Being a curious nerd (some might say downright nosy), I paid a visit to the Microsoft Technology Centre (MTC) the other week. After hearing so much about the innovation and exciting projects they work on, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about for myself. Martyn Davis, Manager of the Thames Valley MTC near Reading was my very helpful and informative guide.
Essentially, the MTC works with customer to help them solve their business problems with the latest Microsoft technologies, guided by highly skilled and passionate MTC Architects. The MTC helps customers validate their ideas, confirm the final requirements and then work with the customer’s dev team to create a working prototype, or Proof of Concept (POC).
Martyn walked me through the processes and stages the MTC go through from the inception of an idea through to the final proof of concept presentation, where the teams who have built the application or programme present it to senior executives and hope they like it!
Here are the four stages MTC uses to bring the technology to life.
Stage 1: Briefings
What is it?
Briefings are sometimes scheduled at the beginning of the sales cycle to get the customer up to speed on what Microsoft technology can do, including:
- Demo’s covering Development, Business Productivity, Collaboration, Unified Communications, Business Intelligence, User Interface Design, Cloud Computing and Touch!
- Using the envisioning centre
- Customer immersion experience (CIE) which is a hands on session focusing on the adoption of and deployment of Microsoft Office systems.
Sometimes the engagement ends with the briefing – others move on to stage 2.
Stage 2: Architectural Design Session
What is it?
The Architectural Design Session or ADS is a 2/3 day intensive workshop.
What’s it all about?
The idea is to take customers with a specific business problem or vision they want to achieve and the ADS will get them to the next stage in achieving their vision or solving their problem. The process is split into 3 chunks:
1. Discover where the customer is coming from – what are the problems, the key motivations for what they want to do, drivers and critical success factors.
This is the time when the MTC team draw out scenarios to talk about how that system will operate, to focus on what’s most important to the customer. It also allows the customer and MTC teams to focus down on the technical discussion, to define exactly what needs to be achieved in the 3 week prototyping phase. As you can imagine, this first part is the hardest!
2. Agreeing what technology can be put in place to meet the needs of the customer. This starts with the broad architecture and then drills down to the specifics, like user interface, what’s the data going to look like, what metrics will the outcome be measured against?
3. This is the planning phase, which defines the scope of the prototype for the POC. Here’s where the team members, resources, priorities and contingencies are agreed.
Major decisions and ‘what if’s’ are agreed in the ADS so the 3 week prototyping process (stage 3) is as smooth as possible.
Stage 3: Prototyping (Proof of Concept)
What is it? This is a three week process where the development team are locked in a room to create the POC. What’s it all about?
This is where the meat of the work happens. Both the MTC technical team and the customer technical team are locked away in a ‘build room’ to create the POC. There are a number of build rooms that are the home of the technical team for the three weeks it usually takes to build the POC. The teams include an MTC Architect who drives the project, technical members of the customer’s team and developers from MCS or a partner.
What’s built is jointly owned by Microsoft and the end customer. They take away the code and use it to further develop the solution. Microsoft also uses some prototypes with the customer at Launch events and Industry events; such as Yell at the Windows 7 Launch this year. Stage 4: Playback
The room used for the playback sessions, the Envisioning Centre, replicates a theatre, with 3 separate presentation areas and semi-circular, plush seating area.
It really is all about the theatre – not everything is the most exciting project but the MTC team adds drama and context to make even the most staid projects memorable.
For example, to make a project with the police force become more real, the MTC team made the theatre look like a crime scene by drawing the outline of a body on the floor and cordoning one area of the room off with police tape. It really helped the guys on the police force put the technology into perspective and relate to their day to day lives – and most importantly answer the question ‘what does this mean to me’?
Another example is an application developed for measuring feet using Microsoft Surface, for Clarks. Essentially, a customer would stand on a Surface unit and the application would automatically capture the foot size and width. As a student, I worked in a shoe shop, and can vouch for the fact this would be a godsend for shoe shop staff. Avoiding having to touch some customer’s smelly feet would vastly improve job satisfaction!
And finally the MTC wouldn’t exist without the MTC Alliance partners. They supply the infrastructure that the MTC needs. There are 10 global partners plus 52 regional partners making a total investment of over $80 million into the MTCs. Next year MTC is looking to expand from 20 centres worldwide to 27, opening sites in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Brussels, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur.
Find out more information on the MTC.