Don Grantham, President Central and Eastern Europe
This week, I had the pleasure of travelling with our CEO Satya Nadella across three countries in Central and Eastern Europe, where he met with customers, developers, startups, students and government leaders. The tour, which included stops in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, gave Satya an opportunity to talk about digital transformation, the promising startup ecosystem, democratising Artificial Intelligence and our ambitions.
Looking back now, I feel inspired by Satya’s visionary sense of purpose for our company. Namely, that we exist to create technology, so that others can create technology; and that this is what defines our identity and drives us to work in an unbounded way, so that we can meet even the unmet and unarticulated needs of our customers.
Digitally transforming Prague
The tour kicked off on Tuesday, March 28 in Prague where Satya delivered a keynote speech at the Digital Opportunities & Transformation Summit (DOTS) on digital transformation.
The Czech Republic is a great example of a country embracing today’s technology revolution. One of my favourite stories Satya shared was Koncept Ekotech, a Czech company which is helping large organizations to improve water quality and reduce the environmental impact of heating water. Thanks to Office 365, employees can collaborate more efficiently to solve problems in the field which has vastly improved customer service.
Later in the day, Satya met with a group of young girls who had earlier that day completed a DigiGirlz coding workshop with non-profit organisation Academy of Coding. According to recently released Microsoft research, girls in the Czech Republic become interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects at the age of 12 years old but that interest drops sharply when they reach 15.
One of the findings that caught my attention was how important creativity and hands-on experiences in STEM classes are to girls and Satya heard this first hand from the girls he spoke to. That’s why these DigiGirlz workshops are so important. It is inspiring to see the joy in young female talent when they realize how easy it is to code and that there’s a world of opportunity open to them.
Empowering local startups in Poland
In Warsaw, alongside Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Satya met a group of inspiring startups and learned more about what they’re doing to innovative and create new opportunities. This meeting ended with an announcement about Startberry, a new joint initiative with EY Poland and Polish software company Senfino, which will offer business advice, cloud services and office space to local startups to help them grow. We should be proud of the vibrant startup ecosystem in Central Eastern Europe with more than 35,000 young businesses across the region.
We should be proud of the vibrant startup ecosystem in Central Eastern Europe with more than 35,000 young businesses across the region. We know that many aspiring entrepreneurs continue to have real difficulty in finding financial and technical support they need to commercialize their ideas. At the same time, this concern of theirs is counterbalanced by their endless passion and perseverance, which I witnessed myself at the Developer/ISV event we also held in Poland on Wednesday, where Satya gave the keynote address to more than 500 attendees. I can only echo his comments to the incredible talent in the room: “When you change the way you see the world – you change the world you see. As developers, this is what you do when you create new products and services”.
Democratising AI in Hungary
On Thursday, Satya addressed over 1000 people at Future Decoded, a Microsoft conference which helps businesses understand how digital transformation can help them grow. Satya discussed the future of big data, cloud-driven intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. He highlighted a number of local examples that demonstrate how technology presents a rich opportunity for Hungarian businesses to create new services and improve customer service.
The story of Netpincer really inspired me. Founded by two university students, the company offers over 600 restaurant options for busy Hungarians. Netpincer uses machine learning and, more recently, a chatbot to recommend food that customers might be craving – even if they don’t know it yet. The service is so good at predicting what customers will want that 80 percent of those who use the service order the food that was recommended to them.
Aiming to inspire more students to build businesses like Netpincer, Satya participated in a “fireside chat” with students at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
Over the next ten years, technology advances will create more than 2.1 million new quality jobs across the EU in many sectors including some that haven’t even been invented yet. This creates a significant opportunity across all age groups but also poses a few challenges.
Recognising the rapid pace of change, Satya emphasized the importance of ensuring that this wave of innovation benefits our society at large. This includes making AI available to everyone, so that it can be used across fields as diverse as healthcare, education, manufacturing and retail.
Technology is a powerful engine of innovation in Central and Eastern Europe and it is our responsibility to help people and organizations embrace the benefits of digital transformation. To that end, close collaboration with governments is instrumental.
This week, further to our meetings with local entrepreneurs, developers and students, Satya and I met with senior Government Ministers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, to align our strategy and reaffirm our commitment to digital transformation in the region.
I close this week with genuine optimism about what’s next for Central and Eastern Europe and the role we will play in driving forward positive change.