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Microsoft’s Satya Nadella: ‘Innovation comes from having a deep sense of empathy’

Satya Nadella’s (pictured left) tenure as CEO is seen as a period of transformation for the company and the key ingredients for getting business transformation right, according to him, are sense of purpose and culture.

During the keynote session at the Adobe Summit 2019 in Las Vegas, Nadella said when he first joined Microsoft in the early 90s, its mission was to be the PC in every home and on every desk. Now, the company’s mission has a deeper meaning which is to empower every person to achieve more. He added that in the current economy, and to safeguard a viable future, businesses need to understand where the world is heading, bet on the right technology trends and ultimately deliver products that consumers love. Nadella said:

The source of innovation comes from having a deep sense of empathy.

“The more we can invoke our ability to meet unarticulated or unmet means, the more that will be the source of innovation,” he said. Additionally, having a learning culture is also important for companies that wish to keep reinventing themselves, Nadella said. Companies should empower employees with the best tools to have pride in their craft. He said that unless that is done, it will be hard to proceed with the business transformation journey.

“Think about the integration between teams and the creative cloud or the marketing and experience cloud, for example, these are all the things that take the friction out and enable people to communicate so that the end product is much better,” Nadella said.

During his time at Microsoft, he turned the company into a major provider of cloud computing services and a company that has embraced open-source development. For him, companies undergoing business transformation should consider two things – having a first class world view of where the industry is heading and what companies can do with the emerging trends.

“To me, it is important to be able to get these two things right long before people give you credit for it,” he said. Nadella added:

It’s not about going where people tell you to, but how you get there before there is conventional wisdom.

Breaking down silos to harness data

Nadella believes that the most important asset that companies have is data. However, he said that is often siloed. As such, Microsoft decided to partner with Adobe and SAP in September 2018 to launch the Open Data Initiative (ODI) which aims to help marketers transform customer experiences through real-time insights delivered from the cloud.

According to Nadella, the ODI gives marketers the ability to have data across all aspects of their companies and their consumers to help them build their own products and services. The objective is to enable mutual clients to get better at connecting with their customers, and being able to transform the products and services that they are creating.

“It is nice to see the data not being locked up. The fact that you can think of a sustainability effort as an end-to-end process from how your customer experience works to supply chain data, that to me is the ‘unlock’ where we are not thinking about processes narrowly but much more end to end,” Nadella said. He added:

It’s not about our consumers’ growing dependence in us, but more of us enabling consumers to build their digital independence with us. That to me is the core of our partnership.

Nonetheless, he added that one of the hardest things to do is to try and predict, with high precision, exactly what consumers are going to like and what the consumer behaviour will be in the future. “Their expectations are going to keep changing and you have to keep up with it,” Nadella said.

Three technology trends to look out for

Before helming the role of CEO, Nadella was executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, and previously held leadership roles in both enterprise and consumer businesses across the company. As someone who is genuinely passionate about the technology scene, Nadella shared three transformative technology trends companies can expect.

1. The growth of deep learning techniques

Deep learning will no longer just be about speech recognition, machine translation, object identification or computer vision. Instead, Nadella said that the ability to do machine reading and comprehension at scale, unsupervised, is just starting. Moving forward, computers will be able to process and learn both human gestures and speech at the same time, for example.

2. An instinctual user experience

The user experience is currently rather limited when it comes to the use of AR and VR. Citing the Microsoft HoloLens as an example, Nadella said gestures can only be used for a specific set of cases while speech is catered to something else. This is different compared to normal human life, which involves a mix of gestures and speech all at the same time. According to Nadella, the goal is to ensure that consumers can speak, gesture and gaze all at once when using AR or VR devices.

3. The power of cloud computing

According to him, the industry needs more computing and it needs to be ubiquitous. With cloud computing, consumers are not bound to the computing power on their device. “It’s about the infinite capacity of the cloud plus low latency capacity to interpret the world at the edge. That is phenomenal to see,” Nadella said.

Adobe paid for the journalist’s trip to the Adobe Summit 2019 in Las Vegas.

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