Willingham Tackles Federal Enterprise Market

Willingham Tackles Federal Enterprise Market

Deborah Willingham

A lot of people consider Microsoft Corp. simply a desktop and consumer company. However, within the last year and a half, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has made a concerned push into the enterprise with the planned release later this year of Windows 2000 and recent release of SQL 7, an enterprise- ready database.

Deborah Willingham, vice president for Microsoft's enterprise customer unit, manages worldwide strategy for selling, marketing and supporting the firm's products and services in large organizations and educational institutions. Willingham's group directs sales and systems engineering personnel as well as Microsoft's consulting services.

Willingham, who joined Microsoft in 1993, has more than 20 years experience in the computer industry, where she has held senior management positions in hardware manufacturing and development. She recently spoke with Washington Technology Senior Writer John Makulowich about enterprise initiatives.

WT: What is different about the federal market for Microsoft, and what are some trends you see in this space?

DW: The federal account is a unique segment because of security requirements and different features we put in our products to compete. Among the trends driving our efforts, three stand out.

First, like many large enterprises, the concern of management in government is reducing the overall costs of computing.

Some of the key costs are support and administration when multiple platforms are involved. In some cases, different platforms are supporting the same business function. Our work involves standardization of the business function and in helping agencies get control of infrastructure to reduce costs.

A second trend is for organizations to begin putting real line of business, or vertical functional applications, on the NT platform.

That work is taking up a lot of time inside the federal account. That should be of particular interest to your readers, because we will begin to partner more and more with systems integrators.

The third trend is the impact of the Internet. From the commercial standpoint, the enterprise can broaden its customer base and explore new ways to meet customer needs. For agencies, the issue is not only developing new ways of interfacing with citizens, but finding productive ways of working with them. You can see the need growing as more and more people go to public libraries to access PCs and the government.

The use of the Internet can be a key channel. Many government agencies are recognizing these facts.

These new ways of relating to the citizenry are making IT even more important to the main functions of the government. Basically, there are new connections because of the Internet.

WT: Can you give an example of the second trend, that is, putting vertical functional applications on the NT platform?

DW: A good case is the Type Commander's Readiness Management System, done for the Navy by InnovaSystems International LLC of El Cajon, Calif. It is a data warehouse and mining tool designed for complete reporting and tracking of Navy fleet readiness. Not only is it a good example of a key line of business, but it is also a good case of a mission- critical application.

WT:: Given this type of work, do you see the line between government agencies and commercial firms starting to dissolve, for example, in favor of more and more packaged, commercial, off-the-shelf-type software?

DW: The type of application you see the government buying COTS for is accounting. What we are seeing from the federal side is that agencies are finding it less expensive to develop COTS applications for the NT environment vs. Unix, for example.

Their real line of business, their functional vertical applications, don't tend toward commercial applications, however. We see them working with integrators doing these very large, custom design application packages, for example, for Windows NT platform. This is similar to what has been done in the past.

WT: How is Microsoft's relationship with the channel evolving?

DW: Our work with the channel is valuable for our future and our ability to meet the needs of our customers. Our approach is to transfer knowledge about our technology into the integrator community. We take the approach that we are the new kid on the block and are asking the vendors to be comfortable with our technology. This has been our strategy for quite a few years. And we see ourselves doing more and more joint marketing and selling with the channel.

WT: Do you have any comment on the published reports about the Steve Ballmer-inspired Microsoft reorganization?

DW: There really is not much I can say. It has been clear since Pete Higgins [former group vice president] left and Ballmer took over that Steve was in the midst of figuring out how that group should be organized. From an enterprise standpoint, we are a little over 33 percent of Microsoft's total revenue. I expect the company will keep the customer focus the same.

WT: What skill set are you looking for from the channel? What skills would the ideal channel partner need to work well with Microsoft?

DW: More important than the technology skills are business, general IT and organizational skills. We like companies with many years experience working with government clients and who understand the client side of the business.

We would also like them to have knowledge of large-scale mission-critical computing. If we find those skills, then we can transfer our information and technology. One good example, is the announcement we made last November about our partnership with Federal Data Corp. [FDC and Microsoft formed an alliance to provide federal government customers with comprehensive systems solutions and consulting in messaging and collaboration, electronic commerce, network and intranet integration and systems accessibility.]

I would reinforce that we do not compete with the channel. Most of our competitors run large and profitable consulting organizations and so are less willing to partner with the channel. We have a very small consulting unit whose mission is to transfer technology. That provides the best skills in the market for our customers. When NT came out in 1993 we put together the first of our partnerships in this area. Many customers said this will never work. Now this is a well-accepted partnering model.

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