Visiting Mister Softee*

A few weeks ago I visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus for the second time. August 2007, a short eight years ago, was the first. Some things had changed—the presentations were more business solution focused and demonstrated some impressive capabilities (more on that later). Some things hadn’t changed—the experience still seemed impersonal and feature/function focused.

It made me think how different our technology landscape is today than it was then. Here are a few highlights.

then now

Microsoft and their leadership team is pushing rapidly to drive user adoption to a full cloud Microsoft offering. During our meetings it was all about online experiences across productivity tools (Office 365, operating system, PC and Mobile devices) as well as backend systems (corporate applications, databases, and related tools like email, security, identity, access management, etc). They provided two powerful examples of leveraging this technology, one from their legal department and one from their finance department. Matter Center demonstrates collaboration across organizations leveraging multiple communication and collaboration tools. Checkout the video in the link above. This is the environmental context for thinking about how our technology expectations have changed.

PowerBI is their cloud-based data visualization platform. The technology was most impressive and demonstrates next generation of tools coming available in this space. Key benefits included the ease of use, its catalog method, familiar features and natural language query. Even more impressive, however, was how it has remade their finance function into providers of high value consulting to their business leaders. No longer do they spend countless low value hours assembling slide decks and canned reports. Now, they help the business decision makers formulate questions and insights backed with a robust visualization of data. See Power BI for Finance and Microsoft Finance Leverages Power BI to Transform Reporting.

My takeaways from this Redmond visit were twofold. First, it really brought home how rapidly and radically our expectations for technology have shifted (as noted in the table above). Secondly, it painfully portrays the difficulty a company with Microsoft’s legacy, financial and talent resources has in changing its products, business model, organization and culture to meet the new expectations. This makes me examine the challenge of being in professional services (accounting, tax and consulting) and the resulting shift in expectations for an I.T. department. Do our clients (external and internal) realize the shift in expectations? Is there a sense of what is possible? What is our role in leading and facilitating change?

It reinforces my motivation of getting exposure to different industries, areas of the country and world, and different cultures. We must challenge our perspectives and work to understand how others have approached them. How does it map to our own personal, professional and organization’s outlook? As always, I have more questions than answers, but questioning the status quo is a solid first step toward transformation.

Photo by Mark Baker

*Microsoft’s nickname of Mister Softee comes from its stock exchange symbol: MSFT.

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