Monday, May 3, 2010

IT Solutions with Microsoft Technology Centers

By: Derek Howard
Recently, I was lucky enough to tour the Microsoft Technology Center in Atlanta with the Technology Association of Georgia’s Young Professionals Society. This was an interesting event for me because though I’m not as much of a “techie” as I would like to be, I’m still fascinated by everything tech; from gadgets to software. My problem is that I love the stuff, but I always end up feeling overwhelmed. It also gave me the opportunity to see what it is that Microsoft does at these centers. Turns out, it’s all about helping other companies that, like me, may be overwhelmed by their technology problems.

These days, information technology (IT) is an important part of most businesses. From company e-mail to flashy software, IT drives the business both inside and out. Great IT can save company money, improve productivity and efficiency, and even help reel in new business. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Sub-par IT can hurt a business in many ways, most of which lead back to big dents in the company wallet.

A big key to success is to make sure that a company’s IT is right for the job. However, this can be tricky and expensive. For most businesses, the prospect of developing and implementing new IT is scary; will it work and if it does, how long will it take and how much will it cost? Custom solutions can be risky. Everything from finding the right starting point to launching it costs a company a lot of time and money, and if it fails, even more.

Microsoft offers a solution to these IT problems with their Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs for short). Basically, MTCs are places where businesses can go to get help with their IT issues. These centers offer everything from consulting to support for companies looking to solve their problems. According to Microsoft, they are able to do this by working with organizations to help them envision, design and deploy their custom solutions. Companies get access to both Microsoft technologies as well as their expertise. The MTC has three critical components: the people, the process and the place.

The people are the MTC’s dedicated employees. The staff are IT experts, well-versed in Microsoft products. They work directly with a company’s own IT team to develop strategies and solutions that fit the problem and the need. These architects help make sure everything runs smoothly from start to finish.

The process is the plan, from A-Z. It starts with a strategy briefing. Basically this is a road map from problem to solution. Next is an architecture design session (ADC). This involves coming up with the design and providing risk analysis. Finally there is a proof-of-concept workshop (POC). This is where the MTC architects work with a company’s IT staff to prove and test the solution in a working environment; any environment. And if the MTC doesn’t have the environment you need to test in, they will work with their partners to create it.

The place is the MTC itself. The MTC facility provides its clients with everything from fully loaded lab environments to fully stocked beverages in the kitchen. Businesses have access to development and design suites that are both private and secure. Clients can come and go freely 24/7 while working at the MTC. Finally, each MTC has an Envisioning Center that acts as a demonstration facility for customers. This facility showcases IT functionality in custom, real-world environments. The room is divided into different vignettes that represent everything from an office setting to a coffeehouse, with customization a possibility.

There are currently 15 MTCs worldwide with eight here in the U.S. Plans are already underway to expand those numbers both here and overseas. Because of the way they are designed to be similar, each coordinates with the others. The idea is that if you worked at one in say, Atlanta, then you would know what to expect at the one in Tokyo.

So, the question is, are MTCs effective? Well, the website ( has plenty of case studies and testimonials that say “yes.” However, it’s ultimately up to a company to decide. Just as each problem and solution can be unique, so can each individual organization’s experience. Either way, Microsoft Technology Centers provide businesses with a creative option to their IT problems.

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