“Microsoft has trusted Greece. It was the first major technology company that announced a very important investment: the construction of three data centers in our country. And we have proven, as a government, that we are able to create breeding ground and attract major technology companies in our country. And we do this, not just because we offer possibilities, motives, and a good regulatory framework, but because we, ourselves, in the government deeply believe that the digital transformation of the Greek society, the Greek economy is not just a one-way street and if somebody does not follow, they will lag behind. It is also a major opportunity for our country. An opportunity for our government to make a real leap in the future,” stressed the Prime Minister in his introductory statement at the event, on the occasion of Microsoft’s 30 years of presence in Greece.
Referring to the creation by the government of the Ministry of Digital Governance and the digital leap achieved by the country in the last three years with important innovations, like the digital certificate, Mr Mitsotakis pointed out that “We have proven that we are not just customers, technology clients but we, ourselves, can create digital expertise that can facilitate governments to reach citizens and businesses”.
Concerning the cooperation of the Government with Microsoft on the training of 100.000 citizens in digital skills, the Prime Minister stressed that “technology and skills go hand-in-hand and digital training programs are at the core of the government’s strategies, as well as the strategies of the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education and important resources from the Recovery Fund, will be directed to these initiatives”. Mr Mitsotakis referred specifically to the cooperation of the company with the Ministry of Culture on the digital maintenance and restoration of Ancient Olympia, which is the birthplace of the Olympic Games, with the use of artificial intelligence.
“What an amazing 30 years it has been. It has been so wonderful for us as a company and as a community of employees to be a part of what Greece has accomplished in the last 30 years. Including the trials, the challenges, the tribulations. But I think most importantly the growing successes of Greece and the Greek economy in the last several years. For me and I know for everyone who works at Microsoft in Greece. We see technology and the digital transformation tools as something that we believe and hope can help take Greece into an even more exciting future,” said in a video message Microsoft President Brad Smith, adding that “The sky’s the limit. It has always been like this in Greece. And when Greece succeeds the world benefits”.
“I am confident – a decade from now – every tourist who comes to Athens or visits any Greek island will have the opportunity to use augmented reality and see around them the way Greece looked 3,000 years ago. I am confident that the students who grow up in Greece will learn in schools the skills that they will need to pursue a digital future”, said Mr Smith.
The importance of «GRforGrowth» investment initiative
Microsoft started developing its activities in Greece in 1992, which means that this year marks 30 years of its presence in the Greek market. In 2020, as a result of its close cooperation with the government, Microsoft launched the initiative «GRforGrowth». The aim of this initiative was the acceleration of digital transformation through platforms and tools that will allow the development of innovative solutions.
More specifically, «GRforGrowth» concerns the creation of the first state-of-the-art data center complex in Attica and the parallel training of at least 100 thousand people in digital skills within the next 5 years. The investment, which has been integrated into the Strategic Investor through Entreprise Greece and moves at a fast pace, is expected to create 300 new job positions and place Greece in the global map of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure, which is the largest in the world.
Another initiative which is the outcome of the cooperation between Microsoft and the Ministry of Culture and Sports is the platform “Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds”. This platform is already operational and concerns the digital visualization of Ancient Olympia, which is the birthplace of the Olympic Games, with the use of artificial intelligence. The digital preservation of Ancient Olympia allows the visitor to wander around the streets of the archeological site in one of the most important periods of history – reviving in a realistic, exciting way that has not been possible until today.
The full text of the Prime Minister’s speech follows:
Mr Ambassador, dear Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this very important event which marks the anniversary of 30 years of Microsoft’s presence in Greece. This presence has been timeless, it has not been interrupted in the years of the crisis, which reflects Microsoft’s commitment in the Greek economy, and its perspective, but also it reflects Microsoft’s willingness to overcome along with the country the major challenges of the last decade.
And indeed, I think that today you have every reason, in Microsoft, but also we in the government, to be satisfied not just with our cooperation framework, but also the very auspicious prospects opening up before us.
What I kept – from the really kind words of the US Ambassador – is his reference to how the image of the country has changed in the last three years, making it easier to attract in our country important investments in the field of technology.
And indeed, I vividly recall the first meeting I had with Mr Brad Smith in Davos in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. It was our first meeting where we got to know each other and I made an assiduous effort to convince him back then that Greece was changing and that it would be worthwhile for Microsoft to seriously consider investing in digital infrastructure in our country.
On one hand, I could see in his eyes the intense interest in what I was saying. On the other hand, I could also see the expected reasonable disbelief on whether all this could become a reality.
Microsoft has trusted Greece. It was the first major technology company that announced a very important investment: the construction of three data centers in our country. And we have proven, as a government, that we are able to create breeding ground and attract major technology companies in our country.
And we do this, not just because we provide opportunities, incentives, a good regulatory framework, but because we, ourselves, in the government deeply believe that the digital transformation of the Greek society, the Greek economy is not just a one-way street and if somebody does not follow, they will lag behind. It is also a major opportunity for our country. An opportunity for our government to make a real leap in the future.
And this was also the reason why we designed from the beginning the Ministry of Digital Governance and we take credit- I believe – as a Government, for the Ministry but also for all the co-competent ministries that support this effort, this very big digital leap that we have achieved, overall, as a country. Through gov.gr, 1,500 digital services are available to citizens. We have reached such a point that it is very difficult to imagine our life without gov.gr, how it was two, three years ago.
So we have proven that we are not only consumers, technology clients but we, ourselves, can create digital expertise that can facilitate governments to reach citizens and businesses. And this is also the reason why we were able to proceed with important innovations, such as the digital certificate which was essentially a Greek idea.
And I can’t help but tell you that every time I hear my colleagues from the United States or from Germany, from other European countries describing to me how long it took them to be able to introduce modern technologies in the process of granting vaccination certificates, I feel somehow satisfied that this Greece, which some years ago was presented as lagging behind, can play a leading role when we talk about new technologies and the way we really integrate them into our lives.
Microsoft’s presence, however, is not limited to the very important investment of digital infrastructure which will enable customers in Greece but also in the state which already has a Cloudforce policy, to use these infrastructures to be able to manage exponentially increasing amounts of data.
I want to focus, in particular, on two more initiatives that were also mentioned by Theodosis (Michalopoulos): The great emphasis that Microsoft and the Greek Government place on digital skills. The very important training program for 100,000 of our fellow citizens, many belonging to sensitive categories, such as the unemployed, but also civil servants. Technology and skills go hand-in-hand and digital training programs are at the core of the government’s strategies, as well as the strategies of the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education and important resources from the Recovery Fund, will be directed to these initiatives.
But I also want to talk briefly about this project. The first time I discussed it with Brad Smith, it seemed a bit like a science fiction project, and I refer to the work that had been done, the collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Microsoft in Olympia.
I have always had this deep belief that new augmented reality technologies could enable us to experience our cultural heritage in a completely different way. And indeed in Olympia this vision came true, it is already being implemented today and I must tell you that this collaboration between archaeologists and historians on the one hand and software engineers on the other, was an extremely interesting and fertile assimilation over how two sectors that are not supposed to meet under normal circumstances, can work together and achieve a really exceptional outcome.
But, I think, we are still at the beginning of this collaboration, as we have other very ambitious goals, because as said before, technology is not an end in itself, it is a tool to make our lives better, it is a tool that can enable us to improve our productivity, it is a tool which under the right conditions can make us better and help us improve the very functioning of our democracy.
In terms of improving productivity, I will only mention one sector as an example: our primary sector, our farmers, our livestock breeders, where partnering with large technology companies can lead to a real leap in productivity.
And I believe that it is just one example of the actions that we can develop from now on with companies like Microsoft so that we can not only – as I said – consume technology from abroad, but combine it with actions that prove that the technology can really become a laboratory of great social and economic changes, always for the good of society and those who embrace it.
Finally, to the young people who are with us today, let me say that it is very difficult to imagine what the world will be like 10 years from now.
When I was in the university in 1992, 30 years ago, I had my first master’s degree and a few years earlier, when I was writing my first degree thesis, I remember my first computer and I remember writing my entire thesis on a computer without hard drive, only with floppies which you had to keep changing when you wanted to spell check a certain text. And look where we are today and one thing we only know for sure is that this technological progress is unstoppable and it will certainly accelerate.
So we all have a duty to embrace this technological progress, to encourage it, but at the same time to be able to control the dark side of technology, the fake news, the addiction of the new generation to social media platforms that unfortunately, we sometimes see.
There is neither absolute good nor absolute evil in life. Technology, however, is a force which, under the right conditions, will lead us forward. The Greek Government has embraced it and I believe we have proven that we can use these technological tools to be able to help the country make a real leap into the future.
So happy anniversary to Microsoft and I hope that we can meet again in 40, 50, 60 years.