Digital Transformation in a Post Covid-19 World
In our Zoom for Thought on January 27th, 2021, UCD Discovery Director Professor Patricia Maguire spoke to Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland about “Digital Transformation in a Post COVID-19 World”. In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts.
No business, in Ireland or globally, is immune to the COVID-19 crisis and no organisation can be 100% resilient. But businesses that implemented digital capabilities “have been able to pivot much quicker and respond to their customer needs”. Both the public and private sectors embraced technology “in a remarkable way and that trend is continuing”. We are now “at an inflection point where the old ways of doing business will no longer suffice. Organisations have to be fast adopters of technology if they really want to hit head-on the economic challenges that they're facing”.
Microsoft’s first priority “has been about connecting our customers with their employees and with their own customers to make sure that they continue to run their businesses”. Mayo County Council is a “great example” of how to harness Microsoft Teams technology effectively. Not only did they use it to connect their 1,300 staff, “but they've also created a COVID-19 helpline to connect residents and communities across the county to their services, which I think was really innovative”.
New Employment Opportunities
Lockdown resulted in a rapid emergence of new employment opportunities “in digital marketing, cloud services, customer experience and engineering. Those jobs of the future are quickly becoming a reality today”. At the same time thousands more have lost their jobs across the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors. Microsoft announced a global skills initiative last June with the target of helping 25 million people worldwide to upskill digitally and improve their employment prospects.
Volunteers helped the charity Enable Ireland to leverage Microsoft Teams to provide virtual services during lockdown. “It started as a pilot in their Dublin service centre, but now they've rolled it out nationwide and are able to engage service users in parts of the country that they would never have been able to access. It has been transformational for them.” Microsoft also donated 80 devices to children’s charity Barnardos and partnered with the Department of Rural and Community Development to roll out the Airband pilot, which uses TV whitespace technology, to give free broadband to second level students from disadvantaged, rural backgrounds. But Hallahan is proudest of DreamSpace, their immersive teaching and learning experience “which is giving primary and secondary school students access to STEM education, helping them with coding, computational thinking and designing technology for good”.
The pandemic has accelerated adoption of artificial intelligence, which has been used to crunch massive datasets analysing disease vectors and to identify treatment impacts. “We're seeing more than half of Ireland's public sector bodies introducing AI into their organisations - and people would have thought that would never happen.” The National Transport Authority is using AI and machine learning to gain insights into their data that will inform better decisions around infrastructure planning, budget allocations and provision of public transport. In December Microsoft Ireland launched a climate project with Science Foundation Ireland called Terrain AI “to focus on improving our understanding of human activity on land and how that relates to climate change”.
Third Level Transformation
Higher education institutes “need to reimagine the campus experience - and technology will play a critical role in that transformation”. Relevant, affordable, flexible and lifelong education will need to be made “accessible to everybody, regardless of where they are located and their learning style”. For digital transformation to be effective, colleges and universities “really need to analyse, design and develop a future vision for change for what education will look like”.
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