global Skilling Initiative, gaining tech knowledge on LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and GitHub Learning Lab platforms. To be more competitive, Serbia needs to adopt a cloud-first policy, accelerate public services digitalization, and modernize the educational sector. Given the strengths in human capital, investments in skilling and upskilling are needed. Additionally, business leaders need upskilling as their role is critical as digital change agents to accelerate this transformation.
Technology has proven in the times of the pandemic and many Serbian companies resorted to remote work. Do you think hybrid work models are here to stay?
Today, the labor market is very fluid. While economists previously warned of a Great Resignation, employees have simply been finding better jobs instead of quitting the workforce entirely. Today, we are talking about the Great Reshuffle, where flexibility and well-being are no longer negotiable, especially for Gen Z and Millennials. Our Work Trend Index research shows that 73% of employees today need a better reason to go to the office than just company expectations, and 76% of employees say they’d stay longer at a company if they could benefit from learning. Solutions are being created to help leaders embrace these changes, such as Microsoft Viva, the first employee experience platform that brings together communication, communities, knowledge, learning, goals, and insights right in the flow of Teams. When talking about Serbia, we see great strides towards more flexible work in the last two years. The reality is that flexible work (hybrid, remote, or in the office) is the new way we work and is here to stay. Now, it is up to business leaders to rethink entire working models, cultures, and company values, as this will be key to a Great Attraction.
What would you highlight as the main achievements of Microsoft, being present in Serbia for 20 years?
Microsoft is recognized for tech talent and innovation. One of our regional development centers is based in Serbia, employing nearly 700 people whose expertise is recognized beyond borders, especially in fields such as Azure, mixed reality, computer vision, machine learning, and AI. In addition, Microsoft’s contribution to Serbian society remains a constant through 20 years of presence in the country. I am so proud to see a positive impact on society, helping to accelerate the digital transformation journey.
For example, there is cooperation with non-governmental organizations such as Petlja, a platform for algorithmic education in Serbian schools, then the initiative Women Know IT, which encourages women to start their careers in IT, but also cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the City of Belgrade on to the development of digital healthcare and the design of smart digital services for citizens. We recently collaborated with Matica Srpska Gallery, presenting culture through HoloLens technology through an app that provides a mixed reality exhibition experience. Together with our strong partner ecosystem, we continue to support Serbia in its efforts to further build on its strong technical talent to become a digital innovation hub, a place where people, businesses and communities are empowered to thrive and grow through digital innovation with global ambitions.
For example, there is cooperation with non-governmental organizations such as Petlja, a platform for algorithmic education in Serbian schools, then the Women Know IT initiative that encourages women to start their careers in IT, but also cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the City of Belgrade on to the development of digital healthcare and the design of smart digital services for citizens. We recently collaborated with Matica Srpska Gallery, presenting culture through HoloLens technology through an application that provides a mixed reality exhibition experience. Together with our strong partner ecosystem, we continue to support Serbia in its efforts to further build on its strong technical talent to become a digital innovation hub, a place where people, businesses and communities are empowered to thrive and grow through digital innovation with global ambitions.
As you mentioned, the world faces many changes. Cyber-security has become one of the key business priorities to address daily challenges. What’s the situation in Serbia?
Cybersecurity is the foundation for digital progress. It gives business leaders confidence to embrace the shift to the digital economy. It helps governments protect critical state functions and public services on which we all rely. And it gives us all peace of mind, knowing our personal data is kept secure and private. The war in Ukraine and heightened geopolitical tensions in the region and beyond have re-drawn the threat landscape. Cyberattacks from criminals and nation-state actors are rising in frequency and sophistication. 1 in 8 European businesses has been affected by cyberattacks, and 2 in 5 European internet users have experienced security-related problems. And as per our Digital Defense Report, the volume of password attacks has risen to an estimated 921 attacks every second – a 74% increase in just one year. Both private and public organizations need to enhance resiliency to mitigate today’s threats, even as new ones emerge. To unlock digital progress and the economic and societal benefits it can deliver, business leaders and policymakers need to place a renewed and sustained strategic emphasis on security. Working with partners and peers who share the same values will be critical, and Microsoft is committed to playing its part in helping build a brighter, more secure digital future.
How is Microsoft adapting to global changes? What new things do you offer to partners, customers, and employees?
We are now at a place where every organization needs to be a digital organization and every nation a digital nation. In this era, digital technology will be the key input that powers the world’s economic output. The Cloud must be an engine for inclusive economic prosperity. As a cloud provider with a leading global presence, we look forward to continuing to partner with customers in Serbia and will continue to do our best to empower their success in a dynamic and changing economic, social, and regulatory environment.
Source: Direktorka Microsoft-a za srednju i istočnu Evropu: “Svaka nacija treba da bude digitalna” (bizlife.rs)
Tags: Digital Futures Index, Interview, Michelle Simmons, Microsoft Serbia, Work Trend Index