Microsoft unveils expanded tech center

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Microsoft last week unveiled a newly renovated and expanded technology center in Reston, Va., where companies and federal agencies can act out war game-specific business and technology problems using the full array of Microsoft products and cloud services, as well as products from Microsoft partners.

First opened in 2004, the Microsoft Technology Center in Reston is one of 11 such centers the company operates across the country. The expansion has added significant additional space and a wide variety of commercial and enterprise technologies, from Windows phones to tablets and specific business applications, as well as Xbox Kinect interactive capabilities. FedScoop was given a tour of the facility during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 12.

2013_12_IMG_3354 The Envisioning Center, part of the newly expanded Microsoft Technology Center in Reston, Va., is where the company demonstrates technology use scenarios for clients struggling with particular business challenges. (Photo: Dan Verton)

“This gives us a virtual sandbox, but it’s part of the natural customer engagement process,” said Greg Myers, vice president of Microsoft Federal. “Customers will sometimes not know that they have a capability or that they can do certain things with the applications they have. The most frustrating thing to hear is that one of our federal clients is not fully exploiting our products and capabilities.”

Both commercial and government clients can leverage the facility and Microsoft’s consulting support for free. A typical engagement can last anywhere from a day to several weeks, said Joan Barrow, director of the Reston MTC. “There’s lots of up-front work done before we bring a customer to the center,” Barrow said.

That up-front work starts with a strategy briefing, during which Microsoft’s technical experts meet with agency or company executives to map their existing IT environment, business objectives and specific problems they’re trying to overcome. The strategy briefing leads to a detailed architecture design session to map Microsoft applications and services to the client’s objectives. From there, a proof-of-concept workshop is held that involves detailed demonstrations led by Microsoft experts taking part in role-based scenarios.

“We have all of the tools we need here to have a really immersive discussion to figure out solutions to customer problems,” Barrow said. “A lot of our customers are looking to upgrade data centers, move to private cloud computing and a host of other things. It could be eight tools in one. And they need to know how that works with everything else they have, from virtualization to hardware to business intelligence.”

When the facility was first built in 2004, it took up half of one floor. It now spans two full floors and is divided into different “experience areas” inspired by the way Disney divided its Magic Kingdom theme park. But rather than Adventure Land, the MCT features Data Center Land, Productivity Land, Home Land, and Business Intelligence Land. Each area, or land, focuses on a specific interactive experience in the form of kiosks.

“We changed everything,” Barrow said. “We doubled the size and redesigned all of the rooms and the spaces to make sure it was more functional.”

The centerpiece of the MCT is the Envisioning Center, a small studio equipped with role-based stations where Microsoft experts can act out business scenarios to demonstrate both process and technology solutions to specific client challenges.

“Conversation is nice, but this allows organizations to see and touch the technology,” Myers said. “This isn’t a Microsoft branding site. We have a lot of non-Microsoft products here. It allows a freedom and flexibility that a lot of our customers don’t get to enjoy. It allows them to explore a to-be state. It allows them to delve into the art of the possible.”

Photos – Microsoft Technology Center, Reston, Va.

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Greg Myers, Microsoft, Microsoft Federal
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