Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

‘Artificial intelligence is the defining technology of our time’

Catrin Hinkel is responsible for Microsoft's 600-strong Swiss team. Microsoft

Catrin Hinkel, CEO of Microsoft Switzerland, is convinced that artificial intelligence (AI) is the next big step in how we interact with IT. However, this new technology will be a kind of “co-pilot” and will not replace human intelligence, she tells SWI at Microsoft’s headquarters in Zurich.

SWI You arrived in Zurich from your native Germany in 2021 to head Microsoft’s Swiss subsidiary. What surprised you most?

Catrin Hinkel: I was very impressed by the level of innovation and creativity in Switzerland and at Microsoft. The Swiss people have a long history of innovation and the team at Microsoft Switzerland is passionate about creating new and innovative solutions. I was also amazed by the strong cooperation between Microsoft and its partners in Switzerland.

Catrin Hinkel was born in Germany in 1969. After completing bilingual business studies at the University of Reutlingen in 1992, she worked for the global consulting firm Accenture. There she held a number of leadership roles, including that of Senior Managing Director for Cloud First Strategy and Consulting in Europe. She has been the CEO of Microsoft Switzerland since May 2021.

SWI: Microsoft employs over 1,000 people in Switzerland. What are the subsidiary’s main tasks?

C.H.: As the CEO of Microsoft Switzerland, I’m responsible for the 600-strong “Swiss team”, which is in charge of marketing and sales in Switzerland. We work closely with our customers to support them in their digital journeys. In addition, Microsoft employs a further 400 people in Switzerland who are part of the “international team”.

SWI: What is the role of Microsoft’s “international team” in Switzerland?

C.H.: The members of this team are attached to the various technology units in the Microsoft group and contribute to the development of new products at the international level. Both the Swiss team and Swiss customers benefit from the expertise of this international team, particularly in the fields of mixed and augmented reality.  

SWI: Some companies such as Google, Amazon, Twitter and Microsoft have recently cut their workforce worldwide. What about Microsoft in Switzerland?

C.H.: We’re not able to provide detailed figures. However, as a company operating in highly competitive and dynamic technology markets, we’re obliged to adapt flexibly in order to meet our customers’ requirements. This is the norm in our market. We’re therefore taking on new recruits in areas where we’re expanding and where we see a future; meanwhile, in sectors where our growth is weaker, we’re positioning ourselves accordingly so as to remain agile.

SWI: To what extent are you affected by the shortage of IT specialists in Switzerland?

C.H.: The shortage of specialists is a serious problem, both in Switzerland and abroad, not just for Microsoft but also for our customers and our partners. To help solve the problem, we launched the “Skills for Switzerland” initiative in 2020. This has enabled us to boost the digital skills of more than 630,000 people in Switzerland. Organisations such as the human resource company Adecco, based in Zurich, and the CyberPeace Institute, in Geneva, are also taking part in this scheme. What’s more, we are working on other projects with the association digitalswitzerland and retailer Migros.

SWI: The cloud market is booming and, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), should exceed $11 billion (CHF10 billion) in Switzerland by 2026. How do you explain this growth?

C.H.: Thanks to the cloud services of a company like Microsoft, our customers can outsource their data processing and benefit from huge economies of scale and skills. In concrete terms, thanks to the cloud, a very large number of Swiss companies of all sizes have access to new technologies such as artificial intelligence at competitive costs. This means that companies can innovate as they wish; so, ultimately, it can be said that the cloud fuels innovation.

SWI: The fact that your client companies’ data is sometimes stored abroad is a source of concern.

C.H.: Microsoft is a global company that serves both a local and international clientele, so we strive to provide our customers with the most appropriate solutions. In Switzerland, thanks to the presence of our four data centres, we can offer sound local solutions. This local offering has also enabled us to win the trust of Swiss companies that are subject to stringent local requirements. I’m thinking, for example, of banks of all sizes, which are highly regulated and supervised by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA).

SWI: Nevertheless, some Swiss members of parliament are concerned that you may have access to sensitive customer data. How do you assuage their fears?

C.H.: With cloud services, we provide our customers with technological platforms. We’re not at all interested in the data on these platforms. It’s totally out of the question for us to use this data or pass it on to other companies. What’s more, on our platforms, our customers’ data is protected by encryption. What interests us, ultimately, is the democratisation of new technologies.

SWI: What’s your view on technological developments such as blockchain, the metaverse and AI? 

C.H.: When used properly, technology can make people’s lives simpler, more efficient and more enjoyable, especially when it comes to carrying out routine tasks. Nevertheless, technology will always remain an aid, a kind of co-pilot, and will never replace real men and women.

As for AI, it’s the defining technology of our time. It’s also the next big step forward in the way we interact with IT. In a world that is increasingly complex economically, AI has the power to revolutionise many types of jobs.

SWI: What are your main AI applications?

C.H.: Our investment in AI spans our entire business, from Teams and Outlook to Bing and Xbox. We’re already seeing considerable interest from our customers in Switzerland and are actively working on “value cases”. For example, our Copilot application can be used to quickly extract basic data from a 300-page annual report.

SWI: AI raises numerous ethical issues. Several countries are enacting laws to regulate its use.

C.H.: This is precisely why in 2018 Microsoft defined a series of ethical principles applicable to all our uses of AI. For instance, we exclude all bias based on race. We also rule out any applications that are not yet completely reliable and which, in case of malfunction, could harm individuals; I’m thinking of facial recognition, for example.

Edited by Samuel Jaberg. Translated from French by Julia Bassam.

Popular Stories

Most Discussed

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here . Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR