Microsoft today is different from Microsoft ten years ago, says Anant Maheshwari

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Microsoft began its journey to India in 1990 with an office in Hyderabad. Since then, the iconic IT company has changed over time from a Windows and Office package to a dominant player in the cloud. It has steadily increased its presence in India with offices in 11 Indian cities, employing approximately 16,000 people. However, the company appears to have retreated from public attention.

Digital natives in India identify more with Google, Apple and the social media giants than with the Supreme Lord of the PC. Outlook Business talks to Anant Maheshwari, president of Microsoft India, to find out if the company has lost ground in a crowded Indian tech market, or if it no longer wants to look cool in public for strategic reasons. Edited excerpts from the interview –

How has Microsoft maintained a symbiotic relationship with India, especially in the face of competition?

I enjoy competitive intensity because it helps drive innovation faster and deeper, keeping the customer at the center. B2B is Microsoft’s main characteristic. Much of our global business is B2B which may be quite different from our peer group where B2B is relevant but the focus is on the consumer. This is a distinct business model difference.

The idea “your data is your data” becomes more relevant in the B2B context because companies know that we will not be competing with them. We will not be a player in distribution, logistics or the media, nor will we have a banking or financial approach. Microsoft provides the broadest end-to-end offerings for businesses so they don’t need multiple technology vendors. We focus on B2B because as Satya [Nadella] says, “Our job is not to be cool ourselves, but to make others look cool.”

Did the philosophy of making others cool emerge in business after the failure of Windows phones?

The cultural reset that Microsoft underwent about seven years ago when Satya took over was the turning point in driving this philosophy. The Microsoft of today is quite different from the Microsoft of a decade or two ago, when we maybe didn’t have that level of focus on the B2B business model.

When Satya took control, he asked his management team a few questions: “What will happen to the planet if Microsoft disappears?” Why are we here and what do we want to be remembered for? These are existential questions which are also evoked in his book Hit Refresh. This is what prompted management to say that end-to-end B2B gaming was our core business. It was more of a change of direction than an external market event.

Microsoft made this reinvention when it was among the top few companies on the planet. Office 365 was a top franchise in its previous avatar. Satya caused the disruption from within to take a large franchise, disrupt it, and move it to the cloud.

A major technology leader once said that one of the biggest innovations Microsoft has driven in its transformation was to move from Office to Office 365, so it was not external market events that drove this change. It’s a strong strategic focus on who we want to be.

(Anant Maheshwari)

Is Satya Nadella’s success a statement on the Indian tech ecosystem?

I approve of the fact that Satya has been an inspiration not only to India, but to the entire tech ecosystem on the planet. He brought very different thinking focused on empathy, ethics and trust in the context of technology. The ability to bring not only pure technical skills but also soft skills that help think through a technology ecosystem is Satya’s contribution to Microsoft.

The leadership qualities that determine the technology leaders of the future are not only advanced technical skills, but softer abilities as well. Satya explains how her background and her parents played a role in developing different abilities. He had seen the workings of the Indian Administrative and Education Service up close. It influences you and determines what you do with very large ecosystems like Microsoft.

How do you rate the quality of Indian coders?

India is among the largest coding communities in the world. It ranks among the top three in the world. But it is also a fact that there is a great mismatch between supply and demand. The industry has called it a key priority. Cloud and security are new features that every encoder needs to get. A report from the World Economic Forum indicates that 54 percent of Indian employees will need to retrain in the next three to four years.

We have a good talent pool to start with. We must continually re-qualify these talents to train them in the expertise demanded by clients. NASSCOM report says we can add half a trillion dollars to GDP by making India a hub for data and AI. I am optimistic about the technological capabilities of the country.

Amazon and Google are considering the B2B space, but Microsoft is not competing with Google in the application space. How do you see it?

Generally speaking, our philosophy is to stay focused on our customers and partners. For example, the scale of our small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) portfolio is much larger than that of our technology competitors. The reason is that we bundle a lot together in a bundle offer. We offer six solution areas for every customer: Cloud Infrastructure, Data, Applications, Modern Work, Business Applications, and Security.

An SME says, “With these six areas, why wouldn’t I work with Microsoft and choose five different players? In addition, we offer vertical and industry-specific cloud offerings. We have already launched public clouds for financial services, healthcare, retail and, in the future, sustainability. This is how we stay one step ahead.

Why is Big Tech bullish on India? Read exclusive interviews from Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM.


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