Why we need a public cloud for the public good

Today Microsoft Philanthropies, the recently-announced expansion of our commitment to global giving, is making a big statement. We will donate $1 billion in cloud computing resources over the next 3 years to 70,000 non-profits and NGOs worldwide. I invite you to read details of the news in Brad Smith’s blog post published today.

So why is this important, and why now?

In the January 20 issue of The Financial Times I write about the challenges and the opportunities that make this effort necessary. (Note: Subscription required to access link.) In that op-ed piece, I pose a question: How can we make it easier for governments and NGOs to use the public cloud for public good?

The “public cloud” refers to massive, privacy-protected data and storage services rendered over a network for public use. Cloud computing makes it possible to reason over quantities of data to produce specific insights and intelligence. It converts guesswork and speculation into predictive and analytical power.

Last fall, world leaders at the United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals to tackle some of the toughest global problems by 2030, including poverty, hunger, health and education. A careful read of those goals reveals the central role that data and cloud computing must play for analysis and action.

This week, I am attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to join other leaders as we focus on the fourth industrial revolution, a digital transformation brought about by ubiquitous, powerful, mobile and networked technologies.

Among the questions being asked in Davos are these: If cloud computing is one of the most important transformations of our time, how do we ensure that its benefits are universally accessible? What if only wealthy societies have access to the data, intelligence, analytics and insights that come from the power of mobile and cloud computing?

Governments are searching for a coherent, pro-cloud policy framework. I believe there are four elements – infrastructure, next generation skills development, trusted computing and leadership. This framework would encourage more pervasive use of the public cloud for public good. Here is what I mean.

In India, the LV Prasad Eye Institute has treated 20 million patients with cataracts, a leading cause of preventable blindness. Through digitization of medical records and other socio-economic data, doctors now can pinpoint the procedures needed to prevent and treat visual impairments.

In Nepal, after the devastating earthquake there last April, disaster relief workers from the United Nations used the public cloud to collect and analyze massive amounts of data about schools, hospitals and homes to speed up access to compensatory entitlements, relief packages and other assistance.

I cite several other examples in my Financial Times commentary, but these should not be isolated stories.

Philanthropy is a start, but to truly harness the public cloud for public good, businesses, governments and NGOs must come together with a shared vision and relentless passion to improve the human condition and drive new growth equally.

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