COVID Basement Racquetball, w/ Microsoft's Vishal Lodha - P3 Adaptive
06.03.21

COVID Basement Racquetball, w/ Microsoft’s Vishal Lodha

Strategic Account Director, Microsoft

Listen Now:

Our guest this week, Vishal Lodha, is Strategic Account Director at Microsoft.  A title that comes with huge amounts of pressure and responsibility.  Vishal is the primary point of contact between Microsoft and some of their most important customers and has a vast knowledge of the entire Microsoft stack.  His story is much like so many other guests on our show-taking quite the circuitous and interesting path to where he is today!

References in this episode:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Taxi Scene

Royal Tennenbaums Tennis Guy

EPISODE TIMELINE:

  • 3:00 – Some tricky acronyms, Vishal’s role includes SO many responsibilities, and Vishal’s Origin Story-he started in a data junkyard!
  • 18:00 – Vishal’s technical and higher education makes him a hot commodity, he exemplifies the human element of data and tech
  • 40:40 – Vishal has been in the field for a long time and has seen some things, the history (and future) of the Cloud,
  • 57:50 – The trends Vishal and Microsoft are talking about, the marriage of IT and Business, and Rob makes quite the observation
  • 1:20:20 – A discussion about AI

 

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Welcome friends. Today's guest is Vishal Lodha, a very interesting fellow. Like many of our guests on this show, he's taken a very winding career path to get to where he is. But today he's a strategic account director at Microsoft. Yes, the acronym for his title is SAD, but that doesn't mean he's actually sad. He gets to be the primary point of contact at the C level between Microsoft and some of their absolute most important customers. And in that role, he is ultimately responsible for the entire Microsoft Stack, end-to-end. Every last piece of software that Microsoft builds and sells, Vishal represents with these sorts of customers. That's a crazy job, a ton of pressure, a ton of responsibility, but also exposure to some of the most interesting things going on in the industry today.

Rob Collie (00:00:58): We talked about a lot of things, AI, the cloud, the human tech interface, which is always a very popular theme on this show. And something you might not know about this show is that we record it with webcams on so that we can see each other. We only publish the audio, but near the end of this recording, I notice something in the background behind Vishal. It is the only thing like it that I have ever seen in my entire life. And we'd absolutely delved into what was going on there. Yes, I'm deliberately teasing, but that's enough. Let's get into it.

Announcer (00:01:33): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?

Announcer (00:01:37): This is the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast with your host, Rob Collie. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:01:58): Welcome to the show, Vishal Lodha. How are you today?

Vishal Lodha (00:02:02): I'm doing very well, Rob, thanks for asking. Hope everyone is doing well on your end as well.

Rob Collie (00:02:07): Yeah, we are. I think we are. Krissy, how are you doing?

Krissy Dyess (00:02:10): I'm doing fantastic.

Rob Collie (00:02:11): Krissy co-hosts any of our Microsoft... Especially people from the Microsoft field. Krissy being our alliance director with respect to Microsoft. We just named that position, renamed it anyway, backstage.

Krissy Dyess (00:02:25): That's right.

Rob Collie (00:02:26): It's hot off the press, but Krissy runs our Microsoft relationship. And so when we have someone from the Microsoft field on the show, we're going to tag Krissy in as our co-host. And it just seems appropriate, doesn't it?

Krissy Dyess (00:02:38): It does, and I'm happy to be back in the co-host role.

Rob Collie (00:02:41): Oh yeah. And we're happy to have you. So Vishal, what's your official job title at Microsoft these days?

Vishal Lodha (00:02:47): Yeah. Great question, Rob. We obviously wear multiple hats here, but I'm a strategic account director for Microsoft as part of our US healthcare and life sciences business. I sit in a group with five key strategic accounts that are really important to Microsoft and broader mankind, improving quality of care for our patients. And it's a great team to be part of and very honored to have this role where we have an opportunity to improve the overall healthcare ecosystem for people who need the most.

Rob Collie (00:03:20): Has it ever occurred to you that the people who designed that acronym might not have sounded it out? Does this job make you sad, strategic account director? It seems like if you're going to be improving the health of humanity, we'd want a happier acronym. Don't you think?

Vishal Lodha (00:03:33): Really don't go by acronyms. At the end of the day, whatever acronyms want you to do, do it. So who cares?

Rob Collie (00:03:38): Yeah, I mean we refer to people as TSPs or ATS, right? But you're never going to call yourself an SAD.

Vishal Lodha (00:03:45): Well, technically the acronym is AE, account executive.

Rob Collie (00:03:49): Oh, that's better. Yeah, I like that.

Vishal Lodha (00:03:51): There is nothing at Microsoft that happens without an acronym. I mean, if I had a master list acronym, when I started five years back, it would've been awesome, but I didn't. And I had to almost create my own OneNote, but if I were to even start collecting those acronyms by now, I would've published it into books with chapters. But again, that's a different conversation.

Rob Collie (00:04:14): Yeah. Even our acronyms have acronyms. I like account executive. You can do a lot with AE. Technical account executive. You'd say pronounce it TAE, that would be pretty cool. Anyway, so we're going to roll with that, account executive. So what does that mean, practically speaking? Generically speaking, what is that role responsible for?

Vishal Lodha (00:04:34): Yeah. So I have end-to-end business responsibilities for the customers. I'm assigned the making sure they are on the path of digital transformation. If you look at Microsoft mission, obviously we are here to empower each and every person in organization on this planet to achieve more. And how do you achieve that is by means of digital transformation, because we are obviously a tech company. Now that just doesn't happen by an AE or another role which is ATS since you love acronyms. I used to be in that role, by the way, before I took this role for four and a half years and that's account technology strategist.

Vishal Lodha (00:05:10): And so to make it simple, that person is client CTO and I am considered client CEO. Well, of course we don't call that. It's just to make sure we separate our possibilities. I have overall accountability of what's happening on a large strategic account, which are usually Fortune companies for sure. And so, it's a lot of orchestration, I call it. These transformations just don't happen by combination of few roles, right? There is a lot of different skill set needed, there's a lot of technology, a lot of engineering initiatives, a lot of incubation, co-innovation, go-to market. Again, since you started with acronym, we can pile on more acronyms by bringing those up. But like GTM is such a common one these days. Like, "Okay, how can Microsoft help us go to market faster? How can we realize value? How can we differentiate in the marketplace? How can we create non-traditional sources of revenue," right?

Vishal Lodha (00:06:05): I mean, you're looking at some of the healthcare companies, they're calling themselves now MedTech companies, they want to create some non-traditional revenue by just not by providing healthcare services, but maybe some applications and some services around data and analytics that could be important for patients or consumers, depending on what the field is.

Vishal Lodha (00:06:25): So really long answer to your question, Rob, but I have a team of about 60 folks give or take, you're familiar with that. We call it a V team. None of them actually report to me, but we are responsible for driving forward digital transformation pillars of Microsoft. We call it modern workplace, intelligent cloud with intelligent cloud apps and infrastructure, data and AI, so that basically breaks into two. And then business applications. That includes a lot of goodness that's happening in our BizApps platform around not just Dynamics 365, but Power Platform, Power Apps, Power BI, remote assist capabilities. And I think that's just a lot to cover.

Vishal Lodha (00:07:07): I'm also responsible for making sure our clients have the professional services they need through Microsoft consulting services, working with my Microsoft consulting services, partner, account delivery executive, those things. And then on top of it, you need an enterprise class support for customers to run their operations well. And so what used to be premier is now more focused on unified support. And so I have also those responsibility to make sure our customers have the right level of support at the right time. And I'm usually the person which will get active escalations if things don't go right. So call me as the lead orchestrator of the activities on a strategic account, if nothing else suits better.

Rob Collie (00:07:49): So you said you were an ATS for like four and a half years?

Vishal Lodha (00:07:52): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:07:53): Was that your role when we first met? How recently did you make that switch?

Vishal Lodha (00:07:57): So I changed to an AE year role in September of 2020. So you're absolutely right. I was an ATS. I've been a technical professional for majority of my career. I was not born in the sales world. In fact, I used to be on the other side of the aisle buying services and partnering more with key strategic partners and some call them suppliers. I'm not a big for fan of that word. I call them partners. And so I've done a lot of deals as a former CIO and in other roles as well, delivering services for customers. So, I just made that switch September of 2020. So it's going to be a year. But I was mostly in the ATS role for four and a half years when I came to Microsoft. My role was mostly to my make sure customers get value out of products, platform and services they procure. So my goal was to drive consumption and ROI for a customer for the most part.

Rob Collie (00:08:49): Yeah. Because you have a very technical background. Let's get into that. You said you weren't born in the sales or account management world. Where were you born?

Vishal Lodha (00:09:00): The reality is I was born in a town called Jodhpur in India, but I don't think that was the question.

Rob Collie (00:09:05): Yeah. We're looking for the comic book origin story here.

Vishal Lodha (00:09:08): Yeah. I don't know if data center is the right place, but you can call it. I was born in a junkyard data center full of metal, I guess. Those days-

Rob Collie (00:09:17): This sounds good. This is promising. This has good comic book. Potential.

Vishal Lodha (00:09:22): Yeah. Racking and stacking a lot of hardware. I shouldn't say that, but the journey started actually when I came to grad school here. Most of my friends or colleagues or my classmates would end up taking a very traditional role in a grad program, which would be like a TA or RA. And somehow I ended up on a third acronym called GA, graduate assistant, where I was a part-time student system administrator for a department on campus called educational technology services that would actually provide technical services to college of education at Western Michigan University where I went for my grad school in Kalamazoo, Michigan. So I got connected to that geeky community for lack of better term, who have been in this space for a long time. And I did some of the help desk, desktop support, some server management.

Vishal Lodha (00:10:18): We used to run Novell that time, if anybody remembers Novell Groupwise for email collaborations. Fun days, yeah. Again, a lot of fun that time.

Rob Collie (00:10:27): So you have exposure to the flow chart. Is it plugged? Reboot. You've been through that a time or two?

Vishal Lodha (00:10:36): Not only that. Make sure the floppy disc is ejected before you reboot. Those things. Otherwise, yeah. The boot disc will be different and you will never get to where you want to be. So yeah, I've done those, Rob.

Krissy Dyess (00:10:49): Were you also in the secret room with the lock that only a couple people with super secret access could get into? Were you in one of those?

Vishal Lodha (00:10:57): Not in my initial part of my career, but yes, after a few years I've done those too. And yes, I've gone through multiple of those locks, especially during a transition when we were transitioning a service contract from a big player to a more a midsize company. So yeah, Krissy, definitely I've gone through those locks.

Krissy Dyess (00:11:15): Those were always the people though that I wanted to be best friends with because you could go into the secret room that nobody could get into and you could hide away and see how things work behind the scenes.

Vishal Lodha (00:11:24): Yeah. The lot of racking and stacking work initially in the early part of my career and it was a lot of fun. But it's also interesting being in a technical support, you make actually friends a lot quicker because everybody needs help. Like I would go for a lunch break and before even I would get my meal and check out, it's like, "Hey, I'm having problem with this." I'm like, "Yeah, I do this four hours and then I take lunch break, and then I do four more." So like you can't get out of that infinite loop. Even though people meet outside of work, even on the sidelines of a game, "Hey, I got this computer and I installed a software and a lot of those..." So people just thought of me as a TV repair man of the old times, like guy with a toolbox.

Vishal Lodha (00:12:10): Good news is I don't need to ask this guy to come my house. I can call him and he can probably tell me what to do to fix my computer. And I've had those episodes where people have lost their data and no backups. And so we don't want to go there. We'll get somewhere very quickly.

Rob Collie (00:12:26): Yeah. We had a mutual acquaintance contact both of us recently about a ransomware situation where some company got... Someone was trying to extort them for half a million dollars to unencrypt all or to not disclose or... I don't know. It's a natural thing to ask you, but what's the answer? "I don't know, don't pay."

Vishal Lodha (00:12:46): I mean, I'll tell you my answer. And again, this is my personal opinion. Doesn't reflect anything about who I work for, but my answer is, apply best practices and you should always have backups of data you have. If you don't, that's fine. You can pay, but I'll tell you two things. There's no guarantee that after paying you will get that back. And even if you get it, there's no guarantee that you'll get all of it back, right? So again, it's an individual risk appetite. There's no right or wrong here, FBI and other agencies will tell you a lot is paid in terms of ransomware. Do we have data and statistics on the recovery rate? I don't know. I don't think so, but we don't need to go there.

Rob Collie (00:13:26): It reminds me of the beginning of Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin, I think it's Kevin Bacon, they both get to a taxi at the same time and Steve Martin tells him, "I'll pay you $75 if let me have this cab." And Kevin bacon goes, "Oh yeah, anyone that will pay $75 for a cab would clearly pay $200 for a cab." So once you pay the ransomware person, their incentive is to say, "Oh, well it turns out it's a little bit more." I just don't know why they would... I mean, they don't have a reputation to uphold. It's like-

Vishal Lodha (00:14:01): Yeah, it's not like you pay somebody ransomware and then you can go and write a five star review for them that, "Hey I got hacked and this company or this group who hacked is really professional."

Rob Collie (00:14:12): Yeah. 10 out 10.

Vishal Lodha (00:14:13): "And they have a great customer experience or customer delight, whether it is in the, what is it called? Dark web actually is the word I was looking for. So there might be some true professionals and people of high integrity in the dark web. But how do you define that? I don't know.

Rob Collie (00:14:28): It's not really part of the business model. Wouldn't make the core tenants of that organization, would it? Our core values are, well, get money.

Vishal Lodha (00:14:37): Exactly. And get money fast and run fast.

Rob Collie (00:14:41): All right. So you got introduced to the world of it and systems in that GA role.

Krissy Dyess (00:14:48): It's the acronyms.

Rob Collie (00:14:49): I know it's the path of acronyms. It's like the yellow brick road.

Krissy Dyess (00:14:52): We're going to have them all at the end of this session.

Rob Collie (00:14:54): So let's start running tally of every time we say an acronym, we're going to need to ring a bell. So where from there?

Vishal Lodha (00:15:01): Supporting operations in a higher education board, supporting faculty students, staff mission is great. It's awesome that you're able to get an advanced degree at the same time you're helping advance the higher education mission. So I think I had a great time and it's just so stereotype thinking where, "Okay, this guy has a technical background and he's now involved in a higher education industry, right?" Whether you want to do or not, you actually naturally become a good fit because now you've done that. I was trying to actually say, "Okay, once I graduate, I'll go and work in high tech sector." This is around '99 when I started. 2001, I did graduate with my masters in computer science. And that was also an interesting time. dot-com challenges. People who had offers [inaudible 00:15:53]. And I'm like, "Man, I really don't mind this part-time job. It lets me do what I want to do and continue to learn."

Vishal Lodha (00:16:01): We are always on the cutting edge of technologies because higher ed actually does get to try things a lot faster. They have some of the corporate partnerships where they would be evaluators. They're not like traditional regulated industry. The regulated industry tried to be a little bit more cautious about it. They won't be wanting to like on the bleeding edge of technology. They like some maturity and things like that. Higher ed is like, "Well, we're all next process of experiment and learning." So anyways, didn't pan out what the plans were because of just the environment, and at that time an industry was in an interesting way. I call it ups and downs. So I ended up continuing in that role and basically pursued my MBA as well while I was there.

Vishal Lodha (00:16:42): That just gave me some extra time to stabilize myself. And while I was about to graduate, I did get finally the, call it full-time or real world, real job offer from Purdue University in West Lafayette. And so here I am now a higher education guy landing from one institution of higher education to another one, only three hours south of where I was. But I guess little bit of less snow. I didn't have to deal with the lake effect, Michigan. Temperatures weren't that different, but I think if you look at the driveway accumulation, that would tell you the story for sure.

Rob Collie (00:17:15): So Purdue, is that where you were immediately before Microsoft?

Vishal Lodha (00:17:19): No, not really. There were a couple of hops in between. So I was transitioning from the tech world to higher education to higher education. I was at Purdue in college of engineering for a few years, college of agriculture, mostly working on-

Rob Collie (00:17:33): Agriculture? Really? I did not know that.

Vishal Lodha (00:17:36): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:17:37): So let's not skip past Purdue. Purdue is a fantastic engineering school. I knew a lot of people from Purdue out in Seattle. As far as I could tell, half the people at Boeing were from Purdue. So what all did you end up doing at Purdue? What was the story there?

Vishal Lodha (00:17:52): Yeah, I was part of an organization called Engineering Computer Network, which is basically the IT arm of college of engineering. My focus was to support nuclear engineering department there, all of it, services, infrastructure, and endpoint computing to depart mental technology initiative solutions, you name it. That was great. And then transitioned to college or agriculture in a very similar role but as an IT manager. Actually, that was my first experience as a supervisor. I had one person reporting to me initially, and then we added another headcount. I know you don't like to go too far too fast from engineering to agriculture, but I was just keen on making sure I let you know where my next stop was.

Rob Collie (00:18:35): I mean, from nuclear engineering to agriculture, it's a pretty natural. That's just the curve. That's how it works. And then were you worth the agricultural wing, supporting them up until your next job? Was that your final role at Purdue? What's the end game at Purdue?

Vishal Lodha (00:18:54): No. Great question, but there's a couple of more stops here, Rob.

Rob Collie (00:18:58): Okay. Let's do it.

Vishal Lodha (00:19:00): Yeah. So did that for a while, and then I got, I would say, a little bit bored and little bit driven out of circumstances. I'm like, I need to get out of higher education industry because I want to see other perspectives. There's a lot more to this world than higher ed and I was right and I was wrong because guess what? There's a twist in this story. I come back to Purdue a little bit. So this is like a movie.

Rob Collie (00:19:20): A little boomerang thing going on.

Vishal Lodha (00:19:22): Exactly. And then I exit Purdue again. So it's like, "What does this guy want in life?" "We'll figure that out later." So I said, "Okay, I want to explore more." So I actually started looking into some other options and got involved with the consulting organization. Actually. I think that's where I found my true calling or my passion. I mean, I was always in a service industry indirectly. I was servicing clients or users from a technical support and services management. But now you're looking at a broader perspective like customers, like other organizations, right? So I came to work for a consulting company here in Indianapolis that led a lot of work on the business intelligence side and some infrastructure as well, working mostly with government clients, Department of Defense specifically and did that for a few years.

Vishal Lodha (00:20:10): Actually I stood up a BI practice. At that time, Cognos was a hot commodity. I recruited students, graduates from schools through campus recruiting, started a BI practice and got the right talent, made them go through boot camp, made them part of a consulting practice and really got those resources deployed to the who needed those services. I mean, data and analytics was picking up. This is 2007 timeframe.

Rob Collie (00:20:39): Okay. The 2007 release of Excel is the release in which Office really took BI seriously for the first time. And that's also the release where I was introduced to BI. In some weird twist of fate was introduced to it, in some sense, put in charge of it for Excel. And it was the really interesting days. I think I even took like a Cognos class at some local community college out in Seattle just to size up the competition.

Vishal Lodha (00:21:08): Yeah. I mean, the focus at that time was who were the key leaders, if you look at that. By the way, I did the same too. I went to the Cognos academy in Schaumburg that used to be their facility training and got trained and certified. But at that time it was like business objects, Cognos, and there were some things were popping up. I think micro strategy was picking up at that point in time. And so if you knew any of these tools and had skill sets of data and analytics, you were in demand. I mean you were getting there very quickly. So people have made career transitions and have gotten on that wave of BI analytics through those tool sets.

Rob Collie (00:21:47): So just like basically everyone that we've ever had on this show is a meandering path to a career. And like you said, you found your passion. We subtitled this show Data With The Human Element, something that you called out and I was also about to if you hadn't. So much of this, even the story so far, you've been in a service oriented capacity, it's interacting with other people, it's helping them solve their problems. So it's not really about the tech, is it? It's about using the tech to help others and helping others get the most out of their tech. So running a BI practice and something happens, right? Do you get bored of that? What happened?

Vishal Lodha (00:22:26): Not really. I was enjoying it. I was delivering services for Fortune customers and government for many years. And one of my colleagues actually went to work for a different company. That company was growing up really fast here in town, rapidly. And something came up like, "Hey, you would be a great fit for this." I'm like, "Well, I'm happy what I'm doing." Like, "Well, let's talk." I'm like, "Okay, let's talk." So I go and talk. He's like, "Yeah, I think you should interview you." I said, "I think interviews are distraction. If you're enjoying what you're doing, why do you want to create this thing?" And he's like, "No, you should do it. Benchmark yourself in the market." "All right, let's do that." And we do and met with the hiring manager who was the VP. And I also met with the CEO, really humble guy.

Vishal Lodha (00:23:07): And next few days just go and then suddenly I have an offer and I have an offer to lead all of delivery services for the organization. Originally got hired as director of service delivery and mostly getting out of the infrastructure world now, not completely, but mostly. And suddenly if I were to take this role I would have responsibility for commercial customer, state and local government and not much federal or DOD. And that thing goes by, and my organization grows and I got moved one level up, which was great. And then as part of that move, I also got oversight responsibilities of running an offshore delivery center in India, which existed when I had taken the prior role within the same company. But now I'm also overseeing folks in a different time zone with the... Some of the local responsibilities in that country, including business operations, banking, relationships, establishing relationships with facilities management and real estate for operations and things like that.

Vishal Lodha (00:24:08): So it was a great experience to get that thing. And especially in India where I grew up and so it's like, I go there and I used to go every quarter just for making sure the operations are smooth. Team building was so important because those folks were working US shifts. And so, it was really where I learned a lot of things, at least in my last three roles before coming to Microsoft, really made me who I am today. And of course, some great experience at Purdue, especially empathy, right? Like, "Okay, how do you very empathetically talk to your customers? You listen to them, you try to understand their business problems." So just because I was mostly people-facing, customer-facing, I had a different temperament than some of my friends who were hardcore engineering, no offense meant, but definitely made me a lot better person, a lot humble is what I felt.

Vishal Lodha (00:24:55): I used to be that guy with a very interesting temperament growing up. But as things progressed, made me a better individual. So again, Rob, I haven't come to your final or conclusion, but so those are the roles I did and then had a responsibility of an organization of 400 FTEs including manager of managers, which was great, really enjoyed it, but was extremely time consuming in the sense that I was working two shifts a lot, like 15-hour days were uncommon. Especially during my India at trips, I was actually covering India hours as well as US hours, which is great. But then you catch up on sleep and you can... In fact, I remember very well. I flew out from Mumbai on one of the nonstop flights to New York. I only woke up 45 minutes when we were away from New York and the flight crew thought I was probably not even alive.

Vishal Lodha (00:25:44): And they said, "Sir, are you okay?" "I'm like, "Yeah, I'm fine. I haven't slept in like last four days." And here I go, "I'm catching up." So it was all good, great experience. Lot of trust conversations, lot of endurance-building during that time. And it was going really well. And then I was like, "I'm spending way too many hours on work. I need a work life-balance. And I think higher education was perfect. And I didn't have to worry of about email or a phone call after five o'clock. And something opens up Purdue University. I talk to my family and I suddenly end up becoming assistant head of computer science department at Purdue.

Rob Collie (00:26:19): Very cool. Very, very cool. That 400 person company before we move on from that was that also a consulting services company?

Vishal Lodha (00:26:25): Yeah. And that will be my next stop again. And this is going to be like, "What is going on?"

Rob Collie (00:26:30): Well, no, I think it's time for you to go back to Purdue.

Vishal Lodha (00:26:32): Okay.

Rob Collie (00:26:32): I think Purdue is actually the center of this orbit. We'll find out though. That's what this experiment's about. Is it consulting or is it Purdue? We're not sure what the center of your universe is. Assistant director, is that assistant in charge of the entire computer science program?

Vishal Lodha (00:26:49): It's assistant head. So there's a department head and then there's an assistant head. It's mostly, I would call it academic administration and chief of staff.

Rob Collie (00:26:58): That's a big change.

Vishal Lodha (00:26:59): Huge.

Rob Collie (00:26:59): That's not the IT support. It's not consulting services. I mean, that's about as big of a change... From the outside I think a lot of people would go, "Yeah, he's just still in tech." They hear computer science, like, "No, that's got to be incredibly different job, some serious whiplash doing something like that."

Krissy Dyess (00:27:17): I often think too, it's hard to transition when you're in tech and you're coding and you're figuring out technical problems that transition between talking and figuring out computer problems to figure out human problems across large organizations with a lot of moving parts. That's a really unique skill set.

Vishal Lodha (00:27:37): Yeah. I mean, there was correlation, I would say that, of course this role involved overseeing IT support staff for computer science, but that was not the only one. Even communication staff or corporate relations as well. So per Purdue, that's a very interesting corporate relationship program and briefs time I was there got to interact with big tech companies, including some large corporate partners who had a great partnership with Purdue in general. And even we further strengthen those relationships. But basically a large department of about 1000 undergrad students, 300 grad students and be one of the people who help manage operations. And it was a really a cool role. I had not imagined that I would be making a switch fairly quickly because the person who I replaced was in that role for almost three plus decades. And he actually retired from that role.

Vishal Lodha (00:28:34): And that was my whole thing, was like I was going to go there and really enjoy being with the student community, work with corporate partners, industry experts and enable students, or I call it future innovators. There was also a lot of startup activity had started at that time. Some students were bringing some interesting ideas and they were looking to form startups. It was really going well. And my wife was already working there. I mean, she had been there now 15 years so that had not changed any of the roles. She had done couple by just within her line of field at Purdue. So I was the one who was actually going around musical chairs. So it was like, "Okay, back to full circle, perfect stability, great work-life balance."

Rob Collie (00:29:18): Did that role have anything... I just would think of it as being all up administration for the computer science department. So chain changes to the course offerings. Were you involved in those discussions?

Vishal Lodha (00:29:31): Yeah. Launching new or at least helping plan new graduate programs. I think we were looking at Cyber Security 1 at that time when I was there. I think data science was in early stages. We were trying to collaborate with folks in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue. And so how do you start this interdisciplinary thing? I was also trying to tell like, "Hey, technical skills are good, but our students who graduate also need to have some good project management skills. And so how do we infuse those?' I mean, they're excellent coders and they really at product developers. But I think the more I've seen of the real world going back and forth, I feel like project management skills are so important. And you know, Rob and Kris, Microsoft has a very strong program management concept here, right? In fact, here at Microsoft, we don't call project managers, PMs, we, and PJMs because PM was taken by program managers, and here comes another acronym.

Rob Collie (00:30:24): Oh yeah. Ring the bell.

Krissy Dyess (00:30:24): Ring the bell. That's what I was going to say, "Ring the bell."

Rob Collie (00:30:28): The acronym bell.

Krissy Dyess (00:30:31): I think that's been my journey is just getting through all the acronyms, but I'm learning quite a bit.

Rob Collie (00:30:36): The Microsoft field I think has a stronger acronym game than even the engineering teams. We didn't have that at many. We had COM and DDE, just not that many acronyms going around, really. In fact, I think at one point we had like a policy that we weren't allowed to name anything with an acronym or a code name. We had to give things even temporarily, just really descriptive names. So you end up with names that were like a paragraph long and some of the made it out into the public as actual product or actual feature names, which is really, really, really dull. So in the zero sum game, because I'm assuming you can't offer as a computer science department or really any academic department an ever-growing list of programs, an ever-growing list of courses. It's interesting to talk about the new things that were coming along. But do you remember any of the courses or programs that got canceled or mothballed to make room for the new stuff? What was falling off the back of that Stack?

Vishal Lodha (00:31:35): Yeah, At least my tenure there, which was roughly about less than a year, actually close to a year or something like that, really not much. I will say that I saw hundreds of students. So when they come to campus, look at any undergrad, "What do you want to do?" "I want to do this, but I don't know." Or how many times you hear of people changing majors, right? And people who thought they were really wanting to do computer science end up in computer technology or computer information system. That means they'll actually go out of computer science program and go to computer technology or in management. But from a coursework, I didn't see a lot of turnover at that point. I think my predecessor who was obviously there for three decades would've seen those transition a lot more. As technology evolved, the coursework had to be brought up to speed because at the day you are an input to a workforce system, right?

Vishal Lodha (00:32:28): And so you want to produce best graduates who are at par with the current technical trends and things like that. So I think the underlying foundation remained the same when it comes to coursework, object-oriented programming and data structures and numerical analysis. Having strong math and underlying logic and programming skills was the key. But really during at least my tenure, wasn't a lot of change. Now, one thing we did that was pretty cool was giving real time exams to students versus, "Okay, here's the paper, here's the pen, write the code or pseudo code and submit in and we'll get real." Instead, give them an environment to take an exam realtime on a disconnected computer where you can actually write the code and correct the syntax and all that thing. So I think that was when things started to change in terms of using technology for an upgrade of instructional technology, right? What do you do to make instructional mechanism better and more real time?

Vishal Lodha (00:33:29): And they would obviously write their final exam code and they'll submit to a system and the systems were getting smart at even detecting plagiarism where people would actually use each other's code and make some cosmetic changes. But in the algorithms behind the scenes were smart enough to figure out. And so yeah, it was an interesting period of time and technology was evolving to help build the future workforce in the field of technology.

Rob Collie (00:33:55): Yeah. That was my first reaction when you mentioned like writing the code on a disconnected computer, I'm like, "Oh, this is all about the prevention of cheating." Is that right?

Vishal Lodha (00:34:05): Yeah. We had quite a bit of cases. There was no easy way to, obviously. But again, I think as time evolves and I think people realize when they do these things in a disconnected environment, well this is not for them or this program is not right. And they find their passion and from [inaudible 00:34:22]. At the end of the day, I see almost all of them to be super successful. It's just where the land. I mean, I had students who I've heard, like they would just crack the problem very quickly and be done and some would take longer, and some would just not able to do it. And yeah, it's just very relative at the end of the day. But I mean, those student, some didn't have programming skills, and they were really good at business. And going back to my... We used to see several hundred people transition from CS program into other majors and they would do just fine.

Rob Collie (00:34:53): Yeah. I remember in the mid '90s when I was in college submitting those computer programming projects via the online submission process, always had like a deadline of midnight and it was just so stinking clumsy. You'd have to like try to submit three or four times before it would take. The command lines were really vague. It was just awful. Nothing like uploading... Uploading a video to YouTube today seems like the easiest thing in the world. Like this would be like by comparison, one billionth of as much data, because it's just a text file. We wouldn't be able to submit it. I remember like the clock tower would be bonging out midnight, bong, bong. And we're like, "Come on, press Enter, press Enter. Work this time, work this time." I would've preferred, I think the offline environment you're talking about. The real time, that sucked. I didn't enjoy that at all. Very stressful.

Krissy Dyess (00:35:47): And don't mix up the punch cards.

Rob Collie (00:35:49): That's right, yeah. There were no punch cards.

Vishal Lodha (00:35:52): Yeah. But if you look at the hiring trends, even when I graduated and had gone to Silicon Valley for some interviews and they said, "Here's the problem, here's the marker. Can you write me the code here?" And I was like, "Okay, let's try." And again, if you don't do that in college, it's a reality you have to face in your interviews. I mean, some people actually get filtered through those mechanisms as part of the hiring process. And it's a good rehearsal for real world.

Rob Collie (00:36:22): When I interviewed at Microsoft out of undergrad, the fact that I did not enjoy programming, even though I had a computer science degree, I really didn't enjoy programming. So I would never really do it unless I was forced to. That became pretty clear in my very, very first interview at Microsoft. I was interviewing on the Windows test team. To be a test engineer on Windows at that time, and certainly today as well, you basically had to be an A plus developer. You weren't just someone who was going there trying to break things manually. You had to write a lot of test code. In fact, that's all you really did. And I remember the first question I got asked was something like, "Implement a hash table to do this with length lists hanging off of the hash table for collisions." And I mean, I understood the theory of all of that. I understood what it was all about and everything. And like, I just could not do it. And I'm just like sweating to death and it was, it was awful.

Rob Collie (00:37:13): Didn't get a job offer from the Windows team, landed on the Office team instead, which was fine. Programming's something that's got to be your love. It's got to be something that you just really, really enjoyed. Even though I still don't love it. I'm a much better programmer today than I was back then based off of like the necessity of even just like the VBA that I've had to write over the years. The language is different, but the concepts are very similar. I've implemented my own structure and custom data types and things like that and VBA because I had to. There was no other way to do what I needed to do. In college I just didn't have any personal interest like that. It was a big difference. You said that stint at Purdue was like a year?

Vishal Lodha (00:37:53): Yeah. We had to make some decisions based on I would call it dual career situation. And so, so obviously I be... The timing was perfect in a way, but you know, not great because as I said, I envisioned retired out of Purdue. That's where I started my first job and both my kids were born in Lafayette. West Lafayette area was perfect to be called home. And well, things changed a little bit and we ended up moving to Carmel. And my former boss, he always text me and say, "Are you bored yet?" I'm like, "No, not yet." "Are you bored?" "Not yet." Not yet. And then the way it worked out, they were creating the first ever CIO role for the organization. The organization had grown very quickly from 2,500 FTEs to five grand in no time, employees.

Vishal Lodha (00:38:40): And so they needed to modernize lot of the systems, backend systems. And so they said, "Hey, we're going to create this role of VP in CIO and I think you would be a good fit. You always wanted to live in Carmel." We're going to basically buy this office building and completely renovate it and scale our operations, and let's talk." As you know, Rob, I never say no to, "Let's talk," right? Something may come out of it. And we talked and it made sense. So my wife also got a role in the life sciences industry here in the area, worked for one of the Fortune companies as well. And so it was just perfect timing. I got some pushback from kids. "Why do we have to do this? Why is it necessary? We are happy." So it worked out and was the CIO there for almost two years. And then the Microsoft opportunity came like, "Let's talk." And, "Sure." And here I am. So no more backtracking, Rob, anymore.

Rob Collie (00:39:36): That's it. We're going to just sweep the sand behind us. We've always been right here. So now you're an account executive for Microsoft, with certain strategic customers in the life sciences industry. That's as specific as we're going to get, right? That's the move?

Vishal Lodha (00:39:52): Yeah. Or you can just call it a large strategic customer is fine too.

Rob Collie (00:39:56): All right. But you already talked about being in life sciences, so it's out of the bag that you're in life sciences, Vishal.

Vishal Lodha (00:40:02): That's fine. Well, that's my title anyways in my email signature. What are you going to do about it?

Rob Collie (00:40:06): That's right. That's public record, man.

Vishal Lodha (00:40:08): Exactly.

Rob Collie (00:40:09): So you've had a ringside seat for actual practical on the ground applied technology for a very long time. Really for me, I was inside the bubble in Redmond during a lot of that same timeframe and a tremendous amount has changed. So you were on the ground for the whole cloud revolution. We weren't even talking about cloud. I mean, I remember we did a release of Office 2003, that was originally like code named Office.net. And it was supposed to be the first version of Office that heavily integrated with internet-based services. We didn't have the word cloud yet. And no one could come up with any really good ideas. There were no good ideas as to what that meant. SharePoint became a really big deal in that same timeframe. It had been introduced in the prior release, Office XP. Even though we didn't know it, SharePoint was establishing its foothold and it wasn't a cloud service yet. It was 100% a non-premises or product that you would install and administer at great cost and expense and pain.

Rob Collie (00:41:23): All of us were like, "Well, that's not internet. It's SharePoint, that's not internet. We need other services." And so we had all kinds of ideas. We had something that was going to be essentially like Azure DataMarket was, a place where you could buy data subscriptions and import them into Excel to cross analyze with other things, and that didn't go anywhere. Azure DataMarket came along years later and it also didn't go anywhere. But yeah, 2003 was the first time we were really talking about what later became the cloud, but we had almost zero traction doing anything about it. And now here we are. I don't think any of us could have conceived of the idea of Office 365 at the time and how that hybridizes between, "I still have really nice rich client functionality. Like I've got a desktop version of Excel. I've got a web version of Excel too, which is crazy, right? I've got a web version of PowerPoint, I've got web versions of everything, but I still have that desktop experience."

Rob Collie (00:42:21): It's amazing how a really clearly good idea takes a long time to actually find its real manifestation. There's no way in 2003 we could have seen what was coming with SharePoint online and all of that. We tried to force it. And what we ended up with was instead, actually just a really lackluster release of the desktop apps because we put so many resources into these blue sky internet services, ideas, none of which really amounted to a whole lot. And believe it or not, we had deliberately taken every single core app of Office down to a skeleton crew. Each of those teams was like slashed to 20% of its original staffing. It was crazy. Just a crazy time.

Krissy Dyess (00:43:08): I remember those days. And I remember wondering, "Is this cloud ever going to take off?" Because you heard it, you knew it was coming. And like I think particularly interesting to me would be the healthcare space. My personal feeling was that they were never going to adopt the cloud because of privacy and data sensitivity. We're seeing that today though, right?

Vishal Lodha (00:43:29): Yeah. So again, cloud was still a very relative term. People were seeing cloud in action. When I say that common man. SaaS services were about to explode. I mean look at what was powering those days, Hotmail or Yahoo or Gmail, right? I mean they were a SaaS service. I mean you were running your mailbox on the web and customers started asking, "Wait a seconds. So if Hotmail and Yahoo and Gmail can run these email services as a SaaS, like must be cloud powered." And it's like, "Hey, how do I get rid of my Exchange servers?" Because that's pain. When email goes down, all fingers point to me like, "Oh, something is down." Everybody recognizes it, right? And so if you look at that and Rob, you might remember those days when they announced first hosted Exchange platforms early in the days, Microsoft called it, I think BPOS and other actually hosted Exchange providers that I used as an IT infrastructure owner in my previous jobs.

Vishal Lodha (00:44:32): Like, "I don't want to run Exchange servers. I don't want to manage Blackberry integrations." Like FTP. We didn't run FTP servers even at that... Well some did, but we were like, "Okay, let's get a hosting company in plan. Let them manage that infrastructure." So I think email going to cloud really opened eyes for a lot of people. "Wait a second, if our main tool in which we live all day, every day can go to cloud," and I know it was an evolutionary process, but I think that really made people think, "Wait a second. This is serious stuff that can happen."

Rob Collie (00:45:03): Wow. You when said BPOS I just had all kinds of flashbacks. Now there's a name I haven't heard in a long time. You used the OB one thing.

Vishal Lodha (00:45:11): Well, we committed for acronyms. I had to unleash the library.

Rob Collie (00:45:15): I know, and you also threw FTP in there. I saw what you did. BPOS, what did that stand for? You have any... Remember. Was it business productivity online services?

Vishal Lodha (00:45:23): Business productivity online services.

Rob Collie (00:45:24): Wow. So that was the 365 precursor, the Exchange Online. I've forgotten all about that. What a terrible name, BPOS. I want to go buy me some BPOS. That's what I want. Can't get enough of that.

Vishal Lodha (00:45:38): Yeah, we started calling it Hostile Exchange because that's a sound a little bit more logical.

Rob Collie (00:45:43): That's right. I mean there's the official name and then there's the thing that people understand.

Vishal Lodha (00:45:45): Exactly.

Rob Collie (00:45:47): That whole cloud transition's been really interesting. It's really interesting how email seemed to be such a relatively low friction transition. A lot of organizations were pretty eager to no longer manage their own exchange server. They were perfectly happy to have Microsoft manage their exchange server in the cloud. And then after that, though there seemed to be this three or four-year-wall where anything else that was cloud really met a lot of headwind and a lot of resistance. That's my experience of it. Do you remember it the same way?

Vishal Lodha (00:46:24): Yeah, definitely. And again, part of it is the workloads weren't mature enough. And so they're like, "Yeah, it's there, but it's not like..." I remember talking to a customer and he said, "Well, I've been evaluating this thing for the last seven years and I'm not going to pull the trigger once I know it's mature and I see the value. And I'm like, "Fair. You're absolutely right." Getting to the right point which is a good combination of value and innovation is something everybody looks forward to. I think that innovation took some time to catch up, but once the value was obvious, everyone jumped onto it. And those who were left really missed out on productivity initiatives in their internal organizations.

Rob Collie (00:47:07): Well, here was the weird irony that we ran into a lot in the mid 2010s was over and over again, being told, "Oh no, no, no, no. BI is way too sensitive for us to trust it in the cloud. No way." And then you ask those same organizations, "So where's your email?" Oh yeah, it's in the cloud. "What's more sensitive than the email accounts of your leadership team? If I was going to sabotage you I'd much rather have access to your CEO's innermost thoughts than to your dashboards." And it was just a really weird time that when it was BI picked by IT organizations as the last stand, like the Alamo against the cloud, because the cloud was a threat or at least a perceived threat to IT back then.

Rob Collie (00:48:00): Because if you spend your day keeping servers running and someone comes along and says, "We're going to keep your servers running for you." It's natural to question whether you're still going to have a job, or even if you do have a job, how important are you going to be going forward? And it just seemed to me like BI just got picked as the last thing to make this the last stand for no particularly good reason. The email thing just was such a no brainer for them that it just slipped past them. And then they saw the dominoes falling and they said, "Okay, no, we're going to grab this last domino here and make this the one that doesn't fall."

Krissy Dyess (00:48:34): No, no, no. It was the rooms with the locks, that was the reason, right? Because it was super secure behind the door with the locks. And so they didn't want to give up the location of the data to the cloud which was in the Microsoft resource centers that were protected by barbed wire and actually secure measures. It was the room.

Rob Collie (00:48:54): It was the room where people like Vishal are born.

Krissy Dyess (00:48:57): That's right, where Vishal was born.

Vishal Lodha (00:48:58): I really don't want to go to that room ever again. I mean there's a lot of headaches that come with that room.

Krissy Dyess (00:49:04): It was really cold. It was really cold. They had to keep it really cool down because of all the...

Vishal Lodha (00:49:09): It's like all kinds of stuff, heating and cooling and plumbing and flooding and fire and like, "Really, do I want to take care of that?" "No, I don't. I want a seamless operation, and if a mechanism can let me run my operation 24/7 with data replication and fail over mechanisms, who cares? Let's do something that's more productive." But to your point, Rob, if you look at that space. Other tools were also maturing on cloud, just business operations, like HR software suite started to come and they started to be cloud based. Accounting systems were cloud based. I mean, I'm sure you remember QuickBooks Online whenever it came first. What was that? Look at that.

Vishal Lodha (00:49:49): And so now accountants know about cloud, HR professionals know about cloud. Benefits management tools started to go on cloud. And so suddenly every business operation has an urge to transform because now they have these tools that can be really accessed, and they don't have to wait for innovation because innovation is continuous in cloud. You get features every week, depending on how you do it. I consider my car, I drive an electrical vehicle, and sometimes I get updates once a month and the UI changes and then a new feature lights up. Prior cars I had, I only got what I paid for. There was no incremental value.

Rob Collie (00:50:32): You just come out in your garage one day and it's got like an extra trunk.

Vishal Lodha (00:50:37): Wow, that would be good and bad.

Rob Collie (00:50:40): Like, "Whoa, whoa, where did this trailer come from?" "I downloaded last night."

Vishal Lodha (00:50:45): So it's like, how do you continue to give that additional benefits, features and continue to improve the experience? It's all driven by cloud.

Krissy Dyess (00:50:53): I'm just thinking in my mind, you get in and go to start it. And they've just moved the ignition button, the main button that everybody moves, and-

Rob Collie (00:51:00): And they've renamed it too. [crosstalk 00:51:01].

Krissy Dyess (00:51:01): And they've renamed it.

Vishal Lodha (00:51:05): Yeah. I think they would name it fire suppressant.

Krissy Dyess (00:51:07): FS.

Rob Collie (00:51:09): I woke up this morning and my car, they changed the toolbar to a ribbon. There's no steering wheel anymore. You wouldn't really want that update. But even Microsoft doesn't do that stuff very often anymore. I was part of a generation that did that like all over the place. That was one of the things that we did. Let's move things around. Okay. So the fight over whether or not to go to the cloud, that fight's over. I mean, there's still a few hold out pockets like the Japanese soldiers who eventually surrendered in 1974. They didn't know that the war was actually over in the island caves. There's going to be some of that going on. But even when you see things like the department of defense is using cloud services you know that's no longer a question.

Rob Collie (00:51:55): In your experience did IT's fear of the cloud, was that prophecy, did that come true? Did a lot of people in corporate IT lose their jobs as a result of the transition to the cloud?

Vishal Lodha (00:52:11): I don't think so. I mean, those who were very interested in upskilling and trying to learn something new were able to transition. It was not a technical transition in my opinion, it was a mindset transition. What do you want to hang onto? What W you like to hug and you don't need to, you can still do things. And its was more about things work differently in cloud. But cloud also enables a lot of additional opportunities that were not that before. So if I were to look at my team and the traditional on-prem infrastructure they would handle. In fact, I like after transitioning to cloud, I would get more head count because I would be able to enable transformation, new features, new functionality a lot faster because I don't have to worry about prepping the platform. The platform continuously in no eight, and based on the feature sets that get lit up, I'm ready to take advantage and put them in my business workflows.

Vishal Lodha (00:53:17): Well, I need somebody to take advantage of what has been turned on. And so it's these people who are maybe racking or stacking or cabling, depending on the role or administering those servers. Like suddenly now they're like, "Well, I'm a cloud engineer or a cloud administrator. I can do this, this, this to enable my business to take advantage of. While they take advantage of this, I'll go and enable other functionalities on the platform so someone else in the pipeline can take advantage of what's coming next." So it's like a continuous cycle and continuous feedback loop.

Rob Collie (00:53:48): I love that. I've been saying for so many years that when I first heard the term business intelligence, it sounded cool. It sounded edgy. It sounded progressive. We were really going to do something really fascinating and valuable. And the reality of the 2000s version of BI and before was anything but those things. It was really, really, really slow and non-nimble and not smart, and lowest common denominator, and very unsatisfying, and really fundamentally wasteful. And it's only in the last decade, I will call the Power BI decade, that original excitement about what's possible. That's just the exciting possibilities in this space. It's like, we've just recently lived up to the excitement that that original term suggested.

Rob Collie (00:54:45): Just listening to you now it occurred to me that the same thing has finally happened with IT, because the first time I heard the term information technology, it's hard to transport yourself back in time to when that was a brand new term. But when you first heard that term, it had that same imagination capturing capability to it. It was a good name. It was chosen well. It's just that the reality of the world was not remotely ready to deliver on that level of promise. And then over time you start to... Information technology, you don't say it with that same glimmer in your eye. You start to sound more and more boring, and then eventually it just becomes IT. And it starts to feel like a million scenes from the movie Office Space. Bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy and TPS report. Here's another fake acronym, but hey, we're going to ding the bell anyway.

Rob Collie (00:55:38): But the transition to the cloud has allowed us to at least begin the transition to information technology being an offensive tool. Something that's able to create an asset as opposed to just like table stakes of doing business and therefore a very defensive mindset where you only get noticed when things go wrong. To be part of a strategic initiative for a business that actually improves and transforms the way that business operates in a positive way is not something you associate with it in the way that we've come to think of it.

Rob Collie (00:56:15): But maybe, maybe just maybe. Another way to say it is that if we'd always had cloud infrastructure, IT probably would've almost immediately been realizing that original potential. And we would've never had to go through this era of starting to think of IT as really stodgy bureaucracy. We could have dodged all that, if only we'd had cloud from the beginning.

Vishal Lodha (00:56:36): Yeah. It's about how do you create that instant value and then how do you help realize that value? It's always there. It's, how do you show that? And once somebody gets the hang of it, it's just continuous innovation, continuous value change innovation. It just becomes part of your culture and ecosystem.

Rob Collie (00:56:55): So in a average day for you or week, interacting with Microsoft's strategic customers, what are the themes that come up? What are the things that you find yourself talking about most frequently these days? And I'm sure that some of them are just relatively the basics of being in business type of stuff, but the stuff that you could think of them as being like technology trends or cultural trends or minds set trends. What are the things that become like the common beats for you these days?

Vishal Lodha (00:57:28): Yeah. It's a loaded question Rob, for sure.

Rob Collie (00:57:28): That's the way I like them.

Vishal Lodha (00:57:35): That's a great question. I've also seen the trends change every two, three years, right? But to start with, we're hearing similar trends, that's a good thing. Number one is there are certain things that are not our core competency and we really want to get out of it. We want to focus on what is our core competency. So if you look at a life sciences or just in general healthcare customers, whether they are payer providers, MedTech, pharma, what are their core competency? Most of them want to continue to run their business very effectively, be very productive, but not worry about things. That's something they're not going to continue to build core competency on. So some of the examples I talk about all the time is, what are some things they don't want to deal with? Most of the infrastructure like outsourcing, especially getting out of the data center business.

Vishal Lodha (00:58:27): They have run for decades, but they've realized very quickly that public cloud providers can do it a lot more differently, a lot more efficiently, a lot more secure. Customers don't have to worry about the challenges of ups and downs, seasonality, elasticity. They have lot more decisions to make when it comes to flexibility, which was not the case. If Rob, you were to buy equipment for your business for next three years, and then you realize you only need half of it. You have a sunk cost. So that's no longer the case. So they're like, "We'll focus on what our core themes are. And then what we'll do is we'll continue to evaluate what are the trends in our core business? What are the technology consideration and recommendation? What our competitors are doing. What are the best practices? What are the improvement opportunities? How can we simplify our workflows? How can we empower our business to accelerate faster?"

Vishal Lodha (00:59:22): So I think the trend is moving more and more. And I think we are at one point, IT and business are actually converging and there's decent overlap. In fact, some customers I know, there's core IT teams, but there's also embedded IT teams within business. They're more aligned to their business transformative initiatives, right? So things like that. So there's definitely some things large customers don't want to do just because it just doesn't make sense for them anymore. The flat model is not flexible. They've realized that they're more secure in cloud because there's plethora of tools and platforms and technologies in cloud that actually has them keep secure. They really don't want to develop little bit of everything just because it's not good use of the investments.

Vishal Lodha (01:00:08): I mean, they just say, "We'll leave the security to our cloud. We'll monitor and we'll have folks from our side, but we're not going to deliver innovations and security tool sets compared to what key players in the market do. So I think that whole trend is changing. We have seen a lot of change obviously, the transitioning, customers are evolving. Some of them are evolving very fast. That gives big tech players an opportunity to innovate faster because now we say there's a customer waiting to consume that innovation and take that innovation and apply it in whatever form fashion to their business to empower [inaudible 01:00:48]. So we make a lot of tech, but we make a lot of tech so that our customers can use that tech to build their tech.

Vishal Lodha (01:00:55): So what Satya says is if you want to work for a cool company, don't come to Microsoft. If you want work for a company that makes their customers cool come to Microsoft. So I heard this few years back and it really stuck to me. We create tech that empowers other business to deliver their tech. I mean, obviously underlying platform is ours, but they can use that to build their thing in whatever form or fashion and deliver the impact.

Rob Collie (01:01:23): I ran into an old colleague of mine, who I worked with at Microsoft many years ago. I ran into him one time and he was laughing because he now works for Adobe. And he was laughing saying... Because he's a really cool guy. He's way cooler than me. Like he runs in some really cool social circles, unlike me. You're stuck with me. And he's laughing about... Well, we're stuck with each other, Vishal, and Krissy, although Krissy's probably cooler than us. So he said, "It's really funny, when I worked at Microsoft, I was vilified in my social circle for working for the man. And now I work for Adobe and everyone just accepts that. It's so cool. I'm a cool guy. I work for Adobe."

Rob Collie (01:02:06): "But it's funny when I worked at Microsoft, everything I was doing there and everything that everyone around me was doing was working to build technology to make human beings more productive, and I was vilified as working for the man. Now I work for Adobe," he says. "And all I do, is I build technology to allow marketers to manipulate people in the world, right? And now I'm a cool guy. Now I'm edgy." He's like, "This is really, really, really backwards." He's like, "I'll take it. I'll take the prestige. I guess people like it, but it's backwards." I agree. Microsoft's platforms, and that's what they are like they're tools. It's a business model. It's not charity, but it is aligned with a lot of actual progress. It's aligned with higher productivity. Well, that's about as good as it gets. In capitalism that's about as good as it gets, increase productivity.

Vishal Lodha (01:02:58): And with focus on industry, right? So if you look at the transition, we were very focused on the cloud. Definitely came to the market later than some of our competitors, right? No, not about it. But-

Rob Collie (01:03:08): If you ignore the game changing release that was Office 2003, we really changed the world there.

Vishal Lodha (01:03:18): Absolutely. Again, we came to the party late. It actually gave us advantage in a way. We saw where the gaps were, where the opportunities were. And if you go back in time, we really started getting everybody's attention, it was mostly PaaS services. Some of the SaaS services, but PaaS platform was like really standing out. That actually gave our customers to modernize Legacy apps into modern or cloud native apps. And that was great. And while that was going on, we were really catching up on IaaS space. And came a time, a few years back, we were at parity, whether it is SaaS, IaaS, PaaS. In fact SaaS is still great. Office 365, hundreds of millions of users, right? Depending on the day active users, things like that. And what's interesting is Rob. Now the transition is not within cloud, it's cloud for industry.

Vishal Lodha (01:04:08): So Microsoft has announced several industry cloud in the last 18 months, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare. And we are obviously doing some great work and manufacturing, retail, and just whole industry verticalization. And there are going to be solutions that Microsoft won't have a very specific applicability and we won't necessarily get into it. But that's where we rely on a massive ecosystem of partners. And I actually lost track from last inspire. Like, are we at 15,000 plus partners or 20,000? Whatever number is, but it's like those partners are well-versed in Microsoft platforms and technologies. And they also understand the business needs, whether it is in the healthcare space or very specific plant level, operational technology problem. They'll use our tech to build a solution to meet those gaps. And so when you bring that together with industry cloud and other thing, it actually really becomes a very strong proposition for our customers.

Rob Collie (01:05:10): So what is it that makes these industry cloud solutions? What is it distinguishing about one of these new cloud services or cloud platforms that's aimed at an industry? Does it have like a customized bundle or does it actually contain services that just don't exist outside of it?

Vishal Lodha (01:05:28): The services are all there, but customers are like, "Hey, Microsoft, make it easy for us." We don't want to be the general contractor stitching it together. So let's take an example and I'm by no means a expert in the provider space, but imagine the life cycle of a patient provider interaction. So let's look at telehealth. For a second for a doctor to schedule that you'll be using a separate tool. Then from there, you would obviously do some documentation in different tool and just the whole workflow. Now what happens is something like Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, you can actually bring all these SaaS and PaaS components together. So what does that mean? We can actually create a Teams like call within a custom framework. Doesn't necessarily appear to be a Teams call, but it's actually powered by the same technology, something called Azure Communication Service, right?

Vishal Lodha (01:06:19): And you can do all that. You can move that data into the next staging area, wherever that needs to be. You can use cognitive services in Azure for speech recognition or those things. At some point maybe you can use sentiment analysis to figure out how was the patient doctor interaction. And so these services are all available at standalone services and there's a lot of them. It's like, "How do you put them together in a way that is more well-structured, well-packaged, easy to consume and makes our customer who in fact help other customers or patients just a lot easier?"

Vishal Lodha (01:06:59): I think the focus on industry cloud is going to be more and more just because customer expect us to meet them where they need to go. And they really don't want to have the burden of putting this together. They'll still do, obviously. It's an 80, 20 game. If it's done 80%, and 20%, they need to tweak, that's easier, but we just give them the ingredients and say, "Okay, it's up to you whatever you want to make out of it." It's a little bit of a challenge because then it actually slows down their digital transformation journey.

Rob Collie (01:07:29): Well, that's fascinating. That is a very clear and I think wise, but still a very clear departure from Microsoft's traditional strategies. You're actually at this point building these industry clouds, they actually contain not just services, but you could describe it as applications that were purpose built for that industry. As you say, could have been built by the customer or by a partner based off of the foundational services in the Microsoft cloud.

Vishal Lodha (01:07:56): Yeah. And if you look at our... And you might have heard about this and so some other... Three clouds, right? Microsoft call it productivity cloud, and application infrastructure cloud and business applications. What we're doing is the capability exists. We have the ability to make it happen but as a silo tool. You know there's a tool in Office 365 called Bookings. What can you do with Bookings? Well, you can publish a calendar and you can make it easy for your customers to schedule a meeting with you because they can see your free, busy and all that stuff. Great. "Well, how do we bring that into patient scheduling system?" Well, we already have the underlying technology, so let use some of that to create patient scheduling. Then obviously on a BI side, we have a lot of tools in data analytics, like, "Okay, how do we use that to create patient insights?"

Vishal Lodha (01:08:45): We have a very decent platform in the form of Teams that can help us interact with patients and tell you, "Okay, how do we convert that into virtual health sessions, things like that? How do we collaborate between provider teams, between medical professionals, nurses, to technicians, care coordination, care team collaboration?" All those tools and capabilities existed. What we did was we said, "We need to apply those to specific industry to make it easy for them to run their operations. Again, data interoperability, clinical analytics. So all those are... And you don't have to worry about security and compliance of each of those silo tools because now you're getting platform levels. So you're covered from security compliance and privacy perspective at a platform level, versus individually certified scheduling system, inside system telemedicine or virtual health system, right?

Vishal Lodha (01:09:38): I mean, the power of platform is so much better than silo tools. I've told this to my customers, "Hey, listen, customer, we might not have a gold medal in every category. We are not number one in every category. But if you look at who is the common denominator, we might have multi pull medals in the same category. So if you have to choose two or three strategic partners, you will always see us there." Because then it's like, "Well, they're not there yet. They're not 100 but they're 95, 98. Okay, great. If I have a bunch of 95, that's... Or if I have less strategic partners to deal with, that's better for me from relationship manager because I am okay with 95 to 98 versus have multiple partners with a 99 or a hundred score." How do you reduce that overhead?

Rob Collie (01:10:26): This has come up on this show multiple times and usually under the topic of career skills for an individual, if you're 90th percentile that a bunch of things that are required together, you're actually 99th percentile at the overall thing. Right. We talk about life is a decathlon. You don't want a 99% shot putter or a 99% javelin thrower. You want to win the decathlon. So yeah, I think that's the same thing raising its head again. Yeah, Microsoft is mid 90s, upper 90s at basically a lot of different things. And so yeah, that's a decathlon, Microsoft. That should be the next ad campaign, Microsoft life is a decathlon.

Vishal Lodha (01:11:08): I've been having multiple customer conversation and it's like, you can look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant, and if there is a recurring name on that quadrant, that's Microsoft. Again, we might not be always at the top, but we will be a common denominator always. So it just makes it a little bit easier.

Rob Collie (01:11:26): There were two things you were saying earlier that I wanted to circle back to that were light bulb moments for me, again, because they tie into themes that we've been seeing over and over again. One of them for me, it goes all the way back to my days designing software at Microsoft is this difference between nouns and verbs. So you were talking about IT. Now we were talking about IT now in this more offensive role, like working with the business on what we can do, what can accomplish. And I think that one of the problems that previous it business relations was that IT, a lot of like the status, the stature of IT was defined in terms of what they were responsible for. It's the noun like, "I own this, I own that. I'm responsible for this. I'm responsible for that."

Rob Collie (01:12:13): And if you, you come into that environment and say to them, "Hey, you're not going to be responsible for these things, this, this, this, and this anymore." It's natural that, that would trigger an immune response. But it sounds like, and I think this is a really, really positive change for the world that IT is moving from defining its worth from nouns, static things that they're responsible for to a more of a verb like self-measuring stick. Like what are the things that we do? What are the things that we help the business do? What are the things that we accomplish? And it's just over and over and over again, I'm struck by how much better things and more productive and more accurate your view of the world invaluable becomes if you start to dismiss the nouns as not that important, and focus instead on the verb. Like, what's the actions? What are the actions we're taking? And to hear that happening at the IT cultural level is very, very, very encouraging.

Vishal Lodha (01:13:09): Yeah. I remember very well IT used to be business support function. That has changed to business enablement function. So IT is now more of an enabler. A lot of business initiatives, especially transformative have definitely a digital component to it that's driven by IT solutions, right? So as I said earlier, if there's an overlap. It's really sometimes hard to figure out, depending on the role the person is in, "Where do you spend more time in your work week? Is it more on the IT side or business side?" Some of those boundaries are blurring fast, even in the data and analytics space. I mean, Rob, you work with so many business decision makers, a lot of technical talent actually is now embedded in business organization.

Rob Collie (01:13:56): That's the other thing that I was going to circle back to is you mentioned the hub and spoke IT model where there's a central IT team, but then there's also IT teams embedded within each business unit. And even if we're working with an organization that doesn't have that formally established yet, if all we're talking to them about is their analytic strategy and their governance and adoption strategies for Power BI in particular, we're always encouraging a hub and spoke model be developed. You'd need authors, people who are creating data models and reports embedded in each business unit. And they're already there. Those people that you need to empower and light up are already there. You just need to get them the right access to tools and training and maybe some kickstart projects.

Rob Collie (01:14:46): And then those people become your ambassadors back to the hub. Ambassadors, when you're blurring the lines between business and IT, at that interface, there are people. And if you want to blur those lines effectively, you're going to need ambassadors of one flavor or another, right? And so if you have a hub and spoke IT model, what that means is that you've got people who are very IT savvy in the spokes, the radial, and those people can speak the IT language, but because they're closely aligned with the business, they also can speak that business language. And so as a result, the needs of that business unit can become much more clearly communicated and understood to the IT galactic center or point. This is everywhere now, whether formally or informally, if you're not hub and spoking and developing ambassadors, you're not going to perform well in the modern competitive marketplace.

Vishal Lodha (01:15:46): Yeah, definitely. You know, we talk about a lot of disruption. Well, it's okay to disrupt ourselves to do something that is more aligned to the transformation needs. And we might go through the cycle periodically and it's totally fine. Change is not easy, but organizations who have had a very open mindset have really done well. I mean, you look at some of the biggest market gaps out there, right? I mean, a lot of them is about how they embrace technology and how they manage change. And so I think it's going to be an ongoing thing. And that also means a pressure of keeping up to everything and upskilling and trends becomes more important. Especially competitive knowledge like, "Okay, what are others doing in that space? And are we leaders or laggers, right?"

Rob Collie (01:16:34): Here's a question I've been dying to ask you for about 45 minutes. Is that a squash court behind you in your basement?

Vishal Lodha (01:16:39): It is a racket ball court, but you're absolutely right. I'm surprised it took you that long to observe it. Or maybe you observed it, but you didn't want to ask, and you only wanted to ask for the last 45 minutes. But this is $10 chance because of COVID. Obviously we were looking for activities. There's only so much you can do with your standard activity. Okay, we watch TV and we go out, that's fine, but what else? We're not going to the gym. So we said, "Huh, how do we do this?" I close my eyes. And I look at... I used to play squash. So Rob, you're absolutely right. More racketball recently just because I can't keep up with the squash ball anymore. Racketball is a little bit easier on me. I'm like, "Wait a second, we can do that if you can find the right ball."

Vishal Lodha (01:17:23): And so I look around, I'm like, bingo. How do we do that is you basically buy $5 masking tape and get help from some of the helper. In my case, my elder daughter. And we basically got that covered in like 15, 20 minutes. And by the way, it's not just on the wall. It's like, I don't know how much you can see, but this proper division on the floor it's carpet, but the ball bounces pretty well. And I had a friend come over and he was sweating in 15 minutes, trust me.

Rob Collie (01:17:50): You get really competitive in a carpeted basement racketball court.

Vishal Lodha (01:17:56): Absolutely.

Rob Collie (01:17:57): When I asked the question, I fully expected, I was just being snarky. Like, "Is that a squash court?" "Oh no, it is." It actually is a racketball court.

Krissy Dyess (01:18:05): Or one of the backgrounds, because some backgrounds, I thought maybe that could the case.

Rob Collie (01:18:09): Oh yeah. That's one that you just get off the basement with racketball court.

Vishal Lodha (01:18:14): There are some meetings where my background is blurry and there are some it's not, depending on what it is. And in fact, one of my senior leaders asked that question and he's like, "This is pretty cool." Rob, what I was proud about was like, "Well, first of all, we have something to do different, but, "Hey, it only cost me five bucks." Nothing can beat that whole excitement about getting accomplished with five bucks. It's actually less than a hamburger, right?

Rob Collie (01:18:37): I think you should establish some sort of live YouTube channel around this basement, racketball championships.

Vishal Lodha (01:18:45): Entries open now, all age groups.

Rob Collie (01:18:53): I mean, it would be one of the most awesome, riveting and ridiculous at the same time. I think it's going to be awesome. We need to make this a thing.

Vishal Lodha (01:19:02): Yeah. I mean the only downside is, and I've checked it, we might have to get the dry wall done again, but it's been a year now and really nothing has happened to the drywall. So either we are not intense players or our drywall is really good quality, I don't know, but I don't see any downside right now. Everything looks good.

Rob Collie (01:19:20): I have a Halloween costume that is basically the tennis player from The Royal Tenenbaums which looks a lot like Bjorn Borg from the '70s where it was modeled off of. I tell you what, I'm going to put that on with the tight white shorts hiked way up and just show up with my headbands and my wrist bans and my sunglasses. I'm going to ring your doorbell and say, "Let's play."

Vishal Lodha (01:19:43): Last play. You might actually see a racket on one of the chairs behind me.

Rob Collie (01:19:46): I do. Yeah.

Vishal Lodha (01:19:47): It's hanging on like...

Rob Collie (01:19:49): I think you have to, when we're going to turn this into a YouTube channel, there's going to need to be costumes. You just have to make it over the top.

Vishal Lodha (01:19:57): Let's see what my costumes look like. Oh, sorry. I have a shorts. Okay, that's all.

Rob Collie (01:20:01): Same. Krissy, were you sitting on any questions that you wish I'd stopped yapping so you could sneak in and ask?

Krissy Dyess (01:20:09): The AI side of things, especially in healthcare, I can imagine that that would have to be trending up.

Vishal Lodha (01:20:17): Yeah, big time. I'm happy to give some generic examples if need be.

Krissy Dyess (01:20:21): Yeah. That'd be fantastic.

Rob Collie (01:20:22): Give us some generic examples.

Krissy Dyess (01:20:24): Yeah, because I'm curious.

Vishal Lodha (01:20:25): So how many, many times this has happened to you? At least it has happened to me, every single time I walk into doctor's office, you get a paper with a clipboard and a pen. "Can you fill that up?" "Well, I thought you knew about me coming in. I thought I filled that information last time." Why aren't we using AI to automate some of this? "Oh, Vishal is here. Last time he filled this form based on cognitive services and AI combination. Looks like the form should look like this. So let's print it for him." I call it predictive analytics, like predictive form builder, Rob. And like, "Let's print it for him, and if there are any changes, he'll make the changes, rest everything is... Like it's a very simple example, but AI, all it is, is nothing but a trainable model. You just improve that model over time.

Vishal Lodha (01:21:16): Even in manufacturing, I'm seeing part. How do you figure out the defects on the parts? People will be on the floor looking at the parts, "Oh, this doesn't look right." But when you start applying cognitive services like vision and use the vision services to recognize those defects, then you're basically using AI to separate good parts from bad parts. So again, this probably would be more applicable on the MedTech side. Again on the healthcare side, I think AI should be able to dictate the workflow of interaction between a patient and provider based on the questions that were answered last time, based on the changes in the form. I think if we ask these questions, then we are covered.

Vishal Lodha (01:21:56): I think there's a lot of redundant work that can be eliminated by AI because AI can capture and make stuff that's more relevant for that interaction. I'm just thinking of any more specific examples. I come across a lot of them.

Krissy Dyess (01:22:11): Well, for me that's a big relief because I've been putting off that appointment because I don't want to fill out the paperwork again.

Vishal Lodha (01:22:16): Yeah. I just don't understand why they have to make me print-

Krissy Dyess (01:22:20): I've always wondered.

Vishal Lodha (01:22:20): And again, like environmentally, why are we printing so much paper? And some commissions are doing it. Before you come, you submit a web-based form to them. As for your text appointment, you'll get a link and you submit, and I'm like, "Use AI to send me that pre-populated form based on what I submitted last time. And I'll submit my changes on the phone or my device. And then we have it. And the next time we come, we're looking at iteration." So the models are smart enough to detect those changes. I don't even know if it's all AI, but you know, some combination of logic and change data management can do that. But yeah, I think the AI should be able to guide you to say, "Okay, now's the time for Vishal to fill the form? His appointment is three days out. Let's use the scheduling system to alert him and get this thing out so that by the time he's in the office, everything is taken care of." I really think there's a lot of workflows in healthcare system that needs to be streamlined. You're still very traditional.

Rob Collie (01:23:19): I just changed dentists and when I called the dental office, they asked me how I'd heard of them. And I told them who referred me. So then I got the text link before the appointment with the online forms that you described. And of course, one of the questions is, "How did you hear of us?" And I told them who referred me. And then I went into the office from my appointment and face-to-face they asked me, "How did you hear us?"

Krissy Dyess (01:23:47): They just wanted to be really sure.

Rob Collie (01:23:50): And I told them who referred me. This happened yesterday. That's yesterday.

Vishal Lodha (01:23:55): And at that point you were ready to be referred to a different dentist, pretty much.

Rob Collie (01:24:01): That's a minor thing. So many times, technology gets held sometimes. This is weird. I can talk out of both sides of my mouth, right? Any given day, I can say that that humans are more important and the humans are everything. And other days I can say like, "Well, humans are fallible and technology might be better." I had an interaction with a doctor recently where I told this doctor that I had this problem and it started about the time that I cut back on my alcohol consumption. He was so in his own little zone about dealing with the problems that he deals with and trying to make that problem go away that at some point when he couldn't figure out what was wrong, he just turned to me and said, "Well, maybe you should just go back to your old routine." I'm looking at him going, "Are you saying as a medical professional that I should increase my alcohol consumption?"

Rob Collie (01:24:48): And then he took a pass and said, "Well, you should take that up with your personal care physician." And I like, "I am never going to be in your office ever again." An AI would've been smarter than to say that, right?

Krissy Dyess (01:24:59): That's where we need the bots. We need the bots to step up.

Rob Collie (01:25:01): We need a bot there to not say the dumb thing.

Krissy Dyess (01:25:04): That's right.

Vishal Lodha (01:25:05): Yeah. And even sentiment analysis. AI can help you understand patient's mood and where they're going. Do they need extra caring and feeding? Those kind of things. I mean, you have a long way to go.

Rob Collie (01:25:15): Yeah. He needed some sort of warning tone in his ears, like, "Uh-oh, you said something not so bright."

Krissy Dyess (01:25:31): I actually could use one of those too.

Rob Collie (01:25:33): Yeah. Well, I guess we all could, but...

Vishal Lodha (01:25:37): Talked about AI, Kriss. Another example is, I sometimes schedule meeting using Cortana. I just tell Cortana, "Hey, find a free time on my calendar and give three options to the customer," and they pick, and sends the invite on my behalf, right? That's clear AI in action. I'm sure healthcare can take advantage of it and cut down on some of the human overhead and apply that where we need more in the clinical side, but we'll see.

Rob Collie (01:26:01): Vishal, you're a very important person, people know you. We appreciate you spending so much time with us. It was a great conversation.

Vishal Lodha (01:26:08): No, I really enjoyed this format, really. It felt like we were at the happy hour, Rob. Basically we had a bigger group this time, but it was open conversation and really we could speak our minds. And I think this is my first podcast. I've done some of these round tables and fireside chats in my previous role, but not a podcast. So really excited to see what the outcome is. I'm a little bit embarrassed to share this once it's done with my family members, just because they're going to say, "Well, I don't think that was cool." And you know, he's like, "Oh, probably your rating is not going to be that high," is the remark I'm going to get. So not that I'm competing with Arun-.

Rob Collie (01:26:42): Tough crowd.

Vishal Lodha (01:26:43): Not that I'm competing with the Arun, but I did it for my own fun, and-

Rob Collie (01:26:47): You're tops in the category of podcast guests who've conducted the interview from racketball court.

Vishal Lodha (01:26:53): That is something good.

Rob Collie (01:26:54): Yeah.

Vishal Lodha (01:26:56): Well, Rob, you're more than welcome to join here for a game or two, whenever you are up for it.

Rob Collie (01:27:01): I'm vaccinated.

Vishal Lodha (01:27:03): So am.

Rob Collie (01:27:03): I can't wait to get injured in a game of carpeted basement-

Krissy Dyess (01:27:09): And don't forget the costume. That's the most important part.

Rob Collie (01:27:11): Oh yeah.

Krissy Dyess (01:27:14): You need the costume.

Rob Collie (01:27:14): I need the... It'll just... Oh, my gosh, yeah.

Vishal Lodha (01:27:15): Yeah. And what we'll do is we'll turn on this webcam, just like it is and we'll play the game and we can actually broadcast to Krissy and Luke. I don't even-

Krissy Dyess (01:27:23): I think the ratings are going to go way up if we do that. I'm going to do some... I'll be running and I'll end up crashing over that chair.

Vishal Lodha (01:27:34): Or you will go extra in an attempt to reach you might just go overboard and you might land on that ping pong table also, Rob.

Rob Collie (01:27:40): That's right. The last time I played racketball, I separated my shoulder running into the wall. Guaranteed to happen again for sure.

Vishal Lodha (01:27:50): Awesome. Thank you, guys.

Krissy Dyess (01:27:51): All right. Thank you.

Announcer (01:27:53): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Have a day-to-day.

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