‘This Is The Time’: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Talks Software’s Role In Covid-19 Response And Recovery

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on software’s role in Covid-19 response and recovery by @alexrkonrad

5/24/2020 12:58:00 AM

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on software’s role in Covid-19 response and recovery by alexrkonrad

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sees a three-phase response to COVID-19, a 'hybrid' future for remote work and high demand for developers in this exclusive video interview with Forbes.

As the CEO of the world’s most valuable company, one that works with hundreds of millions of customers and employs more than 150,000 people, Satya Nadella has a unique vantage point for observing technology’s role in combatting Covid-19.The Microsoft chief says he is seeing a migration to newer cloud technology in local governments, schools and hospitals that is in some cases skipping multiple generations of tech.

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“That’s just a leap,” says Nadella. “We’ve talked about these things for decades, but this is the time where we are doing it at scale. And so the question is, what are we learning? What does it show which is sustainable? What should we re-imagine when we get back to ‘normal?”

Nadella points to a health bot developed by Microsoft he says is used by hundreds of hospitals today for coronavirus triage. The bot asks questions of potential patients as a first round of screening, a virtual doctor via telemedicine, and ultimately to a testing solution. “Now that it’s built, I’m sure it’ll get used even in a normal [situation],” Nadella says. “ I think these are workflows that are going to be relevant much beyond Covid-19 as well.”

These comments were part of an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with the leader of the massive $1.4 trillion (market cap) global tech company ahead of Microsoft’s Build developer conference that began on Tuesday. Like other events, Build is happening remotely this year; Nadella spoke to

Forbesover Teams, his company’s own rival tool to Zoom.In tune with the moment, Build’s focus in 2020 is on how software makers and coders are building tools to combat and keep businesses running in the face of Covid-19 and in its eventual wake. “In a world where software is going to shape pretty much every industry, whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s retail, whether it’s education, public sector, then the most important thing is, let’s make software developers very productive,” Nadella says.

Microsoft's Post-Pandemic Plan From CEO Satya NadellaTo further those goals, Microsoft has announced some new products and features as part of its Build reveal: Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, the first time the Redmond, Washington-based company has built a cloud suite that is industry-specific; an analytics tool for its cloud Azure unit called Azure Synapse Link; and the open-sourcing of its Fluid Framework for developers to build new document collaboration tools. Microsoft also announced a program to boost development on Windows 10 and an “AI supercomputer” the company says it developed with, and exclusively for, the OpenAI research laboratory to better train AI models.

Microsoft’s new features, while technical, are important for developers looking to build tools for the current COVID-19 climate, argues Amanda Silver, a vice president of product for developer tools. “There are a lot of people who are looking for tactical solutions to the urgent problems they are now being confronted with, whether that’s remote development, remote collaboration, or facilitating remote education and remote business processes,” Silver says. “If I’m a developer I’m going to get a ‘Eureka!’ moment.”

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As for what Microsoft products have seen a boost in usage or importance in recent weeks, Nadella points to Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration competitor to Slack and Zoom, which it announced at the end of April had surpassed 75 million daily active users. Nadella also nods to its Dynamics 365 product, which competes broadly with Salesforce, as one that is proving important to businesses for setting up new solutions like contactless shopping and curbside check-in. “Those are now shaping our roadmap in a massive way,” he says.

GitHub, meanwhile, has seen a 25% increase in collaboration in the last two months, according to unit CEO Nat Friedman, with pull requests completed four hours faster on average, and developers spending an extra hour per day on average within the code repository’s tools. “Software’s this massive global team sport, and we’re all counting on each other,” Friedman says.

Nadella predicts three phases to the new Covid-19 reality: response, recovery and re-imagining. “I don’t think we go forward with exactly the same type of workflows or how we do work or business process the same way,” he says. Within Microsoft, Nadella wants staff to collect as much data as possible on how Microsoft itself has adjusted and is working, with plans to publish what it finds from the “at-scale experiment.” One area the CEO says he’s particularly watching: how managers can empathize with and connect with employees more emotionally in a remote setting.

“We’re doing lots of meetings. They’re all video meetings. That’s fantastic, we’re getting a lot done. We have more stand-ups [meetings], even more so because of the crisis. But we have not checked-in, had those hallway conversations, those few minutes that you have the person sitting next to you in a meeting where you are able to connect with them,” Nadella says. “How do you recreate that mechanism? I think it requires a new type of culture.”

Will Microsoft follow Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey’s lead in allowing employees to work from home indefinitely, even after a potential Covid-19 solution? Nadella says the answer will be “hybrid,” noting that at GitHub and within some groups at Microsoft like sales field offices, most employees are already remote or remote most days of the work week. “There isn’t a monolithic way that Microsoft works,” Nadella says. “I think we want to accommodate for more and more flexibility. If anything, this shows let’s be even less monolithic and accommodate for a variety of workflows and work styles, and accommodate for it versus being dogmatic.”

And Microsoft’s top boss says he recently got a reality check from talking to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon about work during the pandemic. While Microsoft staff might be productive working from home, Walmart was sending in more than one million workers daily to its stores to allow them to do so. “I think the worst mistake anyone can make is to be dogmatic and say that everything needs to be done in a particular way,” Nadella says.

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