This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Record.
At Future Decoded late last year, you told businesses that they ‘need to disrupt before they are disrupted’. How is Microsoft helping organisations to do this?
Disruption is real. Currently, 93% of executives believe their industry will be disrupted at some point in the next five years, but only 20% feel they’re prepared to address it. As digitalisation takes over the world, every organisation and industry must evolve their business and technology landscape to address new competitive forces. At Microsoft, we are uniquely positioned to help our customers imagine new possibilities, so they can stay ahead of the curve. From our agile platforms and solutions to our breadth of technologies that prioritise flexibility, integration and trust. But digital transformation is not simply about technology – it requires business leaders to re-envision their business models and embrace a different way of bringing people, data and processes together to create new value for customers.
Digital transformation is now front of mind for businesses the world over. What are the most impressive examples of digital transformation that you have recently witnessed?
It’s truly incredible to see how companies of all sizes are transforming, but for me, the retail industry is one of the bravest and most innovative. Faced with long term challenges from dwindling sales in store, retailers are embracing new technologies at breakneck speed, in a bid to reimagine the customer experience, drive sales and boost growth. H&M, the second-largest clothing retailer in the world, is one example. We worked with H&M to create an interactive, in-store mirror that leverages the high footfall of its Times Square retail store to drive higher engagement and sales. The mirror is powered by Microsoft Azure and its various cognitive solutions tools, including face and speech recognition, which kick into gear when a customer walks up to the mirror. The mirror can then interact with customers, helping take pictures of their new outfits and offering fashion advice. In addition to providing customers with a fun, novel experience, H&M has also benefitted with 86% of visitors interacting with QR codes and sharing their discounts, in addition to gaining subscribers to its newsletter.
Another great example is US supermarket giant Kroger, which is transforming in-store displays with IoT technology. We helped create Kroger EDGE, a new Azure-powered signage solution that replaces cardboard labels with a digital alternative. The solution not only saves precious human resources by eliminating the need to update displays manually, but also allows Kroger to reduce its carbon footprint, by using low-powered labels with no physical waste.
What advice would you give to those organisations looking to begin their digital transformation journey?
Whenever I meet with customers I tell them that successful digital transformation starts with a culture transformation that engages the hearts and minds of their employees. Organisations need to be incredibly clear about their purpose, investing energy at every level. It’s going beyond the brain, to the heart, to the soul. Using Microsoft as an example, our culture is focused on a growth mindset, a deep appetite for continual learning and a culture of experimentation and risk taking – trying and learning fast. Transformation isn’t easy, it’s a long-term journey and ultimately it will be the people in your organisation that drive your success.
What innovative technologies do you think have the most potential to transform enterprise business in the coming years?
Three of the technologies I am most excited about are the internet of things (IoT), mixed reality and artificial intelligence (AI). In the next 10 years, nearly all our devices will be connected. These devices are all becoming so smart that they can power advanced algorithms that help them see, listen, reason and predict, without requiring always on connectivity in the cloud. This is what we call the intelligent edge, and it will define the next wave of innovation – not just for business but also how we address some of the world’s most pressing problems. Capital goods leader CNH Industrial, for example, has created a new generation of connected agricultural tractors with a built-in set of services using data that has been gathered during machine operation. Now with advanced telematics integrated into the company’s Service Delivery Platform, fleet managers have a closer understanding of fuel consumption and can share this data with suppliers.
Mixed reality has the potential to help customers and businesses across the globe do things that until now, have never been possible – from immersive training experiences, to remote assistance and instant collaboration with dispersed global teams. These experiences will help businesses and their employees complete crucial tasks faster, safer and more efficiently, while creating new ways to connect to customers and partners. Ford is one company using mixed reality to reinvent the way it designs products. Ford uses Microsoft HoloLens to combine 3D digital holograms with clay models and physical production vehicles, meaning processes that once took days can now be accomplished in hours.
And finally, AI. One of the industries which is being transformed the most by AI is healthcare. Incredible advances in computational biology, genomics and medical imaging has created vast amounts of data well beyond the ability of humans to comprehend. By using cloud and AI powered tools, doctors can analyse data more efficiently, so they can spend more time with patients. IRIS, a US healthcare provider, is one example of a company using AI to prevent diabetes-related blindness. To improve the number of patients regularly getting eye checks, IRIS is developing an AI-powered appliance that can identify diabetic retinopathy by processing images of the eye quickly and accurately. This enables doctors to share precise data with patients and other clinicians, ultimately reducing healthcare costs and preventing diabetic blindness.
What’s your strategy for regional engagement with partners as Microsoft enters its new financial year? Are there changes ahead?
Our partners’ success is our success. We share a common goal of accelerating the transformation of our customers and driving growth. This is why we remain committed to our partners’ success, continue to work towards preparing them for the future. In the interconnected world of digital transformation, companies are relying on each other more than ever. At Microsoft, we know that a supportive ecosystem is critical to success, which is why we ensure that a partnership with Microsoft is a partnership with our ecosystem. This year we are announcing new programs, tools and resources to help partners innovate, grow and differentiate their businesses. First, we are delivering innovation through apps and services. This is because we understand that partners need access to the latest technology from Microsoft and guidance on how to extend that technology to build tailor-made solutions.
Second, we’re helping partners to reach more customers to sell their solutions. Partners are driving a considerable portion of our Azure growth and to build on this great momentum, we’re doing two new things to fuel partner growth – leaning in on our marketplaces and enhancing AppSource as the entry point for selling with Microsoft, and enhancing our go-to-market benefits for partners to help them grow their businesses.
Finally, we’re focusing on differentiation to attract customers. We hear from partners that specialisation is key to growth. This concept has been a cornerstone of our profitability guidance to partners and many have taken that message to heart. The ask to Microsoft, from partners and customers, is to do more to help find the right partners with the right solutions.
You have played an active role in Microsoft’s ongoing evolution ever since joining the company, while also being actively involved in a variety of social enterprises such as ‘Live for Good’. Are there comparisons to be drawn between these two activities and do you believe that there should be greater civic responsibility within the world of commerce?
Technology is rapidly reshaping the way we all live, and I believe it will create new opportunities for governments, citizens and businesses to build trust through transparency and solve long-standing societal issues. By understanding how to nurture partnerships with the next generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners, Microsoft can empower young organisations to contribute to economic growth and broader social benefit to the best of their ability. One of my favorite partnerships is in the startup ecosystem in France, where we have collaborated with Station F, the biggest startup campus in the world. Our goal is to enable every startup at Station F to achieve more, with a special focus on helping with their AI solutions, by offering scientific, technological and business expertise.
More personally, I regularly meet with and mentor young entrepreneurs as part of Live for Good, a foundation created by my family. Many of these entrepreneurs are creating a new type of enterprise, one that mixes social impact with commerce. These social entrepreneurs have a burning ambition to change the world for the better and I’m continually inspired by their commitment to this cause. For example, a social entrepreneur I met earlier in the year called Trang Tuyet Nga, is developing a medical device called the Life Kit that treats the most common causes of infant death – saving over 70,000 lives so far. Technology will help solve big societal problems, but we must look to this future with a critical eye. This opportunity comes with great responsibility. We must ensure technology’s benefits reach people more broadly across society and that the technologies we create are trusted by the individuals and organisations that use them.
In your role as global EVP for sales, marketing and operations you enjoy close links with regionally based colleagues. What tips do you give to your teams to drive sales and transformation?
If your organisation is to thrive and grow, change is central to commercial opportunity. All successful businesses evolve. And one of the business functions most disrupted by digital transformation is sales – bringing with it both challenges and opportunities. I know this because I’ve watched it happen over the years, and today, that evolution is driven by digital. But three key lessons I’ve learned in my career which I often share are: 1. Shaping or evolving the right culture is paramount to any transformation initiative including for professional sellers or marketers; 2. Recognising that continuous learning and development are fundamental to success; and 3. Instrument the way you measure the change by leveraging digital tools and data to measure how the new habits are landing one person at a time.
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