For governments and public sector agencies across Africa, investment in IT is no longer a luxury. In many cases, it has become the only way for the public sector to continue to serve its citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is why we witnessed exponential worldwide growth in usage of Microsoft Teams, rising to 115 million daily active users by October 2020 after we made usage free of charge.
But huge surges in adoption like this are only the tip of the iceberg. On the ground, a vast amount is happening. In Ghana, for example, Microsoft has been working to roll out a cloud-based office productivity solution for 10,000 civil servants, 5,500 teaching professionals and 600,000 students. The results include an end to error-prone paper-based workflows, which have been replaced by a compliant email system, secure document storage, enterprise search, as well as business intelligence and knowledge management systems.
In Nigeria, we have been collaborating with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to upgrade infrastructure in ways that enable a virtuous cycle of pandemic statistics collection and publication. Here, the NCDC were already using an isolated health app to distribute information to citizens so that they could reduce their risk of infection. But the app struggled to cope with the huge surge of public interest and crashed repeatedly. So we rolled out an updated microsite, app and self-assessment bot based on Microsoft Azure. Now, the flow of data between government and citizen is two-way, and the NCDC can harvest data on the incidence of Covid-19 as well as deliver advice. At the back end, the inbound data from the apps is integrated with other data inputs, including those from call centers, to generate a rich dataset on disease prevalence for the Nigerian Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
Projects like these highlight how technology is helping governments to fight the virus in three key ways. First, by opening up access to digital services that allow governments to serve communities at scale. Second, by providing platforms for the kind of data-sharing and collaboration between government agencies that improves outcomes for citizens. Third, by focusing on the resilience of government technology. This means modernising systems, securing them to prevent data loss and building in appropriate levels of data compliance. On this basis, governments not only improve their capacity to deliver. They also do this in a way that enhances public trust and confidence.
Microsoft has been active on the continent of Africa for close to 30 years now. We have worked to develop educational and career opportunities for the continent’s fast-growing youth population. We have deployed data-driven technologies on farms and developed digital platforms for agricultural commerce. We have digitised medical records and developed new ways of delivering government services remotely.
Today, however, across Africa, we are engaging with governments and public sector agencies like never before. In the short-term, we are bringing every tool in our possession to bear on the fight against Covid-19. In the longer term, there will be more than one kind of legacy. There will be a grim toll of long-term illness, death and Covid-related poverty. But there will be something else, too: the legacy of our combined efforts to fight this virus, visible in new resilience and infrastructure across the continent.
Our circumstances remain challenging. However, we also believe that our collective response to Covid-19 can ultimately bring us closer to the goal of a prosperous future for all of Africa’s citizens.