#45 – One Technology Organization’s Focus On The Greater Good

Like many of my colleagues in the technology sector, I’ve been incredibly excited to witness this amazing time in technology – driven by the advancement of cloud technologies and platforms, the aggregation of big data and advances in AI, machine learning, IoT and the like. The future promises to be incredibly bright.
If you’ve been paying attention to recent headlines as I have, I’m sure you’ve become increasingly concerned by some dark clouds that shed a negative light on technology’s unintended consequences and misuse to enable malicious behavior, cyber terrorism, and cybercrime. The New York Times recently referred to the current time as a “Second Inning“.
I believe that technology organizations and technology leaders have an opportunity, and potentially an obligation to inform and educate lawmakers so they better understand both the potential for good and the possible threats. My belief is rooted in what I’ve seen first-hand in my work and advocacy. I was recently reminded of this importance on a trip last month to Washington, DC and a series of conversations with technology leaders from Microsoft, elected officials and technology partners who met at our Nation’s Capital in an effort to harness technology for a greater good.
This most recent episode of my podcast, Ultimate Guide to Partnering is a first-hand report back from this field visit on my findings. In this episode you will learn about a framework developed by Microsoft – A Cloud for Global Good, outlining a series of initiatives and recommendations around a cloud that is trusted, responsible cloud and inclusive. You will also learn about an organization featured in Episode 6,  Voices for Innovation that works to inform legislative officials of key policy matters that shape the future of technology. In addition, I spend time with a Microsoft partner, learning first-hand about her recent experience visiting with lawmakers.
My interview guests include two technology policy leaders, Jonathan Friebert and Owen Larter, who discuss Microsoft’s commitment to this framework and how technology organizations can get involved. And the Microsoft partner is Carol-Lynn Grow from LawToolBox.com, who shares why these issues matter to her and how her involvement has impacted the work she does as technology business leader in Denver, Colorado.
If you’d like to learn more or get involved to ensure the technology we create and advance ultimately serves the greater good, then please join me to stay informed. There are links below to learn more about the framework and the book, A Cloud For Global Good as well as links to learn more about Voices for Innovation.

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This episode of the podcast is sponsored by Microsoft and Voices for Innovation.


Vince:                 Jonathan, welcome back to the podcast.

Jonathan:           Glad to be back, Vince.

Vince:                 It’s great to have you back. You were a guest episode six of the podcast, and for our listeners who didn’t tune into that episode, can you explain for our listeners your role at Microsoft?

Jonathan:           I am the Director of External Affairs in Microsoft’s U.S. Government Affairs organization, which is part of CELA, reporting in to Brad Smith.

Vince:                 For our listeners who don’t know, what is CELA?

Jonathan:           CELA is Corporate External Legal Affairs. What we focus on in U.S. Government Affairs is educating policy makers about important technology policy issues that are impacting not only Microsoft, but the technology industry.

Vince:                 You lead an advocacy group, Voices for Innovation. What is Voices for Innovation and why should those of us in technology or any technology leader care?

Jonathan:           Sure. Voices for Innovation is a community made up primarily of our Microsoft partners, but really open to anybody who wants to participate, and learn more as well as educate policy makers about the important policy issues around technology. You know, as you think about it, there are tremendous advancements that are happening right now in technology. Digital transformation, communication, access to information. A lot of this is being powered by Cloud computing, and a lot of that is driving economic growth and innovations that, you know, really weren’t possible a decade ago. You know, around that, there are also societal and I would say policy discussions about what this all means. What we try to do at VFI is really bring people together with their elected officials to talk about what’s going on with their businesses and talk about some of the concerns that they’re having and hearing from their customers, as well as things that they see.

Vince:                 Jonathan, you hosted an event in Washington, D.C. called The Fly In just recently, and I got to participate in that event. As part of that event, we all got to hear from Owen Larter, who’s also from the Government Affairs organization, discussing a Microsoft book, “A Cloud for Global Good”.

Jonathan:           What I really love about “A Cloud for Global Good” is that it really creates a policy road map for what we call a trusted, responsible and inclusive Cloud. There’s tremendous advances that are happening right now: health care, education, communication, productivity. At the same time, with all these advances, there are people that are getting left behind. While Cloud’s creating this disruption and it’s creating benefits, there’s also the recognition that not everyone is getting those benefits. What I think is really important and what I really like about this is it creates a nice set of topics and issues to have conversations with elected officials about. It’s really about, I think, thought leadership. It’s really about trying to get ahead of some of the issues that we see that are emerging, and putting these conversations in front of not only elected officials, but also our Microsoft partners and customers.

Vince:                 I’m here now with Owen Larter, the Senior Manager of Global Government Affairs at Microsoft. Owen, welcome.

Owen:                Thanks for the invite, Vince.

Vince:                 You and I met at the D.C. Fly In where you spoke about the book, “A Cloud for Global Good”, and I thought you could share with our listeners a little bit about that topic.

Owen:                This is basically an initiative that we kicked off about 18 months ago now. The policy initiative itself is called A Cloud for Global Good. Quite simply, this is around us thinking about this fourth industrial revolution, being very excited about the potential of the fourth industrial revolution, and the Cloud enabled technologies like artificial intelligence that we’re talking about, to help people build, quite frankly, richer, cleaner, healthier societies, but also being mindful that as with previous industrial revolutions, the impact of this new and very powerful technology will have certain disruptions and will raise certain challenges that we, as societies, need to be able to respond to.

Vince:                 You mention the fourth industrial revolution. For those listeners who aren’t keying in on this topic, a lot of us have been talking about it, but can you explain that a little bit?

Owen:                What we basically think at Microsoft is that there are a whole slew of new and exciting technologies built around the Cloud, things like artificial intelligence, things like data analytics, that are actually going to re-shape society in a positive way that are every bit as meaningful as the previous industrial revolutions. This collection of technologies we think constitutes a fourth industrial revolution.

If you go back to the first industrial revolution of the late 18th century that started in the United Kingdom, that was built around the steam engine and steam being used to improve the way that factories produced things. Then you had a second industrial revolution that started in the U.S. about a hundred years later, where people like Henry Ford and Westinghouse were doing clever things with automobiles and electricity. We think that the technologies that are being built on the Cloud today are every bit as meaningful and every bit as transformative, and that we are at the start of a new era of technological change that’s really going to let us do some pretty amazing things.

Vince:                 In your discussion you reference three pillars of “A Cloud for Global Good”. Can you take our listeners through that?

Owen:                As you intimated in the question, the way that we structure our recommendations and our thinking in the book is around this three pillar approach of suggesting to governments that what we need to make sure we’re doing is delivering this foundational technology of the fourth industrial revolution, which is the Cloud, in a way that is trusted, responsible and inclusive. What we mean by that, just to go a little bit deeper, is that we need to make sure that we’re delivering technology in a way that engenders trust from people and makes sure that people are comfortable using it. This is around making sure that governments have up to date cyber security laws and have data protection regimes that both protect privacy, but are also flexible enough to allow innovation.

In terms of delivering a responsible Cloud and a responsible fourth industrial revolution, this is around delivering things like artificial intelligence, powerful new technology, making sure that we do that in a way that augments innate human characteristics and augments what it is to be human, quite frankly, without undercutting it. Finally, and possibly most importantly, although all of these three pillars are absolutely fundamental, we need to make sure that we are delivering technology in a way that is inclusive.

I think there’s a couple of points there that are very important. Firstly, there’s an issue to access to the technology. We need to make sure that we have infrastructure in our countries and societies that allows people to access the internet in a way that is affordable and easy and effective. Secondly, we also need to be very mindful of how we skill our citizens. We need to make sure that we’re giving our students the right skills to be able to build and deploy these new technologies, the new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

I think we also have to be very mindful of how we’re helping our workers, those workers who might be disrupted by a new piece of technology, a new piece of automation that helps improve the productive process, but also maybe makes certain jobs over the short term less viable. How do you build the right educational institutions? How do you make the right skills interventions to make sure that those people who might have their work impacted by new technology have the skills to be able to find a new job?

That’s it. It’s quite a broad and ambitious project, as you can probably pick up on. That’s the whole idea. It’s a book with end to end recommendations about what we think governments need to be thinking about in terms of being able to deliver this fourth industrial revolution in a way that benefits all.

Vince:                 A trusted Cloud, a responsible Cloud, and an inclusive Cloud. What else can you expand on in terms of Microsoft’s commitment to these three pillars?

Owen:                It’s a good question, and it’s one that we take seriously, Vince. I’d say there’s sort of three things that we’re doing. I’ll just talk briefly about some of the investments we’ve made over the last 18 months since launching the initiative. There’s one, for example, called a digital Geneva convention. This is the idea that Microsoft is working with the rest of the technology industry to try and create a legally binding agreement that governments will sign up to to create a set of rules around how nation states act in the realm of cyber space. We have, actually, quite a few rules about how countries can act when they’re at war. We have the Geneva conventions that mean the countries can’t target civilians. We think that we need something equivalent to that in the digital space, particularly for the rise of nation state activity in the digital space. This digital Geneva convention is something that we’re putting quite a lot of time and resources into and we think is really important.

Around the responsibility piece, and I’m going to stick to the three pillars of trust, responsibility and inclusion, around the responsibility piece, an investment that we’ve made recently that we’re quite proud of and I think is really important is around an initiative called AI for Earth. This is where we’ve put a fairly large amount of money, $50 million into a program to try and put these powerful new technologies of artificial intelligence into the hands of those people and organizations that are working to protect the planet and address some of these challenges that we’re facing as we grow and prosper as a global society.

Finally, another I think really neat and very important investment that we’ve made over the last few months on the topic of inclusion and making sure that everyone has access to this technology is around a program called Air Band. This is where we’re trying to use new technologies, a new technology called television white space, TV white space, to try and bring broadband connectivity to the large number of people in countries like the U.S. that still don’t have the access that we might suspect they do. There are still tens of millions of people in the U.S., often in rural areas, that don’t have great access to the internet, which means that it’s very difficult for them to access all of these incredibly powerful technologies around the Cloud and around the fourth industrial revolution. We’re working with a number of partners to use the television white space technology and close this rural broadband gap, and bring internet connectivity to the tens of millions of people in countries like the U.S. that still don’t have it.

Vince:                 How can other technology organizations, and in particular, Microsoft partners, fit in here? What’s your call to action to them?

Owen:                I think firstly I’d encourage them all to explore the resources, and I know you’re going to link to the resources, Vince, but there’s what I think is actually a really interesting and quite powerful set of materials that we’ve put together in terms of the book, so we have “The Cloud for Global Good”, a good book which is a hard copy book. It is 220 odd pages. It has 81 recommendations across 13 different areas. There’s a lot of thinking in that. If people are interested in getting a hold of the book, then please do reach out to me and we can help share copies. There’s also a digital version, and we have an online website that is continually updated with the activity that we’re driving around this initiative. I’d encourage partners to look at that. I think if nothing else, they might be able to become even more expert on these very important issues by using the content that is in there.

I would also encourage them to share those materials with anyone that they think has an interest in shaping the future of technology, which quite frankly, is shaping the future of humanity. Anyone that they think has an interest in making sure that these new technologies are used in a way that is for the good, whether that’s their customers or their local legislators or policy makers, I would encourage them to pass these materials on and start a conversation which I think is very important.

I think that’s what gets to a second point that I was going to make which is around the role of those people with an expertise and an understanding of technology. It really is a role, it’s almost an obligation, because when I go out and I speak to policy makers about technology, there’s a huge understanding on their part that this stuff is really important and that we’re really at a fundamental, almost turning point, that is going to shape the next sort of 50 to 100 years around how we as a species are able to use this technology, quite frankly, but they don’t have the type of expertise as politicians that we do in the technology industry. I think it’s almost incumbent upon us to be able to share our understanding, our perspective, our thoughts on the challenges and the opportunities, and also help get a conversation going around how we as a society can build the types of conversations that we need to make sure that we’re shaping a future empowered by technology that we like and is pointing in a direction that we want to be going.

Vince:                 You mentioned access to the book and your email address, Owen. Do you want to share that with our listeners here?

Owen:                Yeah. That would be great. You can get in contact with me on owen.larter@microsoft.com. You can also access the materials online at “A Cloud for Global Good” websites, which I think you’re going to link to in the description, is that right, Vince?

Vince:                 We will provide a link, and I know there’s a PDF version as well as the hard copy. I have both.

Owen:                That’s great.

Vince:                 That’s great. I like what you had to say, Owen, with regards to basically an obligation on all of us in the technology sector. We know this space better than our legislators. I know that first hand from the meetings that I’ve had. I just want to amplify that message. I want to thank you today for joining us, and thank you for being part of this podcast.

Owen:                Thanks so much for the invitation, Vince. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Vince:                 I’m now back with Jonathan Friebert. Jonathan, with regards to “A Cloud for Global Good” and my discussion with Owen Larter, what is VFI’s role here?

Jonathan:           My goal, ultimately, is to make it very easy to get our technology business leaders to have these conversations with elected officials. First and foremost is that we have a number of digital tools that are available to help you connect with your elected official. There are several kind of hot issues, I would say, happening in technology right now. Digital privacy is one, expanding rural broadband so that everyone can participate in the global economy. We have millions of people, for example, here in the United States, that don’t have adequate access to rural broadband. Addressing the skills gap, so encouraging more people to pursue careers in computer science or STEM. There’s a number of schools and a number of states, frankly, over the last years that are now counting computer science education towards a high school math or science graduation credit. That would not have happened but for the fact that we had technology leaders joining together to talk to elected officials about the importance of these topics.

Vince:                 You’ve done an admirable job enlisting some Microsoft partners and other organizations to participate. Why is now an important time?

Jonathan:           Again, as I mentioned earlier, digital transformation is really driving a lot of the economy right now. Elected officials are really grappling and thinking about what does this all mean. For example, think about artificial intelligence. There’s tremendous promise for artificial intelligence to really unleash greater productivity in the economy. However, there are also things that you need to consider when the AI’s full potential happens. What happens to people who get displaced in their jobs? What happens to privacy? What about security? These are really fundamental discussions that many elected officials are thinking about. I think it’s really critical to have people who are on the front lines day to day in technology having these conversations with elected officials to really talk to them about what they’re seeing.

Really, at the end of the day, that’s what VFI is about. It’s about elevating our voices together to talk to policy makers who are making decisions on topics and issues that are going to impact the technology industry. My goal is to bring in as many voices as we can to this conversation and help them connect with their elected officials.

Vince:                 You hosted an event, and I had the chance to participate with VFI, and joined you and other technology leaders. Can you tell us the purpose of the event and why you organized it?

Jonathan:           There were primarily two goals behind this event. First, as I mentioned, we wanted to help elected officials meet with their constituents. We worked to bring in almost 50 people to this Fly In, to D.C. We worked with our local VFI members to set up their meeting. It wasn’t VFI or Microsoft setting up the meetings. It was, Vince, as you can talk to, it was you who set up the meeting, because you’re the person really that the elected official wanted to talk to and cared about meeting. That first part was just to make a connection.

The second part, and what was so exciting about it, is that there has been Cloud privacy legislation that has been circulating in Congress for a number of years. The timing of us going to D.C. was great because there was introduction of Cloud privacy legislation, called the Cloud Act, that was just introduced in Congress. VFI and a number of our partners have been talking to elected officials for a number of years about the importance of modernizing outdated laws and having a legal framework that understands that 21st century technology cannot be governed by 30 year old law. What the Cloud Act does is it creates a clear, balanced framework for both law enforcement and the technology industry to access data stored in other countries, while at the same time encouraging countries to strengthen their domestic privacy laws. That’s what this legislation does.

The timing of our conversation today is actually perfect because the Cloud Act has actually moved in Congress, after all these years of having these conversations. That’s why I think it’s critical for us in the technology industry to continue to educate and work with elected officials, because over the years of having these conversations and talking about the problems that technology leaders face when working with customers, and the reality that data can be stored anywhere in the world at any time, and the importance of having trust when storing data in the Cloud, as a result of our conversations, as well as many others, this bill have been attached to the omnibus legislation, which is going to fund the government through September, and has moved past the House, past the Senate, and it’s on its way to the president to get signed. It’s because of these collective efforts that the Cloud Act was included in this legislation and moved forward. That’s why this matters.

Vince:                 As you know, Jonathan, I met with my representative, Brian Mast. What strikes me most is that these members are not always aware of the current technology regulations and that technology is underrepresented as a class of issues. Yet, we are driving the modern economy. These issues are just so important, how we in the technology sector not only drive the transformation, but ensure that we’re a force for good at this time of change.

Jonathan:           Well, I think you hit it on the head. You could speak to this from your personal experience. The legislators are faced with a number of issues from different constituencies, covering everything from foreign affairs to domestic issues, education, trade, et cetera. You know, for us to go in and be able to talk to them about the specific issues around technology is just so important. I agree completely with what you said. Technology can be a force for good. Technology can really help advance not only the economy, but also help people get educated, improve health care outcomes, can help increase innovation and efficiency in the work place, just to name a few. For elected officials, excuse me, to understand this and to understand what’s happening, and understand how they can be helpful rather than barriers to progress, I think is just so critical.

Vince:                 Jonathan, I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Carol Lynn Grow, the Vice President of Marketing, and the co-owner of LawToolBox, speaking to her about her experience on the Hill.

Carol Lynn:        LawToolBox is a SAS-based legal software that leverages a proprietary calendaring solution for lawyers. It is available, basically, as a web-based solution that works with all platforms. We’ve really developed solutions built around office 365 and built in to that entire platform where lawyers spend their day. The reason that I joined VFI is really to reach out beyond my traditional space where I spend time with customers and partners and distribution partners, and focusing more on a bigger view of our world and the public policies that really affect not just the future of small businesses that rely on technology like mine, but also on the future of our country, because if you think about what drives the future in the global economy, it really has a lot to do with our focus on STEM education and children.

Vince:                 We both recently had the opportunity to participate in the D.C. Fly In. I know you had a great experience. Can you share that with our listeners?

Carol Lynn:        Yes. Absolutely. I have not been involved in any kind of public advocacy or policy type work, so it’s really brand new for me. I have just been to D.C. twice now. I had a chance to sit down with Senator Bennet for Colorado, also with Senator Gardner for Colorado, and the staffers for my representative, Congresswoman DeGette, and really talk to them from the vantage point of a small business, SAS-based technology company, about key issues such as data privacy, STEM education, and the whole broadband policy issue, trying to bring internet to rural America.

Vince:                 Why did those issues matter to you?

Carol Lynn:        It affects me. I think of it, I really break it out into two parts. On the professional side, clearly as a web-based application that is built on Office 365, which is moving the Office product up into the Cloud, the whole idea of data privacy and getting our laws organized so that they’re more modernized and there’s a structure for governments to have agreements on how to and when to make data available, is really critical for companies that are perhaps starting out as U.S. based companies like ours, and rapidly growing into other countries. If we don’t have these laws modernized and some structure in place for global economy, it really handicaps things.

Then I break it into the other side of my life, which is the life about, you know, our country, my children, access to opportunities in the future. I have two boys and a daughter, and really focus on what can we do in the U.S. to bring more opportunities for our kids to get to access computer science education, not just at the middle school and high school levels, but starting at that elementary school level. My nine year old son right now is involved in coding clubs, and it’s been fabulous for him. I kind of wish that I had gotten involved with that when my 19 year old, who is of course embracing technology, but when you bring the girls in at the elementary school level, that’s where you can really make a difference, because it’s hard to engage … as girls grow into the middle school and high school portions of their life, it’s a little bit harder to kind of delve into new topics. I’m really trying to bring awareness to driving more, not just coding, but any kind of technology and getting girls excited about it at a young age.

Vince:                 How did your representatives react to your discussion?

Carol Lynn:        It’s interesting because you walk into Washington, D.C., and you think to yourself that these folks are going to be aware of everything going on, all topics, all knowing. You know, that’s just not realistic. I think that they very much appreciated hearing from people in their district who are involved in technology and providing a different vantage point, or a vantage point to what we see and are experiencing in our business. I really came out of the last couple of experiences in Washington D.C. believing and feeling and seeing that there really is a kind of a partnership that goes on between technology companies and government, where if we work together and provide not just problems, but thoughts on solutions, that there’s a lot of opportunity for us to do some big things down the road.

Vince:                 You think your work is having an impact.

Carol Lynn:        Yes. Absolutely. When I’ve come back to Colorado after being in Washington D.C., I am back in my area, in the local Denver area, talking to, based on introductions, such as Sam Love in Senator Gardner’s office. I was meeting with him in D.C., and he learned about my passion for driving women in technology, to drive more leadership positions for women that are in the middle of their career, the early stages of their career, to lean forward and take leadership roles, and at the same time to drive, to start at an earlier age and get our girls doing this. He connected me, within five minutes of walking out of his office, with a woman by the name of Andrea Young, who runs the Colorado Technology Association. We connected that afternoon, and visited with some of our … we kind of joined forces the following day. She invited me to attend some meetings based on Sam Love’s introduction with other staffers for Congressmen and women. It was really a great experience seeing that kind of collaboration and people working together, making introductions.

Vince:                 Why should other technology leaders engage in VFI?

Carol Lynn:        You know, I believe that when you step a little bit outside of your day to day world where you’re partnering with customers, partnering with your channel, and you start to think about partnering with your representatives and senators, it really opens up a bigger view to your community and your future, and when you start having those conversations, you learn that you really do have a voice and that people want to hear what you have to say. When you bring people together with certain levels of expertise, you can do some really interesting things.

Vince:                 I want to thank you, Carol Lynn, for joining today. This has been a great conversation.

Carol Lynn:        Thank you for having me. I appreciate being involved.

Vince:                 Jonathan, it looks like you’ve mobilized a set of partners because it’s important to their business as well. You know, there’s over 300,000 Microsoft partners in the ecosystem, about 100,000 technology organizations strong in the United States. Why should more organizations participate in VFI?

Jonathan:           VFI and what we try to do is align companies with Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Why I am so proud to work with the great men and women who are involved with the Voices for Innovation organization is that you are the folks who are on the front lines every day, driving technology forward and making a difference in people’s lives. We just need to tell that story and let elected officials know the importance of the work that we’re all doing together.

Vince:                 It sounds like we, as a collective, have an obligation to drive this greater good.

Jonathan:           Yes we do. I think it’s part of being leaders, not only in business, but I think it’s also part of our duty as leaders in the communities that we live.

Vince:                 Thank you, Jonathan. For those listeners who want to reach out to VFI, how can they reach you?

Jonathan:           Thanks. You can participate in VFI. It’s free to join. Go to www.voicesforinnovation.org, and you can sign up on our website. You can follow us on Twitter at @vfiorg.

Vince:                 Thank you for taking time today, Jonathan.

Jonathan:           Vince, thank you for the opportunity to speak to your listeners. I also want to personally thank you for being a leader within the VFI community. Your work really does matter.



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