‘Partnerships in India impacting Microsoft’s business worldwide’

Debangana Ghosh Mumbai | Updated on June 15, 2021

Rajiv Sodhi on cloud-based offerings of the company and the roadmap beyond the pandemic


Soon after taking over as the chief operating officer of Microsoft India in January 2020, Rajiv Sodhi was tasked with steering the business through the pandemic. As the demand for cloud computing, AI and cybersecurity intensified, Sodhi found several unexpected businesses and verticals taking off.

For example, Microsoft now has 565 customers using its AI platform, compared to 400 two years ago. In an interview with BusinessLine, he discussed the new cloud-based offerings of the company, employee upskilling initiatives and the roadmap beyond the pandemic. Excerpts:

How did the pandemic change your planned business progression for Microsoft?

I took over the role in mid-January and by mid-February we were already talking about the pandemic. A few things remained the same – we wanted to work with more customers to accelerate cloud adoption – but what changed though was the expanse of it. While we had our target customers and sectors, based on wherever the propensity was higher, the pandemic led to complete acceleration.

There were certain use cases that got accelerated. For instance, to access communication and give outright information to customers and staff, there was our low code, no code crisis communication solution, Microsoft Power Apps. Within less than 24 hours clients could add their own branding and information and get it going without needing an army of developers to do so. The app product came into full power when Covid started. The other focus area was Microsoft Teams due to remote working.

Any new industries or specialised use cases that came up during the pandemic?

ICICI Lombard has been working closely as a client. So, their car insurance requires physical inspection. An inspector to visit the applicant’s home and inspect and evaluate the car, and based on the condition, to decide a premium. As that was not possible, they had go digital, becoming completely paperless and using AI (artificial intelligence) to do the process. This is a great example of how to react to a crisis, but this also reimagining business process. This is how they are going to work, going forward.

Covid accelerated digital healthcare and telemedicine. This was in a shambles last year. Now, we have worked with Apollo and Fortis Hospitals to deliver the same digitally.

Finally, SMBs have not been very tech-savvy in India. They don’t have an IT department that can advise them on using tech. We created SMB-in-a-box solution to get remote working done. We used Teams to connect, Azure for access to applications, and also digitised their operations and supply chains. We hadn’t seen a pace like that. We have around 3,000 partners working with us across the country, who ensured the last mile reach and end-to-end adoption of the technology by SMBs.

How have these initiatives impacted the spend on the cloud business?

The barriers to technology adoption have come off in the past one year. Digital adoption is no longer the domain of the IT department alone. It has become far more pervasive. Enterprises working with start-ups.

We, too, are working closely with start-ups, which means we don’t have to develop every technology from the scratch. We can take a look at their technology, do proof of concepts, and put that into production. The pace of adoption has gone faster.

How are you dealing with talent issues?

The demand for cybersecurity professionals and data scientists has really gone up. There is a big need to drive skilling within the organisation. But the challenge is that this is happening at a time when people are facing increased burn out.

They are not able to do core jobs properly, and then if you say to upskill on AI, ML or data science, that would just add to the burden. Upskilling is important and organisations can’t wait for the pandemic to get over, but we have been very flexible and employee-centric to that extent.

Everyone needs upskilling right now. We have taken initiative around creating industry-grade certification courses. We work with customers, partners such as HCL, Infosys and TCS, and help them in upskilling. We are also working with the academia, government and Nasscom.

Where do you see the business going in the next two years? What’s the roadmap for you?

We will continue to focus on platforms and partnerships. India is a strategic and priority market for us, in fact, we have the largest presence here after the US. All our operational facilities are present in India.

What we will see coming more from India is strategic partnerships that can be build within the country and can impact Microsoft’s business worldwide. We call this India for Microsoft. There’s a thriving ecosystem in India. We work very closely with our portfolio start-ups, help them build their product, and reduce the time to market. Obviously, they are working in constrained environments, so we give them access to our engineers, tools and help them build customised go-to-market plans to reach their customers in India and abroad. For Instance, we started working with InMobi on their product. Now, we are aiding them to take it to other markets where Microsoft operates, including the US and China. I forsee more partnerships and alliances like this, where, we will take successful innovations coming out of the country outside and we will help them accelerate innovations.

Published on June 15, 2021

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