This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Public service provision has undergone radical upheaval in recent times, with government agencies, healthcare providers and educators all facing the challenge of doing more with less. At the same time, citizens expect increasing efficiency, more information and greater transparency around the services they are ultimately paying for. Smarter, more flexible and more efficient working is essential to providing secure, citizen-centric services, and artificial intelligence (AI) combined with mobile technologies are helping to achieve it.
Across the world, public sector organisations are using Microsoft technologies to empower their people through connectivity. For example, when the State of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that antiquated processes were preventing its child welfare caseworkers from working efficiently, it turned to AI and mobile technologies to make their jobs easier.
HHS child welfare workers faced several challenges: caseworkers were unable to begin investigations within 24 hours, they didn’t have a direct process for reporting work back to supervisors, and supervisors couldn’t track employees in the field. By deploying a mobile app and Microsoft Power BI dashboard, HHS has empowered caseworkers to initiate an investigation, check in and out during a home visit, take notes, and upload and tag documents using their mobile devices. Reports are sent directly to supervisors so they can track the lifecycle of child welfare cases. Safety in the field is also increased, as caseworkers can easily call 911 if necessary, and set a timer during home visits.
Power BI provides insights to help HHS identify any issues, and Microsoft Azure allows it to choose the correct applications to solve problems. A hybrid solution and a citizen-facing interface are now in development, to give citizens a 360-degree view of healthcare options and a more holistic view of the benefits available to them.
Security and compliance are key concerns for government organisations as they seek to connect disparate services while protecting sensitive data. When the US state of Louisiana decided to revamp its call centre operations to better support the wide variety of services its citizens require, it worked with Microsoft partner YoungWilliams to implement Y-Trac, a cloud-based dynamic case management solution. The solution seamlessly integrates with existing state systems, the contact centre and electronic document management systems to bring all inbound and outbound communication channels into a unified workflow, task and workforce management application. Data analytics enable the solution to recognise every action that is not automated and requires human intervention, so the system can prioritise and route tasks to the appropriate person or group.
Azure Government Cloud was the obvious choice to enable secure, powerful connectivity. “Because Y-Trac was built on Windows Server, Windows SQL Server and the .Net platform, it proved to be an easy migration to Microsoft Azure Government Cloud,” says John Tidwell, CTO of YoungWilliams in conversation with Andy Pitman, director, Health and Human Services Solutions at Microsoft. “In addition, Azure Gov has the FedRAMP and IRS compliance that is required by our state and local government clients. Moving Y-Trac to Azure Gov allows our IT team, developers and management access to a wealth of tools, such as chatbots, robotic process automation, data lakes and PowerBI to further enhance the power of our solutions for our government clients.”
For the educators helping to develop skills needed to work in the digital economy, innovative connectivity tools are essential. “With the modern workplace constantly evolving, so too should our classrooms – and technology integration is absolutely crucial in this matter,” says Anthony Salcito, vice president, Worldwide Education at Microsoft in his Daily Edventures blog. “I believe it has the power to tap into student potential and provide them with the tools they’ll need to be successful in our technology-centric job market. Technology has the ability to impact learning environments and enhance student achievement, and after working closely with education institutions and partners around the globe, I’ve witnessed first-hand how transformative technology can be.”
Salcito cites inspiring examples of how educators are putting this into practice. In Athens, Greece, for example, English as a Foreign Language teacher Dimitris Primalis ensured inclusivity by providing a hearing-impaired student with a full interactive version of the curriculum – including texts read by native speakers, listening exercises and games. And in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, English teacher Dinara Onerkan uses new approaches like Skype in the Classroom to immerse her students in the language and expose them to new voices and perspectives.
“Skype in the Classroom blurs away hundreds and thousands of kilometres,” says Onerkan. “It is quite difficult to find English-speaking credible experts in our area. From the perspective of an English teacher, having native speakers in the lesson gives students lots of opportunities to learn different accents and develop their listening and speaking skills. Using this tool makes the lesson intercultural as well. By visiting speakers around the world, they learn to be global and broaden their horizons through learning a variety of cultures and traditions.”
As Onerkan embraces the technologies to develop her students, she is also developing her own skills. “I need to embrace innovations, technologies, and practices that can improve student performance,” she explains. “But finding the time for professional development is always difficult because there are always competing priorities and pressures.
“Microsoft technologies and apps are already transforming my work. This has made it possible for me to better understand how to continuously use technology, freeing me up to spend time working with students and collaborating with colleagues in person and through online platforms.”
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