In 2025, Microsoft will turn 50. The multinational corporation’s enduring success has been achieved by dint of its commitment to pioneering technology and willingness to evolve. Standing still has never been an option, and even more so in the digital age, according to Robin Sutara, Microsoft UK’s Chief Data Officer, who has clocked up 22 years with the organisation.
“It’s been an amazing company to be with,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to spend the last two decades enjoying every minute of the transformation that we have gone through.”
Indeed, after Bill Gates and Paul Allen co-founded the organisation in April 1975, Microsoft—a portmanteau of “microcomputer software”—spearheaded the microcomputer revolution and grew to become the world’s largest personal computer software company.
Now, though, its most well-known products range from a computer software operating system to productivity tools, from a cloud services platform to a gaming console. Additionally, Microsoft is leading the way in the mixed reality space with its HoloLens products. So whatever the next frontiers of technology are—whether 5G or even 6G, quantum computing, or underwater data centres—there is a strong chance Microsoft will be an innovator.
Given this famously trailblazing spirit, spanning decades, it is notable that Sutara suggests “driving simplicity” is one of her three ambitions for Microsoft UK in 2022. This is one of her so-called “three Ss”, alongside “skilling” and “sustainability”. “I love threes,” she grins, “and it is in these areas I see most activity happening this coming year.”
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Hand-in-hand: simplification and skills
As an example of simplicity in terms of products, Sutara—appointed Microsoft UK’s first CDO in January 2021—references Microsoft’s recently launched Azure Synapse. It is a single pane of glass that provides easy access and oversight to all the data an organisation holds and manages. This product is valuable for organisations because as the number of tools and their functions grow, development and administration become tougher without clear connectivity. Having a single starting point that can display a holistic view and that simplifies tool interconnectivity helps save time and resources, as well as enabling more insightful analytics.
She asks, rhetorically: “When you think about data insights, all the way from machine learning to dashboards, how do you put meaningful, real-time data in the hands of the organisation to be able to make decisions? How do you create things like citizen data scientists or citizen data analysts who don’t necessarily have to understand code?” Democratising data and taking advantage of low-code, no-code, and other simplification tools is the key, says Sutara.
Moving on to the second S, she continues: “I see the simplification of products and services going hand-in-hand with skilling. For instance, expanding the skills of the SQL (Structured Query Language) database administrators is important, as it has been around for 30 years. So how do we create systems that allow them to leverage those SQL skills into the analytics, data quality and governance space?
“Data management, truly understanding what data exists within your environment—as well as ensuring compliance—will become increasingly vital for businesses. Therefore, we need to make the data platform as simple and intuitive as possible and iterate to ensure that we are empowering as many people—whether analysts, data scientists, or engineers—to have the right skills to be able to leverage that data and deliver against technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
Sustainable ambitions and social impact
Last but not least, improving sustainability “is a huge ambition” for the Microsoft UK CDO in 2022. Following the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), most progressive organisations have firmed up their plans in this area and established workable net-zero targets. Microsoft UK’s recent sustainability report indicates that while UK senior leaders (64 per cent) say reducing carbon footprint is part of their organisation’s strategy, just 17 per cent have implemented a detailed programme for mapping their emissions, while fewer than half (47 per cent) monitor them.
Here, notably, the company practices what it preaches. Microsoft has an ambitious 10-year plan to be carbon negative, water positive, use zero waste and to develop a planetary computing platform by 2030. However, to reach those goals, measurement is crucial, she states. And this is where simple products and improving data skills combine to support this third and final S.
“Many businesses are making sustainability commitments, and there is a push for greater transparency, but it is all reliant on data,” Sutara explains. “It’s not just about measuring progress, but also measuring our carbon footprint today and tomorrow. It’s about how we look at the data and come up with new ways that we can provide the greatest social impact with the data we are creating out of our organisation.”
She points to Microsoft’s AI for Good programme, which provides technology, resources and expertise to empower the people and organisations trying to solve humanitarian issues and craft a more sustainable and accessible world.
In late November, Sutara was part of a group that welcomed Prince William to the Microsoft UK headquarters in Reading to discuss one of the projects funded by AI for Good. The Duke of Cambridge was keen to learn about the first-of-its-kind multi-species AI model, created in partnership with Heathrow Airport, that can increase detection of illegal wildlife products being trafficked through international airports, ports and borders.
Meeting the royal was a career highpoint for Sutara, and if she pursues her ambitions in 2022 there will be other reasons for everyone to celebrate. “The illegal wildlife detection technology is a good example of how we can now make systems smarter,” she adds. “If we can put the power of that technology into the hands of the people with the big ideas, on how to solve some of these huge global systemic environmental and sustainability issues, the whole world opens up in what we can achieve together.”
This article was written as part of a paid-for content campaign with Microsoft