The Microsoft IT department serves 195,000 end-users in 645 buildings in 106 countries, with 4,500 IT employees, primarily in Redmond and Hyderabad. The company has 1,600 line of business applications -- considerably fewer than in the past due to consolidation. The company's core financial business runs on SQL Server 2008, since March.
The IT department refers to the process of using the company's own apps as "dogfooding" (one show attendee later said that he always preferred the metaphor "drinking our own wine" to "eating our own dogfood"). He noted that Microsoft IT, obviously, doesn't have to pay to use Microsoft products, but the cost of dogfooding, in terms of staff time and equipment to run the software on, is more expensive than if they just licensed the technology as external customers.
Data modeling is integral to the success of Microsoft, making sure that the company has a good picture of customer activity and needs across business units. One challenge in keeping good data on customers -- data degrades, Briggs said. People get married and change their names, companies move and they get acquired. Briggs quoted the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: "You cannot step in the same river twice."
But one member of the audience, who described himself as "Cranky Guy," was startled by Briggs's description of data modeling being at the core of Microsoft's business. "My CIO would slap me in the head if I said that," Cranky Guy said. What about channel relationships, sales, or talking to customers?
Briggs said that those things, and more, are important -- but data modeling is at the foundation of those things, because companies need a thorough understanding of their customers to accomplish those things.
Microsoft uses SharePoint internally to layer collaboration capabilities on top of enterprise applications. For example, salespeople use an SAP-based application called PCWeb to find the best deals for their customers; IT added a shell of collaboration capabilities on PCWeb to allow salespeople to compare notes on the process, Briggs said.
Another guiding principle for the IT department: Users who get accustomed to using a particular user interface want to do more with that UI. That means IT layers functionality onto existing tools. For example, salespeople like to work in Outlook, so IT added a pane in Outlook to allow salespeople to find more information about customers. The pane is called "Customer Explorer," and IT built it in Silverlight to be attractive enough to be shown to customers. Other companies could do the same without difficulty, Briggs said.
Microsoft is pursuing virtualization: Server consolidation is the most visible result of virtualization, but Microsoft also has other goals: "It's about accessing any application you need on any device anywhere," Briggs said.
Microsoft is looking into green IT, not just for moral reasons but to streamline business. As Microsoft develops new data centers, it looks for locations near renewable power sources. A facility in Quincy, Wash., was built in proximity to hydroelectric power; another facility, in Ireland, uses the cool, outdoor air to lower temperatures inside the data center. And facilities use graywater to run air conditioning.
Microsoft is getting involved in social networks. They don't look to duplicate Facebook internally, because employees are already on Facebook. However, Microsoft deploys internal social networking systems where they make sense, such as a Wikipedia-like service called "Micropedia."
Cranky Guy said these statements made him Angry Guy, because his company's Microsoft sales rep just told them that they should license SharePoint because they should not be running proprietary data on public social networks like Facebook. Briggs responded that Microsoft does both -- employees use public social networks, like Facebook, but hopefully don't put proprietary data on them.