Blog: Microsoft U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit

Associate Editor Chad Vander Veen blogs on the annual summit for government CIOs and how Microsoft aims to help government through the stimulus.

by / March 5, 2009

I just got back from Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington, having attended the annual Microsoft U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit. The very well attended event featured a number of Microsoft bigwigs who detailed the role the company is looking to play as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) kicks into high gear. The conference was also meant to explain what Microsoft's plans are for IT in the public sector and in general.

The event, which ran from Tueday through today, was most meaty in the middle, with speakers like Microsoft's Vice President of U.S. Public Sector Curt Kolcun, General Manager of Industry Unit Joel Cherkis, and even the big man himself, Steve Ballmer.

The IT standbys like CRM, business intelligence and unified communications were thoroughly discussed, but the real star of the show was cloud computing. Kolcun helped set the pace with opening remarks Wednesday morning, followed by the highly engaging Cherkis hosting several cloud-heavy sessions. I think many attendees, myself included, were surprised by how much investment the traditionally proprietary Microsoft plans to invest in cloud computing. The subject came up again and again, from a public sector IT perspective to education to Government 2.0.

In addition, Cherkis showed off some fancy Microsoft tech like Surface and Silverlight. Surface technology can be seen here in this video we did a few weeks back. Silverlight, the streaming media technology Microsoft developed and launched for the Summer Olympics, is apparently a big part of Microsoft's future plans. Cherkis provided an excellent demonstration of Silverlight's capabilities by directing the audience to http://memorabilia.hardrock.com/. Once there, do yourself a favor and play around with the interface. If you can locate an image of an old letter, zoom in on the stamp. Keep zooming, you'll be amazed at how far you can go.

Following the morning sessions I was treated to a special lunch with Teresa Carlson, GM of Federal Government, Gail Thomas-Flynn, GM of State and Local, Mary Cullianne, Director of Innovation and Business Development for Microsoft Education Group and Stuart Mckee, Microsoft's national technology officer for U.S. public sector. Cloud computing, ARRA, and transparency were the focus of the lunch discussion. Carlson told me Microsoft is counting on its Elevate America program to help aide in retraining workers in technology so they can compete for some of the jobs ARRA is designed to create.

McKee said many of Microsoft's customers were struggling with the magnitude of the economic downturn as well as the enormity of the monies headed their way. Commenting on the Elevate America program, McKee added that if those looking for work could get Microsoft Certified, a number of well-paying jobs are or will be available.

One of the challenges, it was agreed, is that never before have states had the problem of potentially getting so much aide from the federal government that they may be unable to spend it fast enough or adequately enough. Filtering through funding streams, McKee said, is going to be difficult and agencies are looking to companies like Microsoft to deploy solutions to help.

The discussion eventually headed back into the cloud. I was informed pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-Smith Kline had recently partnered with Microsoft for a large-scale cloud computing rollout. Carlson furthered clarified for me what Microsoft is doing in

the cloud. She explained the company will be offering what she termed "choice in the cloud". Essentially, agencies that go through Microsoft to get into the cloud can go all in or develop a hybrid model with some of their apps remaining local.

 

Afterward, I was able to sit down with Gail Thomas-Flynn to discuss in-depth what the ARRA means for Microsoft and for state and local governments. Thomas-Flynn said that with everything happening so fast, everyone is still trying to get their arms around the stimulus. She said Microsoft is doing its own work to understand how funding is going to work and that the company is talking with states to see that their key areas are.

 

One of the ARRA issues everyone is concerned with is that funding, which Thomas-Flynn said "has a limited time period. Once the funding is exhausted, what then?" Microsoft, she added, is also looking at the states in an effort to figure out where technology can be an enabler to sustain the initiatives agencies are going to be planning and implementing.

 

She also told me about her recent visit to the National Governor's Association. She lauded the nation's governors for having what she said was an excellent grasp on the critical role IT will play as ARRA rolls out. Health IT was a top-of-mind issue for most governors, she said. "Putting the citizen more in control of their health," she noted, was roundly called for at the NGA. She added that connected HHS is a big Microsoft initiative, with the company's HealthVault playing a major part.

 

Before Gail and I wrapped up our conversation to go see Ballmer speak, she mentioned that Microsoft's first big foray into the cloud is the company's Business Productivity Online Suite, or BPOS. BPOS is a set of hosted solutions that include Exchange, Sharepoint, Office and Live services - all available online. BPOS, Thomas-Flynn said, will open the door for every Microsoft product to one day be available in the cloud.

 

Ballmer ended the day with a boisterous, if not particularly interesting, speech. Basically, the Microsoft CEO recapped the day's sessions and offered a bit of insight on emerging tech trends like new user interfaces, affordable telepresence, and foldable displays. Ballmer did shine, however, during the Q&A that followed, offering surprisingly honest answers to some tough audience questions. When one audience member explained that he had to hire an outside consultant to make sense of Microsoft's enterprise agreements, Ballmer seemed genuinely ashamed his salespeople were unable to help. He was also contrite about the fact the company had yet to devise a way to offer better choice for its bundled services after one attendee complained Microsoft treated him like a cable customer who wants one channel but has to buy 25 others to get it.

 

Besides taking heat from the audience, Ballmer did give a hint of what's to come from Microsoft, suggesting Windows Mobile will see significant improvements this year. He also advised us to expect significant developments with Windows 7 soon. But clearly Ballmer's speech was about one thing - rallying those in attendance to look to Microsoft to help sort through ARRA. While the company isn't as agile and open as it ought to be, it is getting there. My takeaway from the event was that, were I a public CIO, there is definitely technology and expertise at Microsoft that deserves my attention. 

 

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

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