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Microsoft CEO outlines ‘digital imperatives’

Organisations that want to do more with less will have to think deeply about digital imperatives such as the shift to cloud and artificial intelligence, says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has outlined key digital imperatives that will help organisations to tackle global challenges such as the transition to new energy sources and the inequities that exist in the world today.

Speaking at the Microsoft Asia-Pacific Innovators Forum in Singapore today, Nadella said these imperatives include the shift to cloud, leveraging data and artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber security, among others.

Effectively laying out how Microsoft’s enterprise offerings – from cloud services and productivity and collaboration software to developer and security tools – can address each of the imperatives, Nadella said organisations that want to “do more with less” will need to think about those imperatives deeply.

At the event, which was attended by Microsoft partners, customers and government officials, Nadella spoke at length about the role of cloud computing in paving the way for the world’s energy transition.

“It’s the most effective use of energy to deploy a unit of compute, especially at a time like this when demand and supply have to be matched,” said Nadella. “You don’t want to waste any capital, and this is the best way to match demand and supply.”

But moving to cloud is not just about lifting and shifting existing applications – organisations have to start building cloud-native applications to be more energy efficient, he said. Citing research from Gartner, he noted that by 2025, 95% of applications will be cloud native.

Against this backdrop, Nadella was bullish about the overall growth of Azure cloud services, with more datacentres being planned for the region. This comes at a time when cloud capabilities are increasingly distributed across datacentres, multiple clouds and edge environments, which he said can be managed with the Azure Arc management platform.

Nadella singled out Malaysian oil and gas giant Petronas as an example of an organisation in Asia-Pacific that has been using Azure’s distributed cloud computing fabric. “They have massive commitments to their own energy transition plans, and they have needs from HPC [high-performance computing] to their back-office needs,” he said.

On data and AI, Nadella cited Gartner’s research, which expects 10% of the world’s data to be generated by generative AI models by 2025, driving new applications that will require a robust data platform.

But rather than stitch together a variety of data solutions, Nadella called for organisations to consider a data fabric, starting with Cosmos DB, a NoSQL and relational database.

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“You complement that with Azure SQL, and you have the best sort of online databases, connected in real time to the Synapse analytics engine. And all of it is managed and governed by Purview,” he said.

“Just like how moving to the cloud means you’re not stacking and racking servers, the equivalent of having a limitless data estate is what the Azure data platform provides for you.”

With data platforms as the foundation, Nadella said organisations can start building large AI models and turning them into platforms. “The idea is not for you to start from scratch, so we’re taking everything from our partner OpenAI and exposing them as APIs [application programming interfaces] through Azure OpenAI APIs,” he said.

With $10tn expected to be lost to cyber crime by 2025, Nadella rounded off his keynote by highlighting Microsoft’s efforts to help organisations fend off cyber attacks.

“In order for us to tackle that challenge, we have to take a very end-to-end approach,” he said. “You can’t stitch products together – you have to have a zero-trust architecture that is designed into the products, whether it is identity management, endpoint protection, application security or infrastructure security.

“And then it’s not enough – you need the signals because, after all, it’s an intelligence thing. So, the trillions of events we see every day are being used to make these products more secure.”

Microsoft counts some of the largest companies across the region as clients. These include Thai financial services company SCBX, Sri Lankan conglomerate John Keells Holdings and Zuellig Pharma, one of the biggest healthcare services groups in Asia.

At the forum, Balbir Singh Dhillon, Zuellig Pharma’s head of productivity platforms, said the company first moved to the cloud with Azure, starting with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Since then, it has been running the SAP Hana in-memory database on Azure – a move that has reduced its hosting fees by 40%.

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