As the National Technology Officer & Head of Strategy at Microsoft India, Dr. Rohini Srivathsa leads strategic initiatives to accelerate digital transformation across industries and the government sector in the country. Working towards Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more through technology, Srivathsa enables partners and customers leverage AI and other emerging exponential technologies to drive innovation for an inclusive socio-economic growth in the nation.
In our interview, Srivathsa talks about Microsoft’s vision of empowering developers, organizations and society towards fulfilling the promise of holistic growth. AI offers the opportunity to increase the functionality of every application, accelerate application development at scale, create compelling interfaces that interact with users in natural ways. Across industry verticals, AI is enabling every business process to enhance customer engagement, optimize operations, and improve products and services. Microsoft India is also pushing the frontiers of AI to radically transform governments, organisations and individuals to address society’s toughest socio-economic challenges.
1) Analytics India Magazine: What are some of the focus areas in AI Microsoft India is working on?
Rohini Srivathsa: Microsoft has been working to explore the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years and has deployed its AI solutions in areas ranging across healthcare, accessibility, education, agriculture, retail, e-commerce, HR, manufacturing and financial services.
The company’s approach to AI is based on the following pillars:
- Enabling Digital Transformation: Microsoft is committed to use its cloud and AI technologies to create breakthrough innovations and accelerate the digital transformation for the nation, focusing on core industries that are critical to economic growth. Over 700 businesses and government organisations have adopted our AI solutions to drive breakthroughs in their digital transformation. In addition, Microsoft is working with new-age organisations that are leapfrogging and disrupting industries. 715 partners are working with Microsoft in India to help customers design and implement a comprehensive AI strategy, aimed to boost employee productivity, increase business agility, improve customer engagement and jumpstart new product innovation.
- Building coalitions for responsible innovation: Microsoft works with government, industry, academic and civil society stakeholders to take a collective approach towards AI and further build solutions that meets the expectations of citizens. The Redmond giant has partnered with NITI Aayog to combine cloud, AI, research and our vertical expertise for newer initiatives and solutions across several core areas including agriculture, healthcare and environment. We are also an active participant along with CII to build a solution framework for AI based applications across areas such as education, skills, health and agriculture.
- Bridging the skills gap and enhancing employability: Microsoft believes in the development of talent for economic growth and is working towards empowering individuals across all demographics with the necessary skillset needed to succeed in an AI-enabled world. In India, Microsoft aims to skill over 10,000 developers; set up AI Digital Labs in universities; and train 500,000 youth across the country over the next three years.
- Creating sustained social impact: We are enabling public and private organisations to apply Microsoft AI technologies to address pressing societal challenges in - healthcare, education, agriculture, local language computing environmental sustainability, accessibility opportunities, and supporting humanitarian action. 2018 saw Microsoft roll out several new projects across healthcare, including a partnership with Apollo Hospitals to use AI for early detection of cardiac diseases. Additionally, SRL Diagnostics is applying Microsoft’s AI solution for more accurate diagnosis in digital pathology and early detection of diseases such as cancer.
2) AIM: How is Microsoft plugging the capability gap in India?
RS: According to the World Economic Forum, there is an estimated 133 million new jobs that could be created by 2022. However, given the advancements in technology innovations, these jobs will require new skillsets across industry sectors. To address this challenge, Microsoft is running several AI based programs to train both the upcoming as well the existing workforce: the upcoming to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow, and the current to be relevant in the fast-evolving industry.
Here are a few key programs the company is running to bridge the capability gap in India:
- Week of AI- The newest learning programme launched is Week of AI, a free virtual workshop series of five modules which is focused on the latest trends and key insights in machine learning, conversational AI, AI services, and intelligent edge AI. Aimed at enabling the developer community and organisations across India to harness the power of Cloud-based AI and build smart apps for more efficiency and enrich people’s lives. The recent five-day session from May 27- May 31, 2019 was accessible free of cost and covered key trends and insights in machine learning, conversational AI, AI services, and intelligent edge AI. We will continue to hold such sessions going forward.
- Microsoft AI School- The Microsoft AI School offers a diverse range of learning material. The courseware is divided into various AI Houses, that represent the main categories of learning material available on the site, which include:
- Microsoft Research Summer Workshop- Microsoft Research (MSR) India annually organises an approximately month-long summer workshop focused on various diverse topics. Last year, the workshop was focused on “machine learning on constrained devices” such as IoT sensors.
- AI Digital Labs- Microsoft recently announced the launch of AI Digital Labs in collaboration with 10 higher educational institutions in the country. As part of the three-year program, Microsoft will support the selected institutions with best-in-class infrastructure, curriculum and content, access to cloud and AI services as well as developer support. The company will facilitate setting up of core AI infrastructure and IoT Hub as well as provide access to a wide range of AI developmental tools and Azure AI Services such as Microsoft Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning and Bot Services. Training programs for faculty will include workshops on cloud computing, data sciences, AI and IoT. Additionally, the faculty of the institutions will receive assistance in strategizing content and curricula for project-based and experiential learning.
3) AIM: How is Microsoft pushing the frontier of AI research? Microsoft has extensively worked in collaboration with Indian government to bring about digital transformation. Can you shed light on recent AI-based projects?
RS: Microsoft has made deep investments to advance the state-of-the-art in machine intelligence and perception, enabling computers that understand what they see, communicate in natural language, answer complex questions and interact with their environment. The company has been working closely with several state governments in India to support their digital infrastructure, enhance citizen services and drive efficiencies in their administrative and governance operations. The company is deploying cloud computing and ML solutions to improvise facilities in different areas including education, agriculture and healthcare.
We have partnered with several pioneering organisations across industries. In healthcare, we have partnered with Forus Health to integrate AI into 3Nethra’s devices that could help lessen the impact due to the lack of skilled technicians and as well as provide insights to people who participate in eye check-up camps for early detection and prevention of diabetic retinopathy. In the agriculture sector, we have collaborated with ICRISAT, to develop an AI Sowing App powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite which includes Machine Learning to send sowing advisories to participating farmers on the best date to sow the crop. We have also signed an MoU with the Govt. of Karnataka to empower smallholder farmers to help them increase income by adopting better agricultural practices by using cloud-based technologies, ML and advanced analytics.
4) AIM: How’s the adoption of Microsoft Azure ML Studio gone up among enterprises and how does it take the heavy-lifting out for data scientists?
RS: Currently most enterprises are undergoing an immense technology transformation. As a result, there is an exponential rise of data, and thus an increased need to draw meaningful insights for business decisions. Our Azure AI and Azure Machine Learning service are leading customers to the world of ubiquitous insights and enabling intelligent applications such as product recommendations in retail, load forecasting in energy production, image processing in healthcare to predictive maintenance in manufacturing and many more. Our innovative Azure services with abilities to provide far reaching impact for developers has led to 95% of Fortune 500 customers running on Azure.
Moreover, doubling-down on our mission to simplify AI, the new automated machine learning user interface (preview), enables business domain experts to train machine learning models on data without writing a single line of code, in just a few clicks. We additionally made improvements in our Azure Machine Learning services which include:
- Boosted productivity for developers and data scientists across skill levels with integrated zero-code and code-first authoring experiences as well as automated machine learning advancements for building high-quality models easily.
- Enterprise-grade capabilities to deploy, manage, and monitor models with MLOps (DevOps for machine learning). Hardware accelerated models for unparalleled scale and cost performance and model interpretability for transparency in model predictions.
- Open-source capabilities that provide choice and flexibility to customers with MLflow implementation, ONNX runtime support for TensorRT and Intel nGraph, and the new Azure Open Datasets service that delivers curated open data to improve model accuracy.
5) AIM: Lots of financial companies bank on the future of bots and there are many competitors in this area (Lex). How has Microsoft upped its game with Azure Bot Service?
RS: At Microsoft, we help companies develop intelligent, enterprise-grade bots that allow them to maintain control of their data that runs on our Azure platform and is powered by AI. Since we understand that every company has varying business needs, we thus help them build bots suitable to their requirement, ranging from a Q&A bot to their own branded virtual assistant. Microsoft offers open-source SDK and tools to easily connect the bots across popular channels and devices.We have recently offered our Azure Bot service to Future General Life Insurance Ltd to help them an AI based chatbot, REVA, for its life insurance business on the company’s website. The chatbot addresses two business requirements viz., customer service and new customer acquisition and onboarding. Through a one-click service, existing customers can get policy status, premium due date, renewal payments, request for a soft copy of unit statement, premium paid certificate, fund charges among others. The AI based chatbot has helped the business improve customer satisfaction scores by 91%, promoter customers by 70% and renewal premiums by 50%.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.