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Accessibility and employment for all: key resources for job seekers and employers

Yvette White | General Manager, HR Microsoft US

People are unique in many ways, but the presence of a disability may set an individual apart from the larger group in ways that present particular challenges. In fact, 1 in 5 people have disability and need assistive technology[JC(1] . At times, these disabilities can create obstacles to an individual’s ability to gain employment. For example, the joblessness rate for New Yorkers with disabilities between the ages of 16-64 is a staggering 79%.

The New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) is responding to this issue with a comprehensive workforce development program that establishes relationships with both businesses and job seekers with disabilities. This year, as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Microsoft is proud to partner with MOPD and the NYC business community for our inaugural NYC Access and Employment Week, which is taking place October 21-25, 2019.

At this event, we are connecting job seekers with jobs and careers through the city’s largest employment recruitment event for people with disabilities. Educators, Chief Diversity Officers, students, job candidates, and many others will also have a chance learn how assistive technologies are enabling people to successfully navigate daily challenges and achieve new heights.

Microsoft is excited to participate in this event and share these top resources for job seekers and employers alike to help build a workforce that benefits from the diverse talents and skills of all.

For job seekers:

For employers:

  • Insights. At Microsoft, diversity within our workforce is what fuels innovation. Learn more about Microsoft’s inclusive hiring practices.

For everybody:

  • Training. Make your emails, documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks more accessible
  • Templates. Get a fast start on creating more accessible content with these accessible Word, Excel and PowerPoint templates
  • Accessibility Checker. Identify accessibility problems and get tips for making your content more accessible.

To see the full schedule of public events, visit the NYC Access and Employment Week website. For more information on Microsoft’s assistive technologies, visit our Accessibility page.


1 https://www.who.int/disabilities/en/

2 https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8439-expanding-efforts-to-hire-people-with-disabilities

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How rural areas can be connected to the internet with unused TV frequencies

In today’s increasingly tech and digital world, it’s important that everyone is included.

Access to high-speed internet has become a basic necessity of everyday life. Yet currently, Microsoft data suggests more than half of the country is not using the internet at broadband speeds.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative is bridging the digital divide by bringing broadband connectivity to remote communities. One cost-effective method involves using TV White Spaces – the unused frequencies between the signals of existing TV channels. Regulators allow wireless devices to transmit on these unoccupied channels as long as they do not interfere with TV broadcasters and other licensed users.

[Read more: What telephones and television can teach us about the adoption of broadband]

White Space signals can travel long distances, penetrating natural and human-built obstacles, and can leverage existing towers and infrastructure being used to transmit other wireless signals. Network operators can harness this White Space spectrum to deliver fast, reliable and cost-effective broadband internet access to rural communities and hard-to-reach areas.

Closing the rural broadband gap requires a cost-efficient mixed-technology approach and fixed wireless technologies such as TV White Spaces play an integral role. Other technologies include fiber and satellite. A combination of TV white spaces and other fixed wireless solutions are the ideal and most cost-effective solutions for areas where population density is between 2 and 200 inhabitants per square mile, which represents roughly 80% of those impacted by the rural broadband gap.

Access to broadband means rural businesses can take part in the digital economy; students can use online learning resources; and farmers can use precision agriculture to increase productivity. It also enables remote access to basic and specialized healthcare services.

By July 2022, the initiative’s goal is to extend broadband access to 3 million Americans living in rural parts of the country.

Read more about the Microsoft Airband Initiative. And follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter

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How AI is helping children overcome their speech disabilities

The idea immediately appealed to brothers Alex and Cosmin, who founded Ascendia after seeing how their mother, a teacher, struggled to meet all her students’ needs with limited resources. What started as a personal passion project has flourished in the last decade to become a multinational company operated by 33 staff in nine countries. So far, Ascendia has created over 1,100 hours of educational content supporting students, parents and teachers alike. As Cosmin Malureanu puts it, “our goal is to get teachers comfortable with new technologies, so they can prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future, not those of the past.”

With the support of Alex and Cosmin, Daniela and her team set about creating a solution to help children working to overcome their speech disabilities – a solution now known as Timlogo.

Timlogo is an interactive, digital speech development tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse children’s pronunciation and diagnose their specific speech issues, and then recommend the most relevant course of exercises to correct these. The tool’s offering also learns and adapts over time, meaning that as children improve, the suggested exercises evolve too.

Most importantly, Timlogo is designed to be fun, integrating games, characters and stories that spark a child’s imagination and hold their attention. Teacher and speech therapist Dragan Georgeta explains: “Many children become anxious when they struggle to pronounce certain sounds. But in Timlogo, they are introduced to cartoon characters who tell a story around each sound and encourage them to join in and attempt to pronounce it.” This gamification creates a feeling of inclusion and boosts children’s confidence, something that is key when it comes to overcoming speech difficulties.

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EVP Peggy Johnson: Empowering women founders through investment

Today, I’m proud to announce the second Female Founders Competition, a global contest to identify and fund top women entrepreneurs who are leading enterprise tech startups. This year, Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, is partnering with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates, to help create a more equitable playing field for innovative female founders.

It’s well-documented that women-led companies deliver higher returns over time than those founded by men, yet female founders—particularly of enterprise tech startups—continue to receive significantly less access to capital. In fact, last year companies founded solely by women received only 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups. While we’re seeing some pockets of progress, we as a VC community can do much more to support and financially back innovation and ideas from women-led companies. But where do we start?

Last year, M12 and our partners set out to expand the path to funding for women entrepreneurs by upending the traditional formula for sourcing potential investments. Through our first Female Founders Competition, we set the standard VC networks aside and made an open call for the talent to come to us. It worked. We received hundreds of applications and awarded a total of $4 million to two innovative women entrepreneurs: Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta; and Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas. In the time since, I’ve been inspired by how the winners leveraged these investments as springboards to expand their companies and grow their industry footprints.

For me, it’s a deeply personal issue – I share more on the subject in this Evoke essay. I’ve worked with startups for much of my career. I’ve seen the obstacles that female founders face just to get a seat at the table. And women like Greta and Julie remind me every day of the incredible opportunity that these underrepresented founders represent – not just for investors, but for all of us who believe in the power of technology. That’s why I’m proud to share our commitment to helping continue this progress by casting an even wider net.

As part of this year’s competition, we’re expanding our geographic reach, adding a new award category and increasing our combined investment with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures from $4M to $6M. This enables us to award funds to four female-founded companies: two $2M awards for B2B enterprise technology and two additional $1M awards for women-led companies in deeptech, which is another critically underfunded area of opportunity. We’re also extending eligibility beyond the United States, Europe, and Israel by accepting applications from India.

I encourage you to watch this video where Pivotal Ventures’ Melinda Gates, Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha and I discuss why we’re so passionate about this issue and this competition. I hope you will be inspired, as we are, to find new ways to help create a more equal seat at the table for women founders.

YouTube Video

Submissions are open now through December 15, 2019. Female-founded teams building enterprise SaaS or deeptech solutions are encouraged to apply at www.FemaleFoundersComp.com.

We can’t wait to see who we find and fund.

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Microsoft and Nuance join forces in quest to help doctors turn their focus back to patients

Imagine a visit to your doctor’s office in which your physician asks you how you’ve been feeling, whether your medication is working or if the shoulder pain from an old fall is still bothering you — and his or her focus is entirely on you and that conversation.

The doctor is looking at you, not at a computer screen. He or she isn’t moving a mouse around hunting for an old record or pecking on the keyboard to enter a diagnosis code.

This sounds like an ideal scenario, but as most people know from their own visits to the doctor, it’s far from the norm today.

But experts say that in an exam room of the future enhanced by artificial intelligence, the doctor would be able to call up a lab result or prescribe a new medicine with a simple voice command. She or he wouldn’t be distracted by entering symptoms into your electronic health record (EHR). And at the end of the visit, the essential elements of the conversation would have been securely captured and distilled into concise documentation that can be shared with nurses, specialists, insurance companies or anyone else you’ve entrusted with your care.

A new strategic partnership between Microsoft and Nuance Communications Inc. announced today will work to accelerate and deliver this level of ambient clinical intelligence to exam rooms, allowing ambient sensing and conversational AI to take care of some of the more burdensome administrative tasks and to provide clinical documentation that writes itself. That, in turn, will allow doctors to turn their attention fully to taking care of patients.

Of course, there are still immense technical challenges to getting to that ideal scenario of the future. But the companies say they believe that they already have a strong foundation in features from Nuance’s ambient clinical intelligence (ACI) technology unveiled earlier this year and Microsoft’s Project EmpowerMD Intelligent Scribe Service. Both are using AI technologies to learn how to convert doctor-patient conversations into useful clinical documentation, potentially reducing errors, saving doctors’ time and improving the overall physician experience.

“Physicians got into medicine because they wanted to help and heal people, but they are spending a lot of their time today outside of the care process,” said Joe Petro, Nuance executive vice president and chief technology officer. “They’re entering in data to make sure the appropriate bill can be generated. They’re capturing insights for population health and quality measures. And although this data is all important, it’s really outside a physician’s core focus on treating that patient.”

YouTube Video

Primary care doctors spend two hours on administrative tasks for every hour they’re involved in direct patient care, studies have shown. If they don’t capture a patient’s complaint or treatment plan during or shortly after an exam, that documentation burden will snowball as the day goes on. In another recent study, physicians reported one to two hours of after-hours work each night, mostly related to administrative tasks.

This shift to digital medical record keeping and so-called ‘meaningful use’ regulations is well-intentioned and has provided some important benefits, said Dr. Ranjani Ramamurthy, senior director at Microsoft Healthcare who leads the company’s EmpowerMD research.

People no longer have to worry about not being able to read a doctor’s handwriting or information that never makes it into the right paper file. But the unintended consequence has been that doctors are sometimes forced to focus on their computers and administrative tasks instead of their patients, she said.

After starting her career in computer science, Ramamurthy went back to school to get a medical degree and pursue cancer research. But as she walked the halls of the hospital every day, she couldn’t help thinking that she was missing an opportunity to use her background to create tech solutions that could reinvigorate the doctor-patient relationship.

Ramamurthy noted that most physicians got into healthcare because they want to use their skills and expertise to treat patients, not to feel tethered to their keyboards.

“We need to work on building frictionless systems that take care of the doctors so they can do what they do best, which is take care of patients,” she said.

Built on Microsoft Azure — and working in tandem with the EHR — this new technology will marry the two companies’ strengths in developing ambient sensing and conversational AI solutions. Those include ambient listening with patient consent, wake-up word, voice biometrics, signal enhancement, document summarization, natural language understanding, clinical intelligence and text-to-speech.

Nuance is a leading provider of AI-powered clinical documentation and decision-making support for physicians. Leveraging deep strategic partnerships with the major providers of EHRs, the company has spent decades developing medically relevant speech recognition and processing solutions such as its Dragon Medical One platform, which allows doctors to easily and naturally enter a patient’s story and relevant information into an EHR using dictation. Nuance conversational AI technologies are already used by more than 500,000 physicians worldwide, as well as in 90 percent of U.S. hospitals.

Microsoft brings deep research investments in AI and partner-driven healthcare technologies, commercial relationships with nearly 170,000 healthcare organizations, and enterprise-focused cloud and AI services that accelerate and enable scalable commercial solutions. Earlier this month, for instance, Microsoft announced a strategic collaboration to combine its AI technology with Novartis’ deep life sciences expertise to address challenges in developing new drugs.

In other areas, Azure Cognitive Services offers easy-to-deploy AI tools for speech recognition, computer vision and language understanding, and trusted Azure cloud services can support the user’s compliance with privacy and regulatory requirements for healthcare organizations.

As part of the agreement, Nuance will migrate the majority of its current on-site internal infrastructure and hosted products to Microsoft Azure. Nuance already is a Microsoft Office 365 customer for its more than 8,500 employees worldwide, empowering them with the latest in collaboration and communications tools, including Microsoft Teams.


“We need to work on building frictionless systems that take care of the doctors so they can do what they do best, which is take care of patients.”

~ Dr. Ranjani Ramamurthy, senior director at Microsoft Healthcare


“Just capturing a conversation between two people has been a thorny technical problem for a long time, and a lot of companies have attempted to crack it,” Petro said. “This partnership brings two trusted healthcare superpowers together to solve some of the most difficult challenges and also to leverage the most innovative advances we’ve made in AI, speech and natural language processing.”

The companies will expand upon Nuance’s early success with ACI and expect the technology to be introduced to an initial set of physician specialties in early 2020, and then it will be expanded to numerous other medical specialties over the next few years, Petro said. Initially, the ACI output may be checked by a remote reviewer with medical expertise to provide an important quality check and produce additional training data for the AI models. Once the system has proven its accuracy for a given physician, the ACI documentation will go directly to that physician, who can review it, make any necessary revisions and sign off on a treatment plan all in real-time, Petro said.

With a patient’s consent, ACI is designed to securely ingest and synthesize patient-doctor conversations, integrate that data with information from an EHR, populate a patient’s chart and also help the EHR deliver intelligent recommendations to the doctor.

With innovations in multi-party speech recognition, language understanding and computer vision, these tools can listen to the encounter between the doctor and a patient who grants consent, sense whether they’re pointing to a left knee or right knee when verbally describing a particular pain, extract medically relevant details and translate what just occurred in the exam room into actionable clinical documentation and care suggestions.

“Moving forward, we recognize that reducing the burden of clinical documentation is just the beginning,” said Dr. Greg Moore, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for health technology and alliances. “As the core AI improves and becomes more capable, it will be able to understand much more deeply what is going on by observing doctors and nurses in their day to day work. Ambient clinical intelligence will be able to work in tandem with the EHR to help convert those observations into supportive, augmenting actions.”

For instance, an AI-enabled system can learn to recognize when a doctor is talking to a patient about a new medication, and it can automatically review past conversations as well as the patient’s history to reduce the risk of a drug interaction or allergic reaction. Or it can mine a patient’s complicated medical history with new reported symptoms and offer suggestions for potential diagnoses for the doctor to consider.

In addition, the two companies will open up the ACI platform to an ecosystem of partners than can bring other highly valuable AI innovations to the exam room or at the bedside where the ambient sensing device will be present.

“We want ambient clinical intelligence to assist the EHR in delivering recommendations at the time when it matters — not three days later on your patient portal or when a nurse follows up, but when the doctor and patient are face to face and when that information can actually inform care,” Ramamurthy said.

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Top 6 email practices to protect against phishing attacks and business compromise

Most cyberattacks start over email—a user is tricked into opening a malicious attachment, or into clicking a malicious link and divulging credentials, or into responding with confidential data. Attackers dupe victims by using carefully crafted emails to build a false sense of trust and/or urgency. And they use a variety of techniques to do this—spoofing trusted domains or brands, impersonating known users, using previously compromised contacts to launch campaigns and/or using compelling but malicious content in the email. In the context of an organization or business, every user is a target and, if compromised, a conduit for a potential breach that could prove very costly.

Whether it’s sophisticated nation-state attacks, targeted phishing schemes, business email compromise or a ransomware attacks, such attacks are on the rise at an alarming rate and are also increasing in their sophistication. It is therefore imperative that every organization’s security strategy include a robust email security solution.

So, what should IT and security teams be looking for in a solution to protect all their users, from frontline workers to the C-suite? Here are 6 tips to ensure your organization has a strong email security posture:

You need a rich, adaptive protection solution.

As security solutions evolve, bad actors quickly adapt their methodologies to go undetected. Polymorphic attacks designed to evade common protection solutions are becoming increasingly common. Organizations therefore need solutions that focus on zero-day and targeted attacks in addition to known vectors. Purely standards based or known signature and reputation-based checks will not cut it.

Solutions that include rich detonation capabilities for files and URLs are necessary to catch payload-based attacks. Advanced machine learning models that look at the content and headers of emails as well as sending patterns and communication graphs are important to thwart a wide range of attack vectors including payload-less vectors such as business email compromise. Machine learning capabilities are greatly enhanced when the signal source feeding it is broad and rich; so, solutions that boast of a massive security signal base should be preferred. This also allows the solution to learn and adapt to changing attack strategies quickly which is especially important for a rapidly changing threat landscape.

Complexity breeds challenges. An easy-to-configure-and-maintain system reduces the chances of a breach.

Complicated email flows can introduce moving parts that are difficult to sustain. As an example, complex mail-routing flows to enable protections for internal email configurations can cause compliance and security challenges. Products that require unnecessary configuration bypasses to work can also cause security gaps. As an example, configurations that are put in place to guarantee delivery of certain type of emails (eg: simulation emails), are often poorly crafted and exploited by attackers.

Solutions that protect emails (external and internal emails) and offer value without needing complicated configurations or emails flows are a great benefit to organizations. In addition, look for solutions that offer easy ways to bridge the gap between the security teams and the messaging teams. Messaging teams, motivated by the desire to guarantee mail delivery, might create overly permissive bypass rules that impact security. The sooner these issues are caught the better for overall security. Solutions that offer insights to the security teams when this happens can greatly reduce the time taken to rectify such flaws thereby reducing the chances of a costly breach

A breach isn’t an “If”, it’s a “When.” Make sure you have post-delivery detection and remediation.

No solution is 100% effective on the prevention vector because attackers are always changing their techniques. Be skeptical of any claims that suggest otherwise. Taking an ‘assume breach’ mentality will ensure that the focus is not only on prevention, but on efficient detection and response as well. When an attack does go through the defenses it is important for security teams to quickly detect the breach, comprehensively identify any potential impact and effectively remediate the threat.

Solutions that offer playbooks to automatically investigate alerts, analyze the threat, assess the impact, and take (or recommend) actions for remediations are critical for effective and efficient response. In addition, security teams need a rich investigation and hunting experience to easily search the email corpus for specific indicators of compromise or other entities. Ensure that the solution allows security teams to hunt for threats and remove them easily.
Another critical component of effective response is ensuring that security teams have a good strong signal source into what end users are seeing coming through to their inbox. Having an effortless way for end users to report issues that automatically trigger security playbooks is key.

Your users are the target. You need a continuous model for improving user awareness and readiness.

An informed and aware workforce can dramatically reduce the number of occurrences of compromise from email-based attacks. Any protection strategy is incomplete without a focus on improving the level of awareness of end users.

A core component of this strategy is raising user awareness through Phish simulations, training them on things to look out for in suspicious emails to ensure they don’t fall prey to actual attacks. Another, often overlooked, but equally critical, component of this strategy, is ensuring that the everyday applications that end-users use are helping raise their awareness. Capabilities that offer users relevant cues, effortless ways to verify the validity of URLs and making it easy to report suspicious emails within the application — all without compromising productivity — are very important.

Solutions that offer Phish simulation capabilities are key. Look for deep email-client-application integrations that allow users to view the original URL behind any link regardless of any protection being applied. This helps users make informed decisions. In addition, having the ability to offer hints or tips to raise specific user awareness on a given email or site is also important. And, effortless ways to report suspicious emails that in turn trigger automated response workflows are critical as well.

Attackers meet users where they are. So must your security.

While email is the dominant attack vector, attackers and phishing attacks will go where users collaborate and communicate and keep their sensitive information. As forms of sharing, collaboration and communication other than email, have become popular, attacks that target these vectors are increasing as well. For this reason, it is important to ensure that an organization’s anti-Phish strategy not just focus on email.

Ensure that the solution offers targeted protection capabilities for collaboration services that your organization uses. Capabilities like detonation that scan suspicious documents and links when shared are critical to protect users from targeted attacks. The ability in client applications to verify links at time-of-click offers additional protection regardless of how the content is shared with them. Look for solutions that support this capability.

Attackers don’t think in silos. Neither can the defenses.

Attackers target the weakest link in an organization’s defenses. They look for an initial compromise to get in, and once inside will look for a variety of ways increase the scope and impact of the breach. They typically achieve this by trying to compromise other users, moving laterally within the organization, elevating privileges when possible, and the finally reaching a system or data repository of critical value. As they proliferate through the organization, they will touch different endpoints, identities, mailboxes and services.

Reducing the impact of such attacks requires quick detection and response. And that can only be achieved when the defenses across these systems do not act in silos. This is why it is critical to have an integrated view into security solutions. Look for an email security solution that integrates well across other security solutions such as endpoint protection, CASB, identity protection, etc. Look for richness in integration that goes beyond signal integration, but also in terms of detection and response flows.

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Announcing OAM, an open standard for developing and operating applications on Kubernetes and other platforms

Kubernetes has become the leading container orchestration environment. Its success has driven the remarkable growth of Kubernetes services on every public cloud. However, the core resources in Kubernetes like Services and Deployments represent disparate pieces of an overall application. They do not represent the application itself. Likewise, objects like Helm charts represent a potentially deployable application, but once deployed there’s no application-centric model of the running application. This need to have a well-defined and coherent model that represents the complete application, not just its template and/or its constituent pieces, is why Microsoft and Alibaba Cloud have created the Open Application Model (OAM) project under the Open Web Foundation.

OAM is a specification for describing applications so that the application description is separated from the details of how the application is deployed onto and managed by the infrastructure. This separation of concerns is helpful for multiple reasons. In the real world, every Kubernetes cluster is different, from ingress to CNI to service mesh. Separating the application definition from the operational details of the cluster enables application developers to focus on the key elements of their application rather than the operational details of where it deploys. Furthermore, the separation of concerns also allows for platform architects to develop re-usable components and for application developers to focus on integrating those components with their code to quickly and easily build reliable applications. In all of this, the goal of the Open Application Model is to make simple applications easy and complex applications manageable.

In OAM, an Application is made from several concepts. The first is the Components that make up an application. These components might be services like a MySQL database or a replicated PHP server with a corresponding load balancer. Developers can author code that they package as a component and then author manifests that describe the relationships between that component and other microservices. Components enable platform architects and others to build re-usable modules which are known to encapsulate best practices around security and scalable deployment. They also enable the separation of the implementation of the component from the description of how those components come together in a complete distributed application architecture.

To transform these components into a concrete application, application operators use a configuration of these components to form a specific instance of an application that should be deployed. The configuration resource is what enables an application operator to run a real application out of the components provided by developers and platforms.

The final concept is a collection of Traits which describe the characteristics of the application environment including capabilities like auto-scaling and ingress which are important to the operation of applications but may be implemented in different ways in different environments. An easy example of such differences might be a hyperscale cloud-provided load balancer versus an on-premises hardware load-balancer. From an application developer’s perspective they are entirely identical, while from the operator’s perspective they are completely different. Traits enable this separation of concerns whereby the application can run anywhere its necessary traits are deployed. Those traits can then be configured by infrastructure operators to satisfy the unique operating requirements of their environment (e.g. compliance and security).

In contrast to a more traditional PaaS application model, OAM has some unique characteristics. Most importantly, it is platform agnostic. While our initial open implementation of OAM, named Rudr, is built on top of Kubernetes, the Open Application Model itself is not tightly bound to Kubernetes. It is possible to develop implementations for numerous other environments including small-device form factors, like edge deployments and elsewhere, where Kubernetes may not be the right choice. Or serverless environments where users don’t want or need the complexity of Kubernetes.

Equally important, the specification is extensible by design – rather than the walled garden of a PaaS, or an application environment that hides the unique characteristics of where it is running. Likewise, OAM enables platform providers to expose the unique characteristics of their platform through the trait system in a way that enables application developers to build cross-platform apps wherever the necessary traits are supported. Hardware providers can similarly expose the unique characteristics of their hardware platforms via traits. The entirety of OAM was designed to prevent the “lowest common denominator” problem that can occur in portable platforms. Instead OAM is designed to make portability possible while ensuring that each platform can still surface the capabilities that make them unique and useful. OAM provides developers the freedom to balance between portability and capability among platforms in a standard way.

We’re excited about the initial work we have done to develop this application-oriented open model and the implementation for Kubernetes. The specification is currently being developed under the Open Web Foundation agreement, and our goal is to bring the Open Application Model to a vendor-neutral foundation to enable open governance and collaboration. If you want to learn more, please have a look at the OAM specification, and Rudr – the open implementation for Kubernetes – over on Github. This is really just a start. We look forward to hearing your feedback and partnering closely to bring an easy, portable, and re-usable application model to Kubernetes and the cloud.

Questions or feedback? Please let us know in the comments.

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Xbox and Taco Bell team up to give away one Xbox One X Eclipse Limited Edition Bundle – every 10 minutes

Xbox and Taco Bell are teaming up for the third year in a row to give fans the chance to win the most craveable kit yet: an Xbox One X Eclipse Limited Edition Bundle. And with a winner every 10 minutes on average, this is also the largest Xbox console giveaway of the year.

What do you need to do to win, you ask? All you have to do is enjoy a Double Chalupa Box* starting tomorrow, October 17, through November 23 and follow the instructions on the box, or the instructions received through the free method of entry process, to enter the code and instantly see if you win. All winners will receive their bundle within 48 hours of completing registration and receipt of verification – taco-bout fast service.

The exclusive bundle includes a limited-edition Xbox One X Eclipse console featuring Taco Bell’s iconic ring noise when powered on; the all-new Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 which launches on November 4 – so lucky winners will get their hands on it early; and six months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold, as well as access to a curated library of over 100 high-quality Console and PC games.

If that wasn’t enough, fans who order the Double Chalupa box online at ta.co or through the Taco Bell app for in-store pickup at participating Taco Bell restaurants will receive, while supplies last, a 14-day access code to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate making even more fans winners this year.

But wait, there’s more! Use the “What’s Your Taco Bell Gamertag” chart to spice up your gamer tag! Show it off on social media or if you’re feeling saucy, utilize your free gamertag change to show it off on Xbox Live. Read more about changing your gamer tag here and here.

*No purchase necessary. For complete rules, head to the promotion’s official page.

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IT pros: Newly available Desktop Analytics service helps you take a data-driven approach to managing Windows endpoints

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the general availability of Desktop Analytics—the cloud-connected service that integrates with System Center Configuration Manager to help IT professionals take a data-driven approach to their management of Windows endpoints. Since announcing public preview in July, thousands of organizations have already benefited from the intelligence and insights generated by millions of enrolled endpoints. We’ve been hard at work delivering new features and improvements that address your feedback on the service.

Gain insight and intelligence with Desktop Analytics

The purpose of Desktop Analytics is simple: To provide insight and intelligence you can use to make informed decisions about the update readiness of your Windows endpoints. By combining the data specific to your organization with aggregated insights from the millions of Windows devices connected to Microsoft’s cloud services, you can do some remarkable things:

  • Get a comprehensive view into the endpoints, applications, and drivers under management in your ecosystem.
  • Assess application and driver compatibility with the latest Windows feature updates and receive mitigation recommendations for known issues, as well as advanced insights for line of business apps.
  • Optimize the set of pilot devices that adequately represents your overall estate using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Microsoft cloud.

Image of the Microsoft 365 Device Management dashboard, with Desktop Analytics.

What’s new in Desktop Analytics

Since announcing the public preview of Desktop Analytics, we made a point to deliver new features on a regular basis. For example, in August we helped streamline the workflow by eliminating the need to manually evaluate applications (such as system components published by Microsoft) that are known to be compatible with new feature updates. Then, in September, we delivered on one of our most requested features: The ability for customers to migrate existing data from Windows Analytics Upgrade Readiness to Desktop Analytics during the onboarding process.

In addition to these updates, the 1906 release of System Center Configuration Manager further integrated Desktop Analytics with phased deployments, which means you can automate your pilot and production deployments with the health insights from Desktop Analytics. Looking ahead, we’ll soon enable customers who have already onboarded to migrate their administrator data. And we’re constantly investing in longer-running service enhancements like performance and reliability improvements.

Customers can upgrade faster with Desktop Analytics

We love hearing stories from customers, like Sandvik, who integrated Desktop Analytics into their update workflow and are excited about the results they’re seeing.

“Desktop Analytics provides us valuable information and insights about our devices, giving us confidence to move at a high pace with Windows 10 feature updates.”
—Ola Ström, Solutions Architect, Devices and Platform Services, at Sandvik

In talking with more than a dozen customers over the last month, I have consistently heard that the work of application and driver validations takes as much as 40 percent of the overall time and 60 percent of the overall budget of an upgrade to a new version of Windows. With Desktop Analytics, we automate this work and can remove most of the time and expense.

Start using Desktop Analytics today

As we’ve shared before, Desktop Analytics builds on what we developed with Windows Analytics by adding deeper integration with Configuration Manager and provides a ring-based approach to deployment using health signals. Soon we’ll also integrate Desktop Analytics into Microsoft Intune.

As you onboard and use the tool, don’t forget to give us your feedback on UserVoice or offer it directly in the Desktop Analytics portal—we look forward to reading it!

Learn more about Desktop Analytics and start using Desktop Analytics today.

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How micro-credentialing workers can help bridge the world’s digital skills gap

A new way of valuing workers’ skills could change the lives of millions in underserved communities

“Micro-credentialing” is a new way of recognizing the knowledge and expertise that workers acquire through on-the-job experience and training. And, it could be key to bridging massive digital skills gaps around the world.

It could also create unprecedented opportunities for millions of people who might otherwise be left behind by the 4th industrial revolution.

Micro-credentialing is an alternative method of understanding the value of skills as we move toward an inclusive future of work. It goes beyond the formal qualifications that someone may, or may not, hold – especially people in underserved communities where educational opportunities are few.

Kate Behncken, Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies.
Kate Behncken, Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies.

Kate Behncken leads Microsoft Philanthropies, which has a global mission of empowering communities and nonprofits to realize the promise and potential of technology. It seeks to advance a future where everyone has the skills, knowledge, and opportunity to participate and succeed in the digital economy.

The Philanthropies team enthusiastically advocates micro-credentialing through a wide range of programs and partnerships that are changing lives for the better across our region.

Micro-credentialing empowers employees to regularly upskill. That means they can meet new workplace demands that arise as organizations restructure and business models change with digital transformation.

It also gives job seekers, particularly from disadvantaged circumstances, a real chance to pursue rewarding careers. Others also get a leg-up, including mothers who want to return to work, along with anyone ready to re-train and make a new start.

Skill shortages often hold back economic growth and national development. And some big-picture research suggests micro-credentialing programs could ease a few structural headaches for governments.

For example, a recent Korn Ferry study predicts a labor shortage of almost 50 million workers in Asia by 2030, with an annual opportunity cost of more than US$4 trillion annually.

A recently published Microsoft Asia report foresees micro-credentialing coming into its own with the advent of artificial intelligence technologies in many sectors. And Behncken believes workers, enterprises, and governments can all benefit.

“We advocate for a focus on the skills and experience somebody has,” she says. “This enables more flexibility in the labor market, including more flexibility for people to re-train or re-enter the workforce.”

Careers are no longer ladders. They are more like vines in a rainforest. You can swing on one and then grab another.

In an interview during a recent visit to Singapore, Behncken pointed to changes in attitudes toward education and employment, such as a growing recognition that life-long learning is essential to work in the digital age.

“Traditionally, education has focused on infancy, early childhood, and young adults, followed by a long period of work when most people don’t get any additional formal education. It is important that this model shifts,” she says. “Why? Because the pace of technology is moving rapidly, people will constantly need to get new skills to keep their jobs or to get new ones.”

A micro-credentialing approach to education and training brings new flexibility to this reality.

ALSO READ: Grabbing opportunities for growth through reskilling in Asia Pacific

In the past, a worker might have regarded his or her career as akin to climbing a ladder. “But careers are no longer ladders. They are more like vines in a rainforest. You can swing on one and then grab another. People go in and out of roles. They switch jobs. Micro-credentialing allows for this sort of change to happen through someone’s working life.”

Governments and other authorities across the region are also starting to embrace change. For instance, Behncken is impressed by the success of Malaysia’s “Recognition of Prior Learningprogram. It issues ‘Malaysian Skills Certificates’ to workers who do not have formal educational qualifications but who have obtained relevant knowledge, experience, and skills in the workplace to enhance their career prospects.

A man in a hardhat types on a laptop next to some factory equipment.
Micro-credentialing helps workers change jobs as they acquire skills through the life of their careers.

“It is helping a lot of people without formal qualifications to get recognized credentials or certifications based on the work experience they’ve had, and the skills they’ve gained. Having that makes them so much more valuable in the market. And, it enhances their career prospects.”

To push change further, Microsoft Philanthropies has acted as “a testbed” for its own initiatives.

“For example, we worked with 1,000 women with low incomes from underserved communities in India attending Industrial Technology Institutes (ITIs). We helped them attain the Computer Operator and Programmer Associate certification, as well as the other essential skills that are needed to get a job today. It has been very successful. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India is now looking at taking that on more broadly.”

In Japan, a Microsoft Philanthropies-piloted “Empowered Women” initiative saw 200 mothers gain the in-demand skills they needed to return to the workforce. The government is considering expanding it. “We ran this program and proved that it can be done,” Behncken says.

There are also efforts to help companies and organizations reform their long-held hiring practices and processes.

“We suggest employers think about how they recruit for roles and be more skills-focused,” she says. “They can do simple things like writing job descriptions in ways that are more inclusive so as to bring in a wider field of job candidates.”

Daiana Beitler, who leads Microsoft Asia Philanthropies, says her team “helps people from under-represented backgrounds get micro-credentials for the skills we know are in-demand in the region.

“We then encourage partners and customers in our Microsoft ecosystem to hire them. These employers are searching for talent. We let them know that we have a pool of people from under-represented backgrounds with the right skill-sets. We say: Come and recruit them but look at their micro-credentials rather than whether they have a formal four-year bachelor’s degree.” 

Behncken stresses that traditional diplomas and degrees remain valuable assets in many professions: “But we also know that micro-credentials can offer additional options for people across experiences. It is not a matter of having one or the other. Additional pathways for people to follow creates more opportunities.”

Sometimes gaining a set of micro-credentials can open the door to higher education.

“In the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia we are partnered with Passarelles Numeriques, which is an organization that works with underserved communities,” she says. “Its students earn certifications in various skills over two or so years. If they want, they can have these counted as credits towards a bachelor’s degree.

“Without microcredits, it is likely most would never have a chance of going to college or university.”

READ more about Microsoft Philanthropies Asia.