Microsoft helps people and organisations all over the world to do more with technology. Today, the company provides businesses and individuals with cloud computing , Artificial Intelligence and Security solutions to carry out digital transformation projects. The company has been active in Italy for over 35 years with over 850.000 employees and a network of 10.000 partners and over 350.000 professionals/experts in Microsoft technologies. Recently, Microsoft Italia launched a 5-year investment plan for Italy with a value of 1.5 billion US dollars, confirming its commitment to supporting innovation and growth in Italy, and announcing its intention to launch the first Regione Data Center of Microsoft Italy in Milan. Capitalising on and extending the ecosystem project titled “Ambizione Italia” launched in 2018, the new investment plan, titled “Ambizione Italia hashtag DigitalRestart” will create new opportunities to allow people and businesses to grow and support economic development. Microsoft will allow businesses to access Cloud services locally and thanks to its renewed partnership with Poste Italiane (the Italian postal service) it will offer digital training programmes and support for smart working during the restarting phase, offering them access to “AI hub” and programmes designed specifically for PMI. It will also support the country by launching an Alliance for Sustainability to create an Open Innovation ecosystem on green topics.
How did Microsoft deal with the crisis?
Our unique role as a supplier of platforms and tools allows us to create an ecosystem of partners and allows organisations of all sizes to develop digital capabilities necessary to face these challenges; no company would have been able to manage such a dramatic situation on its own… On the other hand, while the world was reacting to this crisis that was exploding, our thoughts were with the individuals who were hit by this and the professionals and doctors who were working to help those in greatest need. In this spirit, at Microsoft we guaranteed our employees’ safety and immediately activated to promote the health and wellbeing of the communities we work in and to offer technology, suggestions and resources to our clients to help them to do their work as best as possible remotely. Specifically, we made certain solutions available for free to allow people to collaborate and share remotely and, with the support of our partners, we offered our skills and consultancy to help businesses to embrace these new models. In terms of Education, we trained over 100.000 in the use of different types of digital learning tools, reaching over 1 million students who were able to continue learning through the use of these technological solutions. Over 70% of Italian universities embraced our Team product to continue to stay in contact with students. With regard to health, we launched a number of programmes: these included the Healthcare Bot to help users better self-evaluate symptoms and various research projects.
What type of resources were needed, and which did you find at Microsoft?
The most important resource was without a doubt our colleagues’ strength, who, with a strong sense of responsibility and empathy faced up to a very difficult moment, supporting each other and adding value to our ecosystem. There were also many initiatives to help those in need; we increased capacity in our data centres to better support clients and partners in key sectors, such as healthcare and education. We also created ad hoc solutions for hospitals to be able to quickly visualize and add data regarding ventilators, staff, ongoing patient discharge procedures and Covid-19 patients, a digital display dashboard for the Italian Civil Protection Agency, which could be shared with and used by the entire population and which reported aggregate data for national cases divided by region and city, as well as solutions for dealing with crises and contagion within the company. Furthermore, as we moved into phase 2, we made available solutions for anonymously guaranteeing distancing between employees within the company, as well as, with the same aim, creating a solution for reserving desks upon the employees’ return to our offices.
What values were already present in the company and which emerged in this moment of need?
Microsoft’s strength are most certainly the people who work for the company, the employees all over the world who work every day to gain our clients’ trust and to help them to be successful. Every employee embraced our mission during these months and virtual teams were created to help businesses, teachers and non-profit organisations to use digital tools to manage the crisis and the recovery that followed it. One area we’re particularly proud of regards diversity and inclusion – which continue to be a fundamental priority for Microsoft – and which saw clients, partners and associations collaborate to make the country more accessible during the pandemic. We also organised a digital Hackathon, asking all developers and anyone else interested to design innovative solutions that would resolve problems relating to disability. There were incredibly interesting projects and the winner created an application that makes it possible to instantaneously read sign language during a video call. This demonstrates how barriers can be torn down with technology and artificial intelligence.
What role have your colleague played in this?
Our colleagues were at the forefront of activities that ranged from providing support to schools (to enable them to continue with lessons) to universities (which, through Teams, were able to move forward with their planned activities), to churches and non-profit organisations. We worked with Parks and with Milano Pride, supporting them in holding some of their meetings (through a Teams communication and collaboration platform). We organised ourselves like a real community, with each of us contributing what was needed in order to support each component so that they could keep going with their business, their campaign to support those in need, and their fight for gender equality.
How did your clients and suppliers react to the emergency?
During the pandemic, we worked with our partners to continue to support businesses in making the best of the digital world in order to manage the emergency and plan for restarting. Our clients distinguished themselves by accomplishing incredible digital transformations, which saw Microsoft Cloud and collaboration technologies to enable smart working adopted in record times. At the same time, our partners, who share the company culture and who were already in a position to work remotely, did great work in supporting clients, given the initial difficulties experienced due to distance. This is the ecosystem that we were able to create, believing both that it is possible to include and transform with technology, and believing in resilience in the face of critical issues that are not (and will never be) entirely predictable.
How important was it to innovate in order to be able to manage this crisis?
The world made a leap forward in the space of two weeks, in terms of digital transformation, that usually takes two years. And digital solutions demonstrated that they were efficient tools for managing this emergency and planning to relaunch afterwards. Technological solutions enabled businesses and institutions to remain operational and enabled students to continue their studies. It is true that our country was behind in terms of innovation, which certainly resulted in some being left behind, in spite of the improvements that were made. I hope that the lessons learned during this period will allow our country to rethink the strategic role of the digital dimension for both the growth of our businesses and to create a more inclusive country.
What do you think people will take from this experience?
Our hope is that everything that individuals, organisations and institutions had to deal with (and are still dealing with) has created a watershed moment, a turning point that will lead us toward a new and more efficient way of working, studying, of viewing transformation ,and to valuing inclusion. I also hope that it leaves us with a greater awareness of the fact that, with the right tools and appropriate culture, it is possible to manage any emergency.
What about tomorrow?
We will continue to work side by side with our clients to help them build their own digital capacities and will continue to innovate the cloud to help our clients to grow, we will continue to invest in diversity and inclusion to create a better and more sustainable world.