Toni Townes-Whitley: Digital Transformation in Government and Ethics of Innovation


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Toni Townes-Whitley graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a B.A. in Public Policy and Economics. She then went to the peace corps for three years in Gabon. With a non-tech background, she went on to become the President of the IT and business consulting services firm CGI Federal and presently the President of US Regulated Industries at Microsoft. She leads Microsoft's U.S. sales for Regulated Industries (Financial Services & Insurance; Healthcare & Life Sciences; Federal, State, & Local Government; and Education). Her teams drive digital transformation across national industries and focus on inclusion, equity and access in the emerging digital economy. She is one of the leading women at Microsoft and in the technology industry. Her role at Microsoft is shaping the role that artificial intelligence and technology will play in systems like policing, education, the U.S. military, and more, especially since the U.S. government is one of Microsoft’s leading clients particularly through the use of its Azure cloud services. In this episode, we dive into the intersection of tech development and race, innovation, and ethics and hear Toni’s perspectives on digital transformation. She started off by talking about how she ended up at her position at Microsoft and why she chose to work in regulated industries at Microsoft. She focused on the ability for her work in building tech infrastructure to shape the world we live in. Toni said, “the [regulated industries] is probably the hardest set of sectors to work in terms of designing towards a much more complex set of requirements, but it is also the most meaningful because when you get it right, you have an impact that not only affects the industry but generally affects society at large.” Throughout the interview, Toni emphasizes the importance of a mission-oriented framework to any institution, from the peace corps to Microsoft to government technology initiatives. Toni then moves into talking about key lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to digital transformation in the sectors of education, healthcare, financial services, and more. She speaks on the emergence of cloud-based technology particularly in the sector of government and the ways in which it enables predictive capabilities, deep analytics, and stronger security. She then spends time talking through the relationship between Microsoft and the U.S. government. She talks about how Microsoft’s relationship with the U.S. government spans from providing VR technology to transform training for the Department of Defense to using Microsoft Azure cloud services to keep information secure. Toni concludes by sharing her reflections on the importance of an ethics framework in developing new technologies, which Microsoft developed, that have been adopted by governmental and non-governmental organizations across the world.