On day two of the Future Decoded event taking place at Excel in London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took to the stage to explain why every company needs to have what he calls ‘tech intensity’.
“We must adopt technology in ways that are much faster than what we have done in the past,” he said. “We don’t stop there. Each one of us, in our organisations, will have to build our own digital capability on top of the technology we have adopted. Tech intensity is one of the key considerations you have to get right.”
Nadella said it takes a diverse group to create technology. “Every walk of life, every part of industry and economy is being digitised. There isn’t a place not being digitised, no industry that’s not being transformed by technology. That’s an opportunity.
“We want to create technology so our customers can go and create technology. That was true when Paul and Bill set up the company, and it’s true today.”
According to Nadella, technology for technology’s sake is not going to do anything, it’s about how you empower your own employees, how you transform your operations, products and services. That’s the goal.
He explained exactly how Microsoft is providing those building blocks: “We are building Azure as the world’s computer. We have more than 54 global regions – multiple data centres – more than any other provider, so you have that capacity anywhere to deploy your applications. In Europe we have eight regions, six more coming. In the UK we have two – in Cardiff and London.
“We have put a data centre off the coast of Scotland – it’s underwater, it’s sustainable, it was fast to build. it took just 90 days. This is the way we will think about data centre regions and expansion.”
Nadella went on to explain how all computing infrastructure is going to be used to build artificial intelligence. “At Microsoft Research we have been at the forefront of some amazing breakthroughs. The pace of those breakthroughs, most of that has been driven by availability of data and algorithms. We were first to achieve human parity in speech and translation.
“How are we going to make all of this available so developers across the world can build applications? With Azure, we have taken all of this and made them services available to you. You want to build an application with computer vision, you take our cognitive services and train it in the edge. That ability to take AI wherever you need it is what it’s all about.”
Nadella said Microsoft is also transforming productivity in communication. “Teams brings together chat, meetings, it changes how you think about work getting done. All the tools needed for collaboration come to you in one channel. That’s how modern work gets done.
“When we think about productivity, it’s about first-line work, not just experience. We are equipping them with things like HoloLens to allow you to do your work with remote assistance. To drive productivity is another transformative thing happening with modern work. You want to do this with real focus on compliance and security.”
Nadella followed this with some in-practice examples of how Microsoft technology is being used today, beginning with the NHS. At South London and Maudsley NHS Trust they have built a patient record system and changed the interface in one trust between the patient and the trust. It’s all built in Azure and the data is resident in the UK. Agrimetrics, meanwhile, is using machine learning to improve yield for milk production and crops. And Marks & Spencer is using technology today to change how retail works. They are taking vision tech and retail space will be optimised and staff have insight into that store in real-time. They are treating tech as the commodity.
Nadella said there are three major considerations here. “The first is privacy. Privacy is a human right. All of us will have to think about the digital experiences we create to treat privacy as a human right. This is what we are building all our tools around.
“We see 6.5 trillion security signals a day, billions of log-ins a month. We are using that data to secure the most vulnerable populations – small businesses and consumers. We launched AccountGuard in the UK yesterday, after launching it in the US over the summer.
“We are seeing the NHS in Scotland using Office 365. They are moving to Windows 10, which has Defender. That can look at malware and get rid of it. We are forming industry partnerships. All the technology vendors and institutions can use data to protect our customers.”
The challenge of cybersecurity is the damage it causes most impacts citizens and small business – and Nadella acknowledges that Microsoft needs to protect them. “It requires industry and nation states to do that,” he said.
The other consideration is around AI and ethics. “We are democratising AI creation, but creating a lot of tools, debiasing language, for example. You can deploy models that are ethical and you can be accountable for those,” Nadella said. “We need to be mindful of the use cases of AI. When we put a data centre in a location we look at the human rights around that decision. It’s our responsibility to set the standards and raise the bar, tackling the unintended consequences. However, thinking about AI is a collective responsibility.”