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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlights importance of sharing the wealth of digital transformation

During the opening keynote of the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, the company CEO Satya Nadella talked up the importance of ensuring the spoils of digital transformation are spread far and wide in society

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is calling on enterprises to do more to ensure the economic benefits of digital transformation are shared more equitably with society.

During the opening keynote of the 2018 Microsoft Ignite customer and developer conference in Orlando, Florida, Nadella talked up the importance of ensuring the rewards of digital transformation are evenly spread, both from a geographic and industry perspective.

“The work we all collectively do to advance the state of the art of digital technology, reshape our own companies and reshape our own industries, gives us one additional opportunity, which – in the end – is perhaps more important,” he said.

“And that is the opportunity to ensure the surplus that gets created by digital technology is equitably distributed throughout our economy and throughout our society, because that is what we need.

“Just any one industry, any few companies, [or] any few countries getting ahead is not just going to be the solution. What we do need is a real concerted effort to ensure this next big revolution, driven by technology, creates more equity for more people across the globe.”

The sentiment is in keeping with Microsoft’s over-arching strategy, as laid out by Nadella in early 2015, to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more.

This has seen the firm turn its attention to addressing how technology can be used for public good, with Nadella using Ignite 2018 to announce a $40m, five-year commitment to help non-government organisations use artificial intelligence (AI) to support the humanitarian work they do.

Every company – regardless of the industry they operate in – will need to build their own technology in some form or other, and make better use of the data generated by their operations to succeed in the future, he added, or risk being left behind.

“Every industry is being transformed by digital technology. Everything – whether it’s a car, a refrigerator or the factory floor – are getting connected and becoming intelligent. That’s the rich world of computing. Computing is not just about the compute industry – it’s about the entire world,” he told the 30,000 attendees at this year’s Ignite.

“And this computing power is being used to generate that next generation of AI-driven business process. That’s next generation of multi-sense, multi-device experiences that are much more people-centric. That’s the richness, that’s the opportunity that’s ahead of us.”

To tap into this opportunity, enterprises need to develop “technology intensity”, he added, which means ensuring they are investing in the “latest and greatest technology” while building out their own digital capabilities as well.

“Irrespective of which industry you’re in, if you’re a digital business, you need to do both: adopt technology and build technology,” he added.

Delivering on these two points relies on companies having ready access to their data, which is not always possible because this data is often locked away in internal silos, but also within systems runs by external partners and third-party software suppliers.

“The data that is available in every company around the customer is super rich. You have all this behavioural data that comes from web and mobile, there is [internet of things] data, many of them are building products that are collecting data [and] services that are collecting data,” said Nadella. 

“There is also all the transactional information in the ERP [enterprise resource management] and CRM [customer relationship management] systems. Clearly, there’s a big data opportunity. Except…all of this data is now trapped in silos, many of them internal but also external because you have these advertising, social and other marketplaces where that data is opaque. “

In response, Microsoft is rolling out the Open Data Initiative (ODI), in conjunction with fellow software giant’s Adobe and SAP, to help the firms’ mutual customers eliminate the silos preventing them from using their data for analytics and AI applications, for example.

To this end, the three companies have collectively vowed to improve the interoperability and data exchange capabilities of their individual software platforms by making use of a unified, Microsoft Azure-based data lake service.

The respective chief executives of Adobe and SAP, Shantanu Narayen and Bill McDermott, joined Nadella on stage during the keynote to announce the launch of the initiative, which will be guided by three core principles.

These include assurances the trio’s mutual customers will maintain complete control over their own data at all times, enabling them to use it to enable AI-driven business processes in their organisations, while ensuring that other technology companies are also open to participate in it too.

McDermott told attendees the initiative’s creation is a “seminal moment” for the IT industry, before going on to champion the importance of opening up access to data, both from an enterprise and supplier perspective.

“When you’re open, you’re prosperous,” he said. “When you think about this open world that we’re talking about, we have to be extensible with each other – for and with each other – so these platforms have to work together.

“We have started something that’s a movement. You can never underestimate the importance of trust and collaboration, because that’s where it all started.”

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