Microsoft on Monday announced the formal opening of the ‘Microsoft Garage’, an experimentation and incubation hub, in Hyderabad. Addressing the gathering K. Taraka Rama Rao, Minister for IT, Govt of Telangana, who inaugurated The Garage noted,
When Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft out of a garage in 1975, I don’t think they envisioned that the ‘Garage’ would take this form, and Microsoft would have multiple ‘Garages’ across the world.
The Garage is essentially a resource for Microsoft employees (and interns), that supports experimentation and encourages problem-solving in new and innovative ways to ultimately fulfil the company’s mission of empowering people and organisations to achieve more.
The Garage at the Microsoft India Development Center in Hyderabad is the eighth of its kind, and the second largest in the world. The largest is at Microsoft's Headquarters in Redmond.
The need for The Garage?
Microsoft is a leading platform and productivity company for the 'mobilefirst, cloudfirst' world. The company set up its India operations in 1990, and has over 8,000 employees, engaged in sales and marketing, research and development, and customer services and support, across 11 Indian cities.
The company dominated the personal computing era in the 1990s, and had a monoply. However, it was unable to cash in on the mobile wave, even as companies like Apple and Google tasted success.
The latest tech-war is on Artificial Intelligence, virtual reality and mixed reality, and there is no clear winner yet.
Jeff Ramos, Partner Director, Microsoft Garage, noted that The Garage are a way to help Microsoft in the democratisation of innovation. He noted that Microsoft believes in enabling its employees to utilise their knowledge, capabilities and innovative acumen to build solutions for the rapidly-changing technology landscape. He said,
The Microsoft Garage serves as a hub to engage our workforce, with facilities and programmes optimised for hacking, ideation, and collaboration. Microsoft Garage’s engagement with the innovation ecosystems in our GDC locations helps create the right kind of partnerships to accelerate experimentation and innovation in the local context.
Reena Dayal, Director, The Garage, Microsoft India, noted that because of the company's flexible hours, employees were free to work on their projects anytime they wished, as long as they were getting their core work done.
With the help of a Venn diagram, she explained how The Garage was the employees, ecosystems and experiments coming together. The Garage has been operating at the Hyderabad centre informally for several months, and Reena described how it had leveraged learnings from the other Microsoft Garages across the world.
Jeff noted he was happy to see the kind of innovation and projects arising out of India, and how Microsoft takes team members of successful projects to meet with Managers and even CEO Satya Nadella at its headquarters in Redmond.
How The Garage works and some success stories
Jeff noted that The Garage was started in 2009, and has been a success so far. He noted that about 27 Garage Projects have gone on to become formal products or services. The Microsoft team recognises promising projects and helps the team perform dipstick tests through limited releases. If a product or service does well, Microsoft backs the effort with funding.
While Microsoft generally retains the Intellectual property and patent rights, if any, Jeff noted that people who work on the project are given due recognition. He noted that Microsoft generally files about 75-80 patents every year from its The Garage projects.
Microsoft noted that the Hyderabad Garage, which is spread over 8000 sq ft, has been equipped with state of the art and modern facilities to support teams from across the company for various projects. It has three dedicated lab sections
-A Hub for hackathons and workshops,
-Makerspace and Advanced Makerspace with electronic Workbench, 30 Printers, Laser Cutter, PCB milling machine for creating prototypes;
-A Reality Room dedicated to working in the space of Augmented Reality (AR) Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality applications and dedicated space and equipment for doing work on Deep Learning.
Anil Bhansali, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & Enterprise, Managing Director, Microsoft India, believes that the Garage will enable employees to bring to life innovative ideas and solutions. He said,
The Garage programme in India will be a connector to bring together people across roles, skills, and experience to lend their passion to create solutions unique to this market.
Some of the compelling projects that got a start in the Microsoft Garage recently are:
- Seeing AI: An app for visually impaired people that narrates the world around for them. This project harnesses the power of AI to describe people, text, currency, colour, and objects.
- SMS Organizer – An app created for the Android OS that organises, categorises and customises the user’s SMS inbox, helping them focus on categories of messages that are important to them.
- Favorite Lock Screen – A lock screen app created for the Android OS that provides users with daily HD wallpapers and news about their favorite celebrities and interests.
- Kaizala – A mobile app and service designed for large group communications and work management. Kaizala makes it easy to connect and coordinate work through an organization’s entire value chain, including field employees, vendors, partners, and customers wherever they are.
Those present at the inauguration included K. Taraka Rama Rao, Minister for IT, Government of Telangana, Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary, Govt of Telangana, Jeff Ramos, Partner Director, Microsoft Garage, Anil Bhansali, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & Enterprise, Managing Director, Microsoft India (R&D) Private Limited, T. K. Rengarajan, Corporate Vice President, Artificial Intelligence & Research (AI&R) Microsoft Global and Reena Dayal Yadav, Director, Microsoft Garage - India.
K. Taraka Rama Rao noted that Telangana is fast evolving as the hotbed for innovation, and the government was glad that Microsoft had chosen Hyderabad as the location for The Garage in India. He said,
Along with our recently announced collaborative platform TWorks and platforms like Microsoft Garage, Hyderabad will transform into a hub for prototype development and ideation, making the city a crucial centre in India’s drive towards the industrial revolution 4.0. We hope to see some amazing design technologies and prototypes being developed in collaboration between these platforms, right here in our state.
Jeff noted that Microsoft is in the process of setting up a similar Garage in Bangalore, Karnataka, which the company sees as another great location to tap into technology talent. He declined to go into specifics of the scale or other details because they were still under discussion.