INTERVIEW: Harnessing technology to meet societal changes

INTERVIEW: Harnessing technology to meet societal changes

Microsoft head of worldwide business and health, Keith White, spoke to MATTHEW SAINSBURY, in Washington, at the Microsoft World Partner Conference 2010.

The theme we're talking about today is harnessing technology to meet societal changes. To start could you give me an overview of what that means from a government point of view?

Keith White (KW): What most governments are trying to do is in three key pillars. Firstly, there's a lot of work around efficiency and modernising governments – so how do we do more with the money that we have?

The second pillar is around citizen engagement and interaction. Now that we're all getting much more technology-savvy, citizens are demanding services from the Government. It's bigger than the services piece though because there's this whole transparency aspect to things. We see that in the US, President Obama has put the budget online, and allowed citizens to take pictures of projects and turn them in, and there's this whole dynamic aspect of things happening there.

And then I think for governments there's the concept of e-politics, where they're wanting to leverage social networking environments to get their message out there. And then you look at how you create jobs for your citizens because many countries have high unemployment rates, so how do you investment in society in order to get those job opportunities created.

There are a lot of opportunities in there for partners, but where would they even start in terms of coming to grips with what they need to do?

KW: As a partner you're basically asking yourself “what are the key priorities of the local Government?” So that's where we're spending a lot of time education partners on having that conversation with their local, state and national Governments to understand what are those three or four priorities and how do you take a solution that we created to help with that.

One of the solutions that we talk about a lot is called the citizens service platform. It's basically taking a lot of our technology – SQL, CRM, Sharepoint and creating a front end for Governments to be able to provide services to their citizens, so that's might be as simple as renewing your drivers' license to signing your child up to the local football program.

The platform creates that level of interaction where a partner can go in with the Government and say “OK well if one of your concerns is serving citizens here's a good platform to start” and then they can build on top of that depending on what the customer is after.

Health care is sort of the same thing, there's this massive move to personal wellness – so people basically taking care of themselves rather than going to the Doctor for everything, so you'll see a lot more portals pop up that provide that sort of information – that first stop before someone goes and sees a doctor.

We've also found a great example with Australia where they've put together a portal that connects the doctors together. That's the other big challenge in hospitals – people are always going to see specialists, and ideally you have a single view of your history.

From an Australian point of view there has always been that tension between the multinational partners and local partners, and how they fit in with one another. When it comes to Government and Health, do you see these sectors as benefitting the local partners to an extent with a local understanding?

KW: I think it does. The reality is we have these global partners – the HPs and the CapGeminis of the world, but where we see the most success and where we spend most of our time is with those local and regional-type partners.

Because they're the ones that know day after day what the challenges are. One of the great things about our environment is we're all citizens – we're all patients or we might be students, so we're living what they're trying to accomplish, so we have a lot more context than we might walking into a financial institution or a manufacturing environment.

As a result the local partners have done some very creative things, and one of the things that we found really cool, is they're sharing some of their IP with other partners in other parts of the world because it's not a marker for them. So they can build a solution in Brazil and provide that architecture or guidance to someone in Australia or Japan. So we've facilitated a lot of that communication just so that not everyone's trying to reinvent the wheel each time

We also like that the local partners are often hedging their bets with Microsoft. Sometimes when you get to the more global partners they're technology agnostic. So we're always looking for partners that are connected to us.

Is there are strong opportunity for export with applications developed for government?

KW: It depends – if you're an ISV and you build a software application – with a scenario like Azure, they build an application in Australia they can run it in Brazil based on the cloud – that's where I think the export piece happens. Often I think you've got the localisation challenges, depending on the why you're set up as a Government, you might have cities, states, municipalities, something to that effect and in a different place it could be very different – so I think the export of some things is a little challenging, but again we're trying to facilitate that and I think the cloud helps that for the partners.

Is it a consistent technology play across all regions in the world?

KW: It depends on what partners in what area you ask. I think you see the differences between developed and emerging markets, so when you go down to a Brazil they have very limited access and very limited legacy systems in their environment, so they're not having to swap things out.

But you go to the UK or Australia, and they've been doing this for quite some time, so it's much more sophisticated discussion.

Is the cloud a consistent conversation across both developed and emerging markets?

KW: Yes, it is, but the challenge you have with emerging markets is that there's not a lot of access, in Africa for instance cellphones outnumber PCs 10 to one. You go to Brazil and 35 per cent of the country has broadband access. So I think that's where a difference comes in.

You're seeing a lot of the telecommunications ministers in a lot of the countries really wanting to get the access, and they're doing it thorough students. So you see a country like Portugal or Australia where they've given a notebook to every child, and provided access to them to allow their country to become stronger from a knowledge standpoint.

One issue when it comes to cloud is a lot of Governments want to keep data within their own boarders, which is very valid. If you're in Australia you don't really want to have your data sitting in Singapore, so what we're looking at solutions with partners that if Microsoft doesn't have a datacentre there how do we get a partner to build a datacentre there as well.

The economy is still very fragile, is that going to affect the adoption by the Government of these kinds of services?

KW: Sometimes you'll talk to a Government and they'll only have a set amount of dollars and they need to decide where best to put those dollars into, and what I've seen in the stimulus to date – a lot of it has gone into just keeping the light bulbs on. Make sure you have teachers, police, security and that sort of thing.

What we keep trying to do is showcase how the technology can provide that level of cost savings so they don't have to spend as much, but they can get much more benefit on top of it. We haven't seen a decrease per se but what we have seen is much more of a push to business value and total cost of ownership.

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Tags Microsoft head of worldwide business and healthKeith White

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