Microsoft is delivering continuity in a crisis

Nations around the globe are rising to the challenge of Covid-19 by looking for innovative ways to connect and empower enterprise workforces, first-line responders and public sector services of every kind. Microsoft and its partners are playing a crucial role

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 06 July 2020
Microsoft is delivering continuity in a crisis
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Our industry has been called upon to help address the world’s most acute needs through this crisis,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his keynote speech at the virtual Microsoft Build 2020 event, which took place in May. “That’s been a point of light amidst this crisis… seeing developers come together with those on the frontlines.” 

Nadella went on to provide some of the most inspiring examples of the role that Microsoft technology has played. “At Johns Hopkins University, epidemiologists and software developers created that canonical dashboard to track the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “Adaptive Biotechnologies is using that cloud compute and artificial intelligence (AI) to decode the immune system’s response to the virus. In the UK, a cross-section of manufacturers adjusted their production lines to build ventilators for the NHS, using mixed reality to guide workers through the process.” 

And this is just the start of Microsoft’s response effort. During his presentation at Build 2020 Peter Lee, Microsoft’s chief vice president for technology and research, spoke about the Covid-19 Health Bot – a conversational AI tool which allows healthcare organisations to deliver trusted and relevant healthcare services and information. The tool has now been deployed at over 1,500 healthcare sites in 23 countries around the world, and it’s helped over 32 million people self-assess their symptoms.

“We’re also donating massive amounts of computing power to organisations like ImmunityBio, Folding@home, and great research groups around the world,” said Lee. “They all really amount to working together. No one organisation, no one person is going to be able to beat this thing. It’s working together, developing new technologies together that is going to be necessary to overcome this crisis.” 

As well as having a direct impact on the front line, Microsoft has also played a fundamental role in supporting companies the world over who have had to facilitate remote working far faster than they ever could have imagined. Business productivity and collaboration tools such as Microsoft 365 have been central to ensuring some semblance of business as usual in these quite unusual times. 

“As Covid-19 impacts every aspect of our working life, we have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” said Nadella during a recent earnings call with analysts. “We are working alongside customers every day to help them stay open for business in a world of remote everything.”

Microsoft 365, which runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud, is helping organisations stay connected through video meetings, calls and chats. At the very heart of this is Teams – the collaboration app which has seen unprecedented growth during the pandemic. There are now more than 75 million daily active users (compared to 13 million in July 2019) and 200 million daily meeting participants, generating more than 4.1 billion daily meeting minutes. 

Legal services firm Slater and Gordon is just one example of a business that has been kept running thanks to the solution. 

“When the lockdown came into effect, we were able to move 2,000 colleagues across the UK on to Teams and keep our contact centre running,” said Slater and Gordon’s chief information officer Jon Grainger in a news story published on Microsoft.com. “Our colleagues can work from home and use Teams with their own phone numbers. That’s been critical because our clients don’t want to email sensitive information to a generic email address, they want to speak to someone. 

“Teams is redefining how we can work remotely. Lots of colleagues say it allows them to stay in touch with their team in a way that you can’t do with a telephone call.”

Teams is not just connecting businesses, it’s connecting entire cities. Take the City of Atlanta for  example. Due to the Covid-19 government shutdown in Georgia, the City of Atlanta needed to support its remote workforce and businesses with a work-from-home solution that would enable virtual inspections. Microsoft and its partner Accela came together to address the requirements. As a result, Accela developed an integration with Teams to support virtual building inspections remotely. 

And that’s not forgetting the technology’s impact in education. As students and teachers move to remote learning, there are now over 180,000 institutions in 175 countries using Teams. Durham University in the UK is one of these. Classes had to move online and staff needed to work remotely so that the university could continue to serve its students, academics and professional services during the outbreak. In response, Durham University scaled up its use of Teams to add to its online learning toolset, maintain community and make it possible to collaborate and communicate remotely and securely on the device that works best for their students and staff.

While there are many success stories like these, Microsoft chief technology officer for the US partner ecosystem David Totten says it’s been an incredibly challenging time for many firms who were not adequately prepared for the large-scale disruption they have faced. 

“The biggest challenge for most organisations has been keeping all employees accounted for, healthy, safe and communicating,” he says. “This has been extremely difficult for many firms. I have a friend in technology that works for a very successful US company that has been in business for 28 years. Every employee works from the office. They had no work-from-home plan at all. When an employee turned up with Covid-19 they were forced to shut down and send everyone home. They nearly lost control of their entire business. They had no central collaboration tool and no real secure remote access plan. Thankfully they found Teams and, with help from one of our fantastic Microsoft partners, were able to recover.” 

Totten says it’s examples like these which illustrate why every company should have a work-from-home plan in place. “This plan should begin with security and compliance,” he explains. “Compliance doesn’t go away just because we are working in a crisis situation and bad actors absolutely see this as an opportunity to make money off companies that are not prepared. So security and compliance are absolutely paramount.”

The choice of collaboration tool is also important. “Productivity and collaboration are a must, no matter where you work,” Totten says. “The ability to account for your employees is critical as safety and their health is the most important item. By standardising on a true collaboration platform, a company can reduce barriers and collaborate freely whether that be by instant message, voice and video or all of the above. Obviously at Microsoft we have been doing this for a while with Teams.” 

Totten says that these considerations should be the same, regardless of whether it’s an enterprise business or public sector company looking to adapt. “There actually is very little difference between public sector companies versus enterprises in times of crisis,” he says. “Identifying where employees and customers are, how to communicate and collaborate with them effectively, and how to ensure they can be productive in this ‘new norm’ are the same across the board. The big difference is the stakes of a lot of public sector firms – think about hospitals, government offices, school districts and individual teachers working in a brand new way with an unknown future, learning more day by day which then feeds into the potential volume and stress of engagements with their customers and constituents. Public sector firms have been faced with increased demand, significantly higher volumes of engagement with customers/stakeholders, and are all facing much higher accountability on agility and speed to market with their offerings and guidance.”  

Microsoft is working tirelessly to enable these firms to perform their best. “Having the most scalable and secure cloud infrastructure on the planet allows us to not only support the growing technology needs of these firms in times of crisis – in terms of data collection, processing and storage – but also innovating with new intuitive tools and AI,” Totten says. “Providing free licenses, training and over 300 in-market partner offers to leverage Microsoft technology right now helps responsiveness and clarity for all customers, none more pressing than public sector firms.” 

In the longer term, Totten says Microsoft will continue to support businesses as they adapt to a new normal. “No matter what changes, users want a consistent experience,” he says. “Wherever they are, they want to be able to access their apps and data so they can do their jobs efficiently and without hiccups. They want to be able to pull into a coffee shop and get real work done. They want to not have to worry about working on sensitive documents while travelling or working remotely. They want to be able to be able to log into their hub to communicate with colleagues around the globe seamlessly with chat, voice or video. 

“The future will offer even more opportunities to be more productive wherever you are. We are helping our customers move to the future with products like Teams. The future is here for many companies, and Microsoft and our partners are working to move all companies into this new reality.”

Partner perspectives

We asked a selection of Microsoft partners about how they are enabling firms to continue their operations in the face of Covid-19. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 40 of the digital edition of the Summer 2020 issue of The Record.

Charles Nasser, founder and group CEO at Claranet, says: “Several months into the pandemic we are seeing signs of change, with the initial shock and uncertainty being replaced with greater clarity about what to do next.”

Clay Westbay, vice president of delivery at Synergy Technical, says: “Tools like Teams and Windows Virtual Desktop are making it possible to enable remote working quickly and securely.”

Chris Ellis, technical evangelism manager at Nintex, says: “Within the first week of lockdown we introduced initiatives to navigate the shift to remote work, including free instructor-led, on-demand training and online certifications.”

Alex Atzberger, CEO at Episerver, says: “Without a scalable and secure cloud environment like [customers] get from Episerver hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud, communication would be unavailable or unstable, preventing employees from doing their critical jobs and customers from getting critical information.”

Charlotte Houston, global marketing manager at Geomant, says: “Geomant is enabling organisations to extend the power of Teams even further, thanks to our Buzzeasy Contact Centre.”

Vassilis Zografos, CEO at interworks.cloud, says: “The interworks.cloud commerce platform helps cloud distributors and resellers by enabling them to get access to wider markets, overcome geographic boundaries and compete with larger players.”

Taras Young, marketing manager at CompanyNet, says: “For a business to fully realise the benefits of a new technology like Microsoft 365, it's vital to get as many people as possible using it.”

David Allison, global product manager for CPQSync by Cincom, says: “Our customers primarily seel complex products and services, and they’re looking to us to help them adapt to the new normal of selling.”

Chris Parker, senior product manager at Sharp, says: “As social distancing becomes a part of daily life, products like the Windows collaboration display from Sharp, along with Microsoft Teams, will be key to ensuring that social distancing is maintained in offices, acting as a hub for essential staff returning to work and allowing them to communicate with others who are working remotely.”

Scott Wharton, vice president and general manager of Logitech Video Collaboration, says: “A billion people started working from home overnight and they are relying on cloud-service providers like Microsoft to keep them connected.”

Alyssa Putzer, marketing communications specialist for Metafile Information Systems, says: “Paperless automation technology, like MetaViewer, is allowing organisations to continue their operations in the face of Covid-19 by providing increased visibility into business processes and procedures to prevent delays in operations.”

Melissa Topp, senior director of global marketing at ICONICS, says: “IoTWorX and CFSWorX are two key examples of ICONICS solutions geared toward business continuity, providing remote, cloud-driven, multi-site-based capabilities.”

Adam Cole, CEO at SIPPIO, says: “SIPPIO puts voice in Teams to enable users to work from anywhere around the world with full talk and listen capabilities.”

Brian Garoutte, CEO at MyCloudIT, says: “MyCloudIT enables IT companies of all sizes to benefit from the speed and simplicity of cloud desktop deployments, while also focusing on cost optimisation strategies that lead to lower costs and more profitable outcomes.”

Attilio Licciardello, general manager at Mida Solutions, says: “The unprecedented forced isolation imposed by Covid-19 caused a significant increase in the demand for cloud solutions, even in the unified communications segment, in which the on-premises mentality was ingrained.”

Theis Mork, vice president of product management at EPOS, says: “Ensuring you get the right gear can make all the difference for productivity and professionalism when working from home and EPOS’s conferencing solutions do just that.”

David Jobbins, CEO at Transparity, says: “Microsoft Teams has proved an invaluable solution for our customers, helping them easily communicate and collaborate while they work remotely.”

Tim Wheatley, principal and vice president of strategic alliances at Collective Insights, says: “Whether you already have Microsoft Office 365 capabilities or not, Collective Insights’ remote workforce quick start approach is tailored to enable your employees to connect, communicate and collaborate.”

Vanessa Kohlhaas, digital marketing manager at Singhammer, says: “We help IT companies to implement system-supported business processes in order, for example, to work paperless, to carry out their time recording remotely and to know exactly what is happening in their company through workflows.”

Hervé Danzelaud, head of North America alliances and channels at Freshworks, says: “Freshworks is offering free products, such as FreshChat, to help small and medium-sized businesses better adapt.”

Kelly Malone, chief revenue officer at Taqtile, says: “[We] are giving organisations a step up in addressing any skills gaps and managing through operational challenges presented by Covid-19.”

Greg Henson, CEO at Henson Group, says: “Henson Group’s Covid-19 response provides free services for any company worldwide.”

Anders Løkke, senior director of strategic alliances at Pexip, says: “Our product portfolio and offerings are well-suited to ensure business continuity for a wide range of organisations.”

Keri Gilder, CEO at Colt Technology Services, says: “During the rapid shift to remote working for many enterprises due to Covid-19, Colt mobilised to help customers ensure this transition was as smooth as possible.”

Casey Cheyne, vice president of cloud at IGEL, says: “Delivering Windows from the cloud is one of the smartest decisions a vice president of IT could make.”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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