The government in India has been one of the earliest adopters of cloud computing for various e-governance projects. “Today, cloud-powered technologies such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and advanced data analytics are creating limitless possibilities in transforming the way people work, live and play. Cloud technology is a critical enabler that will fuel India’s digital transformation,” says Anant Maheshwari, president, Microsoft India. He is responsible for all of Microsoft’s product, service, and support offerings across India. Maheshwari’s role in Microsoft India is pivotal as the country focuses on the twin growth themes of Smart Cities and Digital India. “We are very clear that India is a priority geography for us and we will continue to invest here because there’s lots more to be done,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:
What kind of a role do you see Microsoft playing in the Digital India initiative?
I think of Digital India with multiple constituencies. The government is the most obvious one, but a lot of the work that private enterprise is doing is also a big, big enabler of Digital India. And thirdly, are the small and medium businesses; they are leveraging and creating new growth engines by taking in the impact of Digital India solutions. So Microsoft is deeply involved with all three sections. If I start with the government side, both at the Central government and state governments, working with them on core sectors of the economy, including health, education, agriculture, skilling and jobs, those would be the areas where we engage a lot more directly with the governments. If I look at the enterprise side, it is using a lot of digital solutions that are coming into play to impact their operations or create new offerings with them or even employee productivity and engagement and how to work with customers in a very different way. So that to me is the new Digital India that we are working with. And finally, for the small and medium business, with the new advent of connectivity that is all around them in the small and medium business in tier 2, 3, 4 towns of the country, how we can get a lot of the ready-to-go solutions for them in a pay-as-you-go model so that it becomes truly amenable for them to use.
How does Microsoft view the technology uptake by central and state governments?
Technology is a very broad word. I would say that a lot of the public sector companies (central government) and state governments have displayed different speeds in adopting different aspects. Also, if you take, maybe 10 or 15 areas that each government could go and do, you will find enough examples of every government in the country having done something. Some have gone very strong on Smart Cities. Somebody has gone very strong on e-governance. Somebody has gone very strong on digitisation, on the work that is happening now with Aadhaar, GST and the India Stack coming together. So there is a lot of good work that’s happened in different parts of the country. I think the real challenge and the aspiration that all of us should have is how can this be uniformly done now by every state government, in every central ministry. And to me that’s an easier problem to solve because you have good use cases available to replicate.
I spoke about the core sectors, education, agriculture, healthcare, skilling. Today, we are actively talking to state governments where we can point out to at least one state government and say look at what they’ve done, they have done something really good here. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not take something that has already been done and then modify a little bit and go implement in another part of the country? To me, that’s such a great place to be, rather than going to every state government and saying let’s spend time thinking about how to solve a problem.
What do you think is the role of cloud in governance?
I think we have had a broader construct about a global cloud for global good. The cloud automatically brings in transparency. It brings in efficiency. It brings in an ability to leverage data at scale and therefore apply a lot of the new toolkits that are coming through along with artificial intelligence. So if I look at the just the growth aspect around governance, cloud can be a huge enabler for India because we can very quickly reach different parts of the country with specific applications and capabilities. Then comes the focus around governance that you mentioned and e-governance. The citizen services become a key part of governance and there cloud has a huge role to play. Given the infrastructure that we have today in the country and where we would like it to be, we can follow the traditional path of just building infrastructure of the traditional sorts or we can leverage the digital infrastructure that’s already been created in the country where most people have a phone in their hands and they can access a lot of these citizen services through these digital means already. I can see a number of government departments have moved on to that journey. The entire tax network is a very good example of how they have transitioned fairly quickly into the new regime.
How is Microsoft strengthening its cloud strategy in India?
We have had a consistent focus and a very strong perspective that we have to invest ahead of the curve. So even before there was a big talk around cloud in India, Microsoft came in and invested into the three data centres that we created in the country. Much before there was a huge discussion around cyber security, we came in and invested to create the Cybersecurity Engagement Centre nearly 12 months back in the country, and this was amongst the first geographies that we had. It was number six, number seven coming together in Delhi and Singapore that we invested into the Cybersecurity Engagement Centres.
If you look at the independent software vendor community that we have in India, it’s amongst our most vibrant communities in the world that we are working with. That was again much before it became very common for having that kind of a partner network. The Microsoft Accelerator was amongst the pioneers in the start-up ecosystem in the country. There are enough examples to say that our approach has always been to invest ahead of the curve. Once you create these capabilities, automatically the solutions will be created and the demand will come through. So that will continue to remain a strategy because that is the playbook that’s working.
Lastly, what are your plans for Microsoft India for the next 2-3 years?
We are very clear that India is a priority geography for us and we will continue to invest here because there’s lots more to be done. It is at a cusp of transforming the country through digital means. The initiative is not just something that the government has spoken about, but a lot of other work has got done. Most importantly, if you look at the two big industries—the enterprise movements in India (one is in the IT industry and the second is the entire start-up ecosystem) and Unicorn kind of ecosystem that we have—both of those are purely digital as we go forward, and so there’s no reason for us to be anything but optimistic about the potential in India.