Pilar López Álvarez, President of Microsoft Spain
At Microsoft we are essentially optimistic about the future. What is needed is a balanced set of policies and technology solutions that foster a positive change and ensure that the benefits of cloud computing are widely shared
Pilar López Álvarez has been the President of Microsoft Spain since July 2015. She has a degree in Business Administration, majoring in Finance, from ICADE, and has spent most of her professional career in Telefónica, which she joined in 1999. Prior to that, she held management posts in J.P. Morgan in Madrid, London and New York.
During her time in Telefónica, she worked in finance and business strategy departments in Europe and Latin America, as Financial Controller in Telefónica Móviles, Strategy Director in Telefónica Spain, Chief Financial Officer of O2 in London and Chief Financial Officer of Telefónica Europe in Madrid.
She is currently a non-executive director of Ferguson Plc. During her time in Telefónica, she was a board member of Telefónica Czech Republic AS, Deputy Chair of the board at Telefónica Deutschland Holding AG, and a board member of Tuenti Technologies.
- What, in your view, are the main steps a company should take to achieve a successful digital transition? Are there any sectors that are not dependent, to a lesser or greater degree, on the digital economy?
Companies are organizing how they implement digital transformation projects around four centers of gravity: transforming relationships with their customers; tapping into their employees’ talent; optimizing their operations and, finally, generating new products and digital services. This is a transformation process that affects all functions in an organization (marketing, finance, operations, sales…) but it is only possible thanks to the use of innovative technologies such as cloud computing and the increasing use of artificial intelligence.
- How is technology the driver for financial and social development in emerging economies?
We are on the brink of another technology revolution that is likely to transform the way in which we live, work, communicate with one another and learn, at a rate and on a scale that is without precedent in the history of humankind. This is clearly not the first time that disruptive technology innovation has been the catalyst for profound changes in how people live and work. Before reaching this Fourth Revolution, humankind has gone through three major industrial ones. In the first, between 1750 and 1850, world GDP per capita rose fourfold. Later, the discovery of electricity and assembly-line production led per capita GDP to triple in just under one hundred years. And of course, in the third industrial revolution, based on the microprocessor and internet, we have seen a period of accelerated economic growth and a far-reaching transformation of people’s productivity, creativity and connectivity. In Microsoft we believe that the driver of the fourth industrial revolution is the development of artificial intelligence. And we believe that this Fourth Revolution will bring about a new phase of prosperity that will have a positive impact on society as a whole.
- How can technology help to reduce financial exclusion and correct economic and social imbalances?
There are two billion people in the world who cannot take an active part in the global economy because they cannot access basic financial services, such as opening a bank account and getting an affordable loan to set up a new business, for example. With technology we can change this situation; anyone with a mobile phone can open an account and make financial transactions securely. What is more, the capacity to store and interpret massive volumes of data is opening the door to new ways of determining the capacity to pay of people who have been living outside the traditional financial system. Data and information on how and when each person pays their bills can be used to generate a credit rating that enables people with no banking history to apply for loans. These are just two examples of how technology can help reduce financial exclusion.
- Digital literacy can play a fundamental role in encouraging social and economic inclusion, and in opening up opportunities. What measures do you think are particularly important to make digital literacy a core part of education at all levels?
In the 21st century inclusion must necessarily entail the elimination of the technology gap between those who have access to technology and the possibilities of internet, and those who are unable to join the Knowledge Society. To reduce this gap, it is important to set up public-private initiatives that promote training in digital skills, as well as the supply of richer, personalized, training environments. It is also important to educate good digital citizens and to develop a sense of responsibility about taking ethical decisions online. At Microsoft we develop training programs throughout the world to make it easier for people to acquire digital skills.
- Limited access to internet is a barrier to development in emerging countries. What would be the perfect partnership between governments and private enterprise for widening the net to areas in the shadows?
The availability of online services in remote communities can be decisive in expanding quality and accessibility of education, training and civic participation, as well as in driving entrepreneurship. Proof of technology’s disruptive ability is that 10% of people with mobile phones in Africa use them to access educational services. An example of how public-private partnership can have a positive impact on society is a joint program between Microsoft and the government of Colombia to bring internet connectivity to rural parts of the countries with connective technologies that make use of gaps in the television broadcasting spectrum.
- In just a few words, what does Microsoft’s commitment to create a reliable, responsible and inclusive cloud consist of?
At Microsoft we are essentially optimistic about the future. What is needed is a balanced set of policies and technology solutions that foster a positive change and ensure that the benefits of cloud computing are widely shared. We believe that to achieve this change, we must work together to create a cloud that is reliable, responsible and inclusive.
- The transformation potential of cloud-based technologies is particularly important in the financial industry. What advantages do using cloud services have for financial institutions?
Technology is utterly transforming the financial industry. The only thing that is changing more quickly than banking are the expectations of its clients, who want swift, seamless, immersive digital experiences that satisfy and even anticipate their needs. Clients expect their banks to become intelligent banks. All institutions are working to improve their clients’ experience and to bring them digital channels that give them better interaction. They are also working to provide access to mobile financial services, as well as in applying artificial intelligence technologies that provide value-added information so that entities can take business decisions.
- Regulations on data security and privacy are national, which can give rise to a lack of coordination and contradictions for services such as cloud computing, which are supranational. What should the regulatory framework defining public powers look like if it is to materialize the benefits of the cloud and manage the challenges it presents?
It is a question of finding a suitable balance between conflicting interests, that is: public safety and the right to privacy; how to acknowledge national sovereignty without restricting the effective flow of information across borders; and how to give innovators the freedom to create while at the same time ensuring that the benefits of the change are shared widely and fairly. We need to define a regulatory framework that respects fundamental rights and values, protects public safety, encourages innovation and the free exchange of ideas, and is also compatible with universal access technology.
- One of Microsoft’s initiatives in Spain is #MakeWhatsNext, that aims to support young people interested in science and technology to develop their professional careers. Why is it, do you think, that women are under-represented in the technology sector? How do you feel their presence could be increased?
A study conducted by Microsoft among European adolescents reveals that, when they are eleven years old, girls’ interest in science and technology is comparable to boys’, but that this interest falls away significantly from 15 years old onwards. We can’t wait until the final stages of their education to awaken girls’ interest in science and technology; we need to act at primary and secondary school ages too. We are working with other technology companies, with associations and non-profit organizations, professional women’s networks and, naturally, with teachers and professors and educational centers themselves, to show girls that a STEM degree can be creative, interesting and exciting. We still need to create awareness about successful scientific women and broadcast their achievements, as well as working in the classroom and the home environment to present girls with role models.
- The number of women in senior management roles is no longer rising. What do you think would be the most effective measures in driving women’s professional careers? Which would be orchestrated through public policies and which through the private sector?
We live in a diverse world, and this should also be reflected in the workplace. Although it is true that in Spain women account for only 18% of the professionals in technology, Microsoft is well above average in this indicator, with 37% of the company’s staff being women. On the board of directors, this percentage rises to 42%. I am proud to have a diverse team, in which women and men can develop to their full potential. Microsoft supports the inclusion of the best talent and diversity, as a way of improving our understanding of clients and society as a whole. What differentiates Microsoft is that we work with a triple perspective, in diversity terms: in our recruitment, in our flexible working environment and in our professional development.
- What initiatives is Microsoft running to support non-profit institutions and training in high school and college for children and young people?
Microsoft’s Corporate Responsibility program focuses on two main areas. The first has to do with training in technology and programming. We believe that it is fundamental for children and young people to be able to access training in digital skills and programming, because learning programming techniques helps their cognitive development and their ability to organize their ideas. We work with a large number of educational institutions on training activities, using games like Minecraft, which enables us to introduce children from a very young age to the task of programming in a simple, entertaining way. The second area provides non-profit institutions with the technology capacities that enable them to be more effective and increase their impact. Worldwide we donate over USD 1 billion in cloud-services to NGOs and foundations so that they have the latest technology to support their work.
- The BBVAMF promotes good corporate governance as an essential factor in its institutions’ sustainability. What would you highlight about Microsoft’s governance model system?
The key differential of our commitment to good corporate governance is that this principle should spring from and be shared by everyone who makes up Microsoft. It is not a matter of regulations established by senior management and good governance committees. In our case, it represents a fundamental, and shared, part of our culture as an organization that defines our behavior internally, as well as our relationships with clients, partners and all our other stakeholders.
- Tell us something about the corporate values that set Microsoft apart.
The most important part of our culture is what we call Growth Mindset. The conviction that everyone can grow, develop and change their way of thinking. This entails making a commitment to learning and a permanently curious state of mind, as well as the capacity to take on risk and learn from one’s mistakes. And, of course, a commitment on the part of the organization’s leaders to help their teams develop their full potential. To the extent that, as part of our cultural transformation, we have adapted our assessment systems to measure not only individual performance, but also each employee’s contribution to others’ success, and their capacity to build on contributions made by other members of their team.