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/ 05:20 AM October 11, 2020

Revealing the benefits of artificial intelligence for the public sector at Microsoft’s “Asenso” conference held prior to the pandemic

Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, for Andres Ortola, Microsoft Philippines general manager, the crisis nonetheless is illuminating real areas of opportunity for Filipinos.

“COVID-19 is forcing us to ask how can government and businesses reinvigorate to meet the needs of stakeholders? The answer is through innovation,” Ortola explained over a Teams call recently.

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For the Philippines’ head of one of the world’s largest companies (ranked 21 on Fortune Magazine’s list of the biggest global firms), identifying such opportunities has been providing bright moments during a deeply challenging year.

“Technology is flexible enough and inquisitive enough to meet all the needs of this crisis,” Ortola said. “It is really now all up to how creative and innovative Filipinos wish to be in deploying technology to craft the kinds of solutions that the country needs.”

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Ortola is committed to stewarding the 200-person strong Microsoft Philippines organization through the pandemic and ensuring the company is positioned to help Filipinos in every way.

Since the first lockdown in March, Microsoft Philippines has responded with an impressive array of innovations.

From setting up digital infrastructure to support first responders; providing Microsoft 365 to schools all over the country so students could virtually graduate; engaging Filipino developers to bring COVID-19 assessment and contact-tracing applications in record time; providing new paths for disabled persons to upskill and gain employment; and empowering the Philippines Supreme Court with the ability to hold digital proceedings—which have resulted in freeing 60,000 previously detained persons.

Andres Ortola, Microsoft Philippines general manager

From Argentina to PH

Driving new ways to leverage how technology can be used to improve lives has been a lifelong passion.

As a young man growing up in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ortola wanted to be a pilot. He also began coding, going from his first computer (“probably a Commodore 64” he recalled) to AutoCAD and taking up systems engineering at Argentina’s Instituto Universitario Aeronautico.

After college, he landed an internship at Aerolinas Argentinas, the national flag carrier.

“My internship was in the IT department and I became an AS400 programmer and got hooked,” he recalled. “Eventually I left to take a job with a friend who had a computer services firm and learned programming—like Turbo Pascal, Clippers and others. I knew then my future was going to be all about technology.”

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Ortola left his friend’s company to join Microsoft Argentina. His career took him all over the world and while he did leave for a while to explore entrepreneurial ventures, he returned to Microsoft a few years ago. Prior to his Philippines posting, he led Microsoft’s enterprise commercial business from their regional Singapore headquarters.

With Gawad Kalinga, masked up for Taal Volcano relief

Digital transformation

Nearly two years in the Philippines, Ortola recalls his first impressions of the country.

“I had no preconceptions, in fact. I remember arriving at the airport and was on the way to Makati when a friend called from Argentina. I recall saying at the time how, for some reason, there seemed to be similarities between the Philippines and Argentina. And there are—both our countries have gone through so much. The Philippines especially, considering the weather and natural disasters. And what amazed me then and continues today is how resilient Filipinos are. For example, we are in the middle of a pandemic but people are still positive—more positive here than in other places—and that will really help the country to get through this,” he said.

Ortola believes that a “purpose-­driven digital” approach is the path forward now and postcrisis.

“Everyone talks about digital transformation. In fact, they have been talking about it for longest time. However, at Microsoft we believe the right term is purpose-driven digital. It is about designing solutions to meet the needs of this pandemic. About understanding the landscape our customers confront and collaboratively exploring the possibilities with them—to release creativity and innovation in order to deliver the products and services to fill those needs,” he said.

The purpose-driven digital business model is Microsoft’s path forward for the time being and Ortola believes the Philippines can meaningfully benefit this.

“Previously, in the Philippines context especially, innovation wasn’t central to the agenda. After all, this is still a developing—yet fast growing—economy. Much of its economic drivers have been traditional, large consumer-focused family groups. But now, for companies big and small, for the government and for Filipino society, innovation has to be front and center. By doing so, we can address the needs created by the pandemic. And we open up technology opportunities for Filipinos,” he said. Soon, Microsoft celebrates its 25th year in the Philippines. As the company looks toward its next 25, Ortola is keen to reaffirm Microsoft’s commitment.

“This is what Microsoft Philippines is here for—to spark conversations and collectively build solutions with government and businesses. We have 25 years of experience in this market, so we know a little something about helping the Philippines. While I may not have all the answers, with our global resources I promise we can purposefully help Filipino leaders ask all the right questions and together, develop the innovations to get us through the crisis and recover after it,” he said.

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