Who ‘Ya Gonna Call?

As the career classification of "pre-sales system engineering" goes, I’d argue that there is nary a larger challenge than that of a Microsoft Technology or Solution Specialist working in the Education Vertical.  I’ll admit – I’m biased – I happen to manage the highly trained and motivated engineers that make up the US Education Specialist Team Unit (STU), all of whom, on the average weekday, can identify more with a three letter airport code than their home five digit zip code.  But for sake of this inaugural/introductory posting, I thought I’d share with you some little known facts about our business that may incite awe and appreciation for this hardworking crew.

  • There are over 4000 institutes of higher education (HED) and 16000 K12 school districts in the US serving 18 million and 49 million students, respectively, shepherded through the learning maze by 1.2 million and 3.4 million teachers, respectively
  • In HED, 74% of students have a computer, 98% have a cell phone, and 100% have demands and requirements for computing that are completely different that when you and I were in college (ok, at least when I was in college)
  • In K12, 54% of students have access to a computer, 63% have a cell phone (grades 7-12) and almost three quarters of them had access to a computer since they were 4 years old
  • There are 5 sales teams, including 50 Academic Account Managers, 14 Inside Sales Specialists and 20 Account Technology Specialists that we (attempt) to support when the need arises for our expertise
  • Academic pricing of Microsoft software averages 25% of full commercial pricing, not counting the software we provide free of charge to non-profits as donations and to student developers via programs like DreamSpark
  • In the US, sales of Microsoft academic-priced software makes up about 4% of total software revenue, but about 30% of software licenses
  • The concept of "Academic Freedom" is alive and well in the classroom, providing faculty what sometimes seems to be free reign over technology, platform and utilization choices, much to the chagrin of campus IT staff

To be sure, the humble employees of Microsoft who serve US Education customers take all this in stride, as we are guided by a principle mission: "Empower people to realize their social and economic potential by enabling access to quality education experiences for all through technology."  As altruistic as that may sound, it’s a refreshing twist on traditional hard core technology sales the keeps at least me, if not the entire team, invigorated in our jobs.

What, exactly, is a Specialist Team Unit?

Every sales district, vertical and subsidiary at Microsoft has a STU, both in the US and internationally, and the specialists therein typically focus on or have unique training and expertise in one of Microsoft’s many product areas – groupings we call "workloads".  Our Education STU team goal, then, is to provide pre-sales engineering support to the account teams that directly manage our customer relationships, in their pursuit of IT (Business of Schools), classroom (Teaching and Learning) and student lifestyle solutions.  In English, that means we provide technical and solutions expertise to sales teams whose customers require additional briefings, technical detail or proof of concept assistance with the Microsoft solutions they’re evaluating for purchase.  Sometimes that support is virtual, via phone, email, blogging, podcasting and Live Meeting, but you’ll frequently see us navigating the concourses, rail terminals and highways across the US to support customer software evaluations in person on the customer’s site.

Given some of the statistics I mention above, as well as our national scope, and relatively small size (we’ll have 20 team members in July of 2008), I’ve put forth the following challenge to the team:

"How can we stretch our value and efficiency further, everyday, using the tools we are promoting and selling everyday?"

This blog site, and the links you’ll see to the individual team members blogs, will attempt to answer at least part of that question.  You’ll see us venturing into pod/web/screen-casting more so than in the past as well.  And ultimately, we’ll be attempting to anticipate, dissect and answer your common questions on how Microsoft technology can be used to solve, enhance and enrich the three areas I mention above – the Business of Schools, Teaching and Learning, and Student Lifestyle.

The title of this post, then, is more rhetorical in nature because I should be asking "Who ‘ya gonna RSS?" or "Who ‘ya gonna search on?"  Regardless of which question you pose, we look forward to serving you.  My blog site, by the way, is http://blogs.technet.com/rgode; it will naturally be less technical and therefore more theoretical, touching on some of the strategies and tactics that education customers might find interesting from a futures and/or high level approach.

Thanks for reading – hope to see you back again soon.

– Rod Gode, Specialist Team Unit Director, US Education

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