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New Delhi: It’s been an Indian summer for chief executives of technology companies. First up was Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook, followed by Michael Dell of Dell Inc. And now it is the turn of the Indian-origin head of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella who arrives in Delhi on 30 May. This will be the Nadella’s third visit to the country after taking over from Steve Ballmer as CEO in February 2014.

Nadella’s first visit to India coincided with the 25 years of Microsoft in India. It was around the same time that Microsoft opened three data centres in India, making it the first ever global provider to offer its Azure cloud services from local data centres in India. Nadella’s second trip to India was in December 2015 which was largely a personal visit. Remember, Nadella is Hyderabad-born and has family there.

So what brings Nadella to India again, a country with more than one billion people where only about 350 million are connected to the Internet?

According to Prasanto Roy, a senior technology writer, “In a slowing world economy, India is an under-leveraged, under-penetrated, growth market. The home markets of these companies are slowing, or saturated. Apple gets just 1% of its revenue from a market that has 15% of the world’s mobile phones. Clearly, they can do better. MNCs like Microsoft need to tackle the unique issues with India’s market, and navigate its policy challenges and other roadblocks. Microsoft has spent two decades working on that, slowly, and with some success, especially in India’s government and public projects."

Like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., Microsoft, too is also looking to bridge the digital divide between the world of digital haves and digital have-nots. In 2015, the software company launched a new fund under its Affordable Access Initiative programme aimed at providing affordable Internet market to underserved markets. Microsoft’s Affordable Access Initiative aims to democratize access to the Internet through grants, commercial partnerships, connecting new leaders and community engagement. Grant recipients are based across five continents in 11 countries that includes India, Indonesia and many of the African countries,

“With more than half of the world’s population lacking access to the Internet, connectivity is a global challenge that demands creative problem solving," said Peggy Johnson, executive vice-president of business development at Microsoft. “By using technology that’s available now and partnering with local entrepreneurs who understand the needs of their communities, our hope is to create sustainable solutions that will not only have impact today but also in the years to come." Read here

Adds Paul Garnett, director of Affordable Access Initiatives at Microsoft, “Our goal is to support at least 20 projects in at least 15 countries by 2017. Beyond the numbers, we are looking for low-cost, practical, high-impact, and scalable approaches. It will take more than just grant money to refine and scale these businesses... And, beyond Affordable Access Initiative grants, Microsoft Philanthropies offers digital literacy, online safety, and computer science education programmes through its YouthSpark initiative, as well as cloud product donations and training for non-profits in communities around the world." Read here

We should also remember cloud-computing is central to Nadella’s strategy and one of the key drivers for the company’s growth. According to Microsoft data, India’s cloud is set to grow to $1 billion by 2020. And Microsoft’s cloud is mirroring that growth statistic. Fifty percent of the top 100 Indian firms listed on the BSE cover a broad range of sectors ranging from financial services, healthcare, e-commerce and IT, are on Microsoft cloud.

So what is on Satya Nadella’s agenda this time?

We do know that Nadella is a keynote speaker at an event organized by Microsoft India on 30 May. Titled Tech for Good, Ideas for India, the event will have three other speakers, besides Nadella, including Jayant Sinha, minister of state for finance and Bhaskar Pramanik, Microsoft chairman in India. It is described as a conversation with students, young achievers, developers and entrepreneurs and will probably be largely focussed on the role of technology in fostering a culture of innovation and accelerating India’s pace towards a digital future. There’s also another session organized by the CII where the Microsoft chief will meet the who’s who from corporate India.

Will he meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Let’s wait and see.

There are some who view the visits of CEOs like Nadella with a tinge of scepticism. Says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and founder of Medianama, “I’m not sure why they’re coming here, but I find it a little disconcerting that government policy is such that the CEO of a company needs to meet government executives to prevent hurdles or restrictions, or ease restrictions. That’s not how policy should work: it should work on principles of making doing business easier, and for allowing every business equal opportunity. For all the talk about Digital India, our digital policy environment is pretty regressive right now."

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