All posts by Alli Hardwick (Yesler)

More responsive citizen services – removing barriers between governments and their citizens

It’s summer—the season of festivals and farmer’s markets, of parades and community picnics. Every event feels carefree and spontaneous, but of course, it’s not. In fact, many organizations must align in order to make each and every event a success.
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Government agencies are commissioned to help maintain cleanliness by removing unsightly graffiti and regularly collecting garbage and recycling. They help ensure public safety by maintaining facilities and providing security or medical staffing when necessary. The list goes on.

With so many moving parts, citizens are guaranteed to make requests—anything from sanctioning an event to filling potholes. How these requests are addressed will inevitably influence the public’s perception of their community leaders and local government.

It’s time for more interactive and responsive citizen services.

In our fast-paced, customer-centric world, the public has grown accustomed to having their needs met on their own terms and on their own time – whenever, wherever, or however that may be.

Online shopping and banking have changed the game when it comes to customer experiences. Users can transfer funds, track their shipment, or even chat with customer service representatives in real time, whether from the comfort of their home or while on-the-go. When it comes to customer engagement, the private sector has set the bar high and citizens want the same experience with their government. Government organizations are struggling to keep pace.

Agencies are feeling increasing pressure to innovate and improve the experience of local citizens through optimized resource allocation. But focusing on innovation is difficult in today’s rapidly-evolving, technological landscape—especially when you’re required to overcome significant internal limitations.

Day-to-day challenges are tough – finding time to innovate is even tougher.

Today, most government organizations aren’t equipped to provide the responsive services, mobile platforms, and user friendly experiences citizens have grown to expect in service-based interactions. However much they may want to modernize, these organizations find themselves held back by legacy systems, siloed technologies, limited resources, and tight budgets.

This often sparks confusion and frustration among the public and a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to respond to their needs.

In order to improve services and gain an edge in today’s digital world, public agencies should prioritize technologies that enable new digital service models and more effectively engage the public. Technology trends such as cloud, mobile, social media, and the Internet of Things present opportunities for innovation that will help bridge the gap between the organization’s mission and the public’s needs. Innovative governments are striving to digitally transform and offer openness and transparency to their citizens.

The AvePoint Citizen Services solution, built on Microsoft cloud technology, modernizes the service experience and enables agencies to optimize responses today, while better planning for tomorrow.

AvePoint Citizen Services leverages Microsoft technology investments like Azure and Dynamics CRM to give cities the ability to provide information and deliver optimal service to citizens through multiple access channels, including mobile and social platforms. Agencies can layer in technologies over time, improving services with capabilities that are compatible with both new and existing infrastructures.

AvePoint Citizen Services provides a centralized portal where the public can easily submit service requests from anywhere, at any time, and on any device. Alternative solutions can be cumbersome and complex, but AvePoint Citizen Services has a familiar, easy-to-use interface that simplifies adoption.

By minimizing manual processes that drain time and resources, AvePoint Citizen Services improves service quality and public satisfaction. It provides a single pane of glass for managing isolated systems, improving efficiency and reducing the risk of human error.

AvePoint CitizenServices. Built on Microsoft Cloud Technology
New technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning create opportunities for proactive government organizations.  Sensors on city infrastructure can automatically alert repair crews to issues before they are apparent. Systems will learn to recognize patterns of potential problems before they become emergencies.

Perhaps most critically, the insights gained from the advanced reporting capabilities of AvePoint Citizen Services enable rapid and precise identification of inefficiencies, so that agencies can reduce operating costs, streamline processes, and promote accountability between departments.

Get started today.

Microsoft and AvePoint can help your agency connect with its citizens and promote innovation in today’s increasingly digital world. Unlock your potential today with the AvePoint Citizen Services solution. Learn more about the solution on the AppSource marketplace.

Working Together to Digitally Transform our Public Sector Clients

Today, the world finds itself in the midst of a rapid digital transformation. The speed at which technology is altering our day-to-day lives is unprecedented. And advanced technologies such as the cloud, big data, machine learning, and mobile computing are dramatically improving the standard of living for citizens around the globe.

Yet while technologies such as these are generating jobs, improving public services, and creating safer communities for billions of people, they remain out of reach for a large segment of the global population. Indeed, 60 percent of the world’s citizens remain excluded from the benefits of the digital economy. This inequality is a prime focus of the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals, which aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

Our mission at Microsoft is to empower “every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.” And we believe that together with our partners’ products and services, a new wave of Microsoft technology will not only help governments, health organizations, and education institutions digitally transform but also meet the needs for many customers who are not being served today. Through digital transformation, governments can better engage citizens, empower healthcare workers to be more productive, optimize public safety operations, transform educational institutions, and improve their effectiveness through data-driven decisions.

Partners play a critical role in our mission, providing customized solutions and the vertical industry expertise that customers want and need. At the 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), we’ll be gathering with partners from around the world, to discuss how to accelerate positive changes for customers everywhere. The upcoming conference from July 10-14 in Toronto will be a time to reflect on partner successes, while creating opportunities for learning and networking—so together we can accelerate future progress.

Celebrating partner successes

One way we celebrate our partners is by recognizing exceptional innovation—and there have been numerous examples of public-sector successes over the past year. A special congratulations to our Public Sector Partners of the Year, each of which has developed solutions and services that exemplify the top-level excellence that’s possible:

  • Government: SoftBank Technology, Japan. SoftBank developed the Agricultural Farmland Information System, which provides government leaders, workers, and farmers with an overview of farmland across Japan and how it is being used. The solution supports Japan’s national growth strategy for agriculture, improves social inclusion, and drives environmental sustainability.
  • Education: 3P Learning, Australia. A global, cloud-based education company, 3P Learning offers e-learning programs in mathematics, literacy, and science that are used by 5.3 million students in more than 100 countries. 3P migrated from a hosted datacenter to the public cloud on Microsoft Azure to support the 2015 World Education Games where 6 million students from 166 countries spent more than 128 million minutes answering 133 million math, literacy, and science questions.
  • Health: Innana S.A.S., Colombia. Innana’s Azure-based Healthicloud Electronic Health Record solution offers healthcare workers rapid access to critical patient information anytime, anywhere, resulting in increased clinician productivity, better patient outcomes, and improved capacity and cash flows. Further, some customers are broadening access using new, innovative offerings such as telemedicine and home care.
  • Public Safety and National Security: SMS Management & Technology, Australia. To enhance Australia’s security, SMS eBorderForce provides an operational communications and collaboration platform that captures data for high-risk deliveries for analysis and investigation. It offers offline capability and enables officers to use their Surface tablets to intuitively capture and store the inspection details to upload later if out of range of a mobile data signal.
  • Microsoft CityNext: COPA-DATA, Austria. COPA-DATA used its Zenon for Smart Cities solution in combination with Microsoft Azure to help its customers become more energy efficient by automatically collecting and analyzing energy data. Using Zenon to evaluate energy data, cities can reduce energy costs and optimize their equipment, lowering the total cost of ownership of their energy control and monitoring solutions.

Looking ahead

In the coming year, we will continue to work closely with our partners to close the “digital divide” and further transform our mutual public sector customers. Whether it’s delivering world-class cloud services in the classroom, creating solutions that improve healthcare, digitizing services to give police better situational awareness, or utilizing cloud-based analytics to bring about energy-efficient cities, our goal is to help our partners harness Microsoft technology to solve society’s most pressing challenges.

Please see our other WPC blog posts to learn more about what our partners are doing in the areas of government, education, health, public safety and national security, and Microsoft CityNext. Also, be sure to join me at WPC on Monday, July 13 from 2:30 PM to 5 PM at our to learn about accelerating opportunities for your business.

I look forward to meeting you!

Global e-Sustainability Initiative report says digital solutions can unlock new opportunities to meet Sustainable Development Goals

Today, hosted at the Microsoft Center for Innovation and Policy in Washington D.C., the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) published a report prepared by Accenture Strategy that shows how digital solutions can pave the way in helping the world to achieve the objectives of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

GESI graphic

The report’s findings illustrate how digital technology can shape and transform a broad range of economic and social opportunities worldwide. At Microsoft, we are inspired by these findings, and as a company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, and a member of GeSI, we fully believe in the Digital Transformation possibilities to drive progress with the SDGs to create more equity and improve all citizens’ quality of life.

The GeSI report highlights the recurring themes of the need for innovation and collaboration. It reinforced an idea I’ve seen time and time again: if we want to create lasting change, we must all play our part – especially those within the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.

Whilst the report was filled with valuable insight, a few ideas stood out as major takeaways for me:

  • Improving people’s lives: 1.6 billion people could benefit from more accessible, affordable and better quality medical services through e-healthcare, while connected car solutions could save up to 720,000 lives annually and prevent up to 30 million traffic injuries (SDG#3);
  • Boosting equitable growth: Digital solutions like the Internet of Things and robotics can help bring almost US$1 trillion in economic benefits to industries from smart manufacturing and smart logistics (SDG#9);
  • Protecting the environment: Digital solutions could enable greenhouse gas emissions reduction and drive market transformation for renewables, cutting carbon emissions by around 20 percent in 2030 (SDG#13).

Consistent with the SDGs, Microsoft’s clear mission is to enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Digital solutions are vital to advancing these aims and those of the SDGs because they diffuse at unprecedented speed and reach while increasing access to goods and services in a more people-centric, affordable and sustainable way.

Our role as a global organization is to help the health industry move from one bounded by walls and institutions where almost all of the care takes place in a doctor’s office or clinic, to one where much more of the work, the expenditures, and the success and innovation happens outside those institutions to enable more of a healthcare and preventative care industry. We refer to this transformation as “healthcare without walls.”

  • Shezlong, an Egypt-based, start-up company, that looks to offer online psychotherapy for millions of sufferers within the country and the Middle East is using Microsoft Azure, a fully scalable, secure and accessible cloud-based platform. Shezlong is trying to fill this service gap by offering online treatment from qualified psychotherapists. The online nature of this service helps overcome cultural barriers and social stigma typically associated with seeking and receiving treatment.
  • Microsoft cloud technology is being used to deliver online healthcare services to regions of Botswana currently without adequate primary care or access to broadband. This allows local medical workers to send high-resolution patient images to specialized medical facilities in Gabaronne and around the world. The goal is more accurate diagnoses and better patient care.

We also believe every country and community needs to evolve and innovate to compete in the dynamic global economy. That means unleashing the innovative job creators of the future and building the skills of the workforce to fill those jobs. Microsoft works to empower both sides of the future economy — helping local entrepreneurs bring the next great idea to life and enabling the future workforce that will help those innovators make their ideas a reality.

  • Microsoft helped launch TV white spaces in rural Kenya, bringing the Internet to rural areas via underutilized broadcast bandwidth and solar power. A recycled shipping container serves as an Internet café and is enabling enterprising citizens to earn a living online. The technology, which is also bringing the Internet to schools and to the Red Cross, is changing lives in Kenya.

We’re also working with governments and organizations globally to connect social and mobile data through cloud technologies to improve overall resource efficiency, reduce energy use and emissions, and better manage waste. Our work has empowered solutions designed to address issues ranging from establishing smart grids to improving water management.

  • Working with Microsoft and CGI, the city of Helsinki Finland, expanded the company’s data warehouse solution to collect and analyze data from bus sensors to reduce fuel consumption, improve driver performance, and make bus rides smoother and safer.
  • Carnegie Mellon University utilized Microsoft Azure, Cortana Intelligence, Power BI, and the PI System to reduce campus building maintenance and energy costs. With these capabilities, CMU personnel gain advanced analytics for improved operational insights and decisions, and CMU gains a way to cut energy use by 30 percent.
  • Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, is using Azure and SharePoint to host mobile app MyWaters to educate citizens on water conservation and flood levels. Citizens can also provide real-time info on water levels in areas that may be unmonitored by CCTV cameras.

This report reflects on both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for our global community. For instance, every country has achievement gaps in more than half of the 17 SDGs and many fall short on all of them.

Taking advantage of digital solutions will give countries the ability to measure, track and advance the SDGs within trusted environments and enable true progress. We particularly appreciate our long-standing work with GeSI, as our combined desire to collaborate, communicate, and bring people together with innovative technology, unites us and can make a difference in closing those gaps. The report released today provides the ICT industry with an opportunity to define a clear path to a better future — a future of integrated solutions that tackle interrelated problems for helping the world’s nations solve critical social, economic and environmental challenges. We look forward to being part of this Digital Transformation.

Empowering women and girls: from the classroom to the boardroom

Last Monday on March 7, I had an opportunity to participate in a panel hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations Office for Partnerships in honor of International Women’s Day. I was joined by leaders in the public and private sector for an interactive discussion about the importance of empowering women and girls. The discourse was lively and focused on how we can collectively help women and girls achieve gender parity, and at the same time make real progress in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as set forth by the United Nations—of which women’s empowerment is a critical piece.

As a mother of three daughters, making sure that girls have access to the best education and opportunities possible is a topic that is close to my heart. In my role as vice president of Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, I work to form strong public-private partnerships with governments and countries around the world to provide cutting-edge education and access to technology tools, safer and more sustainable communities, better access to healthcare, and a chance for women to achieve gender parity and economic prosperity.

We’ve made it our goal to empower and enable women and girls—from the classroom all the way to the boardroom. We believe that women participating in all fields will help bring about a brighter future.

Investing in girls’ education and skills development

Technology plays a central role in the empowerment of every woman and girl—from providing access to education and economic opportunities, to enabling personal and professional growth, to helping girls find their true passion and place in the world.

One of the most critical ways we can accelerate gender parity is by supporting education and skills development for women and girls. By the end of this decade, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that there will be 1.4 million computer science-based job openings, and that to reach gender parity, women must fill half of these positions. In addition, over 75 percent of all jobs will require some technology skills, signaling the need to equip women and girls with the skills that they need to be competitive in the marketplace.

To encourage girls to pursue studies in computer science-related fields, we take a multi-faceted approach. We promote the study of computer science at traditionally female colleges and other universities. We encourage the study of STEM curricula in schools and help young women develop computational thinking skills.

Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we are investing $75 million in community programs to increase access to computer science education—especially for those from under-represented backgrounds—and to build greater diversity into the tech talent pipeline. This initiative includes programs like DigiGirlz, which helps reduce the gender gap by giving high school girls a chance to learn about careers in technology and participate in technology workshops around the world, and Girls Who Code, which is dedicated to helping girls achieve gender parity in computing fields by 2020. As part of the Girls Who Code summer program, Microsoft hosted more than 100 girls for intensive instruction in computer science and mentorship from top female technology executives.

Microsoft is also a part of Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID), an initiative dedicated to increasing diversity in computer science undergraduates. Participating tech companies—including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—will donate a combined total of $1.35 million over the next three years to the computer science departments of 15 universities, which have agreed to follow practices used by institutions where almost half of the computer science majors were female. The schools will also provide data for a study on how best to attract and retain female, black, and Hispanic computer science students.

Empowering women to achieve financial inclusion

Financial inclusion is a major part of the effort to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Internet access is a key component of financial inclusion, and we are working to provide affordable broadband access for all, to promote and protect the digital infrastructure, and to mainstream digital innovations so that women—and all people all over the world—can benefit. Our partnership with the World Bank and other organizations continues to make strides in achieving the recommendations in the World Development Report 2016.

Microsoft has a proud history of investing in organizations that support women such as contracting with women-owned suppliers and assisting women entrepreneurs. We have several programs to help entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses such as Microsoft BizSpark, which provides three years of free software, services, and tech support to startups. Another is the Microsoft Ventures Accelerators program, which provides business mentors and advanced resources to help startups navigate the challenges of launching a company. And, we now have 120 Microsoft Innovation Centers in 33 countries, which provide practical opportunities for entrepreneurs to collaborate with software developers, IT professionals, and academic researchers.

Working to achieve gender parity

Gender parity can profoundly affect the peace and security of communities. Achieving this parity requires respect, gender-balanced leadership, inclusion, and cultural flexibility. Empowered women and girls are at the heart of this effort.

When women are empowered in society, the result is greater innovation and the advancement of local economies—benefits for the individual as well as the larger community.

Working together to ensure social justice for all

Over the past eight years, the date of February 20 has become strongly associated with social justice. On this date, which was established in 2007 by the UN General Assembly as World Day of Social Justice, organizations in the public and private sector join efforts to raise awareness and work toward a world where all people live with freedom, dignity, and equality. This year, in honor of World Day of Social Justice, I would like to share some of Microsoft’s programs and technologies that are helping to further these goals.

Aiding refugees

During the previous 12 months, international headlines have been dominated by news of the refugee crisis in Syria, and the topic was, and continues to be, on the agendas of global leaders worldwide. However, while the Syrian crisis is well publicized, it is just one of many examples of citizens fleeing war, persecution, or unstable conditions throughout the Middle East and Africa.

While they are temporary solutions to a larger problem, camps provide an interim home to thousands of refugees who seek sanctuary from the fighting and chaos. The international community can help these refugees by offering them housing, healthcare, and education services, as well as electricity and sanitation. Microsoft offers solutions to assist refugees and make these camps safe and welcoming harbors.

First, Microsoft assists with camp setup and management to create a stable and secure environment by establishing an infrastructure, allocating resources, and assisting safety and security personnel charged with overseeing new populations. Next, Microsoft assists with the registration and identification of new refugees, which includes fingerprinting and verifying of documentation or creating new documents.

We assist with settlement, helping plan and manage temporary housing and aiding refugees as they move their families and belongings into a new space—or relocate, as conditions dictate. We also help provide social services. Refugees moving into a temporary camp require education and schooling, employment, skills training, and often, culture awareness—such as the learning of another language. Microsoft is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international organizations to devote resources to improving the lives of these refugees and helping them to rebuild once again.

Combating human trafficking

World Day of Social Justice 2015 was dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking in all its forms. Throughout 2015, leaders of the world rallied to discuss solutions to this problem. Whether it be forced labor, sexual slavery, or exploitation of another person for commercial gain—the practice of human trafficking ensnares an estimated 25 million people worldwide, mostly women and girls. It is the third largest criminal activity globally, netting roughly $32 billion a year.

Human traffickers operate, often with impunity, within and between nations, using the latest technologies—such as gaming sites, Internet chat rooms, social media, and mobile devices—to maintain anonymity and reach more victims. They prey upon marginalized populations and offer false promises of a better life. These practices are deplorable and must be stopped.

At Microsoft, we believe that technology companies can play an important role in helping to disrupt this exploitation. We are working with our partners, law enforcement agencies, IGOs, NGOS, and in strong public-private partnerships (PPPs) to support human rights, address technology-facilitated crime, and advance efforts to halt human trafficking.

On June 23, 2015, Microsoft Asia joined seven UN agencies—including UNICEF, UN Women, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), and US Agency for International Development (USAID)—for the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand. Attendees discussed issues and trends surrounding the use of technology to combat this societal ill. I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address, during which I discussed Microsoft’s partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to launch, a cloud-based portal that uses crowdfunding to help victims of trafficking successfully and voluntarily reenter society.

Backed by the Microsoft Azure cloud-computing platform, is the first crowdfunding portal that meets the strict requirements of IOM’s victim protection and privacy standards. Because a survivor’s anonymity is their most important form of protection, was designed to modify information that could compromise their safety or chances of a normal life. Each survivor’s story is told through interactive story maps built on top of Microsoft Bing Maps, which strike a balance between protecting the victim’s identity and telling a compelling story to potential funders. By following these stories, the donor can understand the circumstances that led to the person being trafficked, appreciate the challenges faced during exploitation, learn how the person reclaimed their freedom, and discover what their dreams and ambitions are for the future.

In addition to programs like, Microsoft provides disruptive technology solutions, such as cloud and machine learning technologies, that can be formidable tools to help combat human trafficking. The same technologies can also be used to enhance public safety by reducing crime, exposing corruption, revealing inefficiencies, and providing citizen access to governmental services.

Microsoft PhotoDNA is an example of a disruptive technology in use to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Developed in partnership with Dartmouth College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, PhotoDNA uses a mathematical algorithm to assign a unique signature to an image, which then can be used to locate other online copies of that same image. In response to global interest, Microsoft made PhotoDNA available to help law enforcement agencies around the world more quickly and accurately identify child victims and rescue them.

PhotoDNA is also a component of the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS), a Microsoft software-based solution developed in collaboration with Canadian law enforcement. CETS enables the management and linking of child protection cases worldwide across jurisdictional boundaries. It is currently administered by a loose partnership between Microsoft and law enforcement agencies in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Italy, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In addition to making disruptive technologies available in the fight against trafficking, Microsoft is a member of the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking and is also working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as the United Nations, local police agencies, and other organizations on a variety of initiatives that address human trafficking in all its forms.

Toward a just future

In the coming year, the international community will join together to discuss the creation of environmentally sustainable economies and societies, the theme of the 2016 World Day of Social Justice. Microsoft will be a vocal participant in these discussions. We are already making progress in many areas and look forward to future advances as we work toward our mission of enabling every person on the planet to achieve more.

Partnering to transform teaching and learning in the classroom

Today, there are 1.4 billion students in the world, representing the young men and women who will become the doctors, engineers, teachers, and leaders of tomorrow. Ensuring they are prepared with the twenty-first century skills needed for these jobs—and those that don’t yet exist—is something we think a lot about at Microsoft as we work to empower and inspire students everywhere to follow their dreams.

On February 4, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and I had an opportunity to welcome 400 of our top education partners in Redmond, Washington, during our annual Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS).  This three-day event provides an opportunity for us to connect with many of our most trusted and valued partners to discuss opportunities for educational innovations—from revolutionizing teaching and learning in the classroom to providing real-time access to data-driven insights that can help school leaders better track individual student progress and needs.

The way teaching and learning happens is continually transforming with the rise of more personalized, evidence-based, and adaptive learning models. As we listen to and work hand-in-hand with educators and school leaders around the world, Microsoft understands and embraces this shift. Our company mission is to enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, and education is a core component of that mission. Our products and services are built with education in mind by using a platform approach that allows partners to add value and relevant expertise to local systems to ensure the greatest benefit for educators, students, parents and administrators alike.

Whether it’s leveraging, extending or integrating with Microsoft technology, or deploying, configuring and augmenting our platforms within customer infrastructures, our partners are critical in helping us improve educational opportunities for students worldwide.

Enriching the classroom experience

Learning styles can be as individual as the students themselves, but games and contests are a surefire hit in the classroom. Microsoft partner RedCritter kept this in mind as they created a unique gamification and achievement solution that can be used in any classroom around the world, regardless of curriculum. RedCritter uses a wide range of Microsoft technologies—including Microsoft Azure, Windows 10, and Cortana—to enable teachers to create and award digital badges, skill points, and even give the students virtual currency for their classroom rewards store.

Regardless of subject, these game mechanics make it possible for teachers to create new and exciting learning experiences for their students. By using RedCritter and programs like Minecraft, educators can get a broader set of students interested in and excited about STEM subjects.

Other partners are building on and incorporating products such as Skype, Office 365, OneNote, Office Mix, Sway, and Windows 10 to provide new productivity experiences for students, teachers, and parents alike. In many cases they’re also using these products to connect to a variety of learning management systems (LMS).

Sri Chaitanya Schools and partner Mobiliya in India have developed a dashboard-based system that utilizes Office 365 and Power BI to facilitate communications between teachers, students, and parents and to streamline the delivery of learning management systems content. The school is also using Microsoft Azure to move to a 100 percent digital classroom format and provide a more personalized learning experience for its 12,000 students.

Machine learning and big data go to school

In the back office of education, the evolution of cloud and big data technology is enabling scenarios that are truly transforming the industry. You’ve heard me talk about the ways that Azure cloud technologies are being used to help Pierce Elementary School in Arlington, Massachusetts, realize significant energy savings with the Azure platform and partner Iconics. And more is happening. Partners are helping redefine the category of education services, often enabling new scenarios, such as automated security systems that use face recognition, or solutions that predict equipment failures before they happen by using IoT-based solutions—reducing facilities management expenses. The possibilities are endless.

In the realm of big data and machine learning, educational institutions are now able to take advantage of in-the-moment, data-driven insights that inform their policies and planning. Azure Machine Learning is being used by multiple institutions, including Tacoma Public Schools and Cleveland Municipal School District in Michigan, to assist with dropout prevention and performance forecasting. The latter is using PowerBI and Azure Machine Learning for Early Warning Indicator programs to prevent dropouts, raise student enrollment, and improve student and teacher performance.

In the past, such capabilities would have required the availability of server infrastructure and machine learning experts, restricting the benefits to those schools that could afford the associated costs. But today, it’s a lot easier to take advantage of these technologies, and even schools in the developing world can benefit.

Microsoft investments in education

At Microsoft, we believe that computational thinking and problem solving skills are relevant for every job in every sector in the twenty-first century, and are an important aspect of our educational systems today. The effective use of technology to support teachers can transform education, inspire learning anywhere, and unlock the potential of all young people. To promote this agenda, we take a multi-faceted approach to encouraging the study of STEM curriculum in schools and in helping students to develop computational thinking approaches.

Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we are investing $75M in community programs to increase access to computer science education for all youth, especially for those from under-represented backgrounds, and build greater diversity into the tech talent pipeline. This initiative includes programs like DigiGirlz, that help reduce the gender gap by giving high school girls a chance to learn about careers in technology and participate in technology workshops. Other programs, such as Microsoft Imagine and TEALS, give students around the world the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology activities.

Microsoft has a long history of enabling teachers and schools with resources, support, and skills to help prepare the next generation for the opportunities ahead. In addition, we provide professional development to government policymakers, school leaders, and educators around the world to take new approaches to teaching and learning, by using technology to develop twenty-first century skills.

All of this is possible thanks to the support from a wonderful ecosystem of partners whose specialization adds to the value we can bring to different education systems around the world.

Creating opportunity and transforming lives with technology

This week, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith was in Washington, D.C., to support the World Bank launch of the 2016 World Development Report (WDR2016). This annual report, published since 1979, examines the economic, social, and environmental state of the world today and offers in-depth analysis and policy recommendations on specific aspects of development. The 2016 report, “Digital Dividends,” focuses on the role that technology plays in global advancement, with particular emphasis on developing countries. Joining other leaders from academia, policy, government, and development, Brad discussed the findings in this year’s report.

According to the WDR2016, the benefits of digital technologies are heavily skewed toward wealthy and influential populations, creating a digital gap between those who have access and those who don’t. The World Bank estimates that four billion people worldwide have no access to the Internet, signifying that 60 percent of the world’s population is excluded from the digital economy and resulting development opportunities.

Brad’s participation in this event continues Microsoft’s commitment to working with the World Bank and other global leaders to address this problem. Microsoft believes that technology has the power to enable every individual and organization on the planet to achieve more. Our mission is aligned with ensuring that people all over the world have the tools, education, and access to technology that will help transform their lives for the better. Although much work is yet to be done, progress is already being made towards many of the recommendations in “Digital Dividends.”

Creating opportunity

The Internet has the ability to profoundly improve the lives of billions of individuals, bringing education, information, and economic opportunities within reach. Perhaps nowhere is the Internet more important than in the developing world, where citizens often lack electricity—much less reliable and affordable Internet access.

Nanyuki, in rural Kenya, is just such a place. A technology called TV white spaces is bringing the Internet to rural areas via underutilized broadcast bandwidth and solar power. A recycled shipping container serves as an Internet café and is enabling enterprising citizens to earn a living online. The technology, which is also bringing the Internet to schools and to the Red Cross, is changing lives in Kenya.

The same technology is being used to deliver online healthcare services to regions of Botswana currently without adequate primary care or access to broadband. Microsoft, the University of Pennsylvania, Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), and Global Broadband Solutions (GBS) partnered to deliver low-cost, long-range broadband to remote areas of the country utilizing TV white spaces. Now, healthcare providers can consult with patients in isolated locations as well as send high-resolution patient images to specialists and facilities around the world. As a result, providers are delivering more accurate diagnoses and better patient care, and increasing the scale and reach of health services across Botswana.

Bringing digital innovations mainstream

Microsoft has always been committed to enabling access to technology innovations and placing these advanced tools in the hands of the people who need them the most. Cloud computing is a prime example. The cloud has revolutionized the way business is conducted by providing anywhere, anytime access to data, with an added layer of security and flexibility. Microsoft is bringing this technology to the mainstream.

With Microsoft Azure, a collection of integrated cloud services, Microsoft is enabling organizations like Partners in Health (PIH) to bring critical assistance to underserved populations in remote corners of the globe. Today, virtual teams working around the world—from jungles in Africa to the mountains of Mexico to remote villages in Russia—are using cloud technology to communicate and share information as they provide life-saving healthcare and give hope to those in need. Whether the team is aiding HIV patients in Haiti or monitoring oncology patients in Africa, the ability to aggregate, share and access information remotely is leading to better standards of care and improving the lives of people in distant areas.

Cloud technology may seem like an odd partner for small farmers in Kenya, but they too are reaping benefits. Kenya AGIN is a cloud-based service which uses farmer profile and production data to provide critical transparency in the agricultural value-chain. The service collects profile information on small-holder farmers, links it to their production and transactional data, and uses that information to make vital links between the farmer and his services providers. As a result, an un-banked farmer can establish credit- worthiness, ultimately opening up all kinds of possibilities.

Cloud-based services like AGIN are increasingly at the center of the agricultural revolution in Africa, helping to increase yield, provide traceability, and grow markets for small-holder farmers in developing economies. The solution is currently serving over 200K farmers in Kenya and growing, and is set to deploy to other countries in the region.

Microsoft cloud technology is also helping organizations provide people with the skills and education needed for a twenty-first century workforce. The University of Belgrano in Argentina is using Microsoft Azure to provide a secure, efficient online learning environment for students who may not live near its academic campuses. The university moved its programs from an open source platform onto Azure, citing reliability and security concerns with the previous solution. Now, the university offers its virtual degree programs safely and securely to over 3,000 students sprinkled throughout the country, providing opportunities that otherwise may not have existed.

Toward a brighter tomorrow

We believe that technology can be a powerful agent of change in solving many of the challenges facing countries today as they move toward sustainable growth and development models. As the World Bank addresses digital development issues, Microsoft is working with the Bank in the development of the Digital Adoption Index (DAI), a composite index measuring the spread of digital technologies within and across countries. The Index charts the extent to which digital technologies are available and adopted by all the key agents in an economy: people, businesses and governments, providing a comprehensive picture of technology diffusion.  Using real-time World Bank data, the DAI will be used to help countries and governments examine where they stand and guide them in prioritizing their initiatives as they seek to improve their standing.

As Microsoft makes progress in supporting the World Bank and other organizations in their efforts to achieve the recommendations outlined in the WDR2016, we are committed to providing affordable broadband access for all, to promoting and protecting the digital infrastructure, and to mainstreaming digital innovations so that people all over the world can benefit.

To listen to Brad’s comments at the launch of the WDR2016, please see the following webcast.

Inspire, transform, empower: A look back at 2015 for Microsoft in worldwide public sector…

Inspire, Transform, Empower: A look back at 2015 for Microsoft in Worldwide Public Sector…

The previous 12 months have been an exciting time for the Worldwide Public Sector team at Microsoft, as we’ve worked in support of our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. From improving social services in the United Kingdom, to helping eradicate poverty in rural India, to improving incident response and water conservation efforts in North America, I’m proud of the work we’ve done this year to deliver positive societal and global impact. From all of us on the Worldwide Public Sector team at Microsoft, we hope that you are as inspired as we are by the stories that follow.

2015 Worldwide Public Sector Story Highlights:


Nottinghamshire County Council: Nottinghamshire County Council boosts social care
Like much of local government, Nottinghamshire County Council, one of the UK’s largest councils, is working in an environment of reduced government funding coupled with rising costs and a higher demand for services, especially in the area of social care. To increase efficiencies and improve the quality of services they deliver to citizens, Nottinghamshire County Council has implemented a cloud solution that enables staff to access work data, files, and colleagues wherever they are. Now, social workers have the information they need at their fingertips to provide the best possible service to local families, and productivity has increased by 17 percent.

Forensic Advantage Systems: Law enforcement builds cases, protects community with cloud-based forensics application
Forensic labs, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies are always looking for new tools that increase efficiency to help them solve crimes and build cases. That’s where Forensic Advantage Systems comes in. The company’s Incident Response 360 application enables crime scene and mass disaster responders to document, collaborate, and reconstruct an incident in a highly secured Microsoft Azure Government cloud, usable in both connected and disconnected modes.

San Francisco Public Utilities: How the cloud can help San Francisco Public Utilities Commission weather the drought
California water shortages and a record drought have prompted the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, to tell agencies, such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, to lower their water usage by 25 percent. Working in conjunction with OSIsoft a maker of smart sensor platforms, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is using Microsoft cloud technologies to gain instant access to information that leads to faster decisions and more effective operations, such as being able to move water around the system, reduce the amount of overflows, and treat higher quality water. And, moving operations to the cloud will save the agency the cost of servers, hardware, and software so that they can focus on giving people what they depend on every day: water.


Peirce School: Primary school’s energy management transformed by cloud-based insights
The Peirce School in Arlington, Massachusetts, used the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform to host its fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) technology from ICONICS, building a system to monitor heating and cooling equipment. The system increased the speed of problem detection by 15 percent, reduced energy consumption, and cut outside contractor costs. It is now slated for a second school and helped pave the way for state funding for other FDD projects

Al Amal School for Deaf Students: School for the deaf builds dynamic lessons, improves learning with cloud-based services

Al Amal School for Deaf Students in the United Arab Emirates educates children in kindergarten through grade 12. To help teachers build engaging lessons, the school worked with Microsoft to deploy a new solution based on Microsoft Office 365 that aids faculty in creating sign-language videos, improves teacher-student communication, facilitates independent learning, and encourages parent involvement.

City of Lviv: City of Lviv modernizes data collection, drives city transformation with shift to cloud
To help visitors find local sites of interest, the city of Lviv, Ukraine, built Tourist Information Centers (TICs), where tourists can ask questions, pick up brochures, and learn about the city. TIC employees collect demographic data, which the city uses to improve tourist services. To modernize its manual spreadsheet-based data collection, Lviv deployed a new information portal built on Microsoft Azure that improves data accuracy and speeds up report generation.


Tacoma Public Schools: Predicting student dropout risks, increasing graduation rates with cloud analytics

Is it possible to predict whether students are at risk of dropping out of school? The Tacoma Public School district thinks so. By using predictive analytics tools based on Microsoft cloud technologies, the district is providing comprehensive data snapshots of student success indicators and has already helped improve graduation rates from 55 to 78 percent.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: Dartmouth-Hitchcock ushers in a new age of proactive, personalized healthcare using Cortana Analytics Suite
In the Upper Connecticut River valley, an unprecedented effort is underway that could revolutionize the US healthcare system. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, an unlikely team of experts from a broad swath of industries—from medicine to retail, entertainment, publishing, and hospitality—is fearlessly and persistently challenging the status quo of modern healthcare. They’re piloting a highly coordinated, intensely personalized solution that encompasses physical, mental, and emotional health.

City of Surat: Surat becomes a safer, smarter city with new technologies for policing and service delivery
The rapidly growing city of Surat, India, decided to adopt new technologies to increase the efficiency of city operations. The Municipal Commissioner has improved access to services through an online Virtual Civic Center and is working on a City Dashboard to better track services delivery. The Police Commissioner has reduced crime by 27 percent in parts of the city with a new video-enabled command center, and a new application management system helps citizens submit paperwork to the city and track progress online.


Optolexia: Swedish researchers build dyslexia screening tool with cloud-based analytics solution
Optolexia, founded by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, built a dyslexia screening tool for young children. By using a repository of eye-tracking data and an analytical engine built with cloud-based Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, Optolexia aims to help schools identify students at risk for dyslexia significantly earlier than current screening tests. With early diagnosis, students can receive appropriate treatments to boost learning skills and improve academic performance.

Ministry of Rural Development: India-wide skills-matching and payments solution helps 128 million laborers find work

The mission of India’s Ministry of Rural Development is the sustainable and inclusive growth of rural India through a multipronged strategy for eradication of poverty by increasing livelihoods, providing a social safety net, and developing infrastructure for growth. As part of their efforts, the ministry created a work registry, job-matching, and payments system that uses Microsoft technologies. Hosted on the government/private cloud, the system aims to ensure livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Modesto City Schools: California school district adopts Windows-based devices for better teaching and learning
To improve teaching and learning, Modesto City Schools is standardizing on devices running the Windows operating system for all staff and students. With 12,000 devices today, growing to 45,000 in five years, Modesto Schools likes the performance, low cost, and digital inking technology provided by Windows-based devices. It has also rolled out Microsoft Office 365 to give all staff and students cloud-based access to the latest productivity and collaboration tools.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the ways technology is transforming the public sector. For more on Microsoft and our work to empower organizations and individuals, please visit our Public Sector industry sites found below.

Microsoft in Health

Microsoft in Government

Microsoft CityNext

Empowering the public sector

At Microsoft, our major focus is on using technology to enable individuals and organizations around the world to achieve more. Our solutions for the public sector are designed to empower and inspire our customers, allowing them to address challenges, increase competitiveness, and realize dreams.

My new blog intends to start a dialogue and share new ideas on how our public sector customers are using technology to accomplish their most important goals, while putting their countries and communities on a path toward greater peace, sustainability, and resilience.

Join me as we see how government leaders around the globe are utilizing technology to create a better future for their citizens. By showing how leading-edge technology can help countries deliver higher quality citizen services, transform education systems and learning in the classroom, or provide quality health care for marginalized populations, my aim is to jumpstart the conversation and inspire leaders to implement the most effective programs with the greatest results.

Those of us in the Worldwide Public Sector group at Microsoft are dedicated to helping national leaders and public sector organizations accomplish their toughest challenges quickly, cost-effectively, and with lasting impact.

I hope you find this blog both inspiring and informative. I look forward to hearing from you!

Toni Townes-Whitley on Empowering the Public Sector

Toni Townes-Whitley
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector and Industry

As corporate vice president of Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, Toni Townes-Whitley is responsible for leading a team of over 2,000 sales professionals serving government, public safety, education, and non-privatized healthcare customers and partners in more than 100 countries worldwide.

From enabling and transforming smart cities of the future, to helping government officials take advantage of technologies to deliver higher quality citizen services at lower cost, to aiding scientists in developing new treatments for improving patient care, to providing school administrators with a more holistic picture of the factors that influence dropout rates, Townes-Whitley is passionate about creating positive societal and global impact. By aligning Microsoft public sector programs and organizational priorities with the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Townes-Whitley drives advancement and change in keeping with Microsoft’s new mission, “empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Prior to joining Microsoft, Townes-Whitley was president of CGI Federal, where she was responsible for a portfolio of more than $1 billion, leading 6,600 employees in over 70 countries to deliver greater value to US Government civilian, defense, and intelligence sectors. Prior to her role at CGI, Townes-Whitley held several management roles at Unisys Corporation leading global public sector systems integration and the Federal Civilian group, where she achieved 500 percent revenue growth and doubled profitability.

Townes-Whitley is a graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and has received certifications from Wharton Executive Education, New York University (NYU), and the Performance Management Institute. A writer and presenter on topics of IT innovation and application, Townes-Whitley has collaborated with organizations such as Council for Excellence in Government, the Minority Enterprise Executive Council, Industry Advisory Council, Princeton University, NYU, and numerous others.

She sits on the board of directors for United Way, the Women’s Center of Northern Virginia, and Leadership Foundry—an organization that prepares women to serve on corporate boards. She also continues to support the US Peace Corps and is a former volunteer who served three years as a village teacher in Central Africa.

Townes-Whitley and her husband have five children and two grandchildren. In her free time, Townes-Whitley enjoys writing and is finishing her first screenplay.

 Visit Toni Townes-Whitley on Linkedin      Visit Toni Townes-Whitley on Twitter