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Building a Community of CIO Customers: How Microsoft Does It

Posted by Bill Lee on September 1, 2009 at 12:18 PM

Want to know how to build a high-level council of some 40 CIOs, CTOs and architects from leading corporations and governments around the world? Perhaps you've thought of doing so -- starting with some of the marquee names from your own customer reference program, or advisory boards. If so, take a look at how Microsoft has built its (rather dryly named) "Interoperability Council," which is now more than 3 years old and is going very strong.

It meets twice a year, includes representatives from marquee businesses and governments like Aetna, Raytheon, American Express, the European Commission, Government of India, Denmark’s Ministry of Finance, and hasn’t lost a single member since it started. While the Council has produced a number of immediate benefits to Microsoft’s business — such as the decision by one Council member to forego a planned major JAVA project in favor of using Microsoft's .net platform — this is NOT the goal of the Interoperability Council, and is not why it works.  

Connie Dean, Director of Customer Advocacy at Microsoft, explains why it does work. Connie will be prese
nting at the 2009 Summit on Customer Engagement, Boston, October 20-21:

How to Build a CIO Community

1. Determine major needs this community has -- without regard to your business offerings.
“Interoperability” -- getting technology to work in a complex, heterogamous environment, is a major, growing problem with CIOs. Helping an SAP or Oracle platform work in Windows environment is not necessarily something that Microsoft would choose to do -- but the need was there and no one else was addressing it.

2. Ask, “Can we address it? Does it make strategic sense to do so?”
One reason it made sense for Microsoft to do so was to enhance its reputation for trustworthiness and credibility. Succeeding would depend on getting cooperation from other technology firms, some of them fierce rivals. But CIOs in need are a persuasive force.

3. You’ll need an Executive Driver.
Not “sponsor,” if by that is meant someone who offers support and makes the occasional appearance. You’ll need a driver who gets heavily involved in meetings, and in follow-up.

3. Build parallel “working groups” to implement projects.
It does no good to meet, brainstorm, and develop exciting projects with senior executives unless they turn into action and results. Connie and her team developed 6 working groups, composed of implementation people from both the CIO’s firms and Microsoft. The Microsoft working group members report to the Executive Sponsor (oops, Driver). Failing to follow up is not an option.

4. Report back
In the last 3 years, the Interoperability Council has identified about 100 “scenarios,” or technology and business issues resulting from interoperability failures that needed to be fixed. A healthy 60% of those have been solved. Of the 40% that haven’t been solved, many are still undergoing analysis and some will likely be solved. Connie estimates that Microsoft has declined to pursue only about 10%. In any case, council members are fully briefed and know the reasons why.

5. Learn
To gain more clout in the interoperability movement, Connie’s group has started sponsoring white papers and other publications on the subject, to grow industry awarness and encourage more cooperation from skeptical vendors. They’ve also figured out how Council members can engage more closely and influence senior Microsoft executives in ways that create win-wins for both. She’ll provide more details about that at the Summit.

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