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The New York Times features Corona: The Great IT Awakening

Post Date:07/24/2019 5:15 PM

The New York Times featured the City of Corona in their article entitled “The Great IT Awakening” highlighting Corona’s Information Technology reinvention with the implementation of Microsoft 365. Designed to empower collaboration, digital technologies allow organizations to simplify processes all while reducing maintenance costs. For Corona, the implementation of Microsoft 365 enabled workers to build analytics that address social and economic issues. Read full article below! 

The New York Times: The Great IT Awakening

Battered by aging infrastructure and low expectations, the IT industry looks to the cloud for reinvention.

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The acceleration of digital technologies has been one of the greatest advances to business since the Industrial Revolution. This Fourth Industrial Revolution, as this current period is being called, has generated not only game-changing technologies but also disruptive business models that have led to new ways of working. At the center of this sweeping transformation are the 4.6 million information technology workers in the U.S. — and millions more across the globe. IT workers today oversee critical tasks, including preventing increasingly pernicious and complex cyberattacks, managing critical software and using new sources of data to streamline IT management.

But IT workers aren’t always recognized as core parts of a business. Instead, many organizations still place the company and its data at the center of operations, says Brad Anderson, the corporate vice president of Enterprise Experiences and Management at Microsoft. “Most companies’ infrastructure was deployed over the last 10 to 15 years when there weren’t as many mobile devices or cloud services,” he says. “Everything was focused on protecting the company’s data, which was hosted on-site rather than in the cloud, and not on people.”

This parochial mindset damages the standing of IT workers, who in many organizations are dismissed as necessary only to keep internet and email running. As infrastructure ages, IT workers have become increasingly inundated with monotonous maintenance.

Steadily, however, the cloud is placing people at the center of organizations and reducing the need for manual IT upkeep. This has given IT workers the bandwidth to pursue bold new solutions and helped them contribute to strategic conversations. Microsoft 365 cloud tools, for instance, are designed to empower people to collaborate, help them respond to security threats and simplify the process of maintaining devices while reducing costs and gaining control.

Chris McMasters, the chief information officer for the City of Corona in California, championed Microsoft 365 cloud tools to help workers build analytics that address social and environmental issues. And in the Netherlands, Frank de Jong, an IT manager at the construction company VolkerWessels, leveraged Microsoft 365 services to enable colleagues to remotely interact with 3-D renderings across different devices and locations.

“The cloud is the glue that binds incremental innovations and creates new ways of working,” says Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. “It allows people to transcend any particular device or app and focus on who they are and what they want to achieve.”

Changing the Culture

With more than 800 million cloud-connected Windows 10 devices in use and tens of thousands of clients worldwide, Microsoft constantly solicits feedback about issues hampering organizations and people, valuable information it then uses to make cloud tools more relevant and user-focused. “We’re constantly researching workplace trends and thinking about how we can help people work without challenges,” Anderson says.

Corona’s obstacles were unique, however. When McMasters joined the IT department in 2016, employees spent nearly 80 percent of workdays performing basic maintenance on aging technologies. It left people feeling insignificant and with scant time to exercise their creativity, McMasters says.

His first directive was to deploy Microsoft 365 tools to automate arduous updates and maintenance. This reduced the time it took to resolve most IT issues to no more than 20 minutes from what used to be four days, freeing employees to pursue new projects and develop skills like data analytics. “It’s difficult for government entities to find data analysts or scientists,” says Kyle Edgeworth, Corona’s deputy chief information officer. “We see immense benefits to our organization and people when we can give everyone the opportunity to grow and expand their knowledge.”

Next, Edgeworth and McMasters used Microsoft Azure to integrate pools of rich data into a centralized warehouse where IT workers could easily access them. That’s where people and machines dovetailed and creativity flickered, Edgeworth says. IT employees explored ways to use municipal data to support city workers and residents. One flagship project is a custom dashboard open to the public that helps social workers and city officials transition homeless people to permanent housing. Corona residents can use it to track the city’s progress and coordinate food and clothing donations. “People can actually see how we’re solving the problem,” McMasters says. “Would you ever imagine an IT department is trying to solve the homeless situation?”

Corona’s IT team is also building data analytics to examine how building permits contribute to the city’s carbon footprint. Another innovative project is a dashboard with incident data for firefighters to improve response time and readiness. Initiatives like these have allowed Corona’s IT workers to gain pride from their jobs by giving back to the community.

“I'd like to say everyone walks around with a spring in their step,” McMasters says. “We’ve unlocked human potential and changed our culture by making people feel valued and that they can make a difference every day. People are our greatest asset, right?”The New York Times

Building Collaboration

“The construction industry has never been very IT-focused,” says Luurt van der Ploeg, the chief financial officer of VolkerWessels Construction and Real Estate Development. “If you look at how Egyptians built pyramids, we’re not that far off today.”

It was in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession, that van der Ploeg and other leaders at VolkerWessels realized that the 153-year-old company might not survive if it didn’t modernize.

That task fell largely to de Jong, who charted a game plan to transform the organization: Use cloud tools from Microsoft 365 to streamline the company’s digital infrastructure and redeploy workers as technology builders. “Ten years ago,” he says, “all we did was troubleshoot. You’d turn on your computer and it wouldn’t work. We needed to stabilize our IT before we could optimize it.”

By migrating to the Microsoft cloud, VolkerWessels employees can use a continuously updating dashboard to more efficiently manage IT and avoid outages. Liberated from drudge work, de Jong’s team leveraged cloud-based tools like Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft Teams to help VolkerWessels’ 16,000 employees collaborate more dynamically, with each other and with clients, on mobile devices. “We used to have a gap between office workers and frontline workers in the field,” says Gerwin Plaggenmars, an engineering manager at VolkerWessels. “Now we have direct access to information and can collaborate with each other.”

De Jong and René de Groot, the director of DigiBase, VolkerWessels’ digitization incubator, sought to make VolkerWessels an industry leader in technology. VolkerWessels partnered with Microsoft to develop software that allows employees to collaborate with colleagues and clients across devices using AR glasses and 3-D models. “We shifted from piles of drawings to data-rich, object-based workflows,” de Groot says.

The speed of VolkerWessels’ transformation stunned de Jong, who remembers being subsumed by servers and wires. “Ten years ago I couldn’t dream that I’d be able to show a complete building in 3-D,” he says.

The benefits of digital transformation are real and powerful, but they aren’t preordained. It’s easy for leaders to become awe-struck by new tools and forget that people, not technologies, create enduring change. To ensure that a digital transformation empowers the whole organization, employees should be encouraged to use cloud tools to develop cross-team collaborations, pursue bold projects and challenge old ways of working. It was the pairing of cloud technologies with reimagined workstreams that allowed workers at Corona and VolkerWessels to tap new sources of creativity and transform IT into a nexus of innovation.

“The cloud is the magic in the digital transformation,” Spataro says. “It breaks down the divide between technology and people so they can create new capabilities together.”

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