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Microsoft’s Jean-Philippe Courtois roams the globe and finds inspiring stories of digital transformation

Meet Jean-Philippe Courtois, executive vice president, and president of Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing and Operations. While he is based in Paris, Courtois’ role finds him traveling most weeks, to every country where Microsoft has an office. Spending time with our customers, partners and employees, he has a unique perspective on the transformative impact of technology.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing key trends and best practices from Courtois’ travels. For this first segment, Courtois was interviewed by Sihame Aarab, a Microsoft France data scientist from the Microsoft Academy of College Hires program, about Courtois’ recent travels and what he learned from them.

Sihame Aarab: Jean-Philippe, can you tell me the last three countries that you visited? And what’s trending in terms of digital transformation?

Jean-Philippe Courtois: Most recently, I’ve been to Canada and the United States, and had meetings here in France, all great opportunities to meet some of our customers. Based on those customer visits, I’d like to call out three key trends that I’m seeing.

The first one I call the “agents and conversations”: Digital assistants are being used to speak with customers, to make it easier to manage relationships and triage service issues. The second trend is the increasing use of cognitive services, which includes speech recognition, visual recognition, all the way to emotional recognition; then the third trend is virtual reality and mixed reality having real-world commercial applications, today.

SA: Can you share a great example of customers engaging in digital transformation that you’ve seen recently?

JPC: Yes, sure. I got really excited about a recent example I shared with my team. It’s a business called RingMD. I suppose you’d describe the company as, “the Uber of healthcare.” It has a virtual healthcare platform, connecting doctors with over 10 million people across Asia. Its mission is to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for people across the region, using technologies like Skype, bots and Cortana.

SA: Artificial intelligence and digitization can really help companies win market share. What do you think about the risks to companies who are not digitally evolving?

JPC: It’s a big risk! We are now in what’s called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and the technology that’s driving transformation is connected intelligence. We’re seeing impact in sectors as diverse as hospitality, healthcare, utilities, banking and government.

So I would argue that any organization is at risk which isn’t thinking about how it’s using technology such as AI to engage customers – reinventing and defending the customer journey; to empower employees; to automate their operations and to transform products. The risk of not doing anything is the risk of someone coming from outside your industry and totally changing the game.

All CEOs have to lead the charge and start to transform before it’s too late. At Microsoft we really think artificial intelligence holds far greater promise than maybe some of the headlines we see about computers beating humans at games. We believe that humans and machines will work together – not against one another. It’s not about replacing people. It’s also important that we build trust directly into our technology, protecting privacy, transparency and security, and all of the technology we build must be inclusive and respectful to everyone.

SA: I think it’s important for companies to have an open mind, to adopt new learning methods and develop a culture that embraces change. Can you talk a little about how an organization can develop the right mindset to thrive?   

JPC: Everything starts with the culture of a company. I’ve seen many changes over the 30-plus years I have worked at Microsoft. It’s not enough to help customers transform; we also needed to transform ourselves. So we now talk a lot about creating a culture of a “growth mindset.”

What we mean by that is being open to learning from others and to have an appetite for learning from your own mistakes, so that you can move quickly and find the right path forward. There’s a great book by Stanford Professor Carol Dwek called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – I recommend it. Now we think about problems more creatively. Establishing a positive culture is one of the hardest things any company can do.

A great example I’ve seen of this in action is a major pharmaceutical company. A new CEO came on board at a tough time – the pipeline of drugs was not good. The CEO and the board created a culture to really change the game. They moved from being very bureaucratic and slow, to evolving using collaboration technologies like Skype, and created a culture where all employees embraced a new way of working across the business.

Thanks to this, the company developed a series of innovative cancer treatments. For any successful organization, it’s vital to build a team of talented people who are comfortable with change – that they see the opportunities in a changing environment or industry and adapt to it.

SA: Let me shift the tone a bit for our last question. You spend time with young entrepreneurs, both within and outside of the tech sector. What lessons do you learn from them?

JPC: I’m very passionate about unleashing the potential of young people, particularly those who come from challenging backgrounds. That’s the work I am doing with my own family foundation, called Live For Good. We are enabling young entrepreneurs in France. I am constantly inspired by them.

A great example is a young man called Yassine who has been helping homeless people in Paris. He decided to develop a mobile app to connect those people whom nobody engaged with, so he could support them getting off the streets. These young people have an incredible vision and a desire to change the world for the better. We can learn from them every day, as individuals and companies.

Photo: Sihame Aarab interviews Jean-Philippe Courtois. Photo by Bernard Lachaud.