Microsoft Gives Customers Something to Fall Back On

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 10, 2007 – It used to be easy to know when to move your clocks back an hour and ahead to accommodate the changes brought upon by Daylight Saving Time in North America, but times have changed… literally. On Aug. 8, 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which among other things extended the period of Daylight Saving Time by four weeks. Starting this year, Daylight Saving Time began in March, three weeks earlier in much of the United States and Canada, and will end one week later – the first Sunday in November.

The Act was designed as an energy conservation measure, saving power as workers spend more time on the job during daylight hours. But it has had some other positive side effects also. For one, many children in North America will be able to trick-or-treat during daylight this year.

However, the IT industry has had to find a way to update the automatic change-over configuration for just about every server and computer across the United States and much of the world. Many Microsoft customers all over the globe were impacted by the need to update the Windows operating system, as well as apply updates and deploy tools for other Microsoft products including Exchange, Windows Mobile and Outlook implementations. In addition, many products from other industry vendors were also impacted and often had to be similarly updated.

While the process was relatively straight forward for consumers and small businesses, some large enterprise customers felt a pinch in deploying updates across dozens, hundreds – even thousands of systems – and ensuring that each was adjusted to the appropriate time change for its region of the United States or the world.

When the dust settled, it was up to Rich Kaplan, vice president of Supportability and Customer and Partner Experience (CPE) at Microsoft, and his team to figure out what had worked, and more importantly, critically assess what could have been done better. It’s their job to make sure that Microsoft collects and uses feedback from customers and partners to improve program and product quality, using analytics from the company’s customer service systems and field staff to identify and solve critical customer issues.

PressPass spoke with Kaplan to discuss the team’s progress since March and what the group will be focusing on as they endeavor to make the upcoming North America “fall back” and other changes around the world a seamless experience for customers.

PressPass: What feedback have you heard from customers since the first Daylight Saving Time changeover in March?

Kaplan: As with anything where you have an opportunity to engage with customers, there are a number of key things that we learned. The first thing was to raise awareness early. Even though the Energy Policy Act was passed in late 2005, there wasn’t broad awareness of the issue in the United States or around the world. There wasn’t a big push by the government or by the technology industry. As a responsible leader in the industry, certainly when things like this come up in the future, we have a special responsibility push harder so issues don’t arise at the last minute for customers.

Another, and probably the biggest key thing we learned, was when you have a situation that impacts multiple products — and in our case there were changes for Windows, Exchange, Outlook and other products — it creates a very complex scenario for IT customers. We have to be better at addressing these types of situations. Our documentation and guidance needs to be very clear and concise, and we need to think through the cross-product, cross-platform and services issues. We learned a lot there in terms of how to think through defining the problem, and how to prescribe steps across multiple products.

PressPass: What aspects went well in March that you would look to build on?

Kaplan: The Daylight Saving Time issue required a lot of coordination for our customers and partners. The IT folks who manage Exchange, Windows Server, Microsoft Office, the Windows Client and other Microsoft technologies in those environments really pulled together and made this a non-issue for most of their end users. So first off, I just want to thank every IT person out there who worked super hard that last couple of months, for making it easy for their users.

We’ve also found that the Microsoft Daylight Saving Time Help and Support Center Web site ended up being very successful. More than 60 percent of people who visited the Daylight Saving Time 2007 site this past spring said they received the help they needed, which is a good resolution rate for a Web site. We’re making sure the site is updated with all the latest content. Much of it is the guidance we gave before, but there are new updates and articles, specifically around changes in other countries, that people should go look at. Even though the focus has primarily been on the changes in the United States, Daylight Saving Time observance and time zone changes are a worldwide issue.

And overall, we’ve had a lot of our leading enterprise customers say that, while they may not have been thrilled with the way things started in relation to the Daylight Saving Time changeover in March, the way we handled their feedback and turned it into actionable guidance not only for them but other customers was laudable. And we’ve continued that process over the summer to help make the autumn transition much more seamless.

PressPass: It’s interesting to think that a law passed in the U.S. to save energy could have such a worldwide effect.

Kaplan: It turns out the more we dug into it that the issues around Daylight Saving Time are universal. As much of the United States and Canada “falls back” in November, there are going to be changes happening in Jordan, Egypt and New Zealand that weren’t planned in the spring. We have many worldwide global customers that do business in those countries, so we have to think about these changes globally, not just in the United States. Making sure that we can handle that in the future, and that we do a great job on that for our customers, is absolutely key.

PressPass: What is your team doing to take that customer feedback and turn it into action?

Kaplan: I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of CIOs, and the general feedback they gave me was: communicate better, communicate earlier. We’ve taken that to heart and put a mechanism in place to review issues from around the world and make sure we’re taking action. Every month now I have reviews with the team to look at upcoming issues, which helps ensure we do a good job early and increase awareness.

PressPass: What’s the “call to action” for customers this fall? What should they do to make sure they’re ready?

Kaplan: Go to the Daylight Saving Time 2007 Web site and make sure you’re up to date on all the latest information. If you’re a consumer or small business, you may not need to worry about that as much, but if you’re an enterprise company that has worldwide operations, it’s certainly important to go there and make sure you understand the impact of these changes worldwide.

For the majority of our customers — consumers, small- and mid-sized businesses — we always tell them to have automatic updates turned on. With Windows XP and Windows Vista, you really get increased product quality, not just the latest updates to align the operating system with a Congressional mandate like Daylight Saving Time, but the latest security fixes and other general updates too. So that’s always a good thing to do.

In this environment, if you got the updates in the spring for Exchange, Windows and Outlook, and you have your automatic updates turned on, there’s a good chance you may have nothing to do in anticipation of the changes this fall. However, if you do business in other parts of the world, you need to make sure to get the corrections for those other time zone changes. Not just the United States and Canadian time zone changes, but rest of the world time zone changes as well.

For larger, enterprise customers, in general the “fall back” should be much easier. We had them running a tool at the beginning of the year, The Outlook Time Zone Data Update Tool, to update people’s calendars. The majority of companies have run those tools and won’t have to do that a second time. If you’re not worried about the countries specified on the Web site listing the products affected by Daylight Saving Time, and you already took the updates for springing forward, then you’re in good shape.

The last thing I would say here is that, for customers who need to know exactly what they need to do to prepare for Daylight Saving Time — if they haven’t already — we are hosting a Web seminar on this topic at the end of this week on Friday, Sept. 14. So make sure and sign up for that.

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