Together, we can do more

Published on December 15, 2020

Bienvenue! I’m Jean-Philippe, the EVP and President of Global Sales, Marketing & Operations at Microsoft. I’d like to welcome you to my first LinkedIn newsletter called Connections.

This month we announced plans to build new datacenters in Greece, Taiwan, Brazil and Austria and along with investments in skilling, sustainability, partnerships, and social impact programs in each country. While these investments will help generate new revenue for local partners and cloud-using customers, it’s clear that we need to make the connection between moving beyond a purely commercial focus if we are to drive broad economic growth through the adoption of digital technology. Growth that is inclusive, trusted, built for a sustainable future and protects fundamental rights.

Before COVID-19, I used to travel more than 250 days of the year to meet many different people from around the world - customers, governmental officials, business leaders, partners, unicorns and social entrepreneurs. While I greatly miss these in-person connections, I am grateful to have the chance to virtually travel to places like the UK, Australia, Taiwan, Spain and the US… all in one day. This shift has given me the opportunity to connect several key themes emerge in each country that will play a big role in how we build tomorrow’s future – a future that I hope is more resilient, more equitable and more sustainable. I’ve outlined a few of these themes below based on my more recent digital country visits.

Greece: “We have the sun - now we also have the cloud”

After a decade-long sovereign debt crisis that saw its economy shrink by a quarter, Greece was finally beginning to see the light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel. But then the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, impacting economies everywhere and disrupting daily life for everyone.

Greece was not immune. The country’s economy is now expected to contract by up to 10% this year while the unemployment rate is expected to rise by 18%. Despite these challenges, I have been amazed by the agility and resourcefulness of the way people, businesses and the government have responded to the crisis.

In a matter of days governments in Greece and across the region digitized citizen services and embraced cloud technology and policies to help them realize a better future—a future of economic recovery, lower unemployment, and higher standards of living. Which is why our new “GR for GRowth” initiative in Greece couldn’t have come at a better time for the country.

“GR for GRowth” not only signifies our commitment to supporting the people, government and businesses of Greece with technology and resources they need to create new opportunities for progress. It also includes a plan to build new datacenters in the country while skilling up to 100,000 people in digital technologies by 2025.

While it’s true that across the region there is a large talent pool – in fact, the region has the fifth largest developer population in the world - Greece itself still lags behind.

According to a 2019 IDC Whitepaper, organizations in the country face many difficulties finding employees with digital skills. More than in any of the six central and eastern European countries surveyed, Greek companies lacked skills in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Greek businesses also expected to see a major deficit in digital skills in the near future, particularly for security and automation skills. At present, only 18.5% of Greek companies say that their employees fully or mostly meet their digital skills requirements.

There is no doubt that closing the skills gap in Greece will help drive economic recovery and empower underserved communities, citizens and employees. That’s why our commitment to supporting citizens in both professional and personal ambitions by skilling approximately 100,000 people in Greece in digital technologies by 2025 means so much.

As Alex Patelis, Chief Economic Adviser to the Greek Prime Minister so eloquently puts it in this article for Bloomberg, “We have the sun, now we also have the Cloud. Digital nomads, tech companies, asset managers: Greece is calling.”

To hear more about the impact this will have on the country, I spoke with Theodosis Michalopoulos, General Manager of Microsoft Greece, Cyprus and Malta. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Q. Theo, can you tell us a little more about what this announcement means to you and the impact it will have on Greece?

A. In order to understand the impact of this investment you have to look at Greece’s recent economic history. Despite COVID, we’ve just begun emerging from a decade long recession and beginning our journey towards economic recovery. I think it’s a magical moment in time that Microsoft has decided invest in Greece at this early stage of our recovery, co-creating with Greek businesses, and supporting with skilling and education initiatives to solve the digital skills gap and produce more technology jobs.

Q. What were some of the reactions on the ground from your colleagues, our customers, government officials when we announced our intent to build a datacenter region in Greece?

A. There were so many people congratulating us. Not only because we will now have our own cloud region but because of what this means for Greece - and the broader impact it will have on our economy and on our people. COVID-19 has resulted in a shift in perspective - instead of being afraid they will lose their jobs to technology; they now see how it can empower them to do and achieve more. They’ve seen how we responded to the crisis by digitizing citizen services and enabling remote working. And they understand that a datacenter is one step closer to achieving the digital future we envision for Greece. In fact, I’ve heard of many people who left Greece to during our economic recession, now wanting to return home.

Q. We have a long and rich history in Greece. What local stories or customer experiences have made the biggest impact on you?

A. I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done with Viva Wallet. What started in 2000 as a software company focused on developing web applications for the banking sector expanded in just a few years to creating software for banks and financial institutions in Greece and the rest of Europe, while also developing systems for airline and telecom industries. Based on Azure, Viva Wallet is now the first fully cloud-based digital payments institution in Europe and we’ve been with them from the very beginning. It was tough at first because cloud-based services for critical operations were still developing in maturity a few years ago, but now they are expanding all over Europe.

Connecting Taiwan to the world

Taiwan has long been a global leader in high-tech sectors such as consumer electronics and semiconductors. In fact, it’s Taiwan’s most critical industry, contributing 18% of the country’s GDP with electronic manufacturing companies making up the bulk of the sector. It’s clear that Taiwan is well-positioned to capture the opportunity of cloud and AI just as well, or even better than other advanced economies in Asia.

Having been in Taiwan for 31 years, working with more than one thousand partners, public and private companies, and supporting local schools and communities - we have a long-term commitment to Taiwan’s growth. We see enormous potential to accelerate innovation and digital transformation in Taiwan through the investment in our new datacenter region - to bring world class technology to Taiwan, and to better connect it to the world.

We are also making a significant investment in local talent by providing digital skilling for over 200,000 people in Taiwan by 2024 while growing our Taiwan Azure Hardware Systems and Infrastructure engineering group, which will establish Microsoft Taiwan as an innovation hub in Asia.

When I think about the potential of Taiwan, I’m reminded of the story of how KKBOX, the world’s first audio streaming company, which launched 15 years ago in Taiwan, grew into the world’s number one platform for streaming Mandarin pop music. They partnered with us to transform their services and expand into the global market, by migrating their data to Azure while also using AI to fundamentally change the way people consume or create entertainment.

Other leading companies across sectors have partnered closely with us, leveraging our cloud platform to create intelligent, customized solutions for their customers, including: Acer, ASUS, Chunghwa Telecom, Delta Electronics, FarEasTone Telecommunications, TECO Eletric & Machinery Co. Ltd, Trend Micro, Taiwan Mobile and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Now, with our new world-class, enterprise grade datacenter, we are taking another step forward towards digitizing Taiwan’s key industries, in particular, the semiconductor, manufacturing and the ICT industries, which are the backbone of Taiwan’s economy.

We remain deeply committed to fueling innovation and economic growth in Taiwan and supporting Taiwan as it transforms into the next Asian technology hub.

“Mais Brazil” - Together and doing more

With more than 210 million citizens, Brazil has an enviable supply of talent, but progress in this incredible country is often hindered by staggering inequality, poverty and political tensions, compounded by an economy where unemployment rose to 12.6% this year with a record 71 million people out of work.

Brazil is also a country with vast natural resources, including over 40% of the world’s tropical forests and 20% of the planet's fresh-water supply. As the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon is often described as the "lungs of the world” and plays a crucial role in keeping our carbon-dioxide levels down. But the Amazon is increasingly being threatened by fires and deforestation. In 2019 alone, scientists recorded more than 74,000 fires in Brazil - nearly double 2018's total.

It’s clear that if we want to solve some of these challenges and make an impact then we need move with speed, and we need to work together. And companies need to show their employees and consumers that they are not driven solely by the pursuit of financial results and have purposes that benefit the whole of society.

Our “More for Brazil,” plan is a great opportunity to advance its growth, employment opportunities and sustainability. As this headline article in Valor Econômico about our announcement outlines, not only have we expanded our cloud offering in the country and established a new alliance with the Ministry of Economy to improve job matching for up to 25 million workers, but we have also committed to training up to 315,000 Brazilian job seekers by 2023.

Large companies like Bradesco, Vale and Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, which are Microsoft customers, have stepped up their actions towards the cloud, and we’ve also identified opportunities among startups, which are already born in the digital world.

The More for Brazil plan also supports our ambitious sustainability goals - including a new initiative in collaboration with Imazon and Vale to protect the Amazon rainforest from deforestation using AI during the next drought season in 2021.

Using advanced AI capabilities across a number of predictors, such as illegal roads opening in forest regions, and data from satellite images, Imazon will be able to predict the most likely deforestation zones. With the assistance of this technology, Imazon will be able to prioritize resources to assist government agencies in protecting against deforestation.

Where do we go from here?

As this recent report by the Gates Foundation argues, we need a collaborative response to the pandemic - all countries must work together to begin rebuilding their economies. Our commitments to closing the skills gap in Greece, building coalitions in Brazil, enabling digital transformation in Taiwan and creating societal impact sustainably in Sweden, show how - despite the circumstances - countries are innovating and evolving to meet these challenges.

But where do we go from here?

None of us has a crystal ball. What every one of us can do is to ensure we are enabling our people, our organizations and our communities, as we re-build the global economy. Because while progress is possible, it’s not guaranteed.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m an optimist by nature, and I believe we can do this together.

We already are.

A bientôt!

That’s all for now – I hope you’ve enjoyed this first edition. I welcome your thoughts and feedback on what I should read, listen and learn from, so please don’t hesitate to send me any ideas you may have.

Take care,