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How Covid-19 compressed years of digital transformation into months: lessons from Microsoft

How Covid-19 compressed years of digital transformation into months: lessons from Microsoft

Sayed Hashish, general manager, Microsoft UAE, tells Gulf Business how technology will continue to play an active role in hybrid working beyond the onset of this decade

Q1. What changes must C-suite executives ring in, to foster long-term productivity?
The initial global response to the Covid-19 pandemic compressed two years of digital transformation into two months. This trend is accelerating and we’re at an inflection point where the “old” ways of doing business will no longer suffice. Organisations must be fast adopters of best-in-class technology to overcome the dynamic economic challenges posted by global health, travel, and commerce restrictions.

At the same time, organisations must grow their ability to build their own digital capability.

One area that has been most obviously affected is of course remote work: work from-home rates have dramatically increased and it is anticipated that these will continue to remain high once the pandemic ends. These changes will naturally affect ways of working and impact upon productivity.

Our work trends index paints a differentiated picture when it comes to remote work: although a majority of workers have reported upsides to working from home, many are also dealing with burn out and fewer boundaries around their personal lives.

In addition to embracing technology to improve our workplaces and improve productivity, C-Suite leaders should also consider how to build other digital capabilities – from moving their operations to the cloud to automating processes within their respective industries. In aviation, Etihad Airways used Microsoft Teams, power apps, and Power BI to move an unprecedented 70 per cent of its employees to remote work in just two weeks and will continue using these tools to improve other areas of the business. In healthcare, Daman Health Insurance has activated Microsoft Health Bot solutions to conduct patient assessments for Covid-19, to share general medical information and doctor recommendations, a practice that may well outlast the pandemic and ring in a new era of telemedicine for the provider.

Q2. What technological changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic are here to stay?
Remote working is one of the greatest of changes that we have seen accelerate during the course of this year, something that has become familiar to all of us. Empowering organisations to work remotely has significantly changed our day-to-day lives and has been the catalyst for technological advancement, accelerated through pure necessity.

Organisations have driven forward their own digital transformation by utilising the power of the intelligent cloud to empower their employees, optimise their operations, engage customers, and in some cases, change the very core of their products and services.

In fact, despite the hits to IT budgets, market research company International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that digital transformation spending will continue to grow in 2020.

The UAE is a hub for innovation, with a tech-savvy approach, and over the course of this year we have seen businesses embrace a reimagining of their industries. Majid Al Futtaim ventures, for one, is undergoing a retail transformation through Dynamics 365 and Office 365, transforming customer experiences and cross-selling and up-selling opportunities across business units, as revenue is increased.

Telecoms operator du is working with Microsoft on a strategic partnership employing artificial intelligence.

Those businesses that have had the foresight to engage on a digital transformation journey are seeing the fruits of their labor. The scalability offered by the cloud is increasing cost savings, as businesses can adapt fit and cost according to need. And with efficient, agile, and self-sufficient tools, cloud services are keeping employees productive across organisations.

Q3. Is a hybrid working model the way to move forward?
The pandemic has simultaneously introduced a hybrid working and learning model to industries all around the world at a grand scale for the first time. From this shared experience, all of us have collectively learned the value of hybrid working and the benefits to be gained from this approach.

Many experts are seeing these changes as permanent and all the signs are that remote working will shape the new decade to come for workplaces and for industries. A study by Forrester consulting found that 57 per cent of business leaders are introducing more flexible work from home policies. And the Microsoft Work Trends Index report is aligned with these findings.

More broadly, seven in 10 employees reported a desire to continue working from home at-least part time, finding this results in higher productivity and better use of time. The report also found that remote working drives more empathy among colleagues. Some 62 per cent of respondents said they feel more empathetic toward their colleagues now that they have a better view of life at home.

The Ministry of Education was a frontrunner in adapting to remote learning models. Over 600,000 students migrated to smart learning driven by AI and Zayed Health Organisation for People of Determination is using Microsoft innovative technology to communicate with students and engage them with a broad series of activities including assistive reading and writing, as well as equipping them with interpersonal and self-reliance skills.

Q4. Are we expecting a deluge of technology investments across companies in various industries?
Certainly, for the short to medium term, there are tighter budgets as companies address business resilience measures. So, there won’t be large-scale spending until the longer-term. We can expect to see an increase down the tracks however, with research from IFS showing that people concerned with economic disruption were 20 per cent more likely to plan increased spending on digital transformation.

The digitalisation of global GDP will beat the 60 per cent of global GDP previously predicted for 2022 – I think that we could see a figure in excess of this now. The planning on technology has seen 52 per cent of organisations stating they will increase their spending on DX.

Q5. Lastly, how does Microsoft plan to achieve its target of zero-waste operations by 2030?
Microsoft launched a comprehensive environmental sustainability initiative earlier this year, which aims to protect the world’s ecosystems and reduce carbon emissions that come from the creation, distribution and disposal of waste.

The four key areas of focus to protect our environment include going beyond carbon neutrality to become carbon negative, building tools to understand ecosystems and address water scarcity and eliminating waste through material reuse, recycling and reducing material source consumption.

With regard to waste, we have set ourselves some ambitious goals: by 2030, we want to achieve, at a minimum, 75 per cent diversion of construction and demolition waste for all our building projects. We will reduce nearly as much waste as we generate, through reusing, repurposing or recycling our solid, compost, electronics, construction and demolition, and hazardous waste.

We’ll do this by building Microsoft Circular Centres, to reuse and repurpose servers and hardware in our data centres.

We’ll also eliminate single-use plastics in our packaging and use technology to improve our waste accounting. We will make new investments in Closed Loop Partners’ funds. And finally, we’ll enlist our own employees to reduce their own waste footprints.

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