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How governments are delivering essential services while responding to the crisis

a group of people walking down the street

This is the second in a series of three blog posts related to Crisis Response. Read the first blog in the series by Daniel Sumner.

For many governments, the world changed on March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. While several had been planning and preparing months in advance to address the virus and its cascading effects, many governments were unfortunately caught off guard by its rapid spread and were left scrambling to find ways to keep the numerous varied aspects of government from completely shutting down.

Fighting the pandemic and its fallout have been incremental challenges on top of government’s responsibility to provide “everyday services” such as providing social benefits and support to citizens with existing needs, delivering the mail, and issuing business or building permits—all of which help keep the economy from collapsing. Additionally, governments are experiencing historic levels of applications for social service benefits from citizens affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Governments need to address this unique combination of challenges, and do it while maintaining social distancing and following other COVID-19 safety protocols, which in many cases meant government offices being shut indefinitely.

However, several months into the pandemic there is cause for hope. While the virus continues to ebb and flow at different rates around the world, most governments are getting a good grip on the situation as they adjust to “the new normal.” Thanks in large part to the use of technology, many governments are now able to maintain vital services that citizens depend on day to day, while they were also creating new functions required to address the unprecedented public health, economic, and societal challenges associated with COVID-19.

Of course, the technology industry has not been sitting still in the face of this global crisis. Microsoft has been investing heavily to increase the scale and security of technology offerings. Those of us on Microsoft’s Government Industry Team are leveraging technology applications from other industries to help governments address their current set of challenges.

One example is a new offer just launched in July to help the retail industry combat fraud: the new Dynamics Fraud Protection offering was originally developed for retail, using sophisticated AI and Machine Learning technology to prevent fraud. Governments are unfortunately experiencing historic levels of social benefit fraud, which has coincided with the historic increase of social benefit applications mentioned earlier. Governments are beginning to adopt the Account Protection module from this new Dynamics service to prevent fraudulent accounts from being created, effectively preventing fraudulent benefit payments.

Another example comes from leveraging a healthcare use case: telemedicine and televisits. Governments face the challenge of maintaining continuity of care for their citizen-clients receiving social care and benefits. We are working with partners such as Avanade, Accenture, and others to adapt the Microsoft Teams Virtual Visits functionality originally created for telemedicine in the healthcare industry to meet the specific needs of government social services customers.

Increasingly governments are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered Bots and Virtual Assistants to help answer citizen’s questions and enable self-service as this blog post from Dana Barnes Microsoft VP of US State & Local Government illustrates.

These are just a few examples of how governments have transformed virtually overnight by implementing innovative and transformative technology solutions that facilitate cross-agency collaboration, enable government employees to remotely access to government systems, and ensure the delivery of trusted and secure services to citizens, business, and other stakeholders—all while ensuring security and compliance requirements.

Here are some additional examples of how governments are using Microsoft technology to run their operations and serve their citizens while responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Remote employee access to government systems:

Traditionally, most government workplaces have required their workers to come into an office and use government-specific applications running on ‘enterprise’ computers on a government network. When COVID-19 safety protocols dictated that offices around the world must close, many governments turned to Microsoft and its partners to help them enable remote work for their employees without sacrificing security or compliance. These solutions have enabled governments to maintain continuity operations and continue to deliver essential services to citizens and businesses.

The city of Langnau am Albis in Switzerland is using Microsoft 365 to maintain operations for the community and provide secure communication and collaboration. Recently they conducted their first virtual municipal council meeting which took place using Teams.

Likewise, the Lleida City Council in Spain is using virtual desktop technology along with Teams to enable over 1600 employees to work from home and maintain operations across the city.

For years the Gauteng Government in South Africa has taken steps on their digital transformation journey to enable its employees to work from home. However, those plans were accelerated due to the COVID-19 crisis. The adoption of Microsoft 356, and especially Microsoft Teams, has enhanced communication and collaboration across the government’s enterprise.

Cross-agency collaboration:

There has never been a more important time for government entities to coordinate and collaborate to ensure an effective response to the pandemic and ensure efficient operations. Microsoft Teams and applications built on Azure and Power Platform delivered by Microsoft partners are enabling new ways of collaboration across government agencies.

For example, Microsoft partner Radix has helped the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development (BAID) create an app that matches medical and dental care providers seeking Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the manufactures and associations providing PPE. This app is helping protect frontline health workers across Brazil.

Deliver trusted and secure services:

Governments exist to serve their citizens, and Microsoft technologies are helping ensure essential services are not interrupted during this crisis.

For example, the Cheshire West and Chester Council, United Kingdom is using a Bot to help answer the 500 percent increase in citizen inquiries about topics ranging from coronavirus symptoms and social care to changes with the Council Tax to waste collection, among others. This has freed Council staff to work on other aspects of service delivery.

The Poste Italiane (Italian Postal Service) is partnering with Microsoft to accelerate its digital transformation plans to modernize the Postal Service and speed the nation’s recovery by using AI and Dynamics 365 among other technologies.

In Sao Palo, Brazil, the Bom Prato program from the Secretariat of Social Development of the State of Sao Palo is helping feed 8000 meals to the homeless throughout the city of Sao Palo. This is enabled by an app created on the Power Apps platform and Dynamics 365 used by field agents assisting the homeless.

These are just a few examples of how governments are using Microsoft’s latest technologies to not only respond to this crisis but adapt to the ‘new normal’ and set themselves up to successfully deal with the next crisis—which hopefully will not take place anytime soon.

Learn more about Microsoft in Government.

For the latest information, updates, and resources from Microsoft, visit: Responding to COVID-19 together.