Meeting Pandemic Challenges with Digital Transformation

Graphic illustrating digital transformationThe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is hard to grasp. The loss of life has been staggering—a tragedy unmatched by anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Beyond the loss of life, the pandemic disrupted businesses, organizations, whole industries, schools, and our communities.

Everyday life—and many businesses—hit pause as states shut down and stay-at-home orders went into effect. At the same time, essential services needed not only to keep operating, but also to take steps to fight the virus, limit its spread, and support communities.

When the scope of the pandemic became clear, businesses and organizations (and households, too) turned to tech to keep moving forward. We recently talked to two VFI members who are also Microsoft partners about the ways they helped key customers respond to the challenges of COVID-19.

Tracking COVID-19 at a Major Healthcare System

Photo of VFI leader RJ NaugleRJ Naugle, Microsoft alumni and active leader in VFI’s Advisory Task force, leads REV Tech, a veteran-owned Microsoft Services implementer and channel partner, which focuses a large part of its operations on purpose-driven projects that help government, commercial customers, and non-profits serve communities. One of REV’s customers—an eight-state healthcare system—is one of the largest non-profit healthcare organizations that is leading the charge against COVID-19 while simultaneously transforming their organization through the Microsoft PowerPlatform. On a tight timeframe, this organization needed a way to track and report COVID-19 cases and exposures among its tens of thousands of employee caregivers.

“In less than 30 days, we built a PowerPlatform low-code/no-code Power App solution that enables the tracking of COVID cases and exposures among caregivers,” RJ explained. “We streamlined data collection and consolidated reporting forms in real-time. The Caregiver App helped mitigate the spread of the virus by supporting contact tracing and identifying who needed to be tested and quarantined.”

REV’s solution also implemented required data fields for federal regulatory reporting for possible COVID relief funding and CDC reporting. “For a small investment, the organization is set up to see long-term return. This tool can also be used to track COVID variants and other diseases or outbreaks as they emerge in future years. It will also support workflows for future crises,” explained RJ.

During the COVID-19 crisis, RJ and his company also worked with a consortium of Seattle organizations serving people without permanent homes. REV’s Navigation (Nav) App, which leverages Microsoft Dynamics 365, was originally designed to help manage and serve encampments. When the pandemic hit, REV updated the technology to add COVID-19 contact tracing for the over 10,000 chronic homeless in the Seattle Metro area.

Supporting Mental Health Among First Responders

COVID-19 has taken a toll on first responders. Many have contracted the disease, many are exhausted, and many face mental health challenges. The pandemic aside, firefighters and emergency medical personnel suffer in high numbers from stress and depression. Far more firefighters die from suicide than die in the line of duty.

Last year—amid the pandemic—the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC) and the Los Angeles Fire Department opened the UFLAC Center for Health and Wellness in a converted fire station in the city’s Arleta neighborhood. The facility is solely dedicated to supporting the mental health of firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

2017 Photo of VFI Advisory Task Force leader Bill Hole in front of the White House grounds“This facility had been in the planning stages for three years,” explained Bill Hole, technology consultant, president of US Licensing Group, and engaged leader of VFI’s Advisory Task Force. “But the pandemic broke out right during IT contracting and procurement. The facility could no longer have people congregating onsite, so we had to establish a system for secure meetings and operations.”

Fortunately, Bill and a Microsoft team were able to scramble to get the Center up and running. “People cleared their calendars to get this done. Microsoft provided a lot of resources. Using the Microsoft 365 platform, we quickly had a HIPAA-compliant system in place for remote collaboration, document access, and patient care.”

RJ’s and Bill’s stories represent a broader digital transformation that took place across the country and worldwide in response to COVID-19. At the outset of the pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that the company saw “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” A McKinsey survey of corporate executive found that COVID-19 sped companies’ “adoption of digital technologies by several years”—as much as seven to ten years.

Bill and RJ both had a breakneck 2020, working non-stop to help organizations adopt new technologies and remain operational. Bill explained why Microsoft partners were prepared. “Microsoft has long sounded the drumbeat of ‘readiness’ with its partners. We’re in a posture of readiness. It’s part of the culture that partners embrace. We all hit the ground running to help respond to the pandemic.”

VFI Leader Spotlight: Laura Peters Helps Get Families Connected

Photo of Laura PetersCommunity service is central to Laura Peters’ life—both professionally and personally. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has remained as engaged as ever—running her Southern California-based business (International Software Systems), hosting online events, and volunteering in many ways.

Laura is highly active in the tech community—she’s on VFI’s Advisory Task Force and is the recent past president of the Virtual Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). But her community service reaches well beyond tech. For more than 25 years, Laura has been active in Zonta International, a service organization committed to making the world a better place by empowering women.

Making Connections and Teaching Yoga

Recently, Laura brought together her tech connections and volunteer work to help keep a community intact during the pandemic. “Before the pandemic,” Laura explained, “through Zonta, I’d met leaders of Hands Together and their program Morning Garden. This great community organization supports frontline working families with children in the Santa Ana area.”

Ellen Mogasemi, vice president of operations at Hands Together, shared more about the program. “Morning Garden is a safe community space where parents and children can develop skills and support one another. The program includes English learning, job skills, nutrition, and more.”

And how did Laura help? “She started teaching yoga classes at Morning Garden last school year to a group of ten to fifteen women each week,” explained Lorena Aboytes, program director of Morning Garden. It turns out Laura is also a certified yoga instructor! “Laura is amazing with our group, and conscious of physical and emotional needs. And she is very good at speaking Spanish, too.”

Supporting Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic

But then the pandemic hit, and it was no longer possible to meet—or hold yoga classes—in person. The women and children participating in Morning Garden couldn’t gather to learn and support each other. While millions of people have been able to maintain social connections through technology, countless others lack devices and internet access. This technology gap worsens social, educational, and health gaps, too.

Laura knew that Voices for Innovation had launched a Device Donation Drive in the early days of the pandemic. Over several months, with lots of legwork by VFI director David Pryor and help from a Seattle-based non-profit, InterConnection, VFI had arranged for the donation and refurbishing of more than 200 devices—with more coming in. (If you have devices to donate, please email David Pryor.)

InterConnection raises funds and collects donated devices, which are refurbished and distributed to those in need. David put Laura in touch with InterConnection president Cheryl Roe. “Laura’s timing was serendipitous,” Cheryl said. “I had recently run a grassroots fundraiser, and we had unrestricted funds and devices ready. Our reach goes well beyond Seattle, and Hands Together is just the type of organization that InterConnection supports.”

With the assistance of Abraham Diekhans-Mears, InterConnection’s grant program manager and ecommerce associate, eight laptops were prepared and shipped to Hands Together. A short time later, with further technical help, the Morning Garden families were online and gathering as a group again.

“The donated devices enabled our program to continue,” said Lorena Aboytes. “Preschoolers can come together and sing and color. English-learning is back on track for their moms. There has been so much stress, and with the devices, we can now hold a coffee hour support group. We didn’t have the budget to acquire new technology, so the donated devices enabled Morning Garden to continue.”

A Role for Tech Professionals

It is hard to match the energy and passion of Laura Peters for helping out, but every tech professional can support community non-profits in one way or another.

Cheryl Roe of InterConnection noted that, “One donated device can make a difference.” While InterConnection welcomes large donations from big companies, “Small companies can still make an impact.” InterConnection also welcomes financial contributions to support their mission of providing access to affordable technology, connectivity, and digital literacy.

How else can tech professionals help community organizations like Hands Together? “People feel left behind by technology,” said Lorena Aboytes. “There is a need for tech volunteers to teach digital skills.”

VFI Leader Spotlight: RJ Naugle Helps Connect Veterans with Microsoft and Tech

Photo of VFI leader RJ NaugleEarlier this year, Voices for Innovation welcomed aboard RJ Naugle as one of our new Advisory Task Force leaders. While RJ is new to VFI leadership, he is an experienced advocate who has been engaged at the local, state, national, and international levels.

A Microsoft Alum and U.S. Army Veteran (Paratrooper), RJ is VFI’s point person on Veterans and Tech. We’re honored to have him on the VFI team and to acknowledge him and millions of Veterans and Active Duty, Reserve, and Military Families this month of November 2020 in honor of Veterans Day and remembrance of those who have served past and present.

RJ is also the co-founder and CEO of REV Tech, a Microsoft Channel Partner and software development and consulting firm based in Seattle, Washington. He launched REV in 2011 after his tenure with Microsoft, KPMG, and Starbucks.

We recently visited with RJ to talk with him about his career, community engagement, and how Veterans can change the game for the tech industry.

Tell us about your service background. What values do you take from your military experience?

My service was not unique to most of us who lived through 9/11. I was in the middle of my undergraduate experience when 9/11 occurred and I immediately went and enlisted to be an Army Paratrooper in response to the horrible acts on our great nation. I come from a long line of military service dating back to my Great Grandfather in WWI so I did not give it much extra thought. Upon the completion of my training, I was stationed with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Ft. Lewis Washington, where I lived military values such as Leadership, Duty, Selfless Service, as well as traits specific to that unit like being a silent professional, and the fact that multi-disciplined, small teams function well.

All of these traits and values are found in our military personnel and are highly sought after in the private sector. Because of this and my passion for continued service, I have dedicated most of my post-military career to assisting transitioning service members. While I was still at Microsoft, I collaborated with several other Veterans who worked at the company and started Microsoft’s first Military Recruiting Program, coined “We Still Serve.” Later I was hired back to Microsoft as a consultant to develop the first-of-its-kind, high-tech career skills program, called the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA). Both of these programs are still in place today and make Microsoft Military Affairs a leading authority on transitioning service members into the high-tech community.

You worked for Microsoft and then you launched your own company, REV Tech. Can you tell us about this transition and what REV Tech does?

This transition occurred organically as I have always had entrepreneurial traits and aspirations and had also founded a previous organization with my wife (Army Retiree and Microsoft Alum) Anne Sprute called RallyPoint/6 (RP/6). RP/6 was a non-profit dedicated to providing wrap-around support and end-to-end assistance to transitioning military and their families. RP/6 was acquired by the largest Military Service Organization in the world, the United Service Organizations (USO), and is still around today on military installations worldwide, known as the USO Pathfinder Program.

REV, coined from “Remembering Every Veteran,” is our tech venture that utilizes our Veteran-powered team to provide purpose-driven solutions and services to enterprise clients in the Fortune 500 as well as the Public Sector. REV has four key service lines: 1) Cloud, 2) BI/Analytics, 3) AppDev, and 4) Business Consulting. Our elite delivery teams, designed from what I learned in U.S. Army Special Forces, descend on a situation and solve critical problems for our customers. REV currently has both a sell with and sell to relationship with Microsoft and has deployed various Microsoft technology solutions for a wide array of clients since our inception in 2011. You can find us at both revtechllc.com and RememberEveryVeteran.com.

How are you helping to connect vets to Microsoft (and tech) and vice versa?

In addition to the programs we founded on behalf of Microsoft, we often refer partner organizations to the hiring pipelines we have developed with transitioning service members as well as the non-profit community. Other organizations that we collaborate with on this are the U.S. Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program and the Department of Labor’s Veterans Gold Medallion Program, to name a few.

What skills do people who serve in the military develop that transfer to tech?

There are many technical roles in the military ranging from Helicopter Pilot to Cybersecurity Analyst, and most military members/Veterans have a great eye for attention to detail, critical thinking skills, and an inclination to solving complex problems in challenging environments. Additional skills, not including the raw software skills, found in 21st-century military personnel are the soft skills related to being able to manage large-scale programs, enterprise risk management, and other notable corporate skills.

What advice would give to tech businesses that want to hire vets?

Advice I would offer from my over 15 years of serving Veterans in the high-tech industry is to hire for the values you look for in an employee and not the hard skills. Veterans are the most trainable people in the world and can readily pick up the necessary hard skills, e.g., Software Engineering, Power Platform, etc. with programs such as MSSA, mentioned earlier. Additionally, there are many tax credits and other intangibles that come with hiring someone who has served our nation.

What guidance do you give to active military personnel and vets who are considering careers in tech?

My first guidance always starts with “Take Charge of your Transition” as I outlined in a recent Forbes article, “The Network Gap and its Impact on the War for Talent.”

What policies can the federal government and military adopt that would help transition vets to tech careers—and to the civilian workforce more generally?

I am a large proponent of the Career Skills Programs like MSSA and others. Additionally, I like the concept of apprenticeships and fellowships in order to offer more on-the-job training.

Anything else you’d like to share? 

Yes, as a Microsoft Channel Partner, we value the relationship with the VFI community and my door is always open to anyone looking to hire Veterans or learn more about the work that we have done in this space. I can be reached at RJ@REVtechllc.com and 253.720.3314.

Thank you for speaking with us.

VFI Leader Spotlight: Eric Rabinowitz Discusses Nurturing Relationships

Photo of Eric RabinowitzEric Rabinowitz—author, entrepreneur, trainer, and CEO of Nurture Marketing—joined VFI’s Advisory Task Force earlier this year. Though Eric is new to the ATF, he’s been an engaged VFI advocate for many years, traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers on several occasions.

We recently connected with Eric to hear about how his success as a business leader has translated into effective advocacy.

VFI:      Most VFI leaders work at tech companies, but you own a marketing company. Tell us about your professional background.

Eric:     I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since I started as a paperboy delivering the New York Post at the age of 8. I’ve founded several companies, but I also studied computer science and programming. Early in my career, I worked for Citibank, programming for their International Services Division’s HP 3000 minicomputer. I later led a large development team for an investment bank on Wall Street.

VFI:      But your career eventually moved in a new direction. How did that happen?

Eric:     In 1993, I met my mentor, Jim Cecil, and he introduced me to the concept of nurture marketing. Jim lived in Bellevue when Microsoft was growing rapidly in the 1980s, and he developed nurture marketing working with Microsoft. I participated in one of Jim’s weeklong bootcamps, and he introduced me to the Microsoft partner channel. I ended up creating a Microsoft partner roundtable marketing group in New York with Irma Austin, who was a top Microsoft PAM [Partner Account Manager]. I also met Erik Frantzen the future President of Nurture Marketing around this time. Eventually, I sold my stake in a technical support and help desk staffing company and joined Jim.

VFI:      So, what is “nurture marketing” in a nutshell?

Eric:     Deposits before withdrawals. You deeply understand your clients and provide them with what they need on their buyer’s journey. You don’t ask for anything in return. You create a strong relationship and provide very targeted information. Then a client will come to you. Jim learned this from his father who was a tractor and farm equipment salesman in Kentucky.

VFI:      Does this apply to being a policy advocate and leader with VFI?

Eric:     VFI fits right in my wheelhouse. I’m honored to be part of VFI’s Advisory Task Force. From nurture marketing, I understand the importance of building relationships with government officials over time. I’ve also been called the ultimate “Yes” man. I never shy away from volunteering. I like to volunteer and get things done. I’ve been President of the IAMCP New Jersey and President of the East Brunswick Jewish Center.

VFI:      Tell us about some of your experiences on Capitol Hill.

Eric:     I’ve had several successful meetings. For the first time in my life, when I visited Congress, I felt like I could make a difference on a national basis. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman co-sponsored the LEADS Act [digital privacy legislation] because of our meeting. I’m keeping after Senator Bob Menendez’s office. I’ve been back three times.

VFI:      You’ve also met Senator Cory Booker?

Eric:     When I think of Cory Booker, I am optimistic. He came and spoke at my synagogue, and I spent a half-hour with him one-on-one. He is very impressive. He is engaged and curious—and he is an amazing speaker. It is energizing to make a personal connection with someone who is making a difference for our country. I am right of center, but Cory Booker would have my vote in a second.

VFI:      Thank you for sharing that. These are challenging times. How are you coping with COVID?

Eric:     Fortunately, Nurture Marketing has been able to sustain our business. We’ve continued to hire and did not apply for PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] support.

VFI:      It’s been great talking with you. Thank you for everything you’re doing.

Eric:     Thank you. I look forward to helping out VFI.


VFI Leader Spotlight: Amanda Lee Shares Advice from Capitol Hill

Photo of Amanda LeeAmanda Lee, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft partner Pax8, joined Voices for Innovation’s Advisory Task Force in January. Amanda plays a critical role in helping to drive Pax8’s rapid growth as the leading platform for buying, selling, and managing cloud solutions.

In addition to her deep connection to the partner ecosystem, Amanda brings her experience as a Capitol Hill staffer to VFI. She recently spoke with us to share her perspective on advocacy as someone who knows Congress well. She also shared why policy engagement is important to Pax8.

VFI:                   Early in your career you worked on Capitol Hill. Tell us about it.

Amanda:          I worked for two U.S. Representatives during my career on Capitol Hill. I started out in political fundraising, which led to a great opportunity to serve as a Communications Director. I worked closely under a Chief of Staff who mentored me and helped me grow into my role. It was an exciting time. During this time, I learned firsthand the importance of collaboration in the policy process, the power of the constituent’s voice, and the opportunities to make a difference in our nation.

VFI:                    Based on your Hill experience, what advice can you provide to advocates seeking to make an impact with their members of Congress?

Amanda:          The core duties of a Member are to represent, legislate, and offer constituent services and education. Those who are upholding their duties are listening to constituents and representing their views by voting on their behalf. We backed legislation based on constituent views. We would urge advocates to stand up, speak out, and let their voices be heard on the issues that matter most to them.

VFI:                    Lawmakers hear from people all day long. How do you break through to make sure your views are heard?

Amanda:          A strategic, coordinated effort will break through the noise. There is strength in numbers and organization. Being involved in an advocacy group like VFI can make a difference. It’s also important to remember that members of Congress are people, too—and treat them that way. Find out what they care about and look to make a connection. That can be a game changer.

VFI:                   Why is public policy important to Pax8?

Amanda:          At Pax8, we have created programs to support expanding job opportunities in rural communities. We are passionate about making a positive impact on how access to technology can extend more opportunities for our partners and their current and future clients. Without affordable, reliable broadband connectivity, people in rural areas are held back by limited access to educational, employment, and business opportunities. That is why we support VFI and their initiative to affordably bring wireless broadband to communities in rural America. This will have a direct impact on jobs and economic growth.

VFI:                   Has Pax8 been able to find hires in rural areas because of broadband access?

Amanda:          Broadband is one piece of the puzzle. Our governor in Colorado is committed to developing policies that help create economic opportunities in rural communities. Earlier this year, Pax8 was awarded performance-based tax credits for the Job Growth Incentive and a Strategic Fund incentive to create more job opportunities in rural communities in Colorado. We were the first company in Colorado to receive the Strategic Fund award. We are also excited to share that we have hired our first employee in a rural region under the program on August 3.

VFI:                    That’s terrific. Tell us about other steps you’re taking to connect tech with talent.

Amanda:          I’m one of the community leaders of the WIT [Women in Technology] Network in Denver. The tech sector is strengthened by diversity. It’s critical to support women entrepreneurs and educate women about the dynamism of tech. Female leadership is making a positive impact on our industry. I also founded TechStart Denver to educate Colorado college students about tech careers.

VFI:                    Pax8 is participating in VFI’s Device Donation Drive. How is that going?

Amanda:          We actually got a jumpstart on this. We had a huge local device drive in early March to help those in need gain access to technology. Due to the pandemic, we are continuing to donate devices to those in need, especially our educators and their students as many are starting the new school year remotely. 

VFI:                    Thanks so much for talking with us—and for everything you’re doing. One last question: What are looking forward to doing once we get past COVID-19?

Amanda:          I really miss traveling and seeing the people that I love. Traveling is a chance to feed my soul and discover new things.

VFI Leader Spotlight: Talking Tech and Paying It Forward with Jason Bergeron

Earlier this year, Voices for Innovation welcomed aboard Jason Bergeron as one of our new Advisory Task Force leaders. While Jason is new to VFI leadership, he is an experienced advocate who has been engaged at the local, state, national, and international level.

Jason is also the founder and CEO of Stratify, a business consulting firm based in Houma, Louisiana. He launched Stratify after spending more than 16 years leading a managed service provider (MSP).

We recently visited with Jason to talk with him about his career, community engagement, and why broadband access is a critical issue.

VFI:      You made a career change last year. Tell us about it.

Jason:  I had a technical consulting company that I sold out of. I really enjoy the software selection process, and now with my new company Stratify, I’m bringing software and strategy together. I advise CEOs and CIOs and work to fix bad processes and address a company’s pain. Technology is not going to fix a bad process. I have an ISO-9000 background that provides a foundation for improving businesses. Now I can combine procedures, process, management, and technology.

VFI:      You’re also involved with a telehealth business called Vitallync. How did that venture come about?

Jason:  I had a medical practice client, and they wanted to be able to provide remote care. Together, we set up a telemedicine company that is mostly focused on occupational healthcare. A lot of oil and gas businesses are home-based in Louisiana but work around the world. Vitallync can provide medical care to workers on offshore rigs, maritime vessels, or rural locations, so workers don’t have to take a costly helicopter flight or long drive back to consult with a doctor.

VFI:      Louisiana has many rural areas. Is broadband connectivity an issue? How does this impact businesses?

Jason:  Louisiana is lacking in cloud access because of a lack of broadband. Going back, after Katrina, customers were down for a month or a month and a half because infrastructure was wiped off the face of the earth. Connectivity is still inconsistent. Someone might have access, and someone across the street won’t. People in rural areas can’t fill an available position because they don’t have connectivity. But If cable or DSL providers don’t see ROI, they won’t build infrastructure.

VFI:      How do you think we address this challenge?

Jason:  Internet is the farmland of the 21st century. Government has stepped in to help farmers. We need to subsidize internet. It’s an essential service like electricity or water. We need a multi-pronged approach, with many options. In Louisiana, it is hard to get to some areas because there is a lot of water. Wireless broadband using TV white spaces would be one option for these areas.

VFI:      You recently signed onto a VFI joint letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about expanding broadband. How does this type of action make a difference?


Jason:  That’s where the conversation about this issue is happening. Even if the letter moves the needle just a little bit, that’s important. It advances the conversation and provides another opportunity to spread the word about this issue and get Congress’s attention. You help where you can, and you can be a subject matter expert on broadband.

VFI:      You’re involved with other business and civic groups. Where does VFI fit in?

Jason:  I’m the VP of the IAMCP (International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners) Louisiana Chapter and the Chair of the Membership Committee for IAMCP Americas. I was the Chair of our local Chamber of Commerce and past President of the local Rotary. I’ve had a chance to be engaged at the local level, with state groups, and last year I went to Washington to highlight the need for a national data privacy bill. It especially hurts small businesses having to comply with a patchwork of state rules. National debates like privacy and broadband affect small businesses and local communities. That’s where VFI fits in.

VFI:      What motivates you to be so engaged?

Jason:  I believe in paying it forward. I have received help along the way, and I’m going to give back. I had a chance to help organize computer donations to assist in building tech schools in Liberia. It’s great to be able to make an impact on the other side of the world, and I try to contribute at the local, state, and national level. Technology also helps make it possible. It is an equalizer that creates opportunities.

VFI:      Thank you for bringing your passion and positive attitude to VFI.

Jason:  Thank you for the opportunity.