Ever since Satya Nadella took over as the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft he has brought in huge changes to the way the company saw things. Having missed technological shifts to newer rivals such as Google and Facebook, Nadella is on an overdrive to ensure that Microsoft stays ahead of the innovation curve. In a roundtable with select media, Nadella spoke about his vision. Edited excerpts:
The Central government has launched various initiatives such as Make in India, Digital India. What’s your view on the envisioned success of these programmes?
As a company, Microsoft is in it for the long term. Because when you think about the country and about the trajectory, I look at not only what’s happening in the government, but also what is happening in the private sector, what is happening in the broader economy as a whole, and that’s where my optimism comes from.
Our economic model is fundamentally about digital technology in the hands of others — be it small business, large business or the public sector, who are able to drive value out of it. And given that economic model, we want to take the lead and say, how do we make things available. Again, I go back the progress we have made the last 12 months of being able to realise some of these dreams of saying let’s open up these new digital factories, data centres that we will make them happen in 12 months.
With we as a company always want to go faster at the same time I am optimistic with the rate of change that’s happening.
What do you think about valuations of e-commerce companies happening in India?
It’s not for me to talk about valuations. The idea is that you over fund during time of change, so that ideas can flourish — that is helping the progress of technology. So there will be some winner and losers. I don’t think more of temporal issues like valuation.
There is no question about the quality of ideas, that’s what I am very optimist about
What are the new technology shifts that you are worried about? Do you see India being used as a test bed for some of these ideas?
One of the things about technology businesses is that you have to catch new waves and paradigm shifts. I describe it as Mobile-first, Cloud-first wave and it will play out in the next 5-10-15 years.
And I feel very good about the position we have in the cloud. And the fact that we are the first multi-national to have a local cloud infrastructure, I would say we are not behind anyone. Devices will come and go, but what is needed is mobility of human experience, your data, your application, your organisational data and the only way to make sense is through cloud. I have a specific world view that it’s about mobility of experiences not mobility of devices.
Have you been slow in rolling out devices?
I think it’s about how are we going to evolve personal computing by inventing new forms of computing; about having that mobility of experiences as well as new computing. When I look at Apple’s new iPad, I think it’s moulded with some of the work that we did with Surface, and we welcome that. We want to make sure that we even have our software on those devices. So that’s how I view it.
One of the issues that India deals is the lack of network. Does Microsoft have any ideas to overcome the bandwidth issue?
This is a topic that we have thought very, very deeply. We have an approach which is slightly different than what Facebook and Google and others are doing.
My dream is to come up with technological solutions which then in the hands of the local entrepreneurs, be it existing telcos, new ISPs, who can solve the bandwidth and last mile problem, at affordable cost under the regulatory regime of the country. So, one of the most innovative technologies that we are fostering is what we call TV white space. In fact, the spectrum that is there in between TV channels that is unused can in fact be used to solve this last mile problem.
We have really built this out at Microsoft Research. We have piloted it in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. We are just in the process of doing it in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
The reason why we are piloting it is to take the technology risk out, to show that this tech works. But my hope here is not for Microsoft, I want some local entrepreneurs to do it. In fact, in Kenya, I am funding some local entrepreneurs to make affordable Wi-Fi connectivity available in rural areas.
I feel that unless and until you have a sustainable model which local companies can deliver, I think that all these big ticket schemes, as you call it, they don’t truly work.
In terms of ease of doing business in India, do you find any difference in the last 18 months?
As a CEO who has seen different countries, I would like to say that I would like to see less of friction. But at the same time I celebrate the progress we have made to create the things that we have created in the last 12 months.
The fact that we got our data centre here and getting public sector organisations and government to use it — wouldn’t have been the case if there was no change happening.
Someone like me is always pushing for more but at the same time we should celebrate the change.
Who is your all-time favourite Indian cricketer, what do you do to keep fit and what is your average weekend?
I grew up in Hyderabad in the 70s, great cricket school team…there was a period in the 70s that Hyderabad had a fantastic cricket team and the tail end of it is what I caught. And so I had these highly romantic ideas of Hyderabad cricket club led by ML Jayasimha, Abbas Ali Baig to Abid Ali… so I am always inspired by that era. I make it a point to run- that’s the only thing I am capable of doing now. My average weekend starts with the ambition to read ten books that I haven’t read and ends with ten books that I still haven’t read.