The past 20 months have been incredibly challenging for public sector organizations across the globe, with the global COVID-19 pandemic forcing a rapid to shift to remote work amid heightened demand for vital public services. We witnessed firsthand the way agencies that had pursued digital transformation before the pandemic were more resilient to unprecedented challenges. We also witnessed the way U.S. federal, state and local government agencies and educational institutions stepped up to support people, the economy and public health by embracing digital transformation:
- Morehouse College, Indiana University and public schools like those in the District of Columbia moved thousands of students to virtual learning, using Teams and Surface laptops.
- Government agencies across the country stepped up testing, vaccine distribution and more with help from Microsoft Vaccination Management.
- DC Water digitized processes to remotely support customers, keep staff safe and cut costs via Microsoft Azure and PowerApps.
- Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma used the Microsoft Cloud to develop a member portal for the tribal community to access services such as pandemic economic relief payments quickly and securely.
Today, the public sector increasingly recognizes the importance of digital approaches to foster innovation and prepare for future challenges. At Microsoft, the public sector mission is our mission, and the lessons we have learned together will help realize our vision of a safe, healthy and sustainable world in which digital technologies are seamlessly integrated into everyday life. During the Microsoft U.S. Public Sector Summit, we identified several areas of focus that will be key to achieving that vision:
- Navigating the new world of work
- Harnessing the power of data
- Strengthening cybersecurity and infrastructure
The future of work
Among the most immediate consequences of the pandemic was a rapid shift to remote work, which enabled public sector agencies to maintain critical operations and delivery of services. As some workers now begin to return to the office, governmental and educational institutions must adapt to a new, hybrid era. According to employee surveys, the new world of work requires leaders to embrace flexibility and foster a culture of trust. Our own surveys find that employees crave more in-person time with their teams but wish to maintain the flexibility of remote work.
To support the diverse needs of their employees while continuing to meet their mission, public sector organizations must embrace digital tools that support collaboration and productivity, and ensure employees feel integrated into their team and organizational culture. Microsoft Teams, for example, has made hybrid environments work worldwide, bringing colleagues together virtually and enhancing workplace engagement for employees, wherever they are.
The power of data
Government agencies and academic institutions collect massive amounts of data each day. Leveraging that data for predictive analytics enables greater insights for decision-making and helps organizations better serve their communities – for example, improving equity and access by identifying resource and funding needs. This capability, coupled with the power of cloud and AI, can support vulnerable communities, improve transportation systems and infrastructure and bolster graduation rates:
- Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare boosted case worker capacity and moved vulnerable children out of foster care by sharing critical data securely and in real-time with Dynamics 365.
- Nebraska Department of Education is using data to quickly identify where resources should be applied to improve student success, graduation rates and other key metrics.
- U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched separate projects leveraging Azure Government cloud computing to develop climate models that accurately assess extreme weather risk to fleet operations and coastal communities.
- National Institutes of Health is using Microsoft Azure to support its Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability initiative, accelerating biomedical research.
The urgency of cybersecurity
Microsoft’s latest Digital Defense report found that the United States was the target of nearly half of all nation-state attacks in the past year, with nearly 50 percent of these attacks directed against government agencies. These nation-state attackers are well-funded and employ advanced and increasingly sophisticated techniques against their targets. Further, as the public and private sectors continue to enable hybrid work, the attack surface for cyber threats has expanded, and threat actors have been quick to exploit vulnerabilities.
All industries, especially public sector entities, need to be more vigilant than ever to protect against these new and emerging cyber threats. The best approach is to apply Zero Trust principles across systems and networks – protecting people, devices, applications and data no matter their location or the scale of threats faced. As tech industry leaders, we have committed to work closely with public sector partners on cybersecurity by:
- Investing $20 billion to advance our security solutions over the next five years, including $150 million to help U.S. government agencies upgrade protections.
- Skilling 250,000 people in cybersecurity by 2025 to cut the U.S. cybersecurity talent gap in half, in partnership with community colleges and nonprofits.
- Reducing barriers to sharing vital information across private and public sector organizations.
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic future, public sector organizations that embrace modern technologies will be able to recover and rebuild faster and emerge even stronger. We at Microsoft are honored to be partners in that process toward a digitally enabled, connected and resilient future. Together, we look forward to continuing our work to empower organizations, communities, and citizens in every part of the globe to achieve more.
For more on how we are serving the public sector mission, check out our U.S. Public Sector Summit page.