Microsoft working to bring cloud tech to agriculture, education with government initiatives

The event seemed all about the change and how Microsoft is no more simply a Windows-centric company.

At the recent Microsoft media event that was held in Bangalore, it was cloud tech along with new emerging technologies that took the centre-stage. The event seemed all about the change and how it is no more simply a Windows-centric company. "I have been with Microsoft for 25 years, and there has always been change. But, clearly things have changed on a different scale in the past two years," Anil Bhansali, Managing Director, Microsoft India (R&D) said. His words were on similar lines as Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman, Microsoft India (read more on it here).


Anil Bhansali, Managing Director, Microsoft India (R&D)

Reiterating on how the focus will stay on the three cores – personal computing, intelligent cloud and business productivity – it said the focus will be on customers from productivity to providing the last mile connectivity. Whether a company is simply exploring cloud or otherwise, Bhansali adds, "Microsoft is the only company offering solutions, strategy and tech pyramid that spans across multiple clouds, be it private, hybrid or public."

Currently, the focus seems to be the three main sectors – education, agriculture and healthcare. The company already has some initiatives in the education and agricultural sector in partnership with the Indian government. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh government is using Microsoft’s Azure machine learning to predict dropouts across 10,000 schools.

Starting with education, Microsoft has basically used a machine leaning model to look at school dropouts. The school dropouts service went live for 6 lakh students across 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh for grade 10. When the new batch came in, the government now has about six predictions. There will be a structure for interventions, that's work in progress. However, it's the same data that can be used for various other insights like conditions at the school and so on.

"The usual immediate power of the cloud lies in unlimited computing and unlimited storage. It's what you can do with the data you store in there, that's where all the real power lies. We have a lot more technologies that can take the data you have and leverage the computing power, and truly bring out the power of cloud, depending upon the domain, be it education, agriculture or transportation," he explained.

The government plans to scale it, and is working with Microsoft to introduce it at lower grades. So, dropout predictions can begin at a much earlier stage.

However, these solutions are quite challenges. And, the challenges begin right at getting the data. "Think about public schools systems with the processes and infra, it is difficult for govt itself to to get all data. For instance, one of the parameters is attendance, which isn't digital and sitting in some school register in local language written by someone. So, it takes time. We need to put all these things in place," he explained.

Bhansali said that the school dropouts monitoring using cloud and AI has been getting a lot of interest from other governments, and there have been expressions of interest from Australia and Brazil.

Besides, in June, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Microsoft and the Andhra Pradesh government teamed up to build a sowing app for farmers. The app helps achieve optimal harvests by advising the best time to sow, taking under consideration factors like weather conditions, soil, and more. (You can know more about the app here).

"The Sowing App and Personalized Village Advisory Dashboard are developed to provide powerful cloud-based predictive analytics to empower farmers with crucial information and insights to help reduce crop failures and increase yield, in turn, reducing stress and generating better income. We firmly believe in the potential of Microsoft Azure Machine Learning and Power BI to bring efficiencies not only in agriculture, but also in healthcare, education, and beyond. This is a significant start for digital agriculture and can reap benefits in multiple ways as governments and stakeholders discover the potential for technology to unlock and offer multiple solutions for farmers," Bhansali said.

Microsoft reiterated that the focus is on customers. But, with cloud, what one sees is immense competition. "We don't necessarily look at others as competition. Each one has a unique perspective, and the way we look at it, there is a role for everyone," he added.

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