How Microsoft CIO Jim DuBois changed the IT operating model

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Microsoft’s CIO says he and his team think in terms of service offerings and end-to-end business processes, rather than projects and applications, and that helped the company adopt a new IT operating model.

jim dubois Microsoft
Jim DuBois, CIO of Microsoft

Jim DuBois joined Microsoft in 1993, and he has since seen a lot of change. A few months ago, we met to chat at a conference, and he said so many smart things about translation, telemetry and service offerings that I asked him for an on-the-record interview to learn more. Here’s a Q&A based on our conversation.

Martha Heller: How has your IT operating model changed during the last five years?

Jim DuBois: We used to think in terms of projects and applications, and now we think in terms of service offerings. Each service offering represents all of the technology investments that support an end-to-end business process, like lead generation or customer support. Conversations about IT used to be disconnected from conversations about our business. Now, we are able to talk about which investments will improve our service offerings.

Take marketing, [for example]. Marketing manages a lot of activities that generate demand for our products. Whether they are campaigns, events, or different ways to engage with customers, we can track those activities to learn which drive legitimate sales opportunities. All of the investments we make in marketing automation should, in some way, increase the volume or quality of leads.

We no longer ask, “How available is a particular application?” or “Was the project on time?” Now we measure, “Did we add capabilities that made the service offering better?”

Moving from traditional IT to a service offering model requires a major mindset shift in IT.  How did you make that happen?

Historically, IT did what the business wanted to do. But with analytics tools, and especially with big data, IT now sees end-to-end across the company more cleanly than most departments, so we are able to say, “I understand that you want to make this technology investment to make a process better, but this investment actually won’t help because of bottlenecks that are happening elsewhere in the company.”

Because IT can see so much, it is our responsibility to influence investment priorities, not just execute on priorities set by our internal business partners. We used to reward IT employees based on whether they delivered a project on time and whether the business was happy with what IT did. But we found that making business partners happy did not always mean that we were doing the right thing at the company level.

Even though you do not measure your team on project deadlines, fast delivery must still be important to you.  How are you delivering faster?

To accelerate our pace we are leveraging more cloud solutions, including SaaS offerings and modernizing our engineering practices. Our focus on service offerings helps us deliver faster, as well. It used to be that we would send people to meet with our business groups, and we would gather all the requirements, and then we would write up a functional specification that would get approval. Our technical teams would read the document and write up the technical specifications of what they were going to build, and we would sign off on that, and then we would go build something.

We needed to do that because our technical teams did not understand what we were trying to accomplish for the business and which business metrics we were trying to change. This meant that we needed people to translate business requirements for the delivery people and to tell them exactly what to do.

With this new service offering model, IT is directly engaged in business value, and we can remove all of those translation layers. We’ve been able to take a lot of time out of the process (and remove opportunities for miscommunication) which gives us the capacity to deliver faster.

So instead of a big requirements document that became a functional spec that became technical specs, we just have a backlog list of items that we groom regularly with our business partners.

Thinking of our work as end-to-end services has helped remove the translation layer, but so has telemetry. Telemetry allows us to see how data is flowing through systems and how people are using tools and processes. So when our internal business partners say, “This new capability will give us this business benefit,” our technical people can say, “I can see how that would work in the system,” as opposed to saying “I don’t understand what you mean by that” and getting a translator to say, “They’re talking about this business flow.”

What advice do you have for new CIOs?

Learn to love working at the current pace of change because it’s the new normal. Think of the CIO role as bigger than what we have traditionally thought. When it comes to IT investments, act like you have accountability for the business outcome, even if those resources are controlled by another department. Understand that your role extends beyond the organizational boundaries of IT.

About Jim Dubois

Jim DuBois joined Microsoft in 1993, and held a variety of positions across the globe until September 2003, when he was named General Manager – Microsoft IT. DuBois was promoted to Vice President, Microsoft Products and Services IT in October 2011, and then became Corporate Vice President and CIO for Microsoft in 2014. DuBois graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in Computer Science.