The Friday Interview: Robert Ford, CIO, Microsoft

27 Jan 2006

Robert Ford is regional CIO of Microsoft in charge of the company’s IT systems outside the US

You are responsible for the smooth running of Microsoft’s internal IT as well as testing new products such as SQL Server and Office 12. How does this work?

It can be summed up as people, process and product — the products we deploy today are in a more locked down state than they ever were. Predominantly it’s not the products that were the issues, but the processes around it such as passwords. We take that very seriously to the point of dismissal. The hardest part is the people side of things. We know what’s connected to our network and have a very good security strategy that hardens the outside and segments the inside but we need people in the organisation to take it seriously. An example could be changing passwords. We could enforce it but why should we need to enforce it if you have told people four times and someone doesn’t adhere to it. We struggle with this like any other organisation. My job’s a combination of technology, clear processes and people being clear on all of these.

What is it like to test forthcoming products?

Dog-fooding or testing technology products allows our business to innovate and find key value points that customers can relate to. We have an initiative called 7×24 where we try to save seven million hours in 24 months through whatever means possible in terms of ways to do work through our forthcoming Office 12 product. We let 80,000 employees of Microsoft worldwide use
it and introduce us to cool scenarios that would help us to market and sell
the product.

Having met with Irish chief information officers (CIOs), what are their five key concerns for 2006?

There are five key concerns of CIOs today: hiring the right people (it’s now
more critical than ever); having clear priorities for the business; demonstrating value to shareholders; empowering and making workers more productive; and mitigating risk — you would be surprised to hear that CIOs are actually very comfortable with compliancy rules such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 2002.

By John Kennedy