Q&A: Microsoft Learning Seeks to Be Technology Users’ “Career Companion for Life”

Lutz Ziob, general manager of the Microsoft Learning group.

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 19, 2003 — The quickening drumbeat of technology innovation in all facets of personal and work life has also accelerated the pace at which individuals and businesses must move to keep their knowledge and skills sharp. In this rapidly changing environment where time is a precious asset, they need educational resources that are flexible, reliable, cost-effective and geared toward results.

Spurred by customers’ desire for easier and more reliable access to instructional and reference resources that fulfill these goals, Microsoft recently unified three of its business units within the Content Development and Delivery Group Microsoft Training and Certification, Microsoft Press and Microsoft TechNet subscriptions to establish a central source for integrated learning solutions. The new Microsoft Learning group provides skills assessments, learning products, books, online reference materials and formal training to help customers achieve their full potential by increasing knowledge and building skills that enable more powerful usage of Microsoft technology.

PressPass asked Lutz Ziob , general manager of Microsoft Learning, to outline the new group’s objectives and offerings as well as share his perspective on the changing demands for technology learning.

PressPass: What prompted the formation of Microsoft Learning?

Ziob: A couple of broad developments in the learning industry over the past several years have influenced Microsoft’s approach to this business. First, the way that people learn — especially new technology information — continues to change dramatically in the Internet era. Electronic learning materials and Internet-based instruction are gaining prominence alongside traditional classroom training and printed texts as effective, affordable skill-building tools for IT professionals, developers and information workers. Just about everyone who upgrades or learns a new technology or prepares for a certification exam is typically blending different means of learning, by attending a seminar, reading a book, gleaning content from the Web and a variety of other means. Blended learning is about providing customers with a mix of instructional content that they can tailor to their own particular needs and goals. This shift toward blended learning is reflected in our new Microsoft Learning group.

Second, the concept of life-long learning is today an utmost necessity. Job roles, and even whole job categories, are changing so quickly that none of us can stay competitive and productive without continuously updating our skills and capabilities. Microsoft has always provided a broad variety of means for people to acquire and update their skills from the books published by Microsoft Press to the Web-based reference materials on TechNet to our extensive training and certification programs. Uniting these products and services within Microsoft Learning will help customers find the resources they need more easily, and help to ensure that these resources align with each other across all stages of technology adoption and can be combined in flexible ways to meet customers’ specific, unique needs.

PressPass: What key objectives does the Microsoft Learning group want to accomplish?

Ziob: Microsoft Learning’s business vision is to provide customers and partners with the effective skills and knowledge to optimize their adoption and use of Microsoft technology. Some level of instruction is always needed to get the most from software products that are smart, highly efficient and help people do their jobs better. Therefore, our mission is to make Microsoft Learning a trusted IT career companion for life.

Materials created by the group will also carry the moniker “Microsoft Official Learning Products,” assuring customers that the content they’re using comes from Microsoft, and will provide them with the highest quality information and instruction for our products.

PressPass: How has partner and customer feedback influenced this change?

Ziob: More than ever, our customers and partners are driven by the need to make the right economic choices; nobody today has resources to waste. They say, give me the right information at the right time, and in the way that I like to learn so I can spend as little time and money to effectively update my skills and knowledge. For our industry partners, receiving Microsoft Official Learning Products that can be customized and delivered in a timely manner is crucial in enabling them to provide efficient learning solutions and reliable guidance for Microsoft customers.

We’re responding to that feedback with resources that enable people to quickly assess what they already know, pinpoint what they need to learn, then choose among a flexible portfolio of learning resources designed to accommodate widely different learning styles. For instance, in March we launched Microsoft Skills Assessments that can be used to zero in on a person’s baseline skills in more than two dozen IT content areas, from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET to Microsoft Exchange, security technologies and more. We’re also building complementary content to serve specific customer needs, including Microsoft Official Courses, which help customers gain in-depth information about the technology, and Microsoft Official Workshops, which help customers get hands-on experience through a practical lab. These are just a few examples of how we are addressing customers’ specific job tasks, knowledge levels, time constraints and cost considerations.

PressPass: How does Microsoft Learning work with the company’s product groups and its service and support organizations to create a stronger overall value chain for customers?

Ziob: Microsoft Learning plays a role at almost every stage of the product life cycle, and the learning products we bring to market reflect the fact that companies encounter different skill-building and training needs at different points in the life cycle.

From the early stages of a new product release, we work with that product group to anticipate and address the learning requirements that stem from introducing the new technology. When customers have implemented the technology and are using it on the job, we work with organizations like Microsoft Product Support Services to better understand where customers’ pain points are so we can deliver training resources to solve those issues. Working closely with these groups is critical to Microsoft Learning providing the knowledge and training resources that help customers derive maximum value from their Microsoft technology investments.

PressPass: How will the new organization lead to greater success across the formerly separate businesses within Microsoft Learning?

Ziob: Combining the resources and expertise of these businesses within Microsoft Learning will enable us to be more responsive and efficient in serving customers and partners. Our respective teams’ contributions to this spring’s launch of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 illustrates what I’m talking about. For Windows Server 2003, our first learning materials became available several months before product launch. We had the bulk of our upgrade materials available before the product was released to market, and the formal certification programs for Windows Server 2003 began soon after.

Also, through the Microsoft Software Assurance offering available as part of customers’ licensing agreements, more users than ever will have access to Microsoft Learning resources such as Microsoft CTEC (Certified Technical Education Centers) training vouchers, TechNet materials and e-learning. In the coming year, we expect to publish 250 new products in addition to the existing library that contains more than 1,350 assessments, reference kits, books, training products and certifications. These are just some of the ways Microsoft Learning is striving to deliver a greater variety of more valuable learning tools that customers and partners can blend to meet their objectives.

PressPass: How will the newly formed group benefit Microsoft industry partners?

Ziob: Microsoft Learning provides partners with access to an even more comprehensive product portfolio in a centralized source, to enable them to deliver more consultative learning solutions to customers. Partners are combining Microsoft Official Learning Products and services such as mentoring, chat, facilitation and hands-on labs to ensure that the customer receives a high quality, customized experience. We recognize that providing a more robust product portfolio is just the first step. We need to work collaboratively with industry partners to understand how customers are learning.

One way we are working to support delivery of our products is by developing blended learning guides that literally walk our Microsoft CTEC partners step by step through the process of setting up and delivering Microsoft Official Courses, Microsoft Official Workshops and Microsoft Official Clinics. These resources can help partners more effectively combine classroom, paper and online resources to customize learning for a customer’s very specific needs.

As our trusted IT consultants, a partners’ first step toward building more efficient offerings is knowing what the customer needs. In addition to the Microsoft Assessments for individuals that I mentioned earlier, we’re building an Organizational Assessments portfolio that our partners can use to perform an in-depth skills appraisal across a customer’s entire organization and then follow up with a tailored learning plan. We’re aiming to launch Organizational Assessment sometime in the first half of next year.

PressPass: How will Microsoft Learning advance Microsoft’s commitment to Microsoft Press and the readers of its book titles?

Ziob: The advent of the Internet fueled a widespread misconception that published books would become a thing of the past. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is that present-day publishing requires attention to providing electronic content as well. By integrating Microsoft Press with our training and certification functions as well as with TechNet, Microsoft is better able to deliver a set of complementary learning products to fit each unique learning situation and customer objective.

PressPass: How will the change affect Microsoft TechNet customers and Microsoft’s commitment to the technical community?

Ziob: Microsoft Learning is even more strongly committed to making TechNet thrive as a dependable reference tool for the IT community, containing well-written and relevant technical articles that are easy to find. TechNet is a technical reference product that also serves as a learning product — only the learning takes place in shorter amounts of time. Therefore, bringing TechNet under the same umbrella as Microsoft Press and the training and certification business makes perfect sense in terms of giving customers and partners a blend of resources that support their specific objectives.

PressPass: What do you see as your greatest challenge in the year ahead?

Ziob: The learning industry is continuously changing due to evolving technology and customer demands. As a result, many of our training partners are undergoing dramatic changes in their business models to adjust to this new paradigm of blended learning. One of our priorities is to work creatively with partners to help ease their adjustment so they can take advantage of the opportunities posed by blended learning. In fact, this will be among the featured topics that Microsoft Learning will address in break-out sessions at the upcoming Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in October. We’re also integrating our efforts with those of the other Microsoft partner-focused groups to ensure continuity.

PressPass: What can customers expect to see from Microsoft Learning in the near future?

Ziob: Microsoft Learning will provide customers with the latest information on Microsoft technology, and help them apply what they’ve learned to become more effective in all areas of their lives. Overall, customers can expect us to continue delivering more innovative learning products in increasingly flexible formats that fit people’s unique learning styles and objectives. Every product, program and service that Microsoft Learning delivers is aimed at improving customers’ experience of technology.

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