Article

Microsoft woos user community

Margie Semilof

Microsoft's plans to forge stronger ties with IT professionals is building steam as the company designs more programs that reach out to user groups.

Since its inaugural meeting with a handful of user group executives in April, the company has set up a secure Web site that provides a one-stop way to request speakers from Microsoft. The Web site is hosting educational content developed by Microsoft, as well as online discussion forums, said Rick Kalkowski, marketing manager for Microsoft's "IT Audience" marketing team.

The recent effort to build relationships with IT user groups is still new but part of an increasing emphasis on the part of Microsoft, Kalkowski said. Contact with user groups was previously handled locally with mixed success. Microsoft has decided to build its relationships with IT professionals and handle the administration of such from Redmond.

Kalkowski said that, while local contact with individual IT user groups often worked well, he believed they were more complex and less stable. Local contacts tend to change more frequently, for one thing. At the IT council meeting in April, it was determined that customers wanted a uniform way to schedule Microsoft speakers and disseminate information.

One IT professional familiar with Microsoft's plans said the software maker is definitely putting time and money into the project. "They are addressing IT pros who are decision influencers, not the business decision makers or technical decision

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makers," said the executive, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Microsoft's recent interest in engaging IT professionals is a departure from previous years, in which the company cared more about wooing software developers and the desktop community in general. Kalkowski said Microsoft has always considered IT professionals to be important, but the company may not have done as good a job as it should have in supporting the community.

User group executives are happy the software vendor is working harder to build relationships. "Customers recognize that when they combine their voices and say, 'This is important to us,' that Microsoft listens closer," said Rick Heigas, director of technical services for the Professional Association of SQL Server Users and a faculty member at High Point University, in High Point, N.C.

"I'm not sure if this will be a good model -- time will tell," Heigas said. "But they are taking significant steps."

Today, Microsoft is mainly working with the 14 or so member groups that are connected with the council, but Kalkowski said the goal is to broaden that audience. The company is using several outside consultants to build its community effort, he said.

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Article: Communal computing -- Microsoft courts Windows community

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