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Microsoft wants PH to embrace technology tighter, faster

By: - Reporter / @daxinq
/ 04:01 AM March 29, 2021

When the corornavirus pandemic struck early last year, life as most people knew it changed and many daily work activities ground to a halt.

All industries felt the adverse impacts of the public health crisis, but one sector where a solution was urgently needed was the country’s justice system—a system already notorious for its slow speed, now made even slower by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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For many weeks, court processes slowed to a crawl, and this phenomenon was acutely felt in the daily trails that would determine whether detained people accused of crimes would be exonerated and set free or if cause would be found to keep them in jail longer.

The only solution that could help facilitate these processes—as it did in countless other workplaces around the world—was technology.

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Enter the local unit of global technology giant Microsoft, which joined hands with the country’s High Tribunal to use the former’s Microsoft 365 software to improve the efficiency and productivity of the country’s legal system through hearings held via videoconferencing.

Swift decision

According to Microsoft Philippines chief operating officer Abid Zaidi, the swift decision of Supreme Court Chief Justice Disodado Peralta and Court Administrator Midas Marquez to use technology to solve the problem helped get the judicial system not only get moving again last summer, but resulted in even better case resolution speeds. “Because of our cooperation and the use of technology like Microsoft 365, trials were expedited and over 4,000 [persons deprived of liberty] were freed,” Zaidi said during a recent interview.

According to the firm, 4,683 detainees were released in the first nine days of piloting videoconferencing hearings, representing a 125-percent increase in daily releases compared to 9,731 from six weeks prior to implementation of Microsoft 365.

Videoconferencing hearings are now being done in Metro Manila and select courts in key cities nationwide. Aside from videoconferencing hearings, the high court also allowed the e-filing of complaints, petitions for bail as well as the submission of requirements for bail to minimize physical contact. “This is one very clear example where technology can be used by our clients to sove problems created by COVID-19,” he said. But while the pandemic is the most immediate challenge facing Microsoft’s clients, Zaidi says there are broader technology challenges—some already present, other only starting to loom over the horizon—that the Philippines, in particular the business sector, must face.

The Microsoft official, who has been in the Philippines for a year now, says he is particularly interested in helping the country retain its competitive advantages in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Challenges

This is because BPOs globally are now facing challenges in changing customer preferences, many of whom are veering away from using voice calls, which has been the country’s main strength for many years. “Call volumes are going down. Meaning customers are preferring other digital channels like chatbots. So do BPOs have chatbots available?” he said.

But it doesn’t stop there.

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“Once you have chatbots, you have to train the [artificial intelligence] engine on the data,” he added. “And are you collecting that data? Are you doing that analysis? Are you training your engine? Do you have that layer that interacts with your customer? You have to control your process well.”

Zaidi said he wants Microsoft’s partners in the local BPO scene to understand that the landscape is changing and that technology is key to surviving those changes that are about to happen. By doing so, Philippine players can keep pace with industry rivals in BPO powerhouses like India which, he said, is innovating at a “very high velocity.”

“So you have to be reducing costs,” he said. “For that, you have to bring in automation. You can’t rely on the old ways of doing things.”

Presence felt

Another sector which the Microsoft executive is passionate about is the growing financial technology scene in the Philippines, especially the startups that are starting to make their presence felt.

Again, the impetus for innovation here is coming from the COVID-19 crisis and the need to make more transactions digitally for physical safety reasons.

But even in this sphere, he says it is key to provide end users with better services because this is the only way they will patronize any of a growing number of fintech firms in the industry. “In fintech, after we obviously take care of the privacy side of things, the question is, how are we saving the customer’s time?” Zaidi says. “Everything has to converge at one point. This is what we call ‘Customer 360’ where you know all your interactions, your entire relationship.”

“This is how Microsoft is approaching it,” he says. “How are you empowering your employees? What will COVID 2.0 look like? Are you ready for it? What will it be like? Fine, the Philippines showed a lot of resilience during COVID-19 but there were a lot of losses as well. So it has to be a continuous discussion.”

Having been on the ground in the Philippines for the past year, Zaidi is excited about the country’s prospects and its potential for growth, but is also concerned about the challenges it faces in the so-called new normal.

In the business world, in particular, he said many firms both big and small have to reorient themselves toward a technology-centric mindset. The situation, he says, varies from customer to customer, with businesses that are thinking about technology, processes and people moving faster and surviving the crisis better. The Microsoft official adds: “It’s not about people on the board not understanding the need for digital transformation. I think the game has changed. The question is with what speed are you moving toward gaining a sustainable competitive advantage?”

Zaidi points to the example of the Philippine Supreme Court which was able to improve its processes once its leadership moved decisively to adopt a new technology to ease its case backlog. With the correct mindset, even the large and cumbersome organization and company can transform itself for the better. Without this, he explains, even a company that believes itself to be nimble is in danger of becoming obsolete. INQ

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