Silvia Candiani
People Silvia Candiani

Today Technology Is at the Heart of Everything

, by Michele Chicco
Shifting from a supportive to a fundamental role, IT is at the center of all business models today, transforming all goods and services, even those that are not strictly digital. Silvia Candiani, vice president of Telco and Media at Microsoft and president of the Bocconi Alumni Community, talks about how AI, cloud and open ecosystems are changing the lives of businesses and users

She has been working at the frontier of innovation for years, seeing closely how digital technology evolved in her fifteen years spent at the top of Microsoft. Today, Silvia Candiani is vice president of Telco and Media of the Seattle-based company, and she can distinguish between passing fads and real revolutions, such as artificial intelligence and the cloud. "Today there is always a software heart in every hardware component: the world needs technological infrastructures that are able to satisfy this huge demand for computing power," she says. A Bocconi alumna, since 2020 she has led the community of alumnae and alumni with the aim of contributing to the growth of the social impact made by the university in the world.

How has the world of technology changed from your point of view?
The most important difference is that today technology is at the center of everything: if before it had a supportive role, today it is the basis of business models. Let's just think about artificial intelligence, which has turned into a fundamental tool for defining a company's competitive strategy. In ten years the IT market has increased tenfold and we are only at the beginning: all products are software products, even in the automotive sector nearly 30% of value added is given by the technology on board of the car. A transformation that is taking place for all goods that are not strictly digital and which allows technology to guide the path to success of other industrial sectors.

Artificial intelligence is nothing new in technology, but in recent months the evolution of algorithms has been impressive. Is the future mapped out?
The increase in productivity that artificial intelligence leads to is truly impressive: it does not shift a company's margins, but it changes the development of its products. This is why I think it won't be meteoric: it's a fundamental technology. The use of these artificial intelligence models began 20-30 years ago, by now computing power has grown significantly stronger than in the past, allowing for very complex reasoning. And the whole thing is done quickly, so as to process data in real time.

AI is therefore here to stay.
It is a long-term trend. We are seeing very rapid adoption by companies: all companies have AI projects and more than 35% have already prepared their first implementations. There is a curiosity in companies to see the impact of AI on customer care and the development of new products for customers, who are prepared, precisely because of the mass adoption by people AI is currently experiencing.

A technology with less appeal than AI, but equally revolutionary, is the cloud.
The cloud gives the great capacity of being able to work on data easily. The transition to the cloud already started a few years ago, with a series of strong reasons leading many companies to make that choice. The development of artificial intelligence has accelerated the movement even further because AI lives in the cloud: being able to have applications and data always at your disposal enables you to fully benefit from artificial intelligence and the integration with native cloud applications becomes very simple.

Open ecosystems are another great innovation accelerator.
It is our mission as Microsoft to be an open platform on which applications can run that make life easier for users. The maximum impact occurs when the ecosystem integrates, when all the companies that operate on the basis of the same platform are growing to bring added value to those using it. We have done several studies: for every euro of turnover we generate, there is a return of 8-9 euros for the ecosystem of our partners. When this mechanism works, the level of innovation and competitiveness benefiting customers is much higher.

An open ecosystem also helps the development of startups. How do you see the European scenario?
There was great support from governments which helped it take off. Then if we compare ourselves to the United States and Asia, the level of maturity is still low because the bar continues to rise, especially in Silicon Valley where the funds to support innovation are more sizable. The fortune of European startups is being able to benefit from the rules of the Single Market, with millions of potential consumers. It seems to me that we are proceeding on the right path.

Beyond AI and the cloud, what do you expect will have a disruptive impact on technology in the future?
There are great expectations from quantum computing which will be able to significantly increase computing capacity, so much so as to develop very important applications also for science. In all these innovations we need to look at how the technology will evolve long term to be able to make investments, not simply think to what will happen in a few years' time.

In addition to sitting on the frontier of innovation, since 2020 you have led the Bocconi Alumni community which numbers 140,000 former Bocconi students around the world.
The goal is to create value for the alumni community: we work with the university to be able to create opportunities for continuous learning and remain connected to Bocconi. And it is also an opportunity for alumnae and alumni to give back what they received from the institution, with scholarships, donations and mentorships that allow them to support merit. There is a symbiosis between the university and the alumni community that makes us all bearers of Bocconi values in society. Through the roles we have in companies and civil society we can multiply the impact of the university on the world, also with initiatives related to social inclusion and gender equality.


translated by Alex Foti