Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs) are uniquely equipped to help customers innovate—to imagine the possibilities and then quickly design and develop solutions.

We use “Innovation Alley” to spur imagination here at the MTC in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Innovation Alley is a collection of unique demonstrations designed using a range of new and emerging Microsoft technologies combined with those from our many partners. These demonstrations enable customers to envision how new technologies can be incorporated into solutions to create new experiences. We have showed a retailer how Kinect sensors, video projection, and directed sound technology can completely transform the in-store kiosk. A restaurateur learned how to create an affordable interactive gaming system for customers at their bars, and we also showed a manufacturer how to create an inexpensive solution to identify unsafe employee actions on an assembly line. 

Imagining new possibilities is only part of our mission. MTC offerings are designed to accelerate innovation at all phases of the process. Strategy Briefings are designed to help customers envision what the solution could be. Architectural Design Sessions (ADSs) bring together the key stakeholders to produce a solution design and project plan that will meet their exact needs. Proof of Concept (POC) workshops jumpstart the development of the solution and prove the value.

A great example of all these elements working together to accelerate innovation is the case of a large financial services company who came to the MTC and envisioned a solution for the agents who serve high-wealth customers. 

During the Strategy Briefing, we discovered that this customer really needed the ability to contact key investors when market events like disasters, regulatory failures, or legal actions could cause a major impact in a stock. Agents needed to be able to quickly identify customers whose holdings might be impacted by those events to take appropriate action. The existing reporting solution was static and did not enable them to do that. 

When market events occurred, the managers would have to thumb through reports on the entire holdings of all customers to identify those impacted. It was tedious and time-consuming, and the delay put them at risk of failing to advise and dissatisfying their most profitable customers.

They needed an interactive customer service portal that would enable each agent to quickly identify customers with impacted holdings so that the agent could proactively contact each customer, and we used the demonstrations in the MTC Envisioning Center and Innovation Alley to refine the vision for the solution.

Two weeks later, they came back for an ADS during which our Technical Architects worked with a group of the customer’s IT professionals and wealth managers to design the specific solution. The resulting design proved the solution was technically feasible and affordable using the business intelligence capabilities in Microsoft SharePoint to create a self-service portal connected to their existing data warehouse. We agreed that it should be done, but they needed more proof to convince senior management to fund the project.

A few weeks after the ADS, a team of eight employees returned for a POC workshop and worked with two MTC Architects to develop the core of the solution. Because the MTC has all of the necessary technology and expertise on hand, projects like this can be assembled and developed very quickly. This particular project was built in just eight days by using the customer’s actual anonymized data resulting in a very realistic POC. The team demonstrated the POC solution to senior management at the MTC and got funding approval for the project on the spot. According to the company’s Vice President, “The MTC helped us envision, design, and prove the [project] in less time than it would have taken us to procure one server.” The solution went into production within six months. 

From vision to proof in five weeks—that’s innovation!

 

Tim Floyd is the Director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has worked for Microsoft for more than 20 years. He has held various positions, including technical sales leadership and consulting services roles. Tim started with the company as a Systems Engineer, introducing partners to Microsoft networking technology. He has a Master’s Degree in Management of Technology from the University of Minnesota and is also a certified teacher and adjunct college professor.