UPDATED 21:30 EDT / DECEMBER 17 2020


Exclusive: AWS Chief Andy Jassy talks COVID, culture and cranking up the speed as re:Invent closes

As Amazon Web Services Inc. concluded its third week of re:Invent 2020 in an all-virtual format, the impact of the global pandemic remained very much a topic of conversation.

AWS’ involvement in rapid deployment of customer call centers, expanded use of video conferencing platforms, and the development and safe shipment of vaccines around the world were reminders of the role cloud technology is playing at a crucial time.

The pandemic never seemed far away from the thoughts of AWS Chief Executive Andy Jassy as he spoke with theCUBE in an exclusive interview today. Jassy noted that AWS formed a partnership this fall to develop Carrier Inc.’s new Lynx cold chain digital platform, which improved the shipment of temperature sensitive cargo such as food, medicine and vaccines.

“They know what’s available, and they’re using that technology to reinvent what’s possible. And we’re all going to benefit because of it,” Jassy said. “It’s a big deal.”

Jassy spoke with John Furrier, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during AWS re:Invent. They discussed the company’s role in support of firms engaged in vaccine development, expanded use of Amazon products for call centers and video conferencing, leadership principles for businesses in today’s challenging climate and prospects for returning to an in-person re:Invent next year. (* Disclosure below.)

Record vaccine development

In addition to helping improve the safe transport of vaccines, AWS has also been involved in supporting biotechnology companies, such as Moderna Inc. The biotech firm delivered the first clinical batch of its vaccine candidate against COVID-19 to the National Institutes of Health in record time.

Moderna is an AWS customer and uses the cloud provider’s platform for analytics and machine learning workloads.

“They built their COVID-19 vaccine candidate in 42 days when it normally takes them 20 months,” Jassy said. “That is a total game changer. We’ve been privileged to partner with companies that are trying to change things for all of us.”

Since the global spread of the virus earlier this year, much of the world’s business has shifted to online customer service platforms and communication has been driven by the use of video conferencing. AWS had 5,000 different customers start using Amazon Connect, which can rapidly spin up contact center infrastructure for businesses, during the pandemic alone, according to Jassy.

The company has experienced higher demand as well for its videoconferencing service, Amazon Chime. Earlier this year, Slack Inc. announced its move to the Chime software development kit, and Salesforce.com Inc. indicated that a forthcoming new product will include it as well.

“Could you imagine what the world would have been like in the last nine months if we didn’t have competent video conferencing?” Jassy asked. “All of that technology is going to get evolved over time.”

Working backwards and leadership

AWS’ ability to respond to the sudden needs of its customers during the global pandemic is an outgrowth of a culture that envisions use of its own internal services may someday be adopted externally as well, a process known within the company as “working backwards.” It is an approach that led to the development and deployment of Amazon Connect.

“People weren’t very happy with what they were using in that space,” Jassy recalled. “We imagine that we’re building it to be externalized. It makes it easier for us. With Connect, that’s what we did.”

At the start of the conference, Jassy articulated a set of steps toward reinvention that he believed companies needed to follow in the current climate of business challenges. He revisited some of those principles during the interview, focusing on the importance of speed and the courage to push for change.

“You’ve got to build speed into your culture, and in some ways this is the biggest challenge for many enterprises,” Jassy said. “Moving with speed is a choice. You have to have the courage and energy to pick the company up and push the change.”

The staging of re:Invent itself in 2020 represented a significant change for AWS. Traditionally held over only a few days at multiple large venues with a high-profile rock concert at the end, re:Invent had to adapt to a virus-impacted world with an online format spread out over three consecutive weeks.

Nevertheless, this year’s event drew over 530,000 registrants, according to Jassy. What the picture will look like a year from now is anyone’s guess.

“We had to reinvent re:Invent,” Jassy said. “None of us really know when we’ll be back in person again. You could imagine we could do re:Invent in person next year. I know we all hope we will.”

Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of AWS re:Invent. (* Disclosure: Amazon Web Services sponsored this segment of theCUBE. Neither AWS nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: AWS

A message from John Furrier, co-founder of SiliconANGLE:

Your vote of support is important to us and it helps us keep the content FREE.

One-click below supports our mission to provide free, deep and relevant content.  

Join our community on YouTube

Join the community that includes more than 15,000 #CubeAlumni experts, including Amazon.com CEO Andy Jassy, Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger and many more luminaries and experts.

“TheCUBE is an important partner to the industry. You guys really are a part of our events and we really appreciate you coming and I know people appreciate the content you create as well” – Andy Jassy