Accelerating innovation in challenging times

Accelerating innovation in challenging times

Dr Julia Glidden shares how Microsoft hopes to shape the future of public service delivery 

Elly Yates-Roberts |

You joined Microsoft about 18 months ago – what first brought you to the company and what were your main aspirations for the role of corporate vice president of public sector at that time?
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of public policy and international relations, a path which led me to tech. I have drawn great inspiration from the power of digital to drive impact across the public sector, in seeing how technology can make the world a better place and enhance public services for every community. I was honoured to join Microsoft to help change agents with big, bold aspirations in the public sector break down barriers, unlock innovation, and harness digital as a force for good.

Over the past year, the world witnessed the power of digital technology to enable civil servants to do their jobs and deliver vital services during an unprecedented period of hardship, challenge, and change. From economic recovery to sustainable development, public safety, and beyond, our worldwide public sector team is working closely with partners to help the public sector address global challenges – now and well into the future.

You were faced with a challenging year right at the start of your tenure. Looking back at those first 18 months, where do you feel Microsoft has presented the greatest value for public sector organisations rising to the challenge of a global pandemic?
There is no sugar-coating – the past year was brutally hard on us all. Looking back on all that we have gone through, both as people who depend on public services and as technology professionals, one of the things I am most proud of is that when governments around the world needed digital most, our industry and technologies were there.

Almost overnight, we saw entire countries digitise at an historically unprecedented rate. At the height of the crisis, our CEO Satya Nadella said he witnessed more digital transformation in two months than in two years. Many in the public sector went even further, observing that they experienced more transformation in two months than in 20 years because – for the first time ever – the risk of doing nothing became more than the risk of doing something.

I am incredibly proud of the fact that Microsoft and our partners were on the frontlines of the technology industry’s response to the pandemic, standing shoulder to shoulder with civil servants around the world to help government agencies connect with citizens, protect critical infrastructure, support first responders, and enable justice and educational systems to continue operating. From helping doctors to provide safe, hands-on treatment remotely thanks to the power of virtual reality, to deploying virtual assistants to quickly connect victims of domestic abuse (which tragically increased throughout the pandemic) with support services, our efforts have helped to deliver the services that people need, where they need them, when they need them.

What are the most valuable lessons you think public sector organisations learned about resilience during the pandemic and how will those lessons impact the evolution of digitally transformed public sector services in the future?
Under the pressures of the pandemic, public sector organisations everywhere faced a pressing need not just to deliver services remotely, but also to work remotely. Governments which had planned ahead and invested in digital capacity and capabilities through the years were able to pivot quickly, moving at a rate and pace that was once unthinkable.

Shared Services Canada, for example, deployed a planned three-year transition to remote working in a matter of weeks, whilst the United Arab Emirates leveraged its longstanding commitment to digital service delivery to shift the entire country to online learning at the height of the pandemic. Governments which were not as advanced quickly learned the advantage of becoming fast followers, working closely with organisations like the United Nations to adopt and deploy best practices from around the world. 

Now that the innovation genie is out of the bottle and public sector agencies have experienced the value of resilient digital infrastructures, the challenge will be to build upon crisis-driven adaptations to deliver deep and lasting digital transformation – powered by new and emerging tools such as cloud, data and artificial intelligence and, more importantly, underpinned by the principles of access, accessibility and inclusion. 

Challenging times tend to drive innovation. Can you give us some recent examples of Microsoft innovation – and work with partners – enabling positive outcomes in the delivery of citizen services across all areas of the public sector?
From keeping the court system functioning in Italy to helping homeless people access food in Brazil, our teams worked tirelessly with our partners to help public sector agencies maintain the provision of fundamental public services for first responders and people everywhere.

In Canada, Microsoft partnered with ESRI and the Missing Children Society to develop an app that helped law enforcement find missing children and bring them home faster. In the US, we partnered with 3AM Innovations to help firefighters leverage situational tracking to stay out of harm’s way. In the Middle East, we partnered with Classera on the Learning Never Stops initiative to keep learners learning. Around the world, we are partnering with companies like Accenture to help government agencies scale the Microsoft Vaccine Management. I could go on, but even these few examples show just how powerful our partnerships have been in helping governments everywhere during these extraordinary times. 

Finally, what are Microsoft’s public sector plans and priority areas in the year ahead and what do you consider your most exciting professional challenge in that time?
I always like to remind people that, at heart, Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more is the public sector mission. Our public sector plans and priorities for the year ahead are all about fulfilling this mission for governments and people around the world.

As I look toward the next 12 months, I’m incredibly excited about the way in which Microsoft and our partners are uniquely positioned to build upon the inspirational work we have done throughout the pandemic. For me, there is no greater professional challenge, nor greater professional opportunity.

From helping to drive economic recovery to maintaining hybrid working and learning, supporting critical infrastructure modernisation, and strengthening national security, the opportunities for Microsoft and our partners to help public sector organisations accelerate cloud adoption, deepen cybersecurity, and harness the power of new and emerging technologies are limitless. I just can’t wait to get started. 

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

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