First Microsoft Girls STEAM Challenge announced

To foster participation in science-, tech-, engineering-, art- and math-related disciplines

(Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – Amid International Women’s Week and to foster participation in science-, technology-, engineering-, arts- and math-related disciplines (STEAM), Microsoft Puerto Rico, alongside the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust announced the first Microsoft Girls STEAM Challenge.

While women have made strides in all professions, they still account for less than 20% in computer science and technology.

The competition, which is open to middle- and high-school students, seeks to listen to the solutions young women have to address some of the social problems affecting Puerto Rico, utilizing at least one of the STEAM branches and Microsoft technology. The categories are: Strengthening Education, Improving Health, Strengthening the Economy, Citizen Security and Sustainability of the Environment,

Keren Henríquez, director of education and corporate social responsibility for Microsoft Caribbean, said, “This initiative aims to promote strategies for problem-based learning and service-based learning, helping to develop in the students the skills and abilities of the future invaluable for their academic and professional success,” adding that by “creating an innovative project in the STEAM area, we empower students to be part of the next generation of technology heroines.”

To participate, students must devise a solution and present their proposal to solve it.
They will be asked to develop a presentation with the Microsoft Sway tool and present a video of a maximum of 2 minutes that explains and demonstrates its solution. The evaluation criteria will consider four areas: originality, methodology, presentation of the result and impact.

The evaluation committee is made up of educators from the STEAM disciplines of specialized schools of the island, as well as university professors who are experts in the same disciplines.

The prizes for the winners include a Microsoft Surface laptop for the winner of the
intermediate category and a Surface and participation in events such as the Microsoft
Education Forum 2019 and the Innovation Learning Week at Microsoft Operations headquarters in Humacao, Puerto Rico, for the winner of the superior category.

The Research Trust will award metallic prizes to first- and second-place winners as well.

“For the Science, Technology & Research Trust of P.R., it’s very important to support this initiative that is aligned with our effort to offer students, at intermediate and higher levels, the opportunity to expose themselves to the STEAM disciplines, and particularly to girls, who remain a minority in the professions of engineering, mathematics and science.

“The art in STEAM gathers all the opportunities that the creative industries offer as professional and economic development. It is the way in which from an early stage they can identify interests in the areas where there will be future jobs and the opportunity to start,” said Lucy Crespo, the trust’s chief executive.

The winning projects will be announced between May 8 and May 10 and the final competitions will be held at Microsoft in Humacao May 16 and May 17. The project and
final awards exhibition will take place during the Microsoft Education Puerto Rico Forum 2019 on May 23 at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino.

At a news conference this week, two students, Lesly Ann Rosa and Frannette Ocasio, seniors at the Dr. Carlos González School in Aguada, detailed their efforts to promote the love for computers sciences among other girls. While wearing pink shirts that read “Digit Girls,” they recalled creating the group “Coronate Princesa,” to teach about coding.

“We are only six girls at the Tech Club,” Ocasio said about the school’s technology club of about 30 students. She noted that women comprised 42% of the individuals working in math, science and statistics but less than 18% of the individuals in technology.

Rosa, meanwhile, showed reporters how to use Sway, the Microsoft program that must be used for the competition, with a presentation on the history of the binary system computer language.

“During the last years, the STEM education evolved into STEAM, which means a cutting-edge change that we are taking advantage of for the development of students. STEAM’s learning builds the skills students need, and Microsoft encourages them to discover excellent physical activities that stimulate creativity, increase curiosity and inspire
them to continue to develop,” Migdalia Bonilla, general manager of Microsoft Operations Puerto Rico, said.

To participate, students must have the guidance of a teacher mentor, parent or guardian. Registration begins Monday and runs through April 12, at AKA.MS/SGCPR.




Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association’s annual forum to focus on AI

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association’s annual forum this year, Academia Edition, will include a panel of economists and business editors, and strategies to increase sales via social media, cybersecurity tools, as well as a special focus on artificial intelligence, are some of the topics that will be discussed March 7.

The conference, which caters to entrepreneurs and businessowners alike, will take place at the Convention Center, where beginning at 9 a.m., the Economic Perspectives panel will delve into economic activity stateside and on the island through 2020, to analyze the implications for retail both locally and globally.

At noon starts a special session, titled “Artificial Intelligence: Revolution that Powers Retail,” to explore how the advancements in working with data have shaped consumer behavior.

“We will have as keynote speaker Oscar Pita from Microsoft, an eminence on the subject of artificial intelligence. The executive will share with the audience how successful retailers have capitalized on artificial intelligence for the implementation of tactics that benefit their businesses,” Lymaris Otero, the executive director of the association, said in a release.

The ability to determine what will sell more and at what price, where and how to market it, and how to anticipate the needs and preferences of customers is a reality today, according to Pita, an engineer with a master’s degree from Columbia University who is Microsoft’s Cloud director for the Caribbean region.

“We are convinced that the experience for our members will enhance their operations with this day of knowledge, new strategies, future trends, relations and competitiveness, as well as best practices that are transforming the industry worldwide. For this reason, we have spared no expense in gathering top-level resources,” Otero added.

For more information, visit https://www.acdetpr.com/events




Mastercard, Microsoft Join Forces to Advance Digital Identity Innovations

SAN JUAN – Mastercard, whose payments network operates worldwide, and global software and device giant Microsoft, announced Tuesday a strategic collaboration to improve how people manage and use their digital identity in a “secure, instant way,” that is expected to be revealed “in the coming months.”

In a joint release, the global companies explained that since verifying one’s identity online “is still dependent on physical or digital proof managed by a central party, whether it’s your passport number, your proof of address, driver’s license, user credentials or other means,” this dependence “places a huge burden on individuals, who have to successfully remember hundreds of passwords for various identities and are increasingly being subjected to more complexity in proving their identity and managing their data.”

The answer, they said, is a service that would allow individuals to enter, control and share their identity data “their way” on the devices people use.

“Today’s digital identity landscape is patchy, inconsistent and what works in one country often won’t work in another. We have an opportunity to establish a system that puts people first, giving them control of their identity data and where it is used,” says Ajay Bhalla, president, cyber and intelligence solutions, Mastercard. “Working with Microsoft brings us one step closer to making a globally interoperable digital identity service a reality, and we look forward to sharing more very soon.”

Access to a universally recognized digital identity “could unlock new and enhanced experiences for people as they interact with businesses, service providers and their community online,” the release reads and includes the following:

  • Financial Services: Improve and speed the applicant identification process for establishing a new bank account, loan or payment service account
  • Commerce: Enable a more personalized and efficient shopping experience online and in stores, regardless of the payment type, device or service provider
  • Government Services: Simplify interactions with government agencies and services – such as filing taxes, applying for passports or securing support payments (e.g., Social Security)
  • Digital Services: Streamline and provide easier use of email, social media, movie/music streaming services, and rideshare platforms

“We believe people should be in control of their digital identity and data, and we’re thrilled to first work with Mastercard to bring new decentralized identity innovations to life,” said Joy Chik, corporate vice president, Identity, Microsoft.

This digital identity initiative could also help solve for common challenges, the companies added, such as:

  • Identity Inclusion: More than 1 billion people, a majority of them women, children and refugees, are not officially recognized; a digital identity can improve their access to health, financial and social services.
  • Identity Verification: A single, reusable digital identity can help people interact with a merchant, bank, government agency and countless other digital service providers with greater integrity, lower cost and with less friction.
  • Fraud Prevention: A single digital identity can help reduce payments fraud and identity theft of various forms.

This initiative will serve as the foundation for new Mastercard services powered by Microsoft Azure and “built in collaboration with leaders in the banking, mobile network operator and government communities.”




Rock Solid Technologies partners with Strattam Capital; to create about 100 jobs in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico-based Rock Solid Technologies, a software products and research and development company, announced Thursday a majority investment from stateside private equity firm Strattam Capital.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who spoke at the event at Rock Solid headquarters in the Economic Development Bank building in San Juan, stressed that the expansion will result in the creation of about 100 jobs in the next five years, mostly in software engineering and information systems consulting.

Also in attendance alongside island officials, were Rock Solid senior executives such as President Richard Brown and Vice President Ángel L. Pérez, as well as Kyle Reesing, from Strattam Capital.

The investment’s objective is to enable Rock Solid to accelerate the growth of its civic services platform, Respond, in the North American market. The web-based platform provides a database that facilitates the connection of citizens with government. It currently serves more 7 million people between Canada, the United States, Panama and Puerto Rico.

On the island, more than 35 municipalities use the tool to offer residents the ability to report issues and open requests for services, and is the Puerto Rico 311 citizen service system provider.

Respond is configured according to the requirements of local governments through configurable workflows that are the result of “input from years of partnerships with government agencies, countries, municipalities, and public corporations in the Caribbean, Latin America, Canada, and the United States,” Rock Solid said in a release.

“Over the past few years, and more significantly in the past four months, Rock Solid has been growing outside Puerto Rico. Just a few weeks ago, we announced wins in key cities in Canada and the United States. With the support of Strattam Capital, we are confident that in the next few years Rock Solid, which has been developing software solutions in Puerto Rico for the past 15 years, will become a top player in the global market” Rock Solid’s president said.

The Microsoft Gold Partner company was recently selected to provide Respond for the cities of New Orleans, Louisiana and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition, it serves Burlington in Ontario, Canada, and the Panamá 311 National Call Center.

“Through their deep domain expertise, Rock Solid software solutions enable government agencies to better serve their citizens,” said Strattam Capital Managing Partner Bob Morse. “We are impressed with the leading engineering capabilities they have created and are excited to be investing with the Rock Solid leadership team to help bring Rock Solid software products to a wider audience across the U.S. and Canada.”

Rock Solid’s vice president highlighted that the capital injection will allow the company to continue to promote products developed in Puerto Rico; “products that are winners” of global awards based on Microsoft Dynamics 2018.

“We have demonstrated that our local talent can compete globally, attracting capital to fund our growth which is crucial to our expansion strategy,” Pérez said.

“This company, highlighted by the development of high quality software solutions for clients from the public and private sectors, is undoubtedly an example of how a Puerto Rican company can evolve and reach new markets in the United States, Central America and Canada. Its continued success should serve as an example for new companies that seek to maximize their services,” Roselló said.

“It is a source of pride for Puerto Rico that Rock Solid continues its upward trend towards the internationalization of its services, exporting technology developed with the talent that exists on the island,” said Puerto Rico’s economic development secretary, Manuel Laboy. “This growth is extremely positive for the economy of the Island and to retain the professionals who are here and want to stay. We predict many more successes.”

The transaction was facilitated by IT ExchangeNet, a Microsoft channel mergers and acquisitions firm.

With the expansion, according to the release, the products will be promoted in Puerto Rico to be used in more than 60 of the island’s municipalities, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Panama.

Founded in 1997, Rock Solid works on the development and implementation of software solutions based on Microsoft Dynamics technologies, including financial systems (GP and AX), customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI) and custom software development projects.

Its main focus is the public sector, both nationally and locally (municipality, cities or counties), health (which includes insurance companies) and distribution.

Rock Solid currently has 134 employees at offices in San Juan; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Panama; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Austin, Texas. A large number of the company’s employees are graduates of the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Campus, many of whom are certified in Microsoft technologies.

Rock Solid Technologies takes Puerto Rico-developed software to Canada




Hundreds attend Connect & Grow with Microsoft and LinkedIn event

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced the participation of more than 600 entrepreneurs during the first edition of the Connect & Grow with Microsoft and LinkedIn event, where they received information to increase productivity via the use of cloud-based tools.

The event brought together renowned experts from Microsoft and LinkedIn, who spoke anout how to use both platforms to benefit their operations, increase their business contacts and expand to other markets.

The Puerto Rico Emprende initiative is a business platform that seeks to foster opportunities for the development of local businesses so they create jobs and compete locally and abroad.

“Puerto Rico Emprende has made available the latest in the development of digital strategies and tools to local entrepreneurs in order to boost their productivity and growth. Connect & Grow is part of these initiatives and we trust that our business people will be able to make the most out of them to contribute to the economic development that is so imperative for the recovery of Puerto Rico,” the governor said.

The agenda included topics such as LinkedIn tools to grow a business; new cloud-based productivity tools for small businesses; and artificial intelligence. The second event was being held Thursday at the Hilton Ponce Hotel & Casino.

The executive director of the Trade and Export Co., Ricardo Llerandi Cruz, said that “our digitization campaign seeks to meet the needs of today’s entrepreneurs, offering them various resources that allow them to optimize their business efforts at any time and place. This way, we promote their growth, to help them showcase and export their products or services to the international market.”

The workshop was led by Thiago Gabri, Oscar Pita, Limari Colón, Guillermo Caicedo and Verónica Núñez, representatives of LinkedIn and Microsoft for Latin America and the Caribbean.




Puerto Rico Emprende organizes Connect & Grow with Microsoft and Linkedin

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. (CCE by its Spanish initials) will hold the Connect & Grow with Microsoft and LinkedIn event as part of its efforts to offer small and midsize companies the latest digital trends for their development, it announced Thursday.

The event will take place Oct. 23 and 25 at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan and at the Hilton Ponce Hotel & Casino, CCE Executive Director Ricardo Llerandi said.

“With this event, we seek to continue offering small and medium-sized companies alternatives to support their growth and expansion plans. For this reason, our offer includes, through these workshops, specialized training in the use and application of new technologies, so the entrepreneur can develop new business strategies,” Llerandi Cruz said in a statement.

The workshop will be in led by Thiago Gabri, Limari Colón, Guillermo Caicedo and Verónica Núñez, representatives of LinkedIn and Microsoft for Latin America and the Caribbean. The agenda will include topics to grow businesses, “New Cloud Productivity Tools for Small Business” and artificial intelligence.

“Through these initiatives, we offer local companies the resources needed to foster innovation, training and technology in their business strategies. In this way we foment the growth and expansion of local businesses,” the executive said.

Support for the digitalization of SMEs is part of the Puerto Rico Emprende initiative, a business platform that seeks to create opportunities for the development of more local companies so they can create jobs and be competitive locally and abroad. The initiatives and strategies within Puerto Rico Emprende are part of the Plan for Puerto Rico of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, which are aimed at reactivating the economy.

Visit the Eventbrite listing to register here.




Banco Popular among 81 winners at World Branding Awards

SAN JUAN – At the Americas Edition of the World Branding Awards, 81 brands from 16 countries and territories were named “Brand of the Year” in their respective categories, in a ceremony held Thursday at The Plaza on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The work carried out by the World Branding Forum (WBF), a nonprofit that not only organizes the awards, but also focuses on raising “the standards of branding for the good of the industry as well as consumers” through research, development, educational, recognition, networking and outreach programs. It also publishes branding news that it says reach “a global audience of over 22 million.”

Its awards recognize the achievements of the “world’s best brands,” judged by brand valuation, consumer market research and public online voting, which counts for 70% of the scoring process. Winners are classified in three tiers: Global, Regional and National.

Puerto Rico-based financial institution Banco Popular was among the national tier winners, alongside other brands, including Prüne (Argentina), Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Unimed (Brazil), Manulife (Canada), Banco de Chile (Chile), El Corral (Colombia), BNCR (Costa Rica), Planeta Azul (Dominican Republic), Supercines (Ecuador), Wray and Nephew (Jamaica), BBVA Bancomer (Mexico), super99 (Panama), Superseis (Paraguay), BCP (Peru), and Ford (United Sates).

“The participation of 22 countries from the Americas and the Caribbean shows the importance of branding today. This brings the total number of participating countries and territories of the awards to 55,” Richard Rowles, chairman of World Branding Forum, said in the announcing release.

Global tier awardees included Amazon, Apple, Coca–Cola, Colgate, Facebook, Gillette, Google, Marriott, McCain, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Mission, Nike, Pampers, Starbucks, UPS and Visa.

“This edition saw over 80,000 consumers vote for more than 1,500 brands. However, only 81 brands from 16 countries were awarded, demonstrating the high standards required to win at these awards,” added Peter Pek, chief executive of the forum.

For more information and the full list of winners, visit awards.brandingforum.org.




Trump considers ex-Microsoft exec as top economic adviser: official

Chris Liddell, a former executive at Microsoft Corp and General Motors Co, is under consideration to become U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, a White House official said on Sunday, confirming media reports.

Trump is searching for a new director for the White House National Economic Council after Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president, said he would resign. Cohn’s decision came after Trump decided to put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Trump who promoted the tariffs, has also been touted as a candidate for the top economic job, though he has said he is not in the running. Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow has also been cited as a contender.

Liddell’s background running major companies and his behind-the-scenes efficiency at the White House has made him an attractive candidate, the official said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives Chris Liddell hold up a chart showing the processes involved with making a federal highway during an event on deregulation at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 14, 2017. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Liddell, 59, has earned respect at the White House for his work on projects like information technology modernization and electronic health records, which have required intensive coordination with government agencies, the official said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)




Google launches Slack competitor Hangouts Chat

SAN FRANCISCO – Google released an update to its internet chat tool Hangouts on Wednesday, aiming to make it suitable in workplaces so the Alphabet Inc unit can compete with business software makers including Microsoft Corp and Slack Technologies Inc.

Hangouts Chat supports instant messaging across devices between workers, including group conversations. It also allows users to integrate widgets to access data from other corporate software in a chat window.

Google announced the service last March, but told Reuters it would be available to all customers for the first time on Wednesday.

The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S. August 7, 2017. (REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo)

Hangouts Chat sits in Google’s G Suite, a workplace software package that includes email and word-processing tools, for which more than 4 million businesses globally pay as much as $25 per user each month. [L1N1OB23X]

Hangouts launched as a free service in 2013. But Google began tuning it for businesses when the company expanded enterprise sales efforts and sought to bring customers many of the same features it has internally.

“I see this as the second incantation of Hangouts,” Scott Johnston, director of product management at Google, said in an interview. “We want to move toward helping people move faster at work.”

But businesses have other options. Chat app Slack has signed up 50,000 paying teams as workers adopt more robust alternatives to email for long-distance communications. Microsoft’s Teams provides similar functionality in its Office 365 package, which is well ahead of G Suite in customers.

Microsoft held about 37 percent, and Slack about 5 percent, of the nearly $2 billion global market for collaboration software in 2016, according to research firm IDC.

Google is keeping a free version of Hangouts as it does for Gmail and Docs.

The paid version of Hangouts supports group conversations with up to 8,000 participants. Messages save indefinitely by default, though granular controls are available.

Companies can link their databases with Hangouts Chat. For instance, teams at Google have integrated their bug-tracking, employee directory and IT support systems.

Or customers can pick among integrations with software from Salesforce.com Inc, Dialpad Inc and Kayak.

They also can use Google-developed artificial intelligence services, such as a meeting scheduler tool that sets group meeting times based on its understanding of individuals’ work habits.

Google is bringing similar artificial intelligence to its calendar software, with a system that suggests a meeting location after analyzing a company’s conference room listings and seating chart.

Hangouts Chat also pairs with Hangouts Meet, teleconferencing software that Google released last year.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by David Gregorio)




U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with Microsoft data privacy fight

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court justices on Tuesday wrestled with Microsoft Corp’s dispute with the U.S. Justice Department over whether prosecutors can force technology companies to hand over data stored overseas, with some signaling support for the government and others urging Congress to pass a law to resolve the issue.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both conservatives, indicated sympathy during an hour-long argument in the case toward the Justice Department’s stance that because Microsoft is based in the United States it was obligated to turn over data held abroad sought by prosecutors in a U.S. warrant.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether the court needed to act in the closely watched case in light of Congress now considering bipartisan legislation that would resolve the legal issue.

The case began when Microsoft balked at handing over a criminal suspect’s emails stored in Microsoft computer servers in Dublin in a drug trafficking case. Microsoft challenged whether a domestic warrant covered data stored abroad.

A ruling is due by the end of June, giving Congress little time to act.

“Wouldn’t it be wiser to say let’s leave things as they are. If Congress wants to regulate in this ‘Brave New World,’ it should do it,” Ginsburg said.

Alito agreed that Congress should act but added that “in the interim, something has to be done.”

]A Microsoft logo is seen a day after Microsoft Corp’s $26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn Corp, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on June 14, 2016. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo)

If the court were to rule in favor of Microsoft and Congress does not amend the 1986 law at issue in the case, Alito wondered how the government could quickly obtain information in a major criminal investigation in which data is held overseas, potentially in several different countries.

“What happens in that situation?” Alito asked.

Roberts appeared concerned that companies like Microsoft could enable customers to evade the reach of U.S. prosecutors by deliberately storing data overseas.

Microsoft “might gain customers if you can assure them, no matter what happens, the government won’t be able to get access to their e-mails,” Roberts said.

The company’s lawyer, Joshua Rosenkranz, responded that customers already know that other services existed that provided stronger privacy guarantees.

“If customers do not want their e-mails to be seized by the government, they don’t use Microsoft’s services,” Rosenkranz said.

The case highlights the friction between tech companies and privacy advocates desiring to protect customer data and law enforcement wanting information vital to criminal and counterterrorism investigations.

LOWER COURT BACKED MICROSOFT

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 sided with Microsoft, handing a victory to tech firms that increasingly offer cloud computing services in which data is stored remotely. President Donald Trump’s administration appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

The appeals court said the emails were beyond the reach of domestic search warrants obtained under a federal law called the 1986 Stored Communications Act.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress to update the 1986 statute, a move backed by both Microsoft and the administration. The bill would let U.S. judges issue warrants while giving companies an avenue to object if the request conflicts with foreign law. Passage of the bill likely would render the case moot.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican who has led the efforts to rework the law, was in the courtroom to hear Tuesday’s argument. He said in a statement afterward that his bill would resolve the legal question while balancing law enforcement and privacy interests.

“This commonsense legislation has the full-throated support of both law enforcement and the tech community and deserves swift enactment,” Hatch added.

Globally dominant American tech companies have expressed concern that customers will go elsewhere if they think the U.S. government’s reach extends to data centers all around the world without changes being made to the law.

Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first American company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the United States. The Microsoft customer whose emails were sought told the company he was based in Ireland when he signed up for his account.

Other companies including IBM Corp, Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google filed court papers backing Microsoft. Several foreign governments, including Ireland and Britain, filed court papers raising concerns about the U.S. government’s position.

The administration has the support of 35 states led by Vermont.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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