For most companies, GST may have been a disruption in the way they did business, but Microsoft India President Anant Maheshwari feels it has been a massive shift in the digital journey of India. Maheshwari says that while the growth for the company in India has been consistent with its global growth, customers and users are now dealing with a “new kind of Microsoft”.
“On the front-end, a lot of the small merchants need new capabilities like devices, software and many of our partners are creating these solutions for the masses. GST will change supply-chain in the future and the way many industries operate, brings the states in a completely different format and there you will need software capabilities to string it all together. Business applications and how dynamic capabilities play out is going to be a very big part of our thinking,” says Maheshwari.
According to Maheshwari, in the old world, many of these GST providers may have large compute infrastructure to provide services. In today’s world they very quickly took advantage of Azure cloud capabilities.
GST has also meant a new set of customers for Microsoft – the micro, small and medium enterprises of the country, a group that is not very adept at technology. “We did not need a new strategy for this segment, but clearly additional muscle of an existing strategy. Did we have all the answers when GST became operational on July 1? I would say absolutely not, but we have many answers that evolved after that. We are still learning to do better and overall I would say it is a continuous learning to do better and overall I would say it is a continuous learning curve,” says Maheshwari.
Maheshwari, however, adds that what the company is increasingly doing is asking this segment of customers about their pain-points and then working with the partners to figure out a solution. And solutions have come from unexpected quarters.
In July this year, Microsoft India launched Kaizala, a mobile-only product designed for large group communications and work management. The ‘made in India’ app was optimized for 2G networks to enable connectivity in remote locations and offers features with offline support.
“We launched Kaizala in July and one of our ISV Partner figured out that with GST there will be a need of document trail and the capability to handle that. Many who have come in to the GST ecosystem may not have the capability of computing infrastructure. These can be small traders or entrepreneurs on the move who do not have time. This Partner created a full GST ready documentation management system within a few days where anyone can create a full audit trail for GST related documents. If the Kaizala platform would not have been there, this would not have been possible in such short span of time,” says Maheshwari.
The Microsoft India President admits that the company did not think about this use case when they created Kaizala. “But someone, somewhere innovated and came up with this. Our Partners are very critical for us and we will continue to create the fabric on which they can innovate. The number of SMEs using Microsoft continues to grow and the company is very bullish on this segment,” says Maheshwari.
The partner ecosystem is critical for Microsoft as it generates more than 95% of its business. Today, Microsoft India has more than 9,000 cloud partners, while globally; the number stands at 64,000.
Tech for help
Maheshwari feels in the near future, artificial intelligence or AI will come to the rescue of many when it comes to efficiency. Doctors, teachers, lawyers and practically everyone would be more efficient and do their jobs much better.
Thomas Friedman’s new book, ” Thank You for Being Late ,” has a chapter called ‘ How we turn AI into IA ‘ or Intelligent Assistance and Maheshwari feels that is, perhaps, the ideal way to look at AI. Being alarmist about AI taking our jobs may not be the case.
“Should you look at it as Artificial Intelligence (AI) or change it to Intelligent Assistance (IA). For example, our smartphone is doing so multiple things that earlier needed several devices. Has the total number of smartphone gone up? The answer is yes and to me it shows that if an AI can create more assistance for us to get some things done faster and better, it will free up time to do more. This itself will create more enterprises and entrepreneurship, which in turn will lead to more jobs. It will be a new nature of jobs,” says Maheshwari.
Maheshwari adds that human empathy and human connections will also see an improvement. “For example, if a chat bot can do the first level of screening and engage in some initial conversation, it frees up a customer center executive from addressing certain types of queries. The same executive can in turn engage in more meaningful and deeper conversations with people who may have pressing or important matters,” says Maheshwari.