Looking at the big picture with Kathleen Mitford

Looking at the big picture with Kathleen Mitford


The corporate vice president of global industry marketing at Microsoft shares insights into Microsoft’s AI priorities, partnerships and sustainability efforts and how they will benefit customers in various industries 

Andy Clayton-Smith |

From healthcare to finance, retail to manufacturing, education to media – Microsoft’s technology aims to empower a multitude of industries.  

Kathleen Mitford, corporate vice president of global industry marketing at Microsoft, explains how Microsoft-powered tools, combined with a deep understanding of industry business needs, a strong partner ecosystem, and a new phase of technology maturity, are setting organisations up for success.  

Please tell us about your professional background and what drew you to Microsoft.  

My career journey in tech started almost 25 years ago when I transitioned from being a fashion designer to working for a software company that supplied technology to the fashion industry. I was asked to implement a technology solution for product data management, and I enjoyed the process so much so that the software company asked me to come to work for them. As a product manager, I loved working with customers to understand their business needs and technology requirements, as well as collaborating with my colleagues to gain a deeper understanding of the software development process and engineering. 

After that, I joined PTC, where over 15 years I held a series of roles on the executive team. For example, I led a 2,000-person engineering and product management team and later, I managed other teams, including the partner team and the corporate marketing team. As chief strategy officer at PTC, I spearheaded the digital transformation of the company’s portfolio investing in new technologies such as internet of things (IoT) and augmented reality. I also transformed the business model from on-prem licenses to software as a service, and fostered a culture of innovation and inclusivity. In this role, I served as the executive sponsor for PTC’s relationship with Microsoft, which was chosen as their cloud provider. Guiding a Microsoft partner company through its own digital transformation really prepared me to work with Microsoft customers and partners on similar journeys. 

Now, as the global industry marketing lead at Microsoft, I collaborate closely with sales, partner and engineering teams to address customer needs. We look at key industries worldwide, and determine how Microsoft and its partner ecosystem can address industry-specific business challenges. Everything we do within the organisation is focused on helping customers understand where technology can help them move their business forward and get faster time to value.  

Microsoft Hannover Messe

Microsoft shared its work with partners at several industry events across 2024 including Hannover Messe in April...

How does Microsoft create a unified strategy that addresses the specific technology needs of various industries? 

When developing our industry strategy and solutions, we tailor our approach to meet the unique needs of each sector while also identifying initiatives that go across multiple industries. For instance, our Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services offers technology designed for the financial sector, while our Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability serves customers and partners across various industries. Sustainability is an excellent example of a cloud solution that addresses both cross-industry scenarios and industry-specific opportunities. For example, a bank might focus on creating new environmental, social and governance (ESG) products such as green loans, or provide ESG advisory services for sustainable investment strategies, whereas a retailer might aim to optimise its supply chain for greater sustainability. However, both will need to establish an ESG data estate to meet reporting requirements.  

Microsoft MWC Barcelona

...and MWC Barcelona in February

At the start of 2024 the International Monetary Fund predicted “broadly balanced” growth across industries worldwide, with levels slightly below historical averages and an expected trend of falling inflation. How does Microsoft's industry strategy help customers successfully navigate this challenging economic climate? 

During economic challenges, companies often resort to cost-cutting measures, including reducing technology investments. However, successful organisations have shown that leveraging technology is key to paving the way for future success. According to IDC’s The Business Opportunity of AI report, for every $1 a company spends on AI, they are seeing a return on investment of $3.5. Additionally, Microsoft’s 2024 Work Trend Index found that 79 per cent of leaders agree that companies need to invest in AI to stay competitive.  

The most successful companies focus not only on operating more efficiently but also on innovating to drive growth. This proactive approach is essential for overcoming economic challenges, and technology plays a critical role. Current AI use-case patterns show a focus on enriching employee experiences, reinventing customer engagement, reshaping business processes and driving innovation.  

For instance, Atrium Health, part of Advocate Health, USA's third largest nonprofit health system, is saving doctors an average of 40 minutes per day with DAX Copilot. And 68 per cent of clinicians report that this technology helps them provide high-quality, personalised care, improving clinical efficiency and reducing administrative workloads. This AI solution for healthcare automatically documents patient encounters accurately and efficiently at the point of care so doctors can do more in less time.  

Another example is Intertape Polymer Group (IPG), which uses Sight Machine’s Factory Copilot, a generative AI chat interface powered by a copilot template specifically designed for factory operations, to quickly gather insights and manage production lines. This provides all team members with better information, enhancing decision-making, improving yields and reducing costs. 

How do you see Microsoft’s extensive ecosystem of partners helping to deliver the industry strategy you’re creating? 

Partners are absolutely essential to our industry strategy and our ability to scale to support customer needs. At our industry-specific partner advisory council meetings, key partners regularly share their insights and feedback to inform our strategy. Their domain expertise, their investments in industry-specific capabilities, their experience co-innovating with customers and delivering transformational solutions are critical to bringing the power of AI to industries.  

And to support them, Microsoft offers skilling programmes, as well as co-marketing and co-selling initiatives. This ensures that customers can find the partner and technology that’s right for their needs. To build collaborative momentum, we consistently showcase partners at Microsoft and industry events where Microsoft has a presence. For example, at Hannover Messe in April, we featured 18 partner demos in our booth. 

Where does sustainability fit within your industry strategies and how is Microsoft helping to drive the sustainable agenda in its conversations with customers? 

Our sustainability strategy has three key components. Firstly, Microsoft is committed to becoming a more sustainable company. Secondly, we are dedicated to helping our customers and partners in their sustainability efforts. Thirdly, we actively contribute to societal conditions conducive to a net-zero economy, such as accelerating the availability of new climate technologies and advocating for skilling programmes to expand the green workforce. 

An example of our sustainability efforts, which in turn benefit our customers and partners, is our ongoing initiative to embed sustainability into our data centres at every stage from design to construction to operations. This includes using greener building materials like low-carbon concrete and incorporating greener hardware components such as semiconductors, servers and racks. We are on track to power our data centres with 100 per cent zero-carbon energy sources by 2025. 

At the heart of our strategy is our commitment to helping customers on their sustainability journey. This involves developing industry-specific and cross-industry tools and technologies to support company initiatives such as ESG insights and reporting. Other tools empower organisations to accelerate progress toward sustainability goals and reduce costs, such as Microsoft Sustainability Manager, which enables organisations to analyse performance data and identify opportunities to reduce environmental impact. We are deeply infusing AI into our sustainability solutions. For example, Copilot in Microsoft Sustainability Manager empowers frontline workers to interact with data using common language, and in the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, a new AI capability called ‘what-if analysis’ supports scenario planning. 

And as part of our focus to help create global markets to advance sustainability across industries, initiatives such as our $1 Billion Climate Innovation Fund are helping drive innovative new technology and approaches to address climate challenges, which include carbon removal, hard-to-abate industries and water replenishment. 

Microsoft’s Reading Coach

Microsoft’s Reading Coach uses AI to help students improve their reading skills

As this issue of the magazine reaches its readers, Microsoft will be heading into a new fiscal year, presumably with a new set of strategies for industry operations over the coming 12 months. Are you able to share an insight into what lies ahead? 

It’s no surprise that the focus for the coming year will be on AI and data. Rather than a completely new strategy, we are evolving our approach to continue empowering customers to use AI to differentiate their businesses and drive progress. We’ve transitioned from the era of digital transformation to the era of AI transformation. 

One of the reasons why I am so excited about generative AI is because organisations are ready for this shift. Over the past decade or so, technology practitioners like Microsoft have been implementing solutions that have helped companies in their digital transformation journeys, whether it’s migrating data to the cloud or getting their data estate in order. Now, with technologies such as cloud, IoT and 5G reaching maturity, AI transformation can occur at a speed we have never seen before. Plus, the adaptive cloud approach allows organisations to leverage cloud-native and AI technologies to work simultaneously across hybrid, multi-cloud, edge and IoT environments. Having gleaned valuable insights from their digital transformations, companies are now ready to embrace AI transformation. 

The increasing integration of AI into daily life, both at home and at work, will accelerate adoption across various domains. For instance, my eight-year-old son was a beta tester for Microsoft Reading Coach, which enables students to create stories using AI while improving their reading skills. He was learning how to read during the Covid-19 pandemic, when everyone was wearing masks, which had a huge impact on how he and other children associated sounds with words. So, when I found out that the Microsoft Education team was developing an AI-powered reading coach, I was very excited for him. He used it daily for 20 minutes and gave feedback to the engineering team. He went from being at the bottom of the class for reading at the beginning of last summer to being at the very top of the class in just a few months. That’s only one example of how AI can empower people in our everyday lives. 

And in May 2024, Microsoft announced a partnership with Khan Academy that will enable all K-12 educators in the USA to access Khanmigo for Teachers for free, an AI teaching assistant powered by Azure OpenAI Service. Khanmigo offers AI-powered suggestions and teacher tools that alleviate administrative burdens, contributing to teacher wellbeing. With a few simple clicks on an onscreen dashboard, teachers can generate custom lesson plans in minutes, saving them up to five hours per week. This partnership underscores how our collaborations with partners enable us to scale and deliver exponential impact to industry customers.  

This article was originally published in the Summer 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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