New Delhi: Other than industry involvement, Microsoft Corp. says it is heavily into education in India through information technology (IT) literacy, skill development in schools and academic licensing. Orlando Ayala, chairman, emerging markets, spoke in an interview about the company’s eagerness to join India’s unique identification project and innovations in the country. Edited excerpts:
What is your involvement in education through Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential programme?
We believe that foundation of society begins with opportunity for education for every human being. We not only understand education is critical, but also how education is important for innovation and creating new ideas. The virtuous cycle of society is education to innovation to jobs and opportunities. We attach concrete programmes to these three elements in India and all over. In education, we have one of the strongest programmes called Partners in Learning, locally called Shiksha, to promote IT literacy and enhance classroom environment through ICT (information and communication technologies). We have reached out to almost 25 million students and half a million teachers across the education system. The idea is to provide them with tools, software, and skills and capability training. That is one of the important aspects of our education effort in India.
Then we have the programme called Imagine Cup, where students get an opportunity to provide solutions through local innovations. There are two more programmes called Dream Spark and Bizspark that promote entrepreneurship and help start-ups.
You have been involved in ICT in education and skill building. What is the achievement so far and what is the plan?
Twenty-five million students have benefited and it’s not a small number. If you link it with the number of students in the whole of India, then there is still a long way to go. Perhaps 100 million students that you aspire to (teach via IT literacy). We are not just doing it in the education side, there are other programmes that we are doing with the Indian army. We are targeting 100,000 military personnel. We have also have MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seven states—Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar—for improving employability of students in 11th and 12th standards. These are not business agreements. We want people to get access to tools and skills. We don’t get any revenue from this though we have our education business, which is more consumer driven.
The unique identification (UID) project is important in India. Are you eager to or negotiating to be a part of this project?
Absolutely. We are very eager to partner in any of those projects where we can enable the citizen in a broad way. And of course, digital ID is very important project in every single country. It’s not easy to implement. Microsoft has all the tools to engage in projects like that. So this is critical for the country and Microsoft can offer good solutions.
Have you interacted with Nandan Nilekani (chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India)?
I personally have not met him. But our company, the team is certainly involved. There is a process in every country and they decide what is the best approach to execute a project of that calibre. What I want to say is Microsoft has all the capability to tackle projects like the digital ID.
Microsoft has opened a technologies lab in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Any plans for other such arrangements?
I don't have anything to announce. But our relationship with first class institutions like IIT Madras is a critical part of our strategy in every country. I can tell you about the innovation labs. The opportunity to have innovation labs around cloud computing is what we are looking into.
Providing free licence software in educational institutions looks more like a strategy to build a large pool of customers in India in the long run. While giving away free software right now, are you building business for the future?
We are not the only one in the academic licensing space. All the software companies do this. You say we are creating consumers. Sure, down the road they will use it if they like it. But the issue is providing access, sometimes free and sometimes heavily discounted.
For Microsoft, India is largely a resource base than a primary market. Do you agree?
Business from India has some exciting projections for our future. As reported in The Economist, India is going to outpace China in growth. I think this is very real and we believe in it. We do see India as a primary market. That's why we have all these investments in R&D (research and development) labs. We don't have such things in any other part of the world.
Is there any product exclusively produced in India that you market globally?
The kind of software the R&D labs here have produced are world-class products. The multi-mouse enables one computer to be connected with several mouses—up to 50. This is being used around the world for education. Another product is the multi-point server. This simulates and allows multiple screens to be connected to one server. I am personally involved in large deployment of this in Brazil, Spain. These are best examples of innovation produced from our labs in India for the rest of the world.