Microsoft Consulting Services: An Uncommon Approach Creates Universal Success

REDMOND, Wash., August 2, 1999 — When Vincent Blue joined Wachovia Bank in 1997, the company conducted business with its major corporate customers through DOS-based, command line driven applications. For customers of Wachovia, an interstate bank with headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C. and Atlanta, Ga., this sometimes limited their flexibility and functionality, making it relatively expensive to upgrade client software.

In the increasingly competitive world of financial services, Wachovia realized this system architecture had become inadequate to meet customers’ higher expectations for superior service. New technology in electronic banking services has brought with it a demand for increased speed, efficiency, and convenience.

In an effort to better serve its depositors, Wachovia already had invested two years in the development of a 16-bit, fat client line-of-business application aimed at providing an increased feature set and greater ease of use. As Wachovia’s business unit compared their efforts with the capabilities of newer platforms, they realized the limitations of the application. The 16-bit application — although much improved over the previous command line applications — still lacked the rich feature set and user-friendly interface common to thin-client, browser-based applications. Recognizing the potential of the current Microsoft platform, Wachovia brought Blue onto the scene.

“I quickly saw that Wachovia would be better served through a distributed network and thin client applications,”
Blue says.

In January 1998, Blue worked with MCS principal consultant Robert Ortega to help the bank launch an initiative to develop a more customer-friendly application. A pilot of the new product, Wachovia Connection Plus, was launched in November, only 11 months later. Wachovia Connection Plus, a powerful browser-based application, offers real-time online access to detailed account information, ARP services, information reporting and domestic and international electronic payments and transfers — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Wachovia Connection Plus has put Wachovia at the forefront of electronic banking, providing the company with an important competitive advantage. Thin client applications provide much greater flexibility for future development, with fewer operational and maintenance concerns for Wachovia’s customers, thus greatly reducing total cost of ownership.

Blue and the MCS team worked closely with the Wachovia development team to leverage existing line-of-business applications at the middle-tier level to maximize savings, while increasing convenience at the customer end. Wachovia’s commitment to distributed network architecture, as a means to provide better service and greater convenience to customers, is a great attraction to current and potential corporate customers.

“This new product reflects our commitment to bring the benefits of advancing technology to our customers,”
said Hugh M. Durden, president of Wachovia Corporate Services, in a press release issued when the new application debuted late last year.
“Wachovia Connection Plus is the platform upon which Wachovia will continue to develop integrated, secure information and transaction capabilities for our corporate customers.”

A highly structured, team-oriented development approach — based on the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) — was key to the project’s success. A distillation of the expertise and experience of Microsoft’s product development and IT organizations, MSF is a series of principles, models, and best practices taught by representatives of Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS).

Vincent Blue was in a perfect position to involve the local MCS team in sharing the lessons of Microsoft Solutions Framework with Wachovia. Although Blue has reported to Milton Peddycord, Senior Vice-President of Cross Application Architecture at Wachovia for the past three years on a full-time basis, Microsoft pays his salary. Blue is actually an MCS consultant — an enterprise program manager, or EPM — assigned to Wachovia to help the bank with a broad range of technical and strategic issues.

A Willingness to Learn and Listen

Blue is one of 2,200 MCS consultants dedicated to helping enterprise customers and technology solution providers — two of Microsoft’s most important customer segments — achieve success. As an EPM, Blue has worked with Wachovia to build a solid, unified, information-technology infrastructure and develop powerful line-of-business applications like Wachovia Connection Plus. His goal is to help the bank adopt new technologies that solve real-world business issues.

Other MCS consultants work with technology provider companies, or Microsoft Certified Solution Providers, to offer a wide range of Microsoft-product related services backed by the highest level of technical skill and knowledge. Through a broad selection of initiatives and programs, MCS provides product training, technical support, business development assistance, and other services to thousands of technology companies around the globe.

Of course, it is not unusual for a major software maker like Microsoft to offer consulting services. The ability to use increasingly complex digital technologies to collect, analyze and disseminate information with speed, thoroughness, and creativity is becoming a prerequisite for success. As a result, more and more corporations are turning to outside help for advice on making the most of technology.

For many large technology companies, the importance of consulting has come to rival — or even surpass — product sales. For example, according to a recent report published by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), IBM employs 120,000 service and support workers who provide advice to thousands of clients. At Oracle, consulting dollars make up more than half of the company’s total revenue. The most important market for these companies is large corporate enterprises — Fortune 1000 companies with thousands of desktop computers and vast networks that span continents.

Although having a consulting division is not unusual, Microsoft’s approach to its consulting business is unique within the industry. While companies like IBM and Oracle have built huge consulting armies and made the delivery of services a critical source of revenue and profits, Microsoft deliberately limits the size of MCS. In addition, MCS is actually a cost recovery center: Although the consulting organization charges market rates for its services, it reinvests profits into programs that help service partners
“ramp up”
on Microsoft technology skills.

By doing so, Microsoft has created a vast network of service partners that have more skill, knowledge, and expertise than any single company could ever hope to offer. Moreover, by relying on a consortium of partners to provide consulting services to customers, Microsoft can focus on its primary mission: developing software that meets customer needs. Ultimately, say Microsoft executives, greater customer satisfaction will lead to increased sales of Microsoft products.

According to Enterprise Services general manager Ian Rogoff, this unique approach is built upon three principles.
“First, we believe that you should stick to your knitting,”
he explains.
“Ours is making great software. Second, our customers have asked us for choice in service providers. Finally, by working with partners we can get more innovation and service capability than we could ever provide by ourselves.”

ITSMA recently took a close look at MCS and came away deeply impressed by the Microsoft approach.
“Microsoft Consulting Services is not tasked with showing revenue growth or profits. Rather, services must cover its costs and show high and improving customer satisfaction that leads to Microsoft technology deployment,”
says a report on the MCS program.
“Microsoft’s services strategy has worked well because all of Microsoft’s actions have demonstrated that it is committed to the success of both its customers and partners. The company has displayed a willingness to listen and learn. As a result, it serves the most committed customers and partners extremely well.”

Developing a Broad Perspective

The EPM role is at the heart of the relationship between Microsoft and many of its largest enterprise customers. EPMs are senior consultants who spend a year or more at a client company. Working closely with both top corporate executives and senior-level IT staff, EPMs focus on a wide range of strategic technology issues, from enterprise architecture planning to line-of-business application development. Combining knowledge of the customer’s business needs and objectives with a deep understanding of current and future Microsoft technology development, the EPM is in the unique position to advise major corporations as they make key decisions about information technologies.

“Our EPM has become an integral part of our organization”
states Milton Peddycord of Wachovia.
“Early on, Vince Blue’s role was more limited, but as he continued to contribute and we began to realize what a valuable resource we had in him and Microsoft, his role and exposure has grown significantly. Vince is solution-focused and has come to know as much about particular areas within Wachovia as other staff that have worked at Wachovia for years. I am very pleased with the EPM model.”

“Having an EPM allows us to make decisions today with knowledge of what will happen in the future with Microsoft technologies,”
says Larry Kuzma, senior director of technology alliances for Reed Elsevier Technology Group.
“That allows us to be on a more predictable path, rather than waiting to see what impact technology changes will have. It fundamentally saves us time and money.”

The question of where technology is headed is critical for Reed Elsevier. One of the world’s leading publishers of scientific, business and professional information, Reed Elsevier’s holdings include The Lancet LEXIS-NEXIS, and Cahners Business Information, which produces more than 100 business magazines. According to Kuzma, the ability to take advantage of new technologies to deliver information to customers in new ways is key to the company’s success.

Todd MacDonald is an EPM assigned to Reed Elsevier. Although he has worked for Microsoft for nine years, when he uses the word
while talking about his job, he is just as likely to be referring to Reed Elsevier as he is to Microsoft. MacDonald believes that the essence of his job is his ability to serve as a two-way conduit between the two companies, sharing information with Reed Elsevier about technologies that are in development at Microsoft, while taking information back to Microsoft software development groups about how their products do–or don’t–meet his client’s needs.

This feedback from enterprise customers has come to play an important part in the software development process at Microsoft.
“Microsoft is extremely interested in how our enterprise customers use our products in the real world,”
says MacDonald.
“Understanding the scenarios that drive Reed Elsevier’s work and sharing that information with a product group can save Microsoft from building features that might not be that useful to real business users. And it often means that features are built into a product that are designed specifically to help Reed Elsevier solve a particular business need.”

According to Kuzma, this benefits Microsoft as much as it does Reed Elsevier:
“It broadens their perspective on how the tools that Microsoft creates influence business decisions,”
he explains.
“I think they’ve really welcomed the opportunity to hear our feedback because it helps them develop better products.”

Technology in Service of a Competitive Advantage

The work of Todd MacDonald at Reed Elsevier and Vincent Blue at Wachovia are just two examples of what the ITSMA calls Microsoft’s
“unconventional approach to servicing this customer set [by building] a thin layer of direct Enterprise services capability, while focusing on developing a broad solution provider community.”
The convergence of Microsoft consulting know-how with Microsoft service associates’ technical expertise can also be seen in the working relationship that has developed between Merrill Lynch, Microsoft and Compaq.

One of the world’s leading financial institutions, Merrill Lynch has long been a trailblazer when it comes to utilizing technology to provide its customers with new products and services, and its employees with new tools that enhance service and improve efficiency. An early adopter of several Microsoft platform components, Merrill Lynch was one of the first U.S.-based companies to implement the EPM program.

MCS consultant David Ling is an EPM assigned to Merrill Lynch. Ling has worked with Merrill Lynch for nearly four years, with about half of that time spent in the EPM role.
“Nobody deploys technology for its own sake,”
says Ling.
“They deploy it for the competitive advantage that they get. I can help Merrill Lynch identify opportunities to adopt technologies that meet their objectives and also help them avoid mismatches when there are new products that aren’t a perfect fit.”

One initiative that has been especially useful for Merrill Lynch is an MCS offering called the Windows DNA Development Lab. The labs were created to help companies like Merrill Lynch utilize in-house developers to build sophisticated line-of-business applications with absolute confidence that the end product will work as planned across the corporate network. Using the Microsoft Windows Distributed interNet Applications (DNA) architectural framework, the Windows DNA Development Lab allows developers to prototype new applications in a controlled setting that replicates a company’s corporate network environment. Working with Microsoft architectural experts and Microsoft service associates, development teams spend a week working to build a functional proof-of-concept application that can then be tuned, scaled, and deployed on an enterprise-wide basis.

In a recent project, Merrill Lynch developed a single method to identify users of both the Windows NT Server network and the host system. The week-long effort resulted in a more efficient and secure login process. By the time the group wrapped up its work, they had created a code module that was 95 percent complete. The code is now undergoing final tuning and testing before deployment across the enterprise.

“The Windows DNA Development Lab allows our developers to concentrate on specific development tasks without distraction,”
says Dean Mazboudi, Merrill Lynch vice president, private client architecture.
“It allows us to frame the project in a ‘real world’ setting, complete with the access control, security, and other protocols that exist in our corporate standards.”

Not only has the Windows DNA Lab been a big success for Merrill Lynch, but it has also worked to the benefit of Microsoft service associate, Compaq. Windows DNA Labs are offered through MCS in association with a group of technology companies that include Cambridge Technology Partners, KPMG, and, in the case of the labs for Merrill Lynch, Compaq. The work that Compaq conducted on the lab projects with Merrill Lynch has also led to additional engagements for both companies.

According to Ling, this is precisely the outcome that is at the heart and soul of the Microsoft Consulting Services approach.
“Merrill Lynch gets a line-of-business application that utilizes the best of Microsoft technology to solve a real-world business issue,”
he says.
“At the same time, it allows Compaq to showcase its technical expertise and come away with a lot of add-on consulting work at Merrill Lynch.”
The end result is a win for Microsoft through enhanced customer satisfaction, a win for Merrill Lynch through the adoption of technology that increases efficiency, and a win for Compaq through the development of additional business.

According to the Information Technology Services Marketing Association, this ability to produce such unequivocally positive results for so many parties is key to the ongoing success not only of Microsoft Consulting Services, but of the company as a whole.

“Microsoft has established a successful model for maintaining strategic customer contact while executing a partner strategy,”
concludes the ITSMA analysis of Microsoft Consulting Services.
“This approach to services demonstrates an alignment of corporate and services strategy not commonly seen. Microsoft’s on-going strategy is indelibly linked to maintaining a strong product focus. Its ability to align the service strategy with the corporate focus has enabled it to make the right investments necessary to drive a successful partner model.”

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