To comment on Microsoft’s development of machine learning and cloud infrastructure, the usability of as-a-Service offerings and the widespread usage of artificial intelligence in the federal marketspace, ExecutiveBiz spoke with Microsoft’s Scott Price, General Manager of the company’s National Security Group.
“Any agency leaning forward to drive artificial intelligence and machine learning has our attention, as these technologies are critical to empowering organizations for the foreseeable future.”
ExecutiveBiz: With over thirty years in the federal marketplace what experiences have best prepared you for your role at Microsoft?
Scott Price: Since joining Microsoft four years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working under the leadership of our new CEO, Satya Nadella, and being a part of the transformation that he has brought to the company. So much of the transformation is about a customer obsessed approach to re-imaging their business through the power of cloud technologies. It’s about a deep understanding of their mission, and then an obsessive desire to empower them with our technology. My thirty years working as a service executive has always included deep engagement with the customer and their mission, and partnering around their challenges. This has dovetailed perfectly with my role at Microsoft.
ExecutiveBiz: What are the biggest challenges you face in rolling out cloud services to federal agencies?
Scott Price: It won’t surprise you to hear that we have plenty of challenges. At a nuts and bolts level, having the Authority to Operate in place, and a chief information security officer who’s comfortable that they have done the requisite due diligence is certainly the first hurdle to overcome. We always face some technical challenges, with both our Software-as-a-Service offerings, as well as Infrastructure-as-a-Service – but generally the real challenge is working through the cultural and political hurdles. We are asking agencies to give up something they have guardedly managed for years, to step back away from their infrastructure, and simply let us manage their data or workload as a service. When it clicks, and all the stakeholders have been a part of the process all the way through, then things really accelerate, and this takes a certain amount of inertia to get started.
ExecutiveBiz: When dealing with the sheer volume of unstructured data, do you find it inevitable that artificial intelligence will ever fully replace HUMINT at the analysis level?
Scott Price: We don’t. The volume is immense and growing exponentially in an environment where the Internet of Things is really just getting started. The “humans versus machine” argument is a non-productive discussion. We really want the discussion to be about an environment where the machine is doing the low-value menial work, the human is deriving insights and patterns, and together they’re synthesizing this actionable information in a way that transforms the mission.
ExecutiveBiz: What are the challenges that you see in incorporating artificial intelligence into federal missions?
Scott Price: This is a great question because there is a lot of work to be done here. At a technical level, this problem is for the most part solved. There are plenty of tools out there that can take disparate sources of structured and unstructured data and make sense out of it. It gets more complicated when you talk about things like: getting access to all the relevant pieces of data; the notion that not everyone should have access to all the data, but should have access to all the insights. You start to have discussions around protecting the data itself, and start democratizing the insights. You want the data sets to inform each other so you mature your data science from artificial intelligence to deep machine learning. These are the deeper conversations we need to be having.
ExecutiveBiz: Within the federal marketplace where do you see Microsoft having the greatest impact for 2018?
Scott Price: Any agency leaning forward to drive artificial intelligence and machine learning has our attention, as these technologies are critical to empowering organizations for the foreseeable future. In my world, our national security customers, in particular, have AI and machine learning on their radar. This is causing a recognition that the “cloud conversation” is just a waypoint into their real journey – which is getting the rich insights into their customers, stakeholders and mission goals to stay relevant in the future. It’s a super exciting time for the federal agencies, as well as Microsoft. I express my warmest thanks to federal agency leaders who are working so hard on these problems.
Scott Price joined Microsoft in 2014, as the general manager of the national security group, responsible for the execution and management of solutions and services to federal clients including the intelligence community, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy. With leading offerings in productivity and collaboration tools, using Microsoft’s suite of cloud, mobile, CRM and data analytic solutions, Scott and the NSG team are helping their clients more effectively meet their mission requirements.