Last November, at the company’s Future Decoded event in London, Microsoft chief executive officer (CEO) Satya Nadella insisted that every organization should embrace “tech intensity" to be successful in today’s digital age, which means companies should not only be fast-adopters of technology but also build their own digital capabilities.

Anant Maheshwari, president of Microsoft India, echoes Nadella’s thinking. “If you consider tech intensity, every company on the planet is becoming a tech and a software company," he said in a recent interview in Bengaluru.

According to him, it’s the infusion of artificial intelligence (AI) in applications—and adoption of advanced analytics using AI and Internet of Things (IoT) devices—that are helping the move from a mobile-first, cloud-first world to a new world that is going to be “made up of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge", he adds.

For instance, Microsoft partnered with ICICI Lombard to develop India’s first AI-enabled car inspection feature in its mobile app Insure. Narayana Health uses Microsoft’s data analytics and AI in its healthcare business while Microsoft is helping Apollo Hospitals predict cardiovascular diseases with an AI-powered cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk score API, or application program interface.

Piramal Glass has deployed Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform to digitally transform its manufacturing operations. And Microsoft has also tied up with the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) to leverage technologies such as AI, cloud machine learning, satellite imagery and advanced analytics to help farmers arrive at the best sowing date for crops, helping increase crop yields by 10-30%, according to Maheshwari.

Microsoft also uses AI to help people with disabilities. For instance, “Seeing A" is an app designed for people with visual disabilities to help them describe people, text, currency, colour and objects. Microsoft Research has also developed an AI-powered Interactive Cane to aid people with visual impairment to navigate. “The whole multi-sense, multi-device capability is going to become an even bigger part of humanity as we go forward," insists Maheshwari.

Maheshwari acknowledges, though, as AI becomes mainstream, “organizations will require talent with skill sets that are very different from what exists now".

This explains why Microsoft launched the AI Digital Labs in India last month in partnership with 10 higher educational institutions including BITS Pilani and the Indian School of Business, (ISB). As part of this three-year programme, Microsoft will support these institutions with infrastructure, curriculum and content, access to cloud and AI services as well as developer support.

According to Maheshwari, while security and privacy “get a lot talked about because of some recent incidents and also because of EU GDPR (general data protection rules), what’s emerging as a bigger conversation is transparency and compliance".

Microsoft, he concludes, “has the potential to help businesses make use of AI without inadvertently discriminating against certain groups of people—it will help AI researchers catch more instances of unfairness".

Microsoft in India also engages with both M12 (company’s venture arm) and Microsoft for startups. “M12 is three-year-old, and has already done 120 investments around the world—in the US, Europe and Israel, and it has now opened in India since the early part of this calendar year in the last six months," said Maheshwari.

Microsoft already has partnerships with unicorns like Flipkart, InMobi and Ola. The partnership with InMobi uses Microsoft’s Azure platform, which helped “their (InMobi’s) ability to create a full marketing cloud for the CMO (chief marketing officer), creating a data cloud for the CMO and the CIO and thinking through customers in a very big way", said Maheshwari.

Microsoft in India will continue to use emerging technologies to help in the digital transformation of traditional enterprises, government and public services, and the entire startup and unicorn ecosystem. “We are still in the zone of empowering all these three types of ecosystems rather than trying to be one of them," he added.

AI pays dividend for companies

*The artificial intelligence (AI) market was valued at $21.5 billion in 2018 and is likely to reach $190.6 billion by 2025.

* Major companies vying for the AI market share include Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, Nvidia, IBM, Samsung and Amazon Web Services.

* Major drivers for the AI market are the growing big data, increasing adoption of cloud-based applications and services, and an increase in demand for intelligent virtual assistants.

* The major restraint for the market is the limited number of AI technology experts.

* Critical challenges facing the AI market include concerns regarding data privacy and the unreliability (and bias) of AI algorithms.

Source: MarketsandMarkets Inc.

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