For this interview, I sat down with Anu Gupta, a Digital Advisor at Microsoft Corporation, to talk about how technology is driving change in government and industrial companies.  Topics include manufacturing lead time improvements and pricing model challenges, rapid change management at the DOD and Navy, short and fast government procurement models, the future of industrial robotics, and the importance of everyone learning about AI.

Sam Schutte:                In today’s show, we have Anu Gupta. He is a Digital Advisor at Microsoft Corporation. I met Anu at the University of Pittsburgh, and we’re going to talk about his role as a Digital Advisor for Microsoft.

Anu Gupta:                   Great. Glad to be on, Sam.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Welcome. So Anu, tell me a little bit how you got started in your career and got into this field.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. So first, thanks for inviting me on. Really happy to be here. Kind of watching your career over the course of the last, I don’t want to say how many years, but it’s been … went to college and-

Sam Schutte:                Decades.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah, decades. Right. It’s been cool to see you build your business over the year and just kind of … over the years and now, it’s cool to connect the dots now.

Sam Schutte:                Thanks.

Anu Gupta:                   So I grew up as a material scientist at Pitt. And I think you were a computer engineer, right?

Sam Schutte:                Computer science.

Anu Gupta:                   Computer science, that’s right.

Sam Schutte:                Yup.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. So you were computer science and I was a material scientist in the school of engineering. And out of school, which was I graduated bachelor’s, I actually went to do some PhD work at Clemson in material science and engineering. But we had kids and couldn’t … I wasn’t going to continue grad school on $60,000 a year raising a family.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So actually, serendipitously found myself at my sponsor’s company in Michigan at a small startup called Solidica. And they were a metals … My research work or my sponsoring work was in 3D printing and so we were doing direct metal manufacturing for injection molding tooling and advanced armor composites for-

Sam Schutte:                That was pretty far back. That was … When was that?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah, that was back 2005, 2006.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. So very early days of 3D printing especially for metals.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Right. And that’s when 3D printers were like hundreds of thousands of dollars on big CNC machines. And now, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars for the exquisite machine sets. So it’s definitely … And it was early days for sure. And what we found ourselves doing at Solidica was actually building a business around IoT, believe it or not.

Anu Gupta:                   So we were doing telematics because we had hired a telematics engineer and because it was in Ann Arbor and close to Detroit, it was … there were quite a few people and the partnering network in the area was really … lending itself to telematics engineering and the work with the automotive industry and TACOM.

Anu Gupta:                   And you’ll get this flavor as we talk throughout the day, but my career has been largely DOD-focused and manufacturing-focused. So we were doing advanced sensors and telematics. All Bluetooth, all wireless, connecting those sensors and the telematics data to passive indicators like rollover warning sensors or rollover warning indicators or vehicle health monitoring systems that you couldn’t necessarily build or retrofit using OEM resources.

Anu Gupta:                   So we were definitely going after a nascent market at the time. And again, early days. So were doing IoT before IoT was cool.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So that was incredibly formative, and I got to learn a lot about small companies, working with bid companies, I got to learn with … a lot about how you wear lots of different hats in a small company.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   You will be the router guy one day and you will be the researcher the next day. It’s just the nature of the business. But after a few years, again, my wife and I had two more kids and we’re like, “Wow. We have three kids all under the age of two … sorry, three. Maybe we should think about moving.” So we moved back to Pittsburgh. Actually threw my head into the ring for a company called BPMI, Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. in Pittsburgh.

Anu Gupta:                   And they’re a prime … a procurement prime, excuse me, for the Naval Nuclear Laboratories, or for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. They were advertising pretty heavily on the radio at the time and so I looked them up, sent them my resume and the funny thing is that my boss was a graduate of Montour High School and I had put that on my resume. So I think that got me the interview.

Sam Schutte:                Nice. And is that … That high school is outside Pittsburgh somewhere, is that right?

Anu Gupta:                   That’s right. That’s right.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Okay.

Anu Gupta:                   So I spent the next 10 years at the Naval Nuclear Laboratories and Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. doing all kinds of stuff. So I did material science and engineering, material support for a few years, but I’ve always been interested in technology and I’ve always found myself gravitating towards technology-led initiatives within the company. I was much … When you’ve heard the term entrepreneur, and I was very much one of those kinds of people.

Anu Gupta:                   So I latched on to SharePoint when it came on early days within the company and recognized that it would be pivotal for the company to harness it and leverage it for knowledge sharing and collaboration. So as part of the policy teams, part of the teams that would go figure out how to execute and build the governance network, governance models around SharePoint. And eventually, found myself in IT managing essentially the entire Microsoft stack, which is pretty cool.

Sam Schutte:                Okay. Cool. So you mentioned a couple of different technologies and areas of technology. So maybe let’s … For folks that don’t have a background in those things, let’s talk a little bit about telematics and IoT. So can you define … Define telematics and what you’re doing with it and maybe talk a little bit about some of the things that you work, some specific projects you’re working on in IoT to help people understand that.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Sure. So vehicle telematics is largely the engineering discipline of taking your sensor data from your car and making sense of it and displaying it on a dashboard, to put it in layman’s terms. And an IoT is very much that internet of things perspective. And the key thing or the key phrase there is the internet of. In that sense, you’re using wireless sensors to send data to a telematics hub or a service bus or a dashboard of some sort.

Anu Gupta:                   The difference between what was happening back in 2005 and what we were trying to do was move to the wireless spectrum. So much of the telematics data that a vehicle gets is still hardwired, or was still hardwired at the time. So it was getting fuel, getting mileage, getting some of that analog data, in some cases, digital data, but it was still through integrated circuits or wires and we were still trying to make sense of that.

Anu Gupta:                   So what we were trying to do especially for DOD was help them bolt on solutions that didn’t require tapping into the vehicle systems. And especially in DOD, that becomes a maintenance nightmare, it becomes very difficult to track when you’re making adjustments to vehicles because you have to go through the full engineering design and discipline of revving your modeling if you’re going to do that.

Anu Gupta:                   So they were looking for easy ways to add additional telematics data that they were looking for without having to do that.

Sam Schutte:                So if you have an aircraft carrier, a tank or something, you can’t just open it all up and run a wire down the middle of it to get something from part of it to the back part without some major engineering type things, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Right. These are warfare systems.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And at the end of the day, in wartime, you can make those decisions and you’re going to have to make adjustments on the fly.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   But if you’re making systematic changes, the design and engineering of going through that process is substantial. And making changes to your system is nontrivial.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   You have to get a lot of engineers evolved, you have to get approvals. And TACOM actually at the time up in Detroit, a military command called TACOM was trying to do this much faster. So that was the genesis with the reason we were trying to do some IoT work with the company that I was with.

Sam Schutte:                Okay. So what are some of the key projects you’ve been working on in your time at Microsoft there in the last couple of years you’ve been there?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. So the majority of my business, or the reason I got into Microsoft was I spent the last 10 years at … in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. And at a certain point, I looked up and I said, “What’s this digital transformation thing all about?” because I was seeing it all LinkedIn feeds, I was seeing it in the news. I was following industry trends.

Anu Gupta:                   I said, “This is interesting. The World Economic Forum had just released the idea that we were in the fourth industrial revolution and so I wanted to read more about that. What is this about? And what it was about to me was what I often say is the democratization of historically difficult and expensive engineering workloads.

Anu Gupta:                   So it immediately took me back to my days at Solidica. We were just talking about IoT and telematics, but that’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s making AI accessible to a business decision-maker or the engineers or the BDMs, BDM meaning, business decision-maker, doing work. You don’t have to have a coding background. You don’t have to have an extensive machine learning background. You should know what those are and you should know how to use the toolsets obviously.

Anu Gupta:                   But it’s definitely much easier to use and build these AI models. Not to say that you shouldn’t have a data scientist on your staff, you absolutely should, but it makes it accessible. And then being able to use things like sensors throughout your environment to create this ambient computing concept where the entire world is intelligent and reacting to you as the human.

Anu Gupta:                   That was a very enticing and interesting idea. And Microsoft was doing a lot of that very cool work. And I’ve always loved Microsoft. I’ve loved Microsoft since I was 14. And I installed Word on my 286. I’m like, “This is so cool.” So I was pretty enamored with the idea of working at Microsoft, wanted to work for Microsoft and then I found that I could and worked from home. So that was exciting.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So what I’ve been doing at the last two years at Microsoft has been building a digital transformation practice, built on my background largely for the DOD. So historical sales motions for technology companies were then … sectors is to go after or say, you’ve got an account representative for a company and you’ll go call the company and talk to the CIO and build your technology sales motion around that relationship.

Anu Gupta:                   But if we change the lens a little bit and think about things in terms of industries, you start to look at things a little bit differently. So DOD and government really is an industry of industries. There’s manufacturers, there’s healthcare, there’s finance, all of these industries are incorporated within the DOD. And what I decided to do was say, “Okay. I’m going to go build on my background in nuclear propulsion. Build on my background in 3D printing and manufacturing and go talk to the people that I know that are interested in this.”

Anu Gupta:                   So I’ve been focused largely over the last two years on Navy work, shipyards, ship building and manufacturing throughout the defense industrial base.

Sam Schutte:                And how are you helping those customers save money? And you’ve talked before with me about moving up the value chain and cutting cost versus moving up that value chains. Talk a little bit about how you help them do that.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. So this is somewhat philosophical here, but when we talk through, what does it mean to be a digital organization or digitally transformed organization? If we think about that in terms of, well, I’m trying to reduce my operational cost, that’s only one pillar or one portion of what it would be to be a digitally transformed organization.

Anu Gupta:                   You want to think about how are you also empowering your workforce to take advantage of these new technologies and how to make them more efficient in addition to cutting cost or saving cost. Certainly, there’s a ton of operations management ideas that if you were to tap into the Lean Six Sigma Groups and an organization or industrial organization, they would be able to tell you, “I have 35 Lean Six Sigma’s initiatives that are all data-driven.

Anu Gupta:                   And if I can optimize or automate those operations, that’s going to save me a ton of manpower. And most often in manufacturing, specifically in manufacturing and maintenance, we’re after lead time reduction.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   Cost isn’t necessarily the big thing. In fact, one of my customers has said, “I will trade money for schedule every day. So if you can give me … If you can get my ships out to sea a day faster,” my schedule is currently saying, “I will throw money at you.”

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   “But guarantee that that can happen.” So those are some of the perspectives when we think about value and value … moving up the value chain, that customers really are thinking about. In terms of manufacturers, they’re looking at what I’m seeing at least is they’re still operations-focused. So they’re looking at optimizing their operations. The market is lean right now especially with trade across the globe being as difficult as it is especially for manufacturers that may trade with China for example.

Anu Gupta:                   They’re very, very laser-focused on operations and maximizing their bottom line for sure. So that is definitely an area where we’re looking collaboration tools to speed up workers using chatbots to speed up worker or frontline worker operations looking at a sort of field service automation kind of tasks where you’re optimizing or improving throughput, if you will, on how fast people get things done.

Anu Gupta:                   And you might argue, well, hey, that’s still schedule, right? And schedule time is money in that sense. So we are definitely working on those kinds of ideas that customers are saving money with. But as you think, extend the idea to different business models, like what does it mean to be … to change how you do business? So I’ll take a use case for example. We talk about this all the time. I think it’s just such a wonderful example.

Anu Gupta:                   You’re familiar with Rolls-Royce engines, right? So Rolls-Royce has a … is an engine manufacturer for airframes. They’ll bid big honkin engines for airplanes. And what they did was build a telematics dashboard for the airframe and for their customers so that they would ingest data from the engines, but also, from the airframes and start to articulate back to the aircraft manufacturers or the airliners what their remaining useful life on the engine would be, or what their operation schedules could be.

Anu Gupta:                   What that did for them was allow them to change their model from selling engines to leasing engines or selling power by the hour.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So in essence, they were selling flight time to their customers. And what that did for Rolls-Royce was significantly increase their operating margin because it did two things for them. It gave them the information on the engines so that they were able to better design around the engines or engine failures and they were able to maximize or better … have better insights into their operations to repair those engines before the airliners had to take the engine down and go back to Rolls-Royce for a warranty claim, right?

Anu Gupta:                   So it allowed Rolls-Royce to be far more efficient and reactive and so they are able to sell power by the hour.

Sam Schutte:                It’s interesting. It reminds me a little bit of the book, The Automatic Customer. I’m reading that. The title of that book, it says, how to make a subscription business out of any business, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Right, exactly.

Sam Schutte:                So Rolls-Royce is simply charging them for $5,000 an hour, so let’s say a year of flight time. It doesn’t matter which engine it’s on or … Yeah, and so forth. They’re just paying per hour. And of course, there’s a lot of benefits to that because they might only buy a new engine every maybe 10 years or something and they pay once for it, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Right. It reduces their capital cost. They can start to look at operating margin as opposed to capital expenditure, although the financial implications of doing that are also nontrivial either.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   Because their tax liabilities … So a CFO for example wants to be able to report on EBITDA or E-B-I-T-D-A.

Sam Schutte:                Yup. Earnings before interest, taxes and amortization.

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Right. So capex is one of those things that isn’t necessarily included in that number, right, because you can depreciate those assets. So that doesn’t necessarily come into the EBITDA number. But if you’re moving towards a consumption-based model where that’s now included as an operating expense, then, your EBITDA number may not necessarily be a good financial … It affects your operating margin, right?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So you have to look at a different measure financially for profitability, and CFOs hate doing that, like my investors want to look at EBITDA, right? That’s how they measure profitability. I don’t want have to teach them about consumption economics.

Sam Schutte:                Well, it’s funny too. So we have a product that we sell in the document management space, okay? And that has always been a onetime purchase on premise licensing model type of thing. You buy a copy and you own it. Just about two years ago or a year and a half ago, that whole licensing model switched to annual subscription and you can’t buy the perpetual license anymore, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right.

Sam Schutte:                And obviously, there’s a lot of financial wizardry and what not behind that, but the interesting thing and the biggest thing I think that drove it was because what we saw was customers would buy a copy of the software, buy 100 copies for their users and then we’d say every year, “You ought to upgrade to the new version. You ought to upgrade. You ought to upgrade,” and they wouldn’t because like, I got to pay all this money or they just … the act of having to make that decision was hard for them, right?

Sam Schutte:                So then, they start to have problems and they’re unhappy. Well yeah, because we’re using five-year-old software. Guess what, it doesn’t work with the newest SharePoint. Or it has a bug or something, right? So the same like Rolls-Royce, it’s a customer satisfaction thing too because they can simply say, “We’re going to come out every thousands hours and just do this and it doesn’t cost you anything. It’s all rolled in, or you get a new engine every year and you don’t even know it. It just shows up and we replace it. You don’t even know it happened,” right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right.

Sam Schutte:                Maybe it’s not that easy for them, but for subscription software, it automatically updates and they never know. So all that really improves the experience of the overall product experience I think.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. And there’s some really interesting ramifications to that. Part of what I did for the first year at Microsoft was work on an O365 rollout for the Navy and start working through some of those-

Sam Schutte:                That’s a big one.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. It’s a huge, huge deal, right? An O365, for those of you that may not be familiar, is a subscription model for Office. And that’s vastly different than buying Office and SharePoint on prem every three to five years. And I ran that business when I was at Naval Nuclear Laboratories so I knew how hard that was. I never had enough time or enough staff to upgrade the entire stack at once.

Anu Gupta:                   And what that did was force me to have to make technology decisions and then change management decisions too, like how would this impact the workforce? I need to think about how I’m going to train them.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   Are there enough feature benefits in this next version, for example, for me to really upgrade the system or are we okay until the next release?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And if those are the gyrations that I would make.

Sam Schutte:                And do you have to buy a new hardware for them in order to upgrade it?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. Right. So the tentacles were everywhere. So now with O365, it’s interesting. Now, we have to think about rapid change management. When a new service gets released, like every month, the IT organization largely has to think through how am I going to release this whether if I’m going to release it, but how am I going to release it?

Sam Schutte:                I’m assuming you can control whether something actually appears to users even if it’s to some degree-

Anu Gupta:                   To a certain point, but at the end of the day, you only get maybe one or two skips. And ultimately, you have to accept those because it’s the whole point. You need to be current.

Sam Schutte:                Well, and it’s interesting because back in the day, IT departments I was working in would … they used to hate when users or maybe their techs or whatever would install Microsoft Access on people’s desktops, right, because then, people would just go build all their own crazy Access databases, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah.

Sam Schutte:                And then they’d say, “Oh, we don’t need IT. We’ve got our own database,” which is a double way because not only do you not need them, but then you’re working in something that they know is not a good long-term enterprise system, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Yup.

Sam Schutte:                So they would say, “Oh, we’re going to uninstall Access from our base machine.” So kind of in the same regard like with any of these subscription whether it’s Google Suite or O365 or any of these, it’s like a feature just appears. Well, what if there’s … it doesn’t give people too much power?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. I have this debate all the time with my IT buddies. Well, you can’t give the user too much power. What are you doing? I’m like, “Listen man, it’s coming.”

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Yeah. So it’s about managing that change.

Anu Gupta:                   It’s absolutely about managing the change. And change management becomes the biggest hurdle. The technology changes easy. I think we all understand that flipping the beds, writing the templates and deploying the solution in and of itself is not terribly hard, right? But it’s the organizational change, designing the architecture, accepting the risk, going through the cybersecurity reviews, defining uptake and value for the user and the customer.

Anu Gupta:                   Okay, I’m rolling O365 out to my enterprise and the CEO knows that’s a necessary expense, but how do you as an IT organization articulate value for that subscription? Is it really an expense, like a necessary operating cost, or is it valuable to the organization?

Anu Gupta:                   These are hard things to define at the end of the day. And being able to articulate back to the business like, hey, you have Power BI available to you. And here is a really cool thing you can do with Power BI and here is a project that you can run with Dynamics and Azure, being able to train the workforce and help them understand what they can do with it with democratized technology effectively.

Anu Gupta:                   It really moves the engineering workloads from the developers to the business.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So it’s an interesting shift in Dynamics that everybody is working through.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. And your role as a digital adviser there and … which you said is also a management consulting role to some degree as well, how do you get assigned to work on clients? I guess it’s sort of the Microsoft consulting arm. Do you work directly with firms? You also work through partners and partners’ clients. What’s that look like?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Sure. Happy to talk about that. So as a digital adviser, I am a management consultant. And a lot of what you heard about me talk about just now are those conversations that I’ll have with a CEO or with the CIO or with a CFO or a BDM. Or our COO for example, we will work through change management for the organization. What does becoming a digital organization truly mean, how do you get started through … I know I need me some AI in my business. I don’t know what that means, right?

Anu Gupta:                   So going through those kind of motions, a lot of education, but also a lot of road mapping and working with their teams to understand what are the operational challenges today? What are the low-hanging fruit opportunities to generate some quick wins, quick wins being could I deploy chatbot and carve out 10 man-years out of my operations? Maybe. Let’s go figure that out.

Anu Gupta:                   Those are the kinds of tasks or the kinds of consulting that I’ll do with an organization. You can reach me directly. A lot of our consulting businesses reaching into new areas for example. So Microsoft has changed from being an IT organization to being a technology organization that meets you where you are no matter who you are.

Anu Gupta:                   I’d argue to say we’re an AI company first, right? So that’s where we’re working with the majority of our customers to go find them and meet them where they’re at for sure. So you can reach me directly. Oftentimes, I’ll find you especially in the Navy or in manufacturing defense industrial base, but your account teams at Microsoft are great places to talk to.

Anu Gupta:                   The CIO typically owns those relationships, but it’s a matter of saying, “Hey, let me talk to your account team because we got some problems, have some ideas. Let’s go figure out how we can go build these solutions. And more often than not, the CIOs are well aware of digital transformation means and they’re trying to figure out how to execute. So if you’re a CEO or a COO, CFO, head of HR, VP, you can go to your CIO and say, “Let’s meet with Microsoft and I want a digital adviser on my team in that meeting to go figure out how to solve these problems.”

Anu Gupta:                   And that’s a good way to get started too.

Sam Schutte:                Got you. So I think you work from home a lot of the time. Do you end up traveling a lot? And what’s it like to be a remote worker working with such a large organization as Microsoft and also, working with really large clients like the Navy?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. It’s interesting. I’ll tell you.

Sam Schutte:                They’re probably like, “You’re at home? What?”

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Well, for the first 10 years, I effectively worked for the Navy, right? So I had a 9:00 to 5:00 job. I would go out to have an hour commute each way and now … and leave work there, right? And now, I’m fully connected all the time. I can go for a week or two weeks straight at home, but I’m also on the road a lot. I’d say my travel schedule is probably I’m traveling 50% roughly. And that’s not unusual I think for most people in the services business because at the end of the day, you have to be where the customers are, or at.

Anu Gupta:                   You can have a phone call, you can work in remotely have a teams’ call, video calls, but if you’re not there with the customer, at the end of the day, uncovering the rocks or turning over the rocks and doing the right launch, you’re not getting into the belly of the beast.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. So you got to be there.

Sam Schutte:                I agree. I’ve had people say before on the show, you can tell a lot about a customer when you walk into their meeting room and you see, do they carry in pads of paper and pens? Do they walk in with tablets? Do they have the latest and greatest screen-sharing technology up on the wall? Being face to face give you an idea where they’re starting at and how much work there is to do.

Sam Schutte:                If you walk in a customer again, that’s just got everything, wire all over the place, one of my customers, they have iPads hanging outside each of their conference rooms that says what the next … what the meeting schedule is for next coming … Okay, these guys have it together. I know where I have to take them, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah, right.

Sam Schutte:                So we’ve talked about Microsoft as an AI company and obviously, your IoT background and such. We were talking a little bit before about some specific projects that Microsoft is doing or has done around areas such as farming, language translation, tools for vision and hearing-impaired. Can you talk about those projects and tell us a little bit about why those are exciting to you?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. So both things. AI for Good. If you look up Microsoft, you got a couple of AI initiatives that are … or sites that you can go tap into. One is AI for Good. And I’ll send these notes to Sam so you can take a look at it.

Sam Schutte:                Sure.

Anu Gupta:                   But there’s AI for Good and then there’s AI Business School. And both of those give you an overview of how you can use AI and how we’re deploying AI with our customers to change the world. I’ll talk about AI for Good here just to … just briefly. Part of our core ethos at Microsoft is diversity and inclusion and bringing the entire world along.

Anu Gupta:                   Satya Nadella will say, “I want the whole world to be a computer.” And that’s part of that democratization of technology that necessarily means inclusion and diversity in the sense that you need to make this successful to everybody. Accessible to everyone. So some of the things that we’re doing around accessibility is language translation.

Anu Gupta:                   So I’ll talk about teams for example. For those of you that are thinking about deploying teams or are on the … evaluating it, I think this is a key differentiator. This is one of those really important features that you want to latch on to. So we’ve got natural language translation embedded in teams and on our video software.

Anu Gupta:                   So within teams, you can turn on close captioning and immediately start to have a live stream of the translation happening real time. And it’s very, very good. It picks up different languages and it picks up different, I won’t say dialects, but sort of it’s very good at understanding accents and dialects, I guess, if you’re talking in that sense.

Anu Gupta:                   In addition to those kinds of translation services, it will pick up, or it will write not just in English or … but it will write in Hindi or Chinese back to you if that’s the language that you understand. So imagine in your mind’s eye, you can have a team’s video call going on where you have close captioning in one language and you’re say, displaying a PowerPoint to the rest of your team. And that PowerPoint is also displaying another language stream in a different language and then you can have your phone app plugged into the meeting displaying it in yet a third language to … that’s customized towards you.

Anu Gupta:                   So now, you can bring a meeting across the world to your global organization. And that becomes incredibly valuable. You can connect directly with your customers, you can connect directly with teams that you normally have maybe a language barrier with. It becomes an enormous tool to help right away. So those are some of the things that … And when we talk about Microsoft as an ecosystem, these tools start out as an app that we might build in Microsoft Research for example.

Anu Gupta:                   And then that ends up in Azure as a service and then we build the API for the rest of our tools or the rest of our software to call into those services. So the integration of these services and tools across the board is just fantastic. And we’re eating our … excuse me, eating our own dogfood in that sense.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Well, it happens really fast if you’ve got … if you’re API-first, right? Then everybody can hook up pretty quickly.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah.

Sam Schutte:                Right.

Anu Gupta:                   For the last 10 years man, we’ve been trying to say that. API-first.

Sam Schutte:                Right. Cool. With the clients you’re working in government and the commercial sector, what kind of conditions in the economy are happening right now do you think are affecting those two spaces?

Anu Gupta:                   Sure. DOD is interesting. I’ll say DOD is flush with cash, but it’s interesting because they’re have a very difficult time spending the cash programmatically. Right now, the DOD is in a lot of research mode where you have thousands of teams who are AI-first teams and they’re finding the solutions. They’re going out and trying to find the solutions out in the marketplace to bring in to DOD.

Anu Gupta:                   So right now, from a commercial standpoint, for those of you companies that are thinking about becoming digital companies, this is an opportunity to sell your product as a consumption service or as a digital product to the DOD to build on solutions, or to build those solutions for DOD. They’re using what’s called other transactional authorities which are lightweight contract people.

Anu Gupta:                   So it’s not your typical multiyear massive procurement motion for weapon system or for an IT service. These are much faster motions for smaller solutions that will occur within 60 to 90 days. No TA call, give me a solution for this. Show me what you got. Let’s go build it and execute it.

Sam Schutte:                Exactly rapid for a government.

Anu Gupta:                   Extremely rapid. Extremely rapid, yeah. And within the commercial sector I’ll say, and I don’t want to say that the government is flush with cash because as everybody knows in large organizations, you may have a multibillion dollar organization, but every line item means that those dollars are well-spent, right?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So carving out money and finding the money is still a challenge. You still have to know where the money is, you still have to know how to get to it and execute it. And oftentimes, by the time the solicitation is written, the program managers know who was going to be on the bid list.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So it still requires the savvy sales motion that you’re going to need to get out there. The commercial industry is I think also, I want to say flush with cash in some areas. In other areas, not so much. We talk about manufacturing and those manufacturers that are global companies are most affected by our trade embargos or our trade position today.

Anu Gupta:                   So if you read their quarterly earnings, you’ll see that they’re laser-focused again on operating margin because their number goal is to be profitable right now for manufacturers. So not that a manufacturer isn’t always trying to be profitable, but innovating and seeing that kind of language is not necessarily making it up to the top.

Anu Gupta:                   Some manufacturers are thinking through that and some manufacturers are leading in. But I would not say that’s a total industry trend.

Sam Schutte:                Got you. Yeah. No, I think it’s like if your project or your solution directly impacts the bottom line, then they’ll do it. But if it’s a touchy-feely sort of soft skill or whatever, soft value type of thing, it’s hard to make that happen when there’s a lot of pressure.

Anu Gupta:                   Right. And productivity gains are nice. You want to talk about that. You want to try to monetize that, but at the end of the day, the only way to really monetize a productivity gain is to take workers out of the system, or repurpose them in some way. And working through how you’re going to do that is really hard.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Well, and the big pressure though, I’ve seen and I hear a lot of people talk about with manufacturers too is that sort of trade and skill space. So it’s not just productivity necessarily, but it’s a training problem and a skillset problem. The folks that they’ve had … that had 25 years’ experience, 30 years’ experience as a machinist or something, they’re retiring, they disappearing and they’re not … there’s no replacement coming up the ranks with their level of skill and mastery.

Sam Schutte:                So then, the question is … Or just like innate knowledge of how something needs to be entered into a CAM machine or something like this, right? So a lot of the projects are how can we use software AI prediction? Even just record management to fill that gap? So we don’t have to train people. We don’t have to rely on gut feel because some of these … depending on what type of stuff you’re talking about, there’s a whole lot of just gut feel that governs even advanced high tech things like jets and stuff.

Sam Schutte:                Somebody being able to feel the aluminum of a wing and they can tell if it’s right, for instance, stuff like that.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. What does finger type really mean?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah, exactly. And I’m making these up, but that’s … it’s a real thing and if you … and if those folks are all retiring and leaving, so then you got something like you look at like a prediction or AI-driven prediction or predictive maintenance. New folks that are super green, they don’t really … they won’t really know when something is going to wear out and break, right, or maybe they’re not going to be aggressive enough. They’re going to trust it and it’s going to break and then it’s going to cause more problems.

Sam Schutte:                That sort of issue is just rampant throughout any kind of industrial manufacturing right now, I think. So I think that’s driving a lot of it is you know, let’s get a computer to watch the line for errors because our error rate is going way up for instance.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. And there’s … So we’ll talk HoloLens here too real quick. Remote Assist features for being able to put an experienced person anywhere in the world in the field through just sort of that person in a goggle next to you is enormously valuable or big corporations are helping out like Chevron, or doing that kind of work like Chevron and Boeing and company.

Anu Gupta:                   Those are folks that are putting people out on the field with experts to help them. And that’s another way to do it for sure. The predictive maintenance work as you mentioned is part of that and the training work absolutely. So one of the cool things is welding. How do you train a welder to weld like his grandfather?

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. And it’s an art.

Anu Gupta:                   It’s an art. Yeah. Yeah. So the funny thing is humans are great perception robots, right? We have the ability to be calibrated very quickly to whatever environment that we’re working in. It doesn’t actually take us that long to become an expert if we put in the time on task. So if we can devise a sensor or a series of sensors that can perceive the environment in a way that humans do, you can start to use cool things like deep neural networks in AI to effectively create that indicator on quality.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And that’s the really, I think to me, the promise of the future here.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And that’s where a manufacturer will say, “Okay. I love the vision. Let’s figure out how we can monetize it because that’s tough.

Sam Schutte:                Well exactly. I saw a demonstration last year. This was a company that goes in and does repairs and maintenance to oil refineries, right? So this is dangerous, very complicated, extremely high skill stuff, right? So they’re going in. These techs have to go in and crawl around a bunch of pipes and ladders and walkways and whatever and get to a panel to open it up, look at it, inspect it, turn a bunch of stuff with wrenches or whatever type of stuff, right? And hope that it doesn’t blow up in their face, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right.

Sam Schutte:                So this company is using HoloLens with Remote Assist to let the remote expert that say, like an expert in their piping together or whatever it is, to look at it and tell the guy out in the field like, “Oh, I can tell from looking at it that this valve is too loose, too tight, this number is too high, so on and so forth,” right? And of course, to your point, the devices, the computer vision and all these things can assist that remote expert, remote master and help him see things he might miss, right?

Sam Schutte:                But what’s interesting I think is like … So we’re moving far along in that sort of solution and that’s going to get better and better and better. But we’re still really far behind and nowhere near a solution where you can send like I think, a robot in to be the hands of that guy crawling around the pipes to get to it and then open the panel and work on it, right? If you think about it, we still need human hands, right?

Sam Schutte:                So that’s interesting that it’s like how far off are we to where you don’t need that remote master, right? The HoloLens, the goggles and the remote AI, the neural net, it does all the diagnosis and says, “Do this,” right? That’s probably, I don’t know, five, 10 years out maybe, maybe something like that is my guess. But for a very long time, we’re going to need the hands, right? That’s like 50 years out, 25 years out to have a-

Anu Gupta:                   I don’t know about that. So what I’m seeing, and is a substantial increase in robotics, in robot technology. I come back to what is digital transformation about? It’s about the commoditization or the democratization of these historically expensive and difficult engineering workloads. So the automating of task and making robots in terms is now … is substantially faster and cheaper to do than it was 20 years ago during the CMU, anti-XPRIZE kind of thing for automated vehicles.

Anu Gupta:                   Now, everybody has got an automated vehicle program, right?

Sam Schutte:                Sure.

Anu Gupta:                   So I think, and what I’m seeing in the industrial space is a substantial uptick in cheap robots that are using vision, but also, being able to do physical things out in the field. Drones, robots, crawlers, what have you. I think my gut says, “We’re probably a lot closer to that, maybe next 20 years. Ten to 20 years. We’ll see substantial changes in the marketplace with the” … I don’t want say replacing humans, because that’s all sinister-sounding.

Sam Schutte:                I know, right? The Pod People.

Anu Gupta:                   But … Yeah. We don’t have to send people into harm’s way anymore.

Sam Schutte:                Well, I think it depends on … So if you look at robots in an industrial space, and you’re right, there’s a lot of expansion there, but it’s like very … to some degree, a lot of specialized fast and cheap but specialized assembly, stuff like that, right? It’s really just a question of dexterity and flexibility, right? It’s pretty amazing what you see coming out of, what is it, Boston-

Anu Gupta:                   Dynamics.

Sam Schutte:                Boston Dynamics with their jumping, flipping, climbing robot. Pretty incredible.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah.

Sam Schutte:                But I’ll be more impressed when a robot can pick up a block of wood and a knife and whittle an intricate sculpture because that’s much harder I think. And maybe they’re close, I don’t know, but it’s … I don’t know, it’s just interesting. But I think my point is, is there is a gap between the knowledge that AI can bring. AI can absolutely make a visual model of that sculpture, right?

Sam Schutte:                When you see that all the time, you see when there is this … these experiments or whatever where AI is writing completely original classic rock songs or classical music, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right.

Sam Schutte:                And it sounds just like something Mozart or Beethoven wrote even though it’s nothing they ever thought of, right? The software knows the formula and knows how to make something sound good and it does it, right? We definitely can have a robot play the piano pretty well too, I assume, but that’s just interesting now that I wonder how long it will take to catch up there. So pretty cool stuff.

Sam Schutte:                And I imagine that some of the stuff along those lines is what Microsoft research works on and is working on.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah, for sure. That’s that next generation of technologies is amazing. And we haven’t even touched on like quantum yet.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Sure.

Anu Gupta:                   Which totally flips everything on its head.

Sam Schutte:                I heard someone say, “We know a quantum computer has not been built yet because the moment that one is built, all Bitcoins will be instantly mined.” That problem would take milliseconds for a quantum computer, mining all available Bitcoins, right?

Anu Gupta:                   And fundamentally, what happens is roll your own cryptos the way we’ve done it for the Cloud today, breaks.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And the foundation for Bitcoin is crypto.

Sam Schutte:                Yup.

Anu Gupta:                   So Cloud computing as a whole will go through a radical transformation. So there’s enormous effort right now industry-wide to tackle the problem because they know … because we’re not that far away. We’re 10 years away from quantum.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And I think-

Sam Schutte:                When they have quantum essentially transistors or something now I would say, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Right. Quantum bits.

Sam Schutte:                Exactly. Qubits.

Anu Gupta:                   Qubits. And the ability to leverage that technology and then build the crypto and the anti-crypto I guess, or the defenses against-

Sam Schutte:                Quantum-proof.

Anu Gupta:                   Right. Quantum-proof. Yeah.

Sam Schutte:                Crypto, right?

Anu Gupta:                   I think those are all on the table and people are really … They’re working hard at it. So all this transformation we’re going to go through for the next decade, we’re going to go through it again.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Change is constant, right?

Anu Gupta:                   Yup.

Sam Schutte:                So where do you think you’re going next? You’re going to get into qubits and quantum-proof crypto, or what’s next in your technologies you want to learn in the next 12 months, let’s say?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. I think fundamentally, everybody needs to dive into AI one way or another no matter who you are. If you don’t understand it, you need to understand it, at least at the level 100th level. Especially in the application of AI. So for me, I’m going to dive maybe a little bit deeper and take some courses, get certified and just have that within my repertoire because I think being comfortable with it and being able to articulate it and think through problem-solving with AI is fun.

Anu Gupta:                   And for me, I’ve always been a data guy, a data and AI guy. I get a charge with play with Excel.

Sam Schutte:                You might need help.

Anu Gupta:                   I said I love Microsoft, man. So I’ll definitely do that. But I think for me, I’m thinking about leadership and leading teams and where I’m going to next at Microsoft.

Sam Schutte:                So you’ve had the managed teams before. What are some of your core values around managing teams?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah. So I think credibility is number one because we all serve somebody somewhere no matter what team you’re on. And showing up and doing what you say you do … what you’re going to do is like the core value. You nail that down which is making sure you keep track of everything you said you were going to do and then do it is the number one thing.

Anu Gupta:                   And it’s huge, huge challenge especially in today’s environment because we’re in data with information all day long and it’s hard to stay on top of it all. So I think that’s number one. And then number two, drive my values on teamwork from some books from Patrick Lencioni. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him or any of his works, but there’s two books that I recommend. One is the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and the other one is The Advantage: Why Organizational Health is Everything in Business.

Anu Gupta:                   And at the end of the day, everything we do is done by people.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   So we got to be able to figure out how to work best as a team through communication, through transparency, through prioritization and clarity. Those are all very difficult things to do. You and I grow up doing hard engineering problems and math and we quickly realize within the next 10 years, that’s just pay to play, man.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah. Yeah. You can be really good at that and still fail miserably on a team.

Anu Gupta:                   Yes.

Sam Schutte:                And certainly managing people, you can fail at and be a brilliant engineer but not pull anything off. Not accomplish anything.

Anu Gupta:                   Exactly. Exactly.

Sam Schutte:                Well so, I guess just to summarize, if folks out there listening, what are the three main things that you can help them with and that they should reach out to you for help with?

Anu Gupta:                   Sure. One, I want you to think about your digital transformation journey. If you need help with digital transformation and what that means for you or just getting a brief, give me a call. Reach out to me through LinkedIn, my email address or even through your Microsoft accounting to do that. Number two, I’d say the future is ever-changing. Being operations-focused is critical for your bottom line.

Anu Gupta:                   But if you’re not thinking two or three years out ahead as part of your operational tempo, even quarterly, that’s something that you need to bake into your thinking because some of the ideas that Sam and I just talked about aren’t just ideas, they’re coming down the pike and you’re going to have to deal with it.

Sam Schutte:                Yeah.

Anu Gupta:                   And then number three is now humans. Humans are how we get things done and how we interact with the world. So lean in, lead with your teams and figure out how to bring them around because you have to change but getting other people to change is just as hard. So those are the three things.

Sam Schutte:                Great. Well, and what’s your phone number if folks want to call you?

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah, 412-526-359-1.

Sam Schutte:                Great. And we’ll put that in the show notes as well as your email address and LinkedIn and all that, but … Great speaking with you and thanks for coming on the show.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Thanks for having me, Sam. This was fun.

Sam Schutte:                Sure. Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, having gotten to know you before we started our careers, right? The end of our educational period, it’s cool to come back almost 20 years later and discuss everything that we’ve learned.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Sam Schutte:                So pretty awesome. Thanks.

Anu Gupta:                   Yeah, man. Later. Bye.


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