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Microsoft's EBC: Symbol of Openness, Great Partner Perk

At Building 33 on the Microsoft campus, you'll find a partner incubator that insiders call the "East Wing."

Most partners who have made their way to Microsoft's campus, a sprawling and growing mini-metropolis atop a hill east of Seattle, come for an event at the company's Microsoft Conference Center, a simple, spacious facility suitable for gatherings of up to about 1,000 people.

A select few receive invitations to the facility upstairs, the company's Executive Briefing Center (EBC), designed for more intimate consultations with advisory committees, industry groups and small delegations from the company's best customers and partners.

Peter Boit, Microsoft's vice president for enterprise partner sales, calls the EBC "our most strategic sales tool." The average sales-related engagement there is typically a multimillion-dollar affair.

Microsoft has built a mystique around the EBC, giving it an aura of privacy and confidentiality. EBC visitors, some of whom are heads of state, must be invited and escorted (in contrast, it's easy enough for visitors to wander around the conference center below). The EBC's briefing rooms are self-contained, equipped with AV systems, including the new 360-degree RoundTable conferencing cameras, refreshment counters and speaker prep areas. Attendees in one room need never know what's happening in the next.

The EBC is in Building 33. The company's most senior leaders are next door in Building 34, which means that the EBC is well placed to capitalize on that scarcest of resources, executive time and attention.

Microsoft recently expanded the EBC, adding six more briefing rooms (which typically max out at about 20 people), bringing the total to 16 rooms, plus several breakout and ad hoc discussion rooms, a prayer room and even a private room for nursing mothers. The addition takes the EBC's capacity from about 10,000 visitors a year to 15,000, and my guess is that partners will be major beneficiaries of the additional spots in the always-booked EBC.

The most striking thing about the EBC's additional 20,000 square feet (collectively nicknamed the East Wing) is that it almost invites attendees to run into each other, in contrast to the West Wing's atmosphere of secrecy. Attendees may meet at a table in the large commons/dining area, on the open deck or in the lounge while gazing out at a vista of the Cascade Mountains.

If I had to name a symbol of the new "open" Microsoft, this facility would probably be it. The company's ability to define its own future, and that of the IT industry generally, has been sapped by the growing strength of open source, the shift away from the desktop to the Internet, and, when those don't work, by the European Commission's antitrust scalpel. In contrast to the Microsoft that rarely bothered to explain where it was taking us, the Microsoft of tomorrow is a Microsoft that must cooperate, must listen, must share. There's no reason that it can't be as successful as the old Microsoft, and every reason that it must be different.

As Microsoft's product lines diversify and the company's alliances become more complex, particularly as it's pushed into more open standards and greater transparency, it will need to share the lead with others.

So these days, Boit and Lynne Stockstad, general manager of enterprise marketing, walk through the EBC addition talking about the sharing of best practices with partners and customers, the creative exchanges between partners and customers who run into each other at EBC engagements and an "environment to facilitate dialog."

A visit to the EBC is a great perk, and partners can request one (go through your partner account manager). There's no guarantee that you'll get an invitation, although thanks to the addition, your chances have just improved 50 percent. The company has other, smaller EBCs: four in European cities (Brussels, Copenhagen, Munich and Reading, England), two in China and India (Beijing and Hyderabad) and one in Fargo, N.D.

One thing hasn't changed -- your chances of an EBC engagement are probably improved if you have a deal where a few million dollars of Microsoft's money is still stuck in a customer's pocket.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.

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