A matter of national interest

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's point man on the company's global strategies and policies, goes to great lengths to engage governments.

newsmaker As chief technical officer of advanced strategies and policy at the world's largest software company, Craig Mundie is often in dialogue with governments around the world.

He reports to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and works with him to develop technical, business and policy strategies for the company on a global scale. Mundie's role includes coordinating and implementing aspects of strategies that span multiple Microsoft product groups and worldwide operations.

Mundie was here earlier this month to join other members of the Infocomm International Advisory Panel, a group made up of industry luminaries tasked to help develop Singapore's tech future.

In part 1 of this interview, he tells ZDNet Asia the extent to which Microsoft advises Asian governments as well as some of the long-term benefits that the company hopes to gain from the discussions.

Could you give a broad overview, as well as an update, on Microsoft's involvement with governments in the region?
We have been doing business in terms of our normal traditional product lines, in most of these countries for more than a decade. About six to seven years ago, I became personally drawn into China to work with the government to resolve issues that could have potentially blocked or slowed down the rate at which we could work together to deploy some of our technology.

For example, in China, there were a few concerns about how the government could be assured about the security of the systems that they were building on these technologies. And that led, for example, to the creation of the Government Security Program, and more recently, the Government Security Cooperation Program.

This region has a disproportionate share of the world's poor people and less-privileged school systems.

Today, 40-odd governments [globally], including a few in the region, now partner Microsoft in what is really not a commercial arrangement at all, but is essentially, a mutual cooperation agreement to try to improve overall network and computer security.

Another place where we've been engaged quite heavily in the last few years is around programs and education. They fall in two distinct categories. One, we have a program, for example, called Partners in Learning where we formalized a model of engaging governments to support the deployment of contemporary software for educational purposes in low-income schools, on a global basis. This is because this region has a disproportionate share of the world's poor people and less-privileged school systems. Today, I think there are 101 countries that have signed some agreement with Microsoft in order to facilitate low-cost access to our technology for use in education.

Another thing that we've recognized is as governments try to improve the situation in healthcare, education and the economic opportunities of their rural economies, that literacy, even for the adult population, is a critical factor. So we created a program that we called Unlimited Potential, partly with a philanthropic component to it from the company, and partly from partnership with partners and local community centers.

We have developed a set of curricula to provide basic technology literacy to adults and that allows them, as they gain access to things like personal computers, to use them in the local businesses. And we've seen quite remarkable adoption of these technologies even in the rural communities. That, plus access to the Internet, seems to be creating new economic activities for many of these people.

Within Microsoft, what are some of the initiatives that you have embarked on to support your efforts to engage governments?
Several years ago, MS created a new business unit in the company which we called the Global Public Sector business. It's run by a woman named Gerri Elliott. We created that in recognition of the fact that governments themselves and the educational component of government activities are not traditional businesses--they have some special and unique requirements [with regards to accessing] technology and using it.

In the past, Microsoft really didn't have a good way to address either the business relationship or the unique special requirements of those activities. And so we've spent the last few years improving our own organizational abilities, and we're quite happy with the progress there.

What are your discussions with the Singapore government specifically about?
The company, through our National Technical Offices Community, which we built up as an adjunct to my office, [has been engaging] the government around prospective technology policy issues, and these span the range from consulting on new models of spectrum management in order to facilitate the deployment of new radio systems, to broadband wireless technologies, to consultation on policies around telecom reform on a legal basis. We talked a bit about regulatory requirements to match the technology convergence that seems to be happening quite naturally around these advanced networks and devices.

We increasingly try to provide some insights to the basis of the government's policy, which stems from a somewhat unique perspective through our direct involvement and heavy investment in research and development, so as to help translate that into the policy makers' language and needs. [By doing so], we ensure the best possible alignment in the future between the regulatory and policy regimes, and the deployment of these new technologies.

How has working with governments helped Microsoft rein in the company's longer-ranging goals?
In many countries of the world, the government is our largest customer. So even in a very traditional analysis, you should do whatever you can do to have a relationship to support your big customer. One of the challenges we have in the region is the level of piracy of our products. It stems from the best case, which is in the low 40 percent, to the worst case, which is about 99 percent in the region.

Governments really have a role to play in evolving both their legal environment and sort of the culture of the company. In many countries, the governments themselves are not particularly immune from piracy. Part of what comes out of working with them is a better mutual understanding of what it's going to ultimately take to make the Asian region more competitive [with regards to] intellectual property protection. That's clearly important to us, because our business is clearly an intellectual property business.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Craig Mundie's interview, where he talks about the highs and lows of bringing ideas to market at Microsoft.