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'In the lockdown, we want to support firms of all sizes': Microsoft India COO

The software giant has seen the use of its collaborative software tools zoom through the Covid-19 lockdown, and has a clear priority in case of any capacity constraints—health care clients, Rajiv Sodhi says

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Apr 15, 2020 04:20:37 PM IST
Updated: Apr 16, 2020 10:32:39 AM IST

'In the lockdown, we want to support firms of all sizes': Microsoft India COORajiv Sodhi, Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India

Customers are accelerating a shift to cloud computing and tapping multiple collaborative software platforms as the Covid-19 lockdown continues in India, Rajiv Sodhi, Microsoft’s COO in India, says in an interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

Q. How well are your customers prepared for the work-from-home scenario? How are you helping them?
Organisations of different sizes and complexities across sectors are facing a variety of issues as they grapple with the situation. Transitioning employees to work from home in the initial days was a big challenge. To support this, we made Microsoft Teams available free of cost in early March, even for organisations that didn’t have Office 365. Leading Indian companies have placed their trust in Teams, and are now using it for daily calls, meetings and collaborating virtually.

Traditionally, sectors such as BFSI, ITeS and manufacturing have not equipped their employees to access work related content or systems remotely. Our team has worked around the clock to help ITeS giants deploy Azure Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). This has allowed large workforces to access internal apps, develop and even publish solutions through a desktop hosted on Azure. And they are doing so using different browsers from home PCs, laptops and personal mobile devices in an absolutely secure manner. Moving to Azure WVD also did away with the need to scramble for new devices, a relief at a time supply chains are broken, and retailers are shut.

Q. What sort of role can technology companies like yours play in such a crisis?
Microsoft engineers are spending time with doctors and management at healthcare institutes to understand their challenges and requirements. Healthcare Global Enterprises (HCG), which specialises in comprehensive cancer care, has launched a Virtual OPD on Teams for 23 centres across India to provide uninterrupted care to its patients. We are also helping Fortis Healthcare pilot a virtual consultation service that runs on Teams.

We are also focussing on helping pharmaceutical companies and their partners stay productive and keep medicines and critical supplies available. Intas Pharmaceuticals, a leading Ahmedabad-based drug manufacturer, uses Office 365, our collaboration platform, and our team helped them in rapid and successful usage adoption in the current situation. They have also adopted Windows Virtual Desktop, allowing their critical workforce to access internal content from home and support the company’s operations securely.

Over the last few weeks, we have imparted training to over 4,000 educators and students across 100 schools and higher education institutions to adopt remote learning tools. The British School moved to Microsoft Teams even before the COVID-19 lockdown started to enable its teachers collaborate and interact with students for online learning. Amity University, Noida, on the other hand, has moved 80 percent of courses online to Teams in two weeks.

Q. How can companies tackle the cybersecurity risks that come from moving operations digital?
An unprecedented number of people working from home using multiple devices and apps also means an increased cybersecurity risk. New challenges could include expanding deployment to additional devices, adjusting security policies to enable productivity from home, enabling BYOD, supporting broader SaaS application usage, securing sensitive data and more.

The single best thing companies can do to improve security for remote working is to turn on multi-factor authentication (MFA). Longer term, security admins can also consider programs to find and label the most critical data so that they can track and audit usage when employees work from home. It is also important to continuously track how remote working is affecting compliance and risks.

Q. Are your customers accelerating their move-to-the-cloud plans during these times?
We have seen a 775 percent increase in Teams' calling and meeting monthly users in a one-month period in Italy, where social distancing or shelter in place orders have been enforced. We have seen a very significant spike in Teams usage, and now have more than 44 million daily users. Those users generated over 900 million meeting and calling minutes on Teams daily in a single week. Windows Virtual Desktop usage has grown more than 3x. Government use of public Power BI to share COVID-19 dashboards with citizens has surged by 42 percent in a week.

Q. ​What is the biggest challenge Microsoft is facing?
As demand continues to grow, if we are faced with any capacity constraints in any region during this time, we have established clear criteria for the priority of new cloud capacity. Top priority will be going to first responders, health and emergency management services, critical government infrastructure organisational use, and ensuring remote workers stay up and running with the core functionality of Teams. We will also consider adjusting free offers, as necessary, to ensure support of existing customers.

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