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Be a Hero in your Org with Windows Insider for Business

September 27, 2017

The Windows Insider Program gives IT Pros credibility and the chance to deliver better products to their customers. On top of that, companies and organizations have a huge impact on the development of Windows. In this episode, we ask Michael Niehaus, Director of Product Marketing at Windows, what businesses can gain from deploying preview builds at work. We also hear from an IT Pro whose close relationship with the Windows Insider team makes him better at his job.

Windows Insider Podcast Episode 7


JASON HOWARD:  Welcome to the Windows Insider Podcast, the place where we explore all things Windows, the Insider community, and beyond.  I'm your host, Jason Howard.

Some of you may recognize my voice.  I'm also the host of the Windows Insider webcasts.  When I'm not talking to you on camera in my taco hat, I respond to your queries on Twitter.  You can find me there @NorthFaceHiker.  In fact, send me a tweet after the episode and let me know how I sound on air.

So, it's pretty obvious from our tweets and Mixer webcasts that the Windows Insider Program is filled with people who, much like me, love tech.  But not everyone knows that being a Windows Insider can be more than a hobby, it can give you superpowers at work, too.  In fact, many IT pros are finding that being in the program gives them a competitive advantage.  But how does it work?

Today, we're talking to a couple experts who have some answers.  First, let's go to Dona Sarkar as she interviews a director from Windows Marketing who travels the globe teaching IT pros how to get the most out of their OS.

DONA SARKAR:  Hey, Insiders!  Welcome back to the podcast.  Today, we've got a very special guest in the studio, someone who many of you recognize as a celebrity figure in our IT pro conferences and community engagement.  Please say hi to Mike Niehaus.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Glad to be here.

DONA SARKAR:  So, tell me a little bit about yourself.  Who are you?  What do you do?  What is the thing?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  I am in the Windows Commercial Marketing team, responsible for trying to help IT pros with Windows 10 deployment and servicing.

DONA SARKAR:  Can you tell us what "commercial" means?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  "Commercial," from our perspective, are really any organizations out there that have IT staffs that are trying to guide them along the Windows path.

DONA SARKAR:  Ah!  So, does that mean any businesses?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Businesses, schools --

DONA SARKAR:  Oh, schools, yeah.  So how did you end up doing this role as this director of product marketing of commercial things?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  It's kind of a weird path.  I have people at Microsoft ask me, "Well, how did you ever become a director in product marketing?"  And it's not where I would have expected to end up.  I actually started at Microsoft in consulting, and then moved into the development teams for quite a few years before moving into marketing in the same area that I had been developing tools for deployment.

DONA SARKAR:  Oh, cool.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  So it was kind of that logical progression.  It's just not the typical marketing path, where most of the marketing people are MBAs and they've studied it.  I just really didn't go down that path.  I'm a technical guy from inside and out, and it's kind of been an accident to get to this marketing role.

DONA SARKAR:  So you're a nerd who markets?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Pretty much.

DONA SARKAR:  I like it, yeah.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  I've been in IT now since 1990.  And throughout my career, it's pretty much been a whole series of accidents.


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  It's not like I had this goal to work for Microsoft and eventually be a Windows Marketing guy, it was much more, "I'm an IT guy, gotta get the job done, what's that going to take?  What do we need to build?  How do we teach other people to do the same thing?"

DONA SARKAR:  That's really cool.  So how did you fall in love with tech in the first place back in the day?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  I started hanging out in school computer labs.


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  In, like, fifth grade.

DONA SARKAR:  Oh, cool, wow, fifth grade.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  So there are people who wonder, "Well, what am I going to do with my life."  I had pretty much decided that by the time I was ten.

DONA SARKAR:  So it's been a very exciting week at Ignite.  What are your thoughts around some of the big news around Windows?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Our shift over the past couple of years has been kind of from the traditional IT to a much more modern view of how will you deploy Windows, how will you manage Windows, how will you use Windows?

So it's really centered around, now, that Microsoft-365-powered device vision that we've started talking about, which sounds like a whole bunch of marketing speak, but really it's that combination of Windows 10, Office 365, and all of the management tools and EMS -- Azure Active Directory, Intune, and components like that.  Working together to give you something that is easier to manage, easier to deploy, lower cost overall.  So it's kind of the "coming-out year" for that scenario, because in the past, we've always talked about maybe you want to do that for a segment of your devices.

Then you've got those road warriors and people who live out of coffee shops and hotels and places like that, all this makes sense for those people.  Now we're really saying, "That really makes sense for everyone."

DONA SARKAR:  That's right.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Let's take a look at how we can do that broadly for all the PCs in the organization.

DONA SARKAR:  That is awesome.  I love that because you're really saying, "You no longer need to be tethered to this one setup that you've got in your cubicle."

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Yeah.  Everything's slowly shifting to the cloud.  I mean, I've lived and breathed Windows Servers for decades.


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  To the point where I could disassemble and reassemble a server pretty quickly.  I'm not a hardware guy, but even as a Windows guy, you would need to be able to quickly take a server apart and put it back together again.

DONA SARKAR:  That's true.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  So those days are slowly disappearing, which is slightly depressing because that was the fun part.


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Being able to deal with a rack full of computers.  Now, everything is in some giant data center that no one ever gets access to, so --


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Those days are going to go away.  They're going to wonder why us old IT people still keep toolkits in our desk.

DONA SARKAR:  Just in case of server emergency.

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  With a whole bunch of screwdrivers and spare screws and things like that, just so that you can put your servers back together again.

DONA SARKAR:  Speaking of Microsoft 365 and IT pros and building up skills, it's one of your big missions to really embrace and inspire IT pros to up-level their skills, right?  Because we have to keep remaining modern.  Along with modern IT comes modern IT pros.  What do you imagine the skill sets the IT pros that we currently work with and love, how can we help them be better at their jobs?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  We've started to have those conversations, first, with our own field and our own consultants to say, "Hey, if you are a Windows deployment person, guess what?  You're also an Intune person."  So you need to start learning Intune and Azure Active Directory and these other building blocks that all of this is built on top of.

So that's kind of the starting point.  So I expect to see a lot of people going to sessions that they might not have gone to in the past to learn more about those technologies, to figure out how those pieces fit together into that modern story.

DONA SARKAR:  Oh, cool.  So the people who weren't able to make it to Ignite because of cost or distance or whatever, are there online resources that they can use to learn about these things?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Definitely.  The session recordings from Ignite are a good starting point.  I believe we'll post them on YouTube again, but they'll also end up on Channel 9 at some point, where everyone can watch every single session that we end up doing.

DONA SARKAR:  That's so cool, so they can DIY Ignite.


DONA SARKAR:  No matter where in the world they are.  Right?  Every country has insiders.  Every country has organizations and businesses, and usually our Insiders work with or are associated with.  So they actually can DIY their own Ignite experience to learn the stuff?


DONA SARKAR:  So you're one of the biggest advocates and fans of the Windows Insider Program for business -- WIP for Biz.  Can you tell us a little bit about any companies or organizations that's approaching this WaaS story -- Windows as a service -- in a new way as a result of WIP for Business?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  The process of trying to keep Windows up to date -- Windows as a service, as we call it --


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Requires that they really stay on top of what's coming next.  And for that, they need to participate in the Windows Insider program, which they could do as individuals before, they just couldn't do very well as an organization.

So we wanted them to be able to submit feedback as an organization and have it tagged to their organization so that we could focus in more on that.

By having the insider program for business, we can be able to see what specific feedback we're getting from the organizations and start doing a lot more analysis on that to figure out, "Where should we put our efforts?  Where should we focus on improving things for IT pros?"


MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  We're hoping to get more organizations involved in that process, not just with the IT pro who does it with their spare PC who wants to just see what's new and cool, but larger populations of IT people who are just doing their day-to-day business on top of Insider preview builds.

DONA SARKAR:  That's right.  And it gives them such an advantage to be able to, first, see what's coming, and second, actually have their feedback heard.  Because we prioritize that feedback so high to have a look and say, "This is affecting not just one person, but maybe the 50,000 people at their organization or company -- or even 10,000."


DONA SARKAR:  These are at scale.  So anything else you want to share before I free you from this recording studio?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Definitely, follow us on Twitter.  Make sure that you let us know what you think of Windows 10 and any of the challenges that you're running into.  We're always looking to have more customer conversations and to provide that feedback through to the engineering teams ourselves.

Certainly, you can do that through the Feedback Hub and the Insider Program as well, but certainly, having that more detailed feedback directly with walking up to me at a conference or sending me an e-mail messages always helps out as well.

DONA SARKAR:  That's fabulous.  And Mike loves to help you up-level your career as Insiders.  So if there's anything we can be doing to help you be a hero in your organization, do let us know because your success is our success.  How can people get in touch with you?

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  They can either send me an e-mail message at mniehaus@microsoft.com.

DONA SARKAR:  You're brave for putting it out there!

MICHAEL NIEHAUS:  Or via Twitter, @mniehaus.  Easy to get in contact.

DONA SARKAR:  That's awesome.  You're a very brave man.  Thank you so much for being here with us today.

JASON HOWARD:  Like Dona and Michael mentioned earlier, they are both speaking at the Microsoft Ignite conference this week.  I'll post links to their sessions and the show notes on our RSS feed.

Next on our show, let's hear from an IT pro who uses the Windows Insider Program to give him a credibility boost at work.

ROBERT SHURBET:  My name is Robert Shurbet.  I work for a company called Pivot Technology Solutions.  And it's interesting.  I've kind of been a one-man band for a really long time doing product development, just regular IT work.  My current role right now is I'm the lead engineer and also kind of the pseudo product manager on a CRM application for Pivot.

JASON HOWARD:  Originally, how did you get started on the Insider program?  How did you find out about it?

ROBERT SHURBET:  Well, I mean, I was -- you know, I still have a couple old Windows Silverlight apps in the Windows Store, they were phone apps.  And I got really excited about Windows Phone back when it debuted, and kind of got involved in app development in the community.

So when the Insider program debuted, I'll be honest, part of the reason to do it wasn't necessarily, "Oh, I get this great opportunity to give feedback."  It was more, "Oh, look, I can get around AT&T now and get my updates."  (Laughter.)  So that was kind of the reason for joining, but it just kind of snowballed.

I mean, I think I've -- it's not a ton of stuff, but I think I've given, I think, over 200 pieces of individual feedback since the program started.  So it kind of morphed into this, "Wow, oh, look, I've got a Bluetooth issue.  Oh, I've logged this.  Oh, hey, Jason, look at this."

And then a couple releases later, look what's fixed.  You know, it's like a self-fulfilling prophesy in a lot of ways as you build up this kind of momentum and you get more excited for it and more involved, and it's kind of hard to put it down after that.

JASON HOWARD:  So it sounds like it's actually had some impact on your day-to-day both personal life, obviously, from the Bluetooth side of things, to something that directly affects you as an individual, but kind of more broadly on top of that.

ROBERT SHURBET:  Well, yeah.  I mean, you can use that example -- you know, when I'm talking with folks at work and going, "Hey, you know, we should probably be more involved in the Insider program.  I am, I've been doing this, oh, here are some specific instances where in the old days I wouldn't have been able to get any direct help from anybody in this manner in looking at a particular issue."  And now, here's some specific examples of where that's actually happened, and look what this might be able to do for us, you know?

If we're facing roadblocks, for example, in getting things deployed and we want to start cranking up Windows 10, but we've hit something and we can't do it because of this, there's a more direct way to get that problem in front of folks than there used to be on a three-year development cycle and a couple of public betas.

JASON HOWARD:  Does being a Windows Insider kind of give you a let up at your job?  What are some of the things that it's done for you?

ROBERT SHURBET:  I'm kind of in a unique position because, you know, I'm kind of on an island of my own.  I don't work with the main IT group, I'm in an office in a different part of the country, even though that's my team.

I have more bandwidth to be able to participate in the program, keep an eye on what's happening.  I do have a fairly large responsibility for an application.  I still have a lot of "light-keeping-on" I have to do, but I've also started to look at this process as, "How can I make the application work better with Windows?"  Yes, it's a Web application, but could I be doing things with notifications?  You know, Action Center, and being able to react to things.

If I need to accept a purchase order, do I need to force the user to log into that?  You know?  It's a whole different way of thinking for me and being able to become a subject-matter expert and become the person that other people come to and say, "Hey, what do you think about this?  You know, we're thinking about rolling out this particular thing, or we're looking at Windows 10 for this particular scenario, how can we get involved in the program and testing for this ahead of time?"  You know, hey, I've got the information for you, here's how you do it.

JASON HOWARD:  From what I'm hearing, there's kind of a couple paths this has taken for you.  One, individually, it's had you more engaged and it helps you kind of better interact with other folks on the IT proper side of the house, so to speak -- if I can call it that -- as well as in your individual day-to-day type work, keeping you more informed, you know what's coming, you know what to expect. And having gone through some of these preview builds and seeing the changes that are coming, it kind of helps you know what to plan for and how to adapt.

And then some of these other new features like when the Action Center kind of got revamped and whatnot and notifications started showing up, some of the things that you can potentially plug into to, in essence, make your side of the business a little bit better.

ROBERT SHURBET:  Definitely.  Definitely.

JASON HOWARD:  Being that you've been in the broader IT world for a while, in looking at the Windows Insider Program, especially like the business side of it, if you were to compare it to some of the other programs out there, because there are other preview-type programs, how's the Insider program different in comparison to some of those?

ROBERT SHURBET:  I've been participating in beta programs and all kinds of different programs for a really long time.  And one thing that none of those programs ever did was really cultivate the ability to form relationships inside the company that is offering the program.

I have a relationship with you now where we -- you know, if I've got an issue, I can say, "Hey, Jason, can you maybe look at this?"  And there's other people in other teams on O365 and OneDrive.  It's allowed for more deep personal relationships.  And when you have more of a personal relationship with your customers, I think anybody in software development will tell you this, a personal relationship with your customers makes your product better.  It invests them in what you're doing.  It gives you the valuable feedback that you need to make the product better, and it ends up becoming a really nice, symbiotic relationship if you can make time for it.  It is time consuming, so it does take some effort to be part of it.

But I've certainly gotten more issues that I needed fixed, fixed with the Insider program than I've ever gotten sending random e-mails to a support link inside an app, for example, or just dealing with other vendors.  It's a lot easier and a more personal relationship, and I think that just makes the experience a whole lot better.

JASON HOWARD:  For any of the other IT pros that exist out there -- and we know there are tons of them -- for any of them who aren't in the program and they're considering potentially trying out the Insider buildings in their business, either on a small scale on a few machines or some companies have taken the jump and they have deployed to either hundreds or potentially even thousands of machines within the organization running some of these preview builds.  What advice would you give them as they're considering making the jump to get started?

ROBERT SHURBET:  Don't do it on production machines.  Always good advice.  And take the opportunity to provide the feedback seriously, because Microsoft is.  You could say that on a small scale, folks have been doing this for a while, but only Microsoft could take that intimate app experience and scale it out to the size that they've scaled it out with the Insider program and actually have it work.

You know, it's got rough edges, like everything does, and there's always going to be some frustrations I think with things not moving fast enough or things not getting fixed to the satisfaction that you want in a particular time, but that's the great thing about the program is you just keep at it.  It's not one of these things where you just log a piece of feedback and it goes into a black hole, never to be seen again, and you never hear from anybody.

It's there, it's in the feedback app, you can pull it up, you can send it over to folks at Microsoft and try to get some people to look at it and just participate.  It's a different Microsoft, it's a different way of looking at Windows.  I think it's a better way of looking at how Windows is not just built, but serviced within the IT organization, and we've got so much information and so many changes flying at us on a daily basis with the way things are changing in the industry.

If you really want to help shape how that happens within Windows, this is your opportunity.  You should take it.

JASON HOWARD:  Trust me, it's greatly appreciated, the feedback both on the buildings themselves, right?  That's the obvious part, but about the program and the direction of the program and how we are handling things, that same feedback is just as important.

So there you have it, using Windows Insider for Business can increase the visibility of your feedback and help build a better Windows experience for your entire organization.

If you like this episode, check out the archive, where we've explored all kinds of topics, like how Kiki Wolfkill's racecar driving legacy propelled her career in gaming.

One last thing, we have some critical info for all you tech influencers out there.  The submission deadline for the Windows Insider MVP Program is fast approaching.  Here's Windows Insider Marketing Manager Tyler Ahn with more information.

TYLER AHN:  Hey, Windows Insiders, one last thing before you go.  Did you know that we award the Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional title to exceptional Windows Insiders?  If you, or an Insider you know, are contributing code to projects, speaking at conferences, helping others troubleshoot issues, or create content, then nominate them at aka.ms/wimvp, for an opportunity to receive all of the awesome benefits of being a Windows Insider MVP.

And, of course, our MVPs also provide invaluable feedback to make our products better, because that is the benchmark of our program.

Thanks so much, and we'll catch you next month.

JASON HOWARD:  Thanks for listening, we'll see you next time on the Windows Insider Podcast.

NARRATION:  Our program today was produced by Microsoft Production Studios.  The Insider team includes Tyler Ahn, Michelle Paison, and Amelia Greim.

Our website is insider.windows.com.

Support for the Windows Insider Podcast comes from Microsoft, empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Moral support and inspiration comes from Ninja Cat, reminding us to have fun and pursue our passions.

Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founders, Dona Sarkar and Jeremiah Marble.

Join us next month with more stories from Windows Insiders.