Since taking the reigns as managing director at Microsoft NZ Helen Robinson has been catapulted into the limelight, joining the ranks of this country’s high profile women. Despite her hectic schedule Robinson took time out to chat to The Channel.
You’ve attracted a lot of media interest since your appointment - what’s it like to take on such a high profile role?
The challenges and immense opportunity that come with a role like this make it pretty easy to leap out of bed each morning. The pace of innovation is increasing as is our business intensity and focus, so it’s a great place to be. The up-coming launch of our next wave of technology and its inherent potential and opportunity make it more so. Microsoft is a daunting operation to come into because the company wouldn’t be where it is without the contribution of all the individuals. Without a doubt I’m here as a leader but also to remove any barriers.
Microsoft NZ has undergone a number of changes - new building, new appointments - is the company going through a transformation?
We’re not a business that stands still. Improving on the existing version of software to produce an even better one is deeply embedded in our DNA. It’s the same for our business. Over the past decade we’ve evolved consistently and in concert with the way technology has become increasingly essential to business performance. Our new building is a project that belonged to Ross Peat and I’m delighted to inherit it. It’s designed as a place for our people, partners and customers to collaborate and learn. I think as human beings we either adapt and love change or don’t cope. Microsoft has always had the aura of a fast-paced, fun loving culture and I don’t see that changing. Our team will continue to evolve as people take up opportunities afforded by Microsoft’s global presence and as we continue to grow. Our ability to successfully grow and to deliver commensurate value to not only Microsoft but to our customers and partners relies on attracting and retaining great people. John Bessey, who is our new SMS&P Director, is a great example.
What role do you see Microsoft playing in shaping the future of NZ?
At this stage in time Microsoft is at a pivotal point with its technology and about to launch into the next wave. I think we’ll continue to create opportunities and help others realise their own opportunities and ambitions. This is the focus across our business and applies to our efforts, through public sector partnerships in education and healthcare and among the developer and partner communities. I’ve noted before that we have a deepening presence in New Zealand. While Corporate HQ is in Redmond, Seattle, we have a strong beating New Zealand heart. Many of our 120 employees have contributed to the growth of our ICT economy over the past two decades. Our ability to contribute value is about combining our local knowledge and experience with Microsoft’s global reach and expertise to do the best for New Zealanders – be they at school, at work or at home.
Partners: How important are they to Microsoft?
Our success depends on their success. New Zealand is blessed with a strong, highly-competent and talented partner community. Partners are vital to our success and Microsoft’s next wave of technologies presents them with a tremendous opportunity to deliver unprecedented value to their customers. The only thing I’d say is that it’s easy when you’re knee deep in business to lose sight of what’s coming around the corner.
What are they doing well?
It’s encouraging to see so many partners investing time in training and education in conjunction with our training partners to ensure they understand our new products. Our hands-on HotLab sessions have sold out almost immediately upon the announcement of new course dates. They’re also a partner in a true sense, helping Microsoft steer its course. We encourage feedback from partners on the ways we can help them grow their businesses as well as positive ideas as to how we can work better together. We can’t do this alone.
Are there any areas they can improve in?
We can improve together. A common question from businesses is how to choose the partner that is best for them and their particular business circumstances. For our part, we appreciate how expensive it can be to have people taken out of your businesses to undertake training, so we ‘ve spent a great deal of time and effort understanding the capabilities that businesses need. Our certification programmes enable partners’ expertise in delivering the services that businesses value to be recognised.
My advice to partners when working with us is to build capabilities and expertise that differentiates them from their competitors. It’s not necessarily about putting all your people through each and every Microsoft competency specialisation; but determining those that are important for your business and considering what complementary initiatives, such as Microsoft’s online sales and technical training, might help you enhance capability without incurring significant employee downtime. Important capabilities right now might be licensing – to understand what product version is best for your customers’ businesses now and into the future and information worker - to prepare partners for the launch of the Office 2007 system; and advanced infrastructure that will similarly prepare partners for the launch of Vista.
Is there anything you specifically want to say to them?
While we’re already a great team, I think there are a number of untapped opportunities that partners, with Microsoft’s help, can unlock. Developing stand-out capabilities is one. Another more recent initiative is the opportunities that Microsoft Financing will bring to partners, particularly those who work with smaller and medium-sized customers. I can see partners being able to use this offering to help bring deals forward or complete that vital stage of closure and then perhaps even attach services that might otherwise have not been sold. What strikes me is that many people seem to think Microsoft has reached the end of its innovation but in reality this is just the start. It’s only going to work if we do it as a team and I’m genuinely excited about working with partners.