Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (Le Web)

Microsoft’s COVID-19 Tech Playbook

Published on June 2, 2020

Microsoft put itself at the heart of many organizations’ and governments’ pandemic response plans early on. The tech giant continues to pursue solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Microsoft has addressed the contagion through direct action, cash contributions, software products and services such as the Microsoft Teams video conference app and artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.

As we found in the extensive survey at the heart of The Purpose Report, there is still widespread optimism among consumers that technology is changing life and society for the better (82%), but also general agreement that tech companies need to work together to ensure data privacy (84%) and to protect the integrity of public discourse by controlling fake news, fake accounts and factual inaccuracies (81%) through their platforms.

Microsoft has leveraged its technologies, services and platforms to combat the spread of the virus. Highlights of the last few months include:

  • Releasing technologies to combat the spread of misinformation. On Sept.. 1, Microsoft announced the launch of Video Authenticator to expose deep fakes. The technology “can analyze a still photo or video to provide a percentage chance, or confidence score, that the media is artificially manipulated.”
  • Launching a campaign to protect election integrity in the face of pandemic disruption. Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program is designed to protect voting through ElectionGuard and secure the accounts of political campaigns and judges through AccountGuard, Microsoft 365 for Campaigns and Election Security Advisors.
  • Helping governments deliver essential services. Microsoft’s Government Industry Team has been “leveraging technology applications from other industries to help governments address their current set of challenges.”
  • Publishing research and advice. Microsoft has published numerous blogs featuring advice for businesses and organizations in a range of fields to help them adapt to the mid-term and long-term effects of COVID-19, including retail, healthcare, energy and education.

Leadership Response

Microsoft held a unique position in the COVID-19 contagion: As a major employer in Seattle, the first coronavirus hot spot, its March 4 action to keep employees at home focused North American attention on the crisis.

The software giant has continued its inspirational engagement in the pandemic response. “We are steadfast in our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” CEO Satya Nadella said in a March 21 email to all employees. Calling software “the most malleable tool ever created,”  he tied the company’s success to private and public efforts to stem the contagion. “Our responsibility is to ensure that the tools we provide are up to the task,” he wrote.

Nadella has been very active as the public face of Microsoft’s COVID-19 response. “Our unique role as a platform and tools provider allows us to connect the dots, bring together an ecosystem of partners, and enable organizations of all sizes to build the digital capability required to address these challenges,” he wrote in his March 21 message.

Nadella has also made frequent use of Twitter to signal-boost Microsoft’s efforts. On March 23, he touted the company’s partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make its Coronavirus Self-Check available to everyone. Since March, Nadella has repeatedly referred to Microsoft’s workforce as “digital first responders.”

On May 19, Nadella sat down for an interview with Forbes. According to Nadella, the crisis has been a catalyst for a mass-migration to the cloud: “We’ve talked about these things for decades, but this is the time where we are doing it at scale. And so the question is, what are we learning? What does it show which is sustainable? What should we re-imagine when we get back to ‘normal?”

During a June 7 interview with Time, Nadella continued on the theme of cloud migration. Microsoft’s processes “have gone through two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” Nadella said. “We were seeing the other side of it which is the peak demand on our infrastructure.”

Other senior Microsoft leaders have also been actively engaged in the COVID-19 response, often highlighting the efforts of their divisions to meeting the challenges presented by the crisis:

Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, March 5: “Here at Microsoft in the Puget Sound, we’re encouraging our teams to work from home as much as possible, as are many organizations in this region. And we expect this trend to continue across the world. …. By making Teams available to as many people as possible, we aim to support public health and safety by keeping teams connected while they work apart.”

Scott Pearson, enterprise business development manager for Microsoft Store, April 10: “Microsoft’s mission, which is at the forefront of why we operate Stores, is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. The global disruption has led to a broader platform to live out that mission in the face of a crisis. We’ve got energetic, excited folks with expertise helping businesses and organizations work remotely and transform quickly.”

Chris Capossela, Microsoft, marketing and consumer business lead, April 13: “Whether people are getting together for remote work or distance learning, a happy hour with old friends or a family game night, we’ve seen Microsoft Teams become an essential tool. Teams is a reliable, secure, and accessible platform that brings together video conferencing, file sharing, and so much more into a central hub for teamwork. Coupled with across-the-board support, Teams has quickly become the tool businesses, governments, and educators (including the world’s oldest university) choose.”

New/Modified Products and Offerings

Microsoft has launched new services and tools to support healthcare organizations and individuals to combat and manage the COVID-19 crisis:

Supporting Communities

Microsoft has leveraged its entire product suite to support efforts to combat the spread of and find a cure for COVID-19:

  • Shifted focus of AI for Health initiative to helping those on the front lines of research of COVID-19, focusing on areas where data, analysis and the skills of its data scientists can have the biggest impact.
  • Developed a set of interactive visualizations to support full transparency into the scope of the problem and the progress being made.
  • Added a Give mode on Bing to allow people to donate to causes in need every time they search.

Microsoft has also dedicated financial and economic resources to the cause of ending COVID-19 and supporting communities impacted by the virus:

Microsoft’s generosity has expanded beyond the financial to providing food and personal protective equipment to those who need it most:

  • Purchased, and distributed five pallets of personal protective equipment, including over 240,000 FFP3 medical masks, 75,000 goggles, 100,000 nitrile gloves and other items. In addition, the company has donated 3,000 containers of disinfectant wipes and more than 3,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
  • Repurposed some of Microsoft’s food purchases for schools and families while most food services are shuttered.
  • Distributing boxed lunches to schools and community groups in King County. About 12,000 pounds of food was donated to Food Lifeline. The company has already donated 114,000 lunches and is distributing them to schools, clubs, food banks and low-income housing centers.

Microsoft has also launched initiatives to support better information sharing on emergency supplies and support:

Microsoft has also partnered with a number of organizations to support their efforts and leverage its data science and analytics expertise:

  • The University of Washington launched a contact-tracing app with Microsoft, aiming to battle CID-19 while preserving privacy.
  • Microsoft provided researchers access to the world’s most powerful computing resources as part of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, a private-public effort spearheaded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), is a global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The White House, FEMA, governors and hospital administrators have started using Its COVID-19 data visualizations and forecasts to mobilize resources.
  • The Washington State Department of Health is working on a new dashboard that aims to increase timeliness, accuracy and speed of data reporting to the public.
  • Folding@home, a global organization that uses distributed computing, is researching COVID-19 proteins that could help with designing therapeutics.
  • The Sepsis Center of Research Excellence (SCORE-UW), using clinical data, radiologic imaging and other patient biomarker responses, is developing novel algorithms to predict, and improve, healthcare and socioeconomic outcomes of COVID-19 positive patients.
  • Take, the Brazilian producer of chatbots and other contact software, developed a bot to bring official and credible information to the public and connect potential patients to medical teams to avoid overloading Brazilian hospitals.

Protecting Employees

Nadella sent out an email to employees in March highlighting Microsoft’s commitment to the safety and livelihoods of its employees:

“It’s times like this that remind us that each of us has something to contribute and the importance of coming together as a community. Please know that the senior leadership team and I are thinking about you and prioritizing the health and safety of you and your families first and foremost. We are meeting and working each day on how we can best support you during this time. And it’s been so gratifying to see how you are pitching in to help.”

Microsoft closed all its stores on March 16. It has since announced a number of initiatives to protect and support workers during the COVID-19 disruption:

Serving Customers

Microsoft’s Emergency Plan has radically expanded remote support for customers, both individual and institutional. Microsoft has also made much of its software suite available for free, with premium availability given to healthcare providers and nonprofits:

  • Supported remote work support by making Teams suite available for free.
  • Made Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Apps portals and Power Virtual Agents available for a free six-month product offer (including all premium capabilities for customers in the healthcare, education, nonprofit, and government sectors).
  • Prohibited apps that feature misleading or harmful medical or health-related content or functionalities.
  • Banned Bing advertisers from advertising COVID-19 related PPE (respirators, masks, etc.) or real or fake products attempting to profit from COVID-19 panic.

Microsoft has also launched additional services to support businesses affected by COVID -19:

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