Rick Wagner, president of Microsoft Federal and four-time Wash100 Award recipient, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz for its latest Executive Spotlight interview to discuss his team driving new solutions for federal customers, the greatest challenges in digital transformation, Azure Government’s advanced capabilities, data processing for military service branches and the future for Microsoft heading into the second half of 2021 and beyond.
“Our greatest strength is Microsoft’s 40-year history of supporting the federal government. Microsoft is committed to assisting the federal government and over that 40 years, our support has evolved.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight with Rick Wagner below:
ExecutiveBiz: What do you believe are the greatest strengths of your team to drive new solutions and help federal customers achieve their mission goals?
“First and foremost, our greatest strength is Microsoft’s 40-year history of supporting the federal government. Microsoft is committed to assisting the federal government and over that 40 years, our support has evolved.
We began with the enterprise application everyone now knows as Office and the tools associated with Office, but it has expanded dramatically. Our move into cloud services has enabled us to provide those products and capabilities in an even broader sense.
Last year, we reorganized portions of our business under what we call Microsoft Federal and the idea behind Microsoft Federal was to enable us to serve the federal government better. The reorganization allows us to bring all the innovation in Microsoft to best support the federal government.
We spent this past year working through the transition into Microsoft Federal and in doing that, I developed some strategic thrusts mainly concerning missions. Microsoft brings this tremendous innovative technology, such as our mixed reality technology for the Army, where we are providing a whole new system, based on augmented reality headsets for soldiers, to provide a new level of real-time information and situational awareness that they haven’t had before.
There are some other innovative things we are doing with the cloud and artificial intelligence too. I think the fact that Microsoft Federal can bring all of that technology and put it in context of the way the federal government buys provides us with a big advantage in terms of our ability to support the federal government’s mission.”
ExecutiveBiz: What have been the greatest challenges facing federal agencies in their digital transformation efforts as a result of the changes brought on by the pandemic to the defense, intelligence and other sectors in the federal landscape?
“We have watched the transition to remote work over the past year and seen what it means for hybrid workforces moving forward. Even agencies in the intelligence community, who I personally would have never seen a move in that remote work direction, were forced by the pandemic to do so.
We found that the remote work process is a whole new way of working, enabling innovation and increased efficiency. The challenge of figuring out the hybrid workforce of the future is one that we are heavily engaged in. We are working on helping hybrid workforces across the spectrum, from commercial to the highly classified intelligence community.
I actually joined Microsoft right in the middle of the pandemic, so I never knew the pre-pandemic Microsoft. However, due to Microsoft’s already global reach, we were already using a hybrid workforce and could bring a lot of those lessons learned to our customers.
During the pandemic, some of the chief issues were security and supply chain challenges and I think those were at the foremost of our customers’ minds. Those are challenges that affect the entire defense industrial base and our customers, so we are committed to increasing our security capabilities to mitigate customer security risks.
At the same time, we have launched a broad initiative to look at when creating resilient supply chains. Supply chains are very complex. Many factors need to be considered when designing a resilient supply chain. There is the manufacturing side, security and the operational side. There is a great deal of interest in creating resilient and secure supply chains and we are actively working to do that.”
ExecutiveBiz: How is Microsoft Federal utilizing Azure Government and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to drive solutions for those challenges and ensure seamless operations within the company?
“We have an organization called cloud and AI because we consider those technologies as linked. So it starts with a Hyperscale cloud offering, Azure and that’s what we start building with; we use the Hyperscale to create the economics that enables us to provide Cloud on a cost-effective basis and then we meet the security data sovereignty and then create the kind of user expectation that we need.
After that, we layer a set of development tools. We acquired a company called GitHub, a company with software development tool expertise to help us create tools more efficiently.
We make sure security is strong as well, but also ensure mobility. Again, the need for mobility harkens back to the hybrid workplace. We need to be able to operate broadly, not just in a locked room somewhere.
Then we have a business applications group that creates dynamic applications, power platforms and similar things that will come together and support the required data analysis and data analytics. From there, we can build upon and create machine-learning/artificial intelligence by incorporating all available data.
I think mixed reality is another crucial piece because connecting that to real-life users and user scenarios is where we can begin to take advantage of machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.”
ExecutiveBiz: As Microsoft Federal continues to advance cloud technologies, how have your capabilities expanded to drive data processing to assist federal agencies and military service branches?
“I would say we have to provide cloud services in whatever environment our customers are operating in, especially when we are working with the federal government. That means everywhere, from large enterprise applications to the edge cases where you may not have continuous communications, you may not even have broad broadband communications.
As such, we go everywhere and provide the Hyperscope Cloud. We have also got Azure Stack Hub and other edge devices that we can use to operate in austere environments. A huge part of our strategy is supporting our customers, wherever they are and wherever their mission takes them.
Another example of following the customer is Azure Space, where we teamed with several cloud satellite companies to use space communication to extend the reach of the cloud.
In addition, we put a lot of focus into modeling and simulations and we have the term ‘Serious gaming’ for that focus. We take things we have learned and done from modeling and simulation in the gaming world and put that to good use for future modeling, communication as well as training and other things.”
ExecutiveBiz: What can we expect from Microsoft Federal for the rest of 2021 and beyond? Any new market opportunities or other sectors you’re focused on?
“We have made some big investments in missions and 5G development. Clearly, for us, it’s about an ever-increasing shift to cloud delivery. That’s been a large focus for us and you know for me, it’s seeing how we can help customers transform and take advantage of our technology and innovation. Our commitment to the cloud delivery model is the big push for us over the next six months.”