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Making #DigitalTransformation a reality in India

Norm Judah serves as Chief Technology Officer of Worldwide Services at Microsoft, focusing on technical strategy, innovation, technical communities, and enterprise services strategy. He was in Mumbai to deliver a keynote address at Future Decoded 2017. Microsoft News Center India team caught up with him to understand his perspective about India’s digital transformation.

What is Digital Transformation (DT), according to you? How have you seen it play around you?

Microsoft has established four DT pillars to help our customers: Empowering employees by designing a workplace where every working style can thrive.

Engaging customers to build natural, tailored experiences that delight their customers, harnessing that data, and then drawing actionable insights.

Optimizing operations with intelligent processes that anticipate the future and coordinate people and assets more efficiently. And finally, reinventing products and business models that use data as a strategic asset.

This digital shift is changing industries and reinventing how businesses work and how they can deliver value to their customers and their partners all the way through the value chain. There is incredible enthusiasm from the people who we’re talking to, about the potential and possibilities of the digital transformation. Every customer wants to know what other people are doing and they want examples. They are looking for the confidence that Microsoft is the one to take them on this journey. Ultimately, it’s about building digital capability and developing digital products and services. You cannot do one without the other. Jumping into new digital services without building the internal capability, simply will not work. You need both.

What can Indian organizations do to unlock the true potential of digital transformation?

Digital business is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, with the priorities varying drastically depending on the type of company and industry, and the digital transformation journey also varies. For example, CIOs in asset intensive industries like manufacturing are likely to start with an inside out, operational excellence driven focus. This will likely take the form of initiatives around the integration of IT with operational technology, leading to an Internet of Things (IoT) play for their early moves along the digital transformation journey. A CIO from a B2C enterprise is more likely to focus on outside-in customer experience and external ecosystem driven initiatives. Both approaches should ideally be coordinated with a strong focus on enhancing the digital capabilities within the enterprise as well – called the digital workplace- to create a digitally capable workforce.

Where do you see business models being disrupted more – large enterprises, small and medium enterprises, startups, government, educational institutions? Do you have a target-specific strategy to help them in their journey?

The fundamental essence is that software becomes core to everything that we do-from the employee’s day to day work to customizing a product. We have spent years collecting data and information, and the essence of what we need to do today is not to collect that data but ultimately lead to intelligent action showing what happened, why did it happen, how can I prevent it happening again, and can I predict it happening in the future. And it’s that connection from data to intelligent action that is going to define the future of business. We see experimentation and progress across all enterprises in every taxonomy. We also see new companies entering industries and building AI algorithmic capabilities inherently into their first product and services, disrupting incumbents, just by adding those capabilities and querying over existing data. With the addition of deep insight, product and services and how they are delivered will quickly morph and become highly personalized, predictive and adaptive of the user and their behavior.

It’s that connection from data to intelligent action that is going to define the future of business.

Consumer behavior is driving new business models OR new technologies are changing consumer experiences? Is this a vicious circle? What can one expect next?

It really is both, concurrently. Change will be constant. But I don’t think of this as “vicious” in any way, it’s much more about the synergy, about experimenting, learning, changing, and doing that in an agile incremental way. It’s about creating a surprise for the user, some excitement when the system does something wonderful and unexpected. We will continue to discover new business models and attract new and different consumers. The winners will be the companies that can adapt and change, in real-time. Companies who live and maybe die by using algorithms to predict behavior and how new business models can be created. The less agile will wither over time in a swirling ocean of opportunity.

What do you feel are some of the business challenges organizations in India are facing today? How do you feel technology can help them overcome these challenges?

From an Enterprise point of view, the biggest challenge is creating a vision for the digital transformation journey, including the reasons why a change is needed. What we do see happening globally, is that it is not necessarily the larger companies alone who are changing. Many medium and small companies, particularly those who are agile, are moving very quickly to experiment with digital and change business models and offerings.

The biggest challenge is creating a vision for the digital transformation journey.

From a country point of view, there are three key factors. The first is access. At the end of 2014, India had 227 million Internet users. Fewer than two out of every five Indian businesses had an online presence. Making the Internet accessible, open and safe for all Indians is an urgent priority. The cost of mobile phone access is already low by international standards. The second factor is skills and education. Much of India’s population still lacks the skills to meaningfully participate in the digital economy. There is a huge opportunity for Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven agents to open up the possibilities for broader enablement and empowerment using natural language input like voice or gestures. Last but not the least is infrastructure. Whether new initiatives will generate even greater digital dividends – faster growth, more jobs, and better services – depends not only on expanding affordable access to all, but also on making long overdue progress on the analogue complements of digital investments.

What according to you is Microsoft’s role in helping organizations overcome their challenges to embrace digital solutions?

If we step back forty years and think about what we were doing, then what we’ve done for the last forty years, is try to teach people how to understand computers and the peculiarities of how to use them. What’s different today is this notion of having computers understand people and understanding the very natural interaction with them. Every company will–over time, in some form or another, be a software company. We believe that Microsoft has a huge role to play in enabling those capabilities. I like to reference it as building digital capabilities while building a digital business which is a core element for just about every company in the near future. The first step is helping our customers dream about what’s possible for their customers. The second step is about helping our customers evaluate their current capabilities to address consumer behavior, and Microsoft has some great tools to support this evaluation.

What’s different today is this notion of having computers understand people and understanding the very natural interaction with them.

How do you see the rise of data analytics, AI, IoT in driving digital transformation to the next level in India?

AI is one of these fascinating redefinition points of the industry and the platform as we go forward. One dimension is the research that’s been happening on algorithms. Microsoft Research has had people working on Bayesian decision theory for many, many years and the various elements of AI. But what’s happened is two things: The richness and sophistication and depth of the algorithms is on the one hand, and then on the other hand, there is the place to run them, in the cloud, where you can have massive amounts of data and incredible compute capability. And it’s the convergence of those things that has allowed us to get to this phenomenal era.

We believe that this next era is going to be the era of agents. Instead of having 150 apps on your phone, you’ll probably have nine or ten. And one of them will be the agent that understands your context, your location, where you are, your history, your preferences, and starts to do things on your behalf. Simply put, personal assistants have become the new meta application. Here, data starts to become incredibly valuable. So, there’s exponential value in the integration of the data together.

What is the future of digital transformation?

The future is here today, not tomorrow or the day after. It’s incumbent upon companies to transform fast to keep up with the market and be differentiated. The ones who survive will be the companies that develop capability for algorithmic thinking, developing AI moderated experiences – those who design for the expected and the unexpected. Microsoft is your trusted advisor in this DT era, now and in the future. Microsoft is leading the way in innovation and wants to help you transform your products, optimize your operations, empower your employees and engage your customers.