Covid-19 has caused greater adoption of technology: Microsoft India COO

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on May 19, 2020 Published on May 19, 2020

Rajiv Sodhi, Chief Operations Officer, Microsoft India

Covid-19 has posed major challenges for governments and businesses across the globe, with technology playing a major role in combating the crisis. In an interview with BusinessLine, Microsoft India’s Chief Operations Officer Rajiv Sodhi shared details on the impact of Covid-19 on businesses and how technology is at the centre of this transformation. He also detailed Microsoft’s efforts to maintain business continuity during the pandemic and later. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of how Covid-19 has impacted businesses in India and what is the likely fallout of this on tech spends?

I think spends and business is one way to look at it. Covid-19 has caused more adoption of technology. Microsoft works both on the enterprise side and on the small and medium business side. I don't think it's the same situation everywhere. I think businesses are looking at driving innovation in their products and services because that's undergoing a change. The needs of their end customer have shifted. We have seen customers open up to technology.

How has Microsoft India been impacted? What are the key challenges that you are dealing with right now as the COO?

This is a massive cultural change. The moment the pandemic happened, we created a CMD — a crisis management department which was initially meeting almost daily. We have switched to weekly meetings now. Every leader from different parts of the organisation is part of that CMD. We are able to pick up all the signals, create clarity in terms of communication, and then give advisories to our employees. We've put a lot of focus on that so our employees get regular information.

More from an internal perspective, I think this is a period of phenomenal change. A lot of it is going down to — how are our employees? How are they coping with this? Managers are playing a critical role in working with our employees and our workforce. And so how can they be more empathetic in when they are talking to their teams? We've launched resources so that if any employee who wants to talk about something, or needs help, they have avenues to reach out. This is a very large enterprise. I want to make sure that all our employees are well taken care of, and they are doing this in a manner which is sustainable.

What are Microsoft’s current policies on work-from-home (WFH)?

We moved thousands of employees across all our subsidiaries, and obviously in India, to remote work, almost literally, overnight. We made sure that there was consistent, frequent communication happening because there was a lot of information that was floating around, especially in the early days. And so it was essential that employees heard from the leadership, they heard how we were reacting to the challenge, how we were putting in processes and policies, and how we were going to enable WFH for them.

How has Microsoft pitched in to help the government communicate with frontline workers fighting Covid?

We are working very closely with our governments, with all the constituents in the ecosystem, and most certainly the frontline workers, to use technology. We have this app Cova which has been built by the Punjab government. Again, citizen application and citizen engagement have been front and centre for every government, because they want to use that to spread authentic information. They want to get traceability going, they want to make sure there is right information out there in the market and citizens can reach out for help.

As WFH becomes the norm, how is Microsoft ensuring security for its clients in a way that there is no difference from an office environment?

It's one thing to work from home, it's one thing to give you all these accesses. Most enterprises, most customers have their own security protocols and policies and guidelines that they work under. And it's essential that if you're enabling a remote workforce, you have the same amount of security and same protocols being followed here because, again, it's a hacker’s paradise right now.

We've been working with our customers to also make sure how they can continue to work securely. With more digital technology adoption, it becomes even more critical to have cybersecurity measures in place and run a secure infrastructure. That's where we've placed a lot of our focus.

Microsoft Trust Center is a section on our website that shares every audit that we go through. It shares all the certifications we have, it gives you a roadmap at a global and local level.

There’s immense competition in the cloud segment, especially given the current situation. With Microsoft India’s major focus on the cloud, what are you doing differently to stay ahead of the curve?

What is important right now rather than competition is focussing on our customers. Cloud forms the core platform on which customers are driving this digital transformation. The Microsoft Cloud proposition is very differentiated. It's a very comprehensive platform. (There are) productivity tools like Microsoft Teams, which let you conference, collaborate to Azure, where you can run your infrastructure, applications, systems, third-party applications or first-party applications on our dynamics cloud.

The second important thing is the trust and security which are at the core of everything that we do, because that's a huge differentiator again. Because there was a rush to open everything up and enable remote working, customers are now realising that security is also very important so that your assets are protected. A comprehensive platform and trust and security inside it are very big differentiators that are driving a lot of adoption on our cloud platform.

What are the initiatives that Microsoft is planning to launch with Jio in India?

Our partnership with Jio is something that will drive the adoption of technology across sections of Indian society, most certainly in SMBs and start-ups. We will be working on the sector, we will work on speech, local languages and cognitive services. Platform capabilities is something that we look forward to working with and bringing that innovation into the market in India.

Do you think the pandemic will change the future of work and will more companies see merit in remote working policies?

In the current situation everybody has a common need — how do they work from home? How do they maintain business continuity, and how do they have some semblance of normalcy? What started out as just WFH has moved into a full-blown scenario with a hybrid workforce. It's one thing to start one or two days and work at home, but if you're going to do this for an extended period, then how do you have access to business applications and processes? It's an area that we worked a lot on with a lot of our customers.

As we look forward from here a lot of our focus is as the industry and, as the economy comes out of this, we can get ahead of the challenge that the virus has thrown. I think this is going to be the new normal. And Satya (Nadella, Microsoft CEO) very nicely said, “We've seen two years of digital transformation in just two months.” Because every company, no matter what the size of the industry, they've actually now realised that digital is the way. So our focus is now around how do you rebuild every industry here.

How can tech be used to better prepare for similar challenges that may arrive in the future?

I believe technology is very central to not just manage the disease, but also manage the second and the third order effects that happen when something like this happens. In fact, right now, even if you look at the efforts that are going on in the healthcare industry to either find a cure or to manage the infection, these are all data and analytics-based models that are being worked on. The good part here is it’s not just companies like Microsoft doing it. I've been just very excited to see how our partners are building solutions on top of it. Because, again, this is something no one company is going to be able to solve, right? It means it needs an ecosystem to come together. We are absolutely going to see a surge of analytics and data being used to counter both — the current as well as future crisis.

Published on May 19, 2020

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