Embracing change: a new era for the public sector

Technology is enabling public sector organisations to pivot from process-led to citizen-centric service provision. Microsoft’s Julia Glidden shares how the firm’s products and partnerships have driven this change during a global crisis

Embracing change: a new era for the public sector
Microsoft

The public sector, historically very reliant on legacy IT infrastructures and paper-based, manual processes, is in the midst of a technological revolution. Julia Glidden, corporate vice president of worldwide public sector at Microsoft, says that coronavirus has accelerated its pace. 

“The pandemic served as an unprecedented catalyst for changing the way governments operate, particularly as public sector leaders recognised that the risk of doing nothing far outweighed the risk of rapid digital transformation,” she says. “As a result, the rollout of remote work capabilities allowed public servants to continue to securely do their jobs from anywhere.”

Microsoft technologies facilitated essential collaboration between public sector workers as the crisis unfolded. 

“The pandemic severely impacted continuity of operations for public and private sectors around the world and required government workforces to shift to a remote posture overnight,” says Glidden. “Collaborative tools such as Teams and file-sharing, our investments in cybersecurity, and data platforms to inform the allocation and distribution of supplies have all been critical to ensuring governments could continue to meet the needs of their people. 

“Our Modern Workplace offerings have helped public safety and justice organisations worldwide to maintain their operational capabilities. They have empowered court systems to meet judicial timelines for civil and criminal cases. They have also supported emergency call centres by allowing highly trained staff to work remotely and help people in need.”

Many administrations completely revolutionised their processes. “In 2020, the Canadian government transitioned roughly 250,000 federal public servants to remote work, enabling them to continue to deliver critical citizen services during a turbulent time,” says Glidden. “And in the Philippines, the Supreme Court enabled virtual hearings via Microsoft 365, which enabled it to continue to serve justice.”

While technology enabled traditionally office-based staff to move to home-working, Microsoft research revealed that this shift caused almost 60 per cent of workers to feel less connected to their teams. “One of our major areas of focus is to leverage digital tools to create a better and more engaged employee experience,” says Glidden. “Our newest platform, Microsoft Viva, will offer resources and data-driven insights to support public sector workers in their professional development and help our teams deliver, no matter where they are.”

While Microsoft continues to evolve its technologies to suit this seismic workplace shift, its partner ecosystem drives their deployment into the hands of public sector workers. “As governments embrace digital technology to become more resilient, efficient and innovative, our partners will play a critical role in delivering solutions to meet the needs of citizens everywhere,” says Glidden. “Our partnership with Accenture is a good example of the impact of digital transformation across industries. Together, we helped social services professionals virtually meet with and offer support to people in need around the world.” 

Microsoft also worked with KPMG, for example, helping the US state of Georgia manage more than $3.5 billion in economic recovery funds for citizens affected by the pandemic; and partnered with the Canadian government of Nunavut to provide text translation to and from the Inuktitut dialect. 

By the end of January 2021, over 110 million cases of Covid-19 had been recorded worldwide, putting enormous pressure on health services across the globe. Digital technologies have been instrumental in the response.

“We have seen the life-saving impact of digital transformation on policy-making and the delivery of critical services worldwide,” says Glidden. “For example, England’s Norfolk County Council worked with Microsoft and Hitachi Solutions to adopt an emergency response app that better used data to target Covid-19 relief and support across multiple cities, protecting its most vulnerable citizens.” 

Another Microsoft partner, Esri, has supported vaccination efforts by providing Azure-based solutions that use population and census data to help health officials identify locations for vaccination centres that best ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Much like in the healthcare sector, the resilience and agility of education systems has been put to the test. 

“The shift from classroom to remote learning proved how agile the industry can be and demonstrated the aspects of remote learning that are likely to persist as in-person classes return,” says Glidden. “Small things like the instant messaging window in Teams have been effective for sharing links or asking for a group response. Real-time transcription and translation for each attendee has led to more inclusive classes that foster greater creativity. 

“In higher education, policies are changing to give students more learning options and flexibility, including online attendance. These new models prioritise student choice by allowing students from all walks of life to determine the right mix of online and in-class experiences and will hopefully lead to greater affordability in education.”

Glidden believes this accelerated adoption of digital solutions also brought with it a focus on inclusion, particularly in education. “Within the first few weeks of quarantine, as people shifted to working and learning from home, Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk received double the usual number of calls,” she explains. “Additionally, captioning usage for Teams was 30 times greater than a few months prior.

“Microsoft partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District to develop a safe back-to-school solution that can scale to communities throughout California. At the same time, parents working from home were able to download Immersive Reader, a tool that helps readers with learning differences, to assist their children in learning remotely.”

The pandemic highlighted that digital accessibility is not a given for many. 

“We see great potential in using advancements in digital technologies to improve public health services and education, particularly given the challenges in access during the pandemic,” says Glidden. “But while digital services became lifelines to support first responders, court systems, students and many others, we also learned that more than 3.5 billion people did not have access to these services. In response, Microsoft has joined forces with like-minded partners worldwide to deliver safe and affordable internet access, provide skilling for tens of millions of people to join the digital economy, and adopt digital accessibility as the cornerstone for all of our products and services.”

At some point in the future, particularly as vaccines are rolled out, we may find ourselves returning to our familiar work and life routines. But when this happens, Glidden suggests we should carry some things with us into the post-pandemic world. 

“One of the main lessons for the public sector will be the importance of embracing change,” she says. “The pandemic broke through the public sector’s many walls of resistance to change by forcing a massive shift in the way governments operate. Nations broke down traditional silos, fostered interagency collaboration and harnessed the power of data to deliver social value.  

“Governments now understand the urgency of digital transformation and are increasingly classifying digital technology and data as critical infrastructure. They must now establish greater efficiencies in delivering more services online, while bolstering their cyber resiliency. Meanwhile, workers need more information at greater speed and precision, all delivered online. Educational institutions need updated teaching practices and financial models.”

A new appreciation for partnerships can also help improve productivity, engagement, and customer experience as we move out of the era of Covid-19, says Glidden. “These relationships are no longer based on contractual models between clients and vendors, but rather on a shared mission that drives us to work together to deliver positive outcomes for society. For example, we are seeing new partnerships emerge for the skilling and training of the post-Covid-19 workforce, as digital skills become necessary for the new future of work.

“Looking forward, public sector organisations will need a skilled talent pipeline to drive innovation. The technology and partner community are working together to develop services that empower workforces and citizens to thrive in the digital economy.”

Partner perspectives
We asked a selection of Microsoft partners how their solutions leverage Microsoft technology to deliver citizen-centric service provision in the public sector, and equip workers with the tools to connect, collaborate and engage. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 116 of the digital edition of the Spring 2020 issue of The Record.

Oscar Bachs, head of business development at Unblur, says: “Running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, IRIS integrates static data with real time information – such as GPS and video streaming from drones – which helps officers improve situational awareness and team coordination during an emergency.”

Jørgen Solberg, founder and CEO of Decisions, says: “Decisions integrates with Microsoft Teams to drive a transparent process for virtual public meetings. It works in combination with Microsoft Teams to power a more democratic process.”

Evan Pfaff, digital transformation engineer at the City and County of Denver (a Nintex customer), says: “We have used Nintex Forms and Nintex Workflow to process Covid-19 symptom monitoring across our approximately 13,000 employees. This has allowed city employees and the public they interact with to remain safe during the pandemic.”

Derrick Villeneuve, director of strategy at Davyn, says: “Davyn is leveraging Microsoft Azure, Power Platform and Dynamics 365 for Customer Service to deliver citizen-focused solutions.”

Twan van Beers, director and infrastructure architect at Nero Blanco, says: “PowerSyncPro is a powerful, efficient Global Address List sync tool that empowers large numbers of employees to connect, collaborate and engage, with less data risk.”

Peter Durlach, chief strategy officer at Nuance Communications, says: “By marrying the capabilities of our healthcare experience and our proven omnichannel customer engagement technology used by Fortune 100 companies worldwide, we can help address the urgent needs of providers and patients alike to transform access to, and delivery of, care in the modern age of digital medicine.”

Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, says: “ICONICS and Microsoft close the public sector circle in providing digital tools to get work done and the dashboards for informed citizens to confirm it.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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